A student’s analysis of ‘A Dream’ and ‘London’

A Dream- William Blake

Taken from ‘Songs of Innocence’, the poem by William Blake ‘A Dream’ you see a man who left home, then finds his way home. However is also possible that he had found his way to some form of heavenly home, which is a recurring theme in Blake’s poems such as ‘The Chimney Sweep’. The tone of this poem seems to be very dark and gives the very strong image of someone being lost, as a reader you feel fairly sympathetic for towards character especially as the start of the fourth stanza; ‘I dropped a tear’ and when the rhetoric question ‘do they hear their father sigh?’. Both of these quotes also suggest that the traveller isn’t away from home out of choice and thus creates further sympathy. The tone of the poem put further emphasis on the point that the traveller may have found some form of heavenly sanction rather than finding his way back to his actual home.

London- William Blake

This poem was taken from William Blake’s writings in ‘Songs of Experience’ and basically speaks about the division between rich and poor, he especially puts emphasis on the misery of the poor people. Blake focuses mostly on pain and misery throughout this poem through lines such as ‘in every infants cry of fear’ which presents a certain amount of imagery for the reader, and may make them quite uncomfortable. This feeling is kept up through the whole poem and shows that Blake wants to show the city of London at its worst and shows his dislike for the way people were having to live during that time.

 

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A student’s analysis of ‘Spring’, ‘Blossom’, ‘The Laughing Song’ and ‘The Fly’

Analysis of Blake’s poetry.

 

Spring

Spring is a poem that is used to “welcome in the year”, the fact that the poem is written in spring time makes the reader think that Blake’s new year starts in the spring time and that his new year is when nature is remade and renewed, it’s when nature starts it’s new life when Blake celebrates his new year. At the time the romantic poets led a movement to celebrate nature and natural environments and felt that nature embodied the human imagination, this could be why Blake celebrates his new year in the spring time because as a poet he feels that nature is key to his imagination and creation, this makes the poems key meaning more clear, as they celebrate nature the biggest celebration would come when nature starts its new cycle of life.

 

The Laughing Song

This poem describes all the different ‘laughter’ of nature and its surroundings, for example the woods, stream, air, hills, and meadow are each said to laugh just by being there, maybe the different sounds made by them are their way of laughing for example the stream trickling and the wind rustling through the leaves of the trees that make up the wood.

 

Blossom

This is another one of Blake’s poems that describes nature and life. It is full of many cheerful images such as “leaves so green” and “happy blossom”, this is representative of Blake’s view on nature, he sees it as key to life and something to cheer people up. This poem tells a story of two different birds and their experiences with their lives, the first a sparrow, who is content with its living and the surroundings it’s in, the other is of a robin, who is distressed in its existence, this makes the second stanza full of negativity. The two birds could be representing two classes of Blake’s time, the first a upper-ruling class who is content with itself, and a lower, poorer class who sees no meaning to their life and lives under the upper classes.

 

The Fly

The poem is told in a voice of mindlessness. The poem sees the narrator, being the fly, go from its thoughtless state to one of realization and mindfulness. It leads to the ending of “Then am I a happy fly, if I live, or if I die”, this makes the fly aware that can it really be happy and careless as it once was even if it dies, how the fly comes to this conclusion as the poem goes on is amazing because of how it comes to the quick conclusion it takes many to come to for an age.

 

A student’s analysis of ‘Infant Joy’ & ‘Infant Sorrow’

