Blake & Wordsworth

Blake & Wordsworth - When William Blake published Songs...

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When William Blake published Songs of Innocence and Experience in 1794, he included a subtitle explaining that the work was “shewing the two contrary states of the human soul.” Upon examination of Lyrical Ballads , one could argue that William Wordsworth would disagree with Blake’s claim that innocence and experience are contraries. Although both Blake and Wordsworth demonstrate that the state of innocence acts as a vehicle for access to something beyond, the poets disagree on its importance in Man’s life as well as its relationship to experience. While Blake sees innocence as a foundational, more rational state of being that precedes experience, Wordsworth sees innocence as a state of being whose coexistent relationship with experience is consistently beneficial. One of the most important differences between the poets’ views of innocence is that Blake’s view of innocence requires innocence’s absolute obedience to experience while Wordsworth’s view of innocence celebrates and values innocence’s differences with experience. In “The Chimney Sweeper,” the optimism expressed by the speaker and “little Tom Dacre” is characteristic of both Blake and Wordsworth’s view of innocence. The difference between the two is that, for Blake, this optimism is demanded as a result of experience’s power over innocence. In lines 7-8, the speaker harshly instructs Tom to be glad for his shaved head but the lack of the speaker’s experience makes his use of language when talking to Tom unjustifiable. For this to fit, it must be noted that Blake’s innocence characters often instruct others by repeating what they have been told. Even though the speaker seems to be a little more aware of the situation and the need to console Tom, his words are most likely a repetition. “Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare/ You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair” (lines 7-8). The
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first indication that the speaker is merely repeating instructions is the way he chastises Tom for crying about losing his hair. If the speaker is older than Tom, it cannot be by much; the first stanza tells us that he was “very young/ [when] his father sold [him]” (lines 1-2). Both the speaker and Tom accept the poor conditions of being a chimney sweeper because they supposedly have been taught to accept it without being completely conscious of the consequences. This blind assurance that experience knows best supports Blake’s view of innocence in that experience instructs and innocence simply obeys. In “We Are Seven,” Wordsworth presents a scene that shows how his view of
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This essay was uploaded on 04/10/2008 for the course ENGL 206 taught by Professor Harsh during the Spring '08 term at Colgate.

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Blake & Wordsworth - When William Blake published Songs...

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