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.


Blake’s ‘Infant joy’: “I happy am/Joy is my name, — Sweet joy befall thee!”


I have no name
I am but two days old. —
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name, —
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy but two days old.
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while
Sweet joy befall thee.

You can compare different versions of this poem here.

Questions to answer on the poem


What effects are created when the poem is read aloud or sung?

What interests you most about the poem? Why?

What questions might you ask about the poem?

What is the poem about?

What effects does the language create?

What is the effect of the poem’s structure and form?

What are the similarities and differences between other texts?

How do other people interpret this poem? Find sources/links…

What might make a good creative response to the poem?

How might you teach this poem?