Whilst the poems ‘Infant Joy’ and ‘Infant Sorrow’ are companionable, both poems, although they share the same context, are surprisingly contrasting. The title of the poems for example, immediately highlights the differing contexts; the word ‘Joy’ is juxtaposing to the word ‘Sorrow’ thus portraying Blake’s conflicting ideas to the reader. ‘Infant Joy’ as the title suggests, focuses on the joyous gift of a new born baby; Blake expresses his belief on how the strongest feelings, of ‘Joy’ in this case, are often the least complicated and most precious emotions. Blake explores the relationship between mother and baby, the mother pretends to have an imaginary conversation with her new-born child. ‘I happy am,/Joy is my name’. Through this powerful conversation between two connected minds, the mother names her baby Joy. The physical and emotional bond between a mother and her child is one so powerful and Blake studies this joining of life. ‘Sweet joy befall thee!’ The repetition of this phrase emphasises the love and care a mother has for her child – even whilst in the womb, the gift of life is joyful. Blake very much believed in the idea of loving God, hence why the poem concentrates on the happiness, love and magic of new life entering the world. These religious connotations are skilfully embedded and weaved between the lines of all of his poems – religion had a great influence over his writing.
In comparison to the blissful imagery created in the poem ‘Infant Joy’, ‘Infant Sorrow’ views the same situation from the perspective of a baby rather than the mother of a child and therefore, the poem bares a more sorrowful tone. William Blake captures the pain of childbirth, however this time, from the infant’s viewpoint. In contrast to the joy experienced by a mother in ‘Infant Joy’, the child in this poem finds itself ‘Helpless, naked’. The adjective ‘helpless’ reveals how the baby feels scared as it is no longer protected by the womb of its mother – this safety and security has ironically disappeared through the ‘joy’ of being born into the world. ‘Sorrow’ is not an emotion commonly associated with an infant; it is a very complex emotion, a mature emotion, contrasting to the simplicity of the emotion ‘joy’ portrayed in its partner poem. Once more, Blake questions life and the power that we have over it; he implies that, from birth, we do not have power over everything – we are unable to control everything we do. God does. Furthermore, both of these brief poems reveal William Blake’s inner thoughts regarding life and creation; by investigating birth from two different viewpoints Blake cleverly exposes the powerful differences between the emotions experienced by the two human beings that are, ironically, so closely related.

Comparison questions on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience

The Introductions to the Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Earth’s Answer, The Voice of Ancient Bard

How are the figures of the Piper and the Bard similar and different in these poems?

A “child on a cloud” and the “Holy Word” appear in these poems? Do you think they are connected in some kind of way? If so, why?

The first Introduction is written like a nursery rhyme, while the other Introduction, and Earth’s Answer are structured in a more unorthodox way. Why is this do you think?

All three poems are about people being “called” to do things? What are these things that they are “called” to do and why have they been “called to do them?

How do these poems use rhythm and rhyme to create tension and draw attention to key ideas, feelings and images?

The Shepherd, The Lamb, Night, The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence), The Little Black Boy, The Tyger

All of these poems make reference to lambs: how and why? Is there a common theme here?

Spring, Blossom, Introduction to Innocence, The Ecchoing Green, Night, Earth’s Answer, The Nurse’s Songs

How does Blake depict nature in these poems? How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

The Shepherd, The Garden of Love and the Nurse’s Songs (both Innocence and Experience)

The figure of the “Guardian” or parent is very important in these poems. How does Blake reveal two very different parenting styles? What is Blake saying about being a guardian or parent in these poems?

The Ecchoing Green and the Garden of Love

How are the societies that Blake depicts here similar and different? What has happened to the world of the ‘Ecchoing Green’ in ‘The Garden of Love’? Why has it been destroyed?

How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

The Little Black Boy, The Chimney Sweeper poems (Innocence and Experience) and The Little Vagabond

In what ways do these poems present children? Why and how are they presented as victims?

How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow, London, The Chimney Sweeper poems (Innocence and Experience) The School Boy

How are these poems similar and different in their depiction of young children and the world they are born into? What is Blake saying about education in these poems?

How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

The Little Boy Lost and The Little Boy Found (Innocence) A Little Boy Lost, The Little Girl Lost, The Little Girl Found, A Little Girl Lost(Experience)

What similar experiences do all these lost children experience in the poems? In what way do the parents behave in these poems? What role does religion, religious imagery and religious authority play in the poems?

How is the world of Experience different from that of Innocence?

How is the use of rhythm and rhyme similar and different in the poems?

Why do you think Blake kept returning to this story again and again?

The Nurse’s Song (Innocence),  Laughing Song, The Chimney Sweeper (Experience), The Nurse’s song (Experience)

These poems explore different emotional states of children and adults. What states do these explore and represent, and why?

How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

The Divine Image, Another’s Sorrow, The Human Abstract, The Clod and the Pebble and The Poison Tree

All three of these poems explore the ways in which individuals affect the world around them. How and why do they do this?

