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?

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What happened when I asked some students to perform some of Blake’s poems

So today I encouraged one of my Year 13 classes to set Blake’s ‘The Ecchoing Green’ and ‘London’ to music by taking them to the Music Theatre and seeing what would happen.

Perhaps a little fool-hardy, but I was interested in a) what poems they would choose having the whole range of poems to choose from b) what they would do.

One group weren’t keen on the idea, but chose to read ‘The Ecchoing Green’ without a huge amount of enthusiasm. One student asked what the point of the exercise was; why couldn’t they be in class taking notes on the poems, like most poetry lessons? I tried to explain about Blake’s “aesthetics”; that he believed that poetry needed to brought alive by illustrations, by music, by being read aloud. We then looked at the ways in which the poem deploys a rising rhythm, using iambs and anapaests to create a sense of hope, of optimism, with the beats constantly rising, until the final verse when the dactylic “darkening” is used to create a sense of falling.

This group had been organised and knew that we were supposed to be in the Music Theatre; they are a studious group, with people in it keen to do well. They were, however, very self-conscious. There was a sense that they were “experienced” in the sense that a certain playful ‘jouissance’ which you can sometimes find in younger children doing this kind of exercise was missing from them.

However, the other group – who hadn’t listened about where we would be and went to the wrong classroom initially – embraced the idea with a child-like abandonment. It was almost as if I had let go of a pressure valve; they lost their inhibitions. They went completely mad on the drums and xylophones but in the end produced quite a powerful reading of ‘London’. The version was very, very rhythmic, the group caught the marching rhythm of the poem, which uses iambs in a very different way to his approach in ‘The Ecchoing