Blake’s concept of Binaries through his poems and illustrations

“Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence”

The marriage of heaven and hell (1790-93), William Blake

He sees contraries as essential to the state of man. Along with the title, there is a line inscribed “Shewing the two contrary states of the human soul”. The tile on the illustration of the set makes it clear that Songs of Innocence and Experience are meant to be read together.

Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.

Blake called his illustrations Illuminations and these illuminations play a major role in bridging the gaps between verbal and visual content. Blake’s illustrations and choice of colors, all details add to the sublimity and sublime quality of his poems. Another thing to be mentioned here is that the illustration and the text both retain their individuality. Blake attempts to communicate the assigned divinity to the characters in form of images and illustrations. Where the content and illustration project individuality and at the same time poet’s imagination. According to Blake, only a poet can bring two very different and disparate oppositional words and worlds together. It is only a writer and an artist who can dare to create a Tyger which even God or Lucifer couldn’t.

If one focuses on the system created by Blake in his poem, the contrast in the two is visible only if one understands the symbolic reference attached with the contraries and the fact that they run parallel to each other for example; The Tyger and The Lamb, their study is intertwined and interdependent. The knowledge of extremes/ experience will help one get a better understanding of the zero states.

There is major evidence of apocalyptic blending of opposites witnessed in Blake’s poetry. The two books show contraries in a single design. The introductory poems to songs of innocence and songs of experience invoke the dichotomy of Blake as a poet, he is seen as both a Piper and a Bard.

In the introduction to Song of Innocence, he is playing the role of a Piper, a poet who listens to his audience. The transition from a Piper to a poet entails selflessness and the act of serving. He is writing in the hope, The Piper does not suffer from the anxiety of rejection.

                            "Pipe a song about a Lamb!" 
                             So I piped with merry chear. 
                            "Piper, pipe that song again."
                             So I piped: he wept to hear.

Whereas in the introduction to songs of experience there is no invocation, but a direct command to the reader to sit up and pay attention.

Hear the voice of the Bard! Here an intellectual prophetic Bard is speaking out loud different from the audience-oriented tone set by the piper. These dualities in the nature of the poet are essential in their spheres and neither one should be neglected in presence of the other. According to Blake, poetry should both delight and instruct.”  

“The piper clearly exhibits imaginative vision and The Bard ‘present, past and future see.’ Yet for each, the past, present, and future are different: for the piper, the past can only be of primal unity, for the present is innocence and the immediate future is experience; for the Bard the past is innocence, the present is experienced, the future a higher innocence.”

Robert F. Gleckner

Written By: Aakansha Dassi

Editor and Team Lead: Ashutosh Sharma

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Songs of Innocence and Experience Image:

The Lamb Image:

The Tyger Image:

Point of View And Context In Blake’s Songs – Robert F.Glecknerv

About The Author(s)

Chemistry major with self-proclaimed good taste in Books and Music.

Photo - Aakanksha Dassi
Aakansha Dassi
Just a Literature Honours kid who can't do Kant anymore.
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