How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

Holy Thursday (Innocence and Experience), London, The Garden of Love and The Chimney Sweeper poems

These poems look at the treatment of children by the religious authorities. What is Blake saying about religious authority in these poems? How does he use poetic techniques to achieve his purposes?

How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

The Lamb, The Tyger, The Fly

What is Blake saying about animals in these poems? How and why does he use them as literary devices? How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

A Dream, The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence), The Angel

What role do dreams play in Blake’s poems? Why are they so important do you think? How does he use rhythm and rhyme to achieve his effects?

One student’s top four Blake poems

Introduction – Songs Of Innocence
What drew me to this poem in particular was the story it told. The child he sees could be interpreted in two ways, in a literal way or a figurative way. If it is thought of in a literal way the poem could be about how Blake told a child a poem of his, and the child very much enjoyed it and encouraged Blake to write more poems so “every child may joy to hear” them. If it is thought of in a figurative way then it could be interpreted that Blake had a dream where he saw a child in a cloud and that he had an epiphany that he should write his poems down and take it more seriously then he possibly did before. For me it was an interesting insight into Blake’s poetry as it was the first poem of his I read, and in my opinion it was a very fitting poem to start on.
The Schoolboy
What interested me about this poem is how relevant it is, even after hundreds of years when this was first written. The message in it is something that I also believe in. The fact that children are put in such a suppressive environment every week for hours on end does not make sense to Blake, and to me. I felt a connection to this poem as soon as I had finished reading it for the first time. The imagery of the bird stuck in the cage was very poignant for me; it really went well with the idea of a child being confined into school and still being expected to have “fun” and to “enjoy” it.
The Chimney Sweeper
This poem was very confusing for me at first as I initially thought that the chimney sweeps had died. But upon reading it again it had become one of my favourite of Blake’s poems. The idea of the chimneys sweeps thinking about death and going to heaven every night in their dreams is haunting; it leaves the reader in an inquisitive state of how bad life must be for the boys. The fact that death and going to heaven keeps them warm and happy when they wake up is very bittersweet. It’s something that would be depressing for me if I thought of death every night, but it is a motivation for them, and this is something that completely fascinates me.
Nurse’s song
This poem is in my top 4 of Blake’s poetry because of the fact that it is, in my mind, such a lovely story. It is simple short and sweet and it leaves a warm image in my mind after I have read it. I also enjoy the way in which it ends. The whole poem rhymes until the last line when Blake rights “And all the hills echoed”. This helps the last line to stand out from the rest and leaves imagery of children’s laughter echoing round green hills. A generally calming and warm image.

A Student’s First Thoughts on reading the Songs of Innocence and Experience

The echoing green – I particularly enjoyed this piece because of it’s use of pathetic fallacy to represent god, and all of the heavenly joys that one experiences when religious and innocent.
The fly – The fly attracted me as it uses what is perceived as an ‘ugly’ animal to show the troubles that are faced by many different people or races in their every day life, the ‘ugly’ nature of the animal connotes the ‘ugly’ nature of the problems many face.
The chimney sweeper – I like this poem especially because of it’s contrasting imagery, the chimney sweeper is black with soot, In contrast to the heavenly, innocent connotations of the snow around him, which could also be seen as pathetic fallacy, also shows deprivation and the exploitation of child labour.
More in-depth analysis
Holy Thursday (experience)
The poem opens with bold rhetoric devices, linking the divine purity of heaven and god, with ‘misery’ and poverty, this juxtaposition instantly casts us into the harsh, unforgiving world of experience, possibly like the one that Blake witnessed in his childhood. The use of irony in the negative descriptions of the land add to the intensity of the poverty and suffering as the land is branded as “rich and fruitful”. The ironic rhetoric question, “can it be a song of joy?” Adds to the negativity of this piece, coupled with the exclamatory use of the issue directly, “poverty!”. I feel the children are used as a catalyst in this poem to create guilt and sorrow from the reader, the use of child-like innocence gives them similar heavenly qualities. The imagery used in conjunction with this world gives it a painful, empty feel – “thorns” , “bare” – which is uncannily illustrative of the emotions of the people, the time scale of this seemingly post-apocalyptic situation is described as an ‘eternity’ acting as an intensifier to the aim of this piece; to raise awareness. I feel that in this poem, God and prosperity are represented by the sun, and it’s rays, never to shine upon this derelict, futile land. This extended metaphor continues to explain wherever the sun does shine, poverty shall be absent and again, the use of children to show this improvement, intensifies the effect.

Holy Thursday (innocence)
The opening of this piece also contains heavenly connotations, much like it’s experience related counterpart, however, this version brings together all the joys religion and god can bring, linked with words such as ‘clean’ rather than ‘misery’. The use of colour connotation with children creates a feel of happiness as bright, vibrant colours are used, “red, blue and green”. I also believe the fact that the children are paired, never alone, portrays a very positive, unifying view of innocence, unlike experience in which we all stand alone and aware. Winter is also seen in a different light for the innocence poem, it is directly connoted to heaven and purity unlike the ‘eternal’ ‘misery’ it supposedly causes in the experience version of the poem. Similarly, animal imagery also represents innocence whilst denoting some religious beliefs, such as Muslims who feel the ‘lamb’ is holy. As the ‘thousands of little boys and girls’ join in unification, the power of their action is described as “mighty” implicating that innocence is a strong attribute, only to be lost when exposed to the many taboo situations throughout life.

One student’s thoughts on the two ‘Nurse’s Songs’ from Innocence and Experience

The Nurse’s Song –Innocence

When reading the poem ‘The Nurse’s Song’ aloud, it allows the audience to get a different perspective of the poem.  For example it may be the way a person reads the poem aloud; perhaps stressing certain words or the volume and tone they read it in.  By reading aloud each individual will have a different take on the poem and this allows discussions and opinions to become more interesting and fluent.

What interests me most about the poem is the relationship between the nurse and the children.  The nurse is portrayed as a kind, gentle and compassionate woman, almost seen as a mother like figure.  It seems that the children really look up to her and obey her rules and regulations.  The nurse takes pleasure in watching the children play, its as if their cheerfulness inspires her to be at peace.  She supports them rather than overshadowing their innocence.  In the poem we also see that the children are not threatened by her; if they ask for more play time she allows it.  There does not seem to be any evidence of alienation between the nurse and children which emphasizes the happiness and joy of the poem.

The Nurse’s song is about a group of children playing outside in the hill’s whilst the nurse watches over them like a mother would her child.  As twilight arrives she kindly orders them inside, however they ask to play until bedtime.  The nurse gives in to their pleas and the children are overjoyed.

This particular poem portrays the theme of innocence by using the four stanzas to express the happiness and freedom of childhood.  In the poem it mentions “And all the hills echoed”  meaning that the children’s happiness is rebounded around them- in other words it symbolizes that joy is carried and spread around the playground.  This ending quote sums up the poem nicely as it brings an content  atmosphere for the audience.  The poem is also rhymed with an ABCB pattern, allowing the poem to become much more interesting and fun to read.  This highlights the main theme of innocence and happiness throughout the poem as William Blake’s words and patterns make the audience happy too.

The Nurse’s Song- Experience

What interests me most about this poem is that it opposes ‘The Nurse’ Song- Innocence’.  I find this incredibly intriguing as it is as if the poem has been continued into the future.  It explains how growing up allows you to experience new activities and sights, which will in turn lead to the loss of childhood innocence.  This particular poem also juxtaposes with ‘The Nurse’s Song-Innocence’ as it is not as cheerful and joyful.  It allows the reader to recognise the harsh reality of society and how important childhood is to an individual.

This poem begins with the nurse hearing whispers from the children which suggest that they are partaking in secret activity which allows them to become experienced.  When hearing this, the nurse ‘turns green and pale’ and reflects upon the previous innocence of the children.  The nurse then realises that the children are becoming young adults and are aware of their own sexuality; in other words, they are growing up.

The rhyme scheme in this poem is not the childlike rhyming pattern used in the previous poem, this suggests that the nurse is upset and displeased that the children are growing up and losing their innocence.  The experienced ‘Nurse’s Poem’ is half the size of the innocence poem with only two stanzas instead of four.  This could represent the rapid growth of the children from the first to the second poem and allowing the audience to sense the nurse’s loss and disappointment she is feeling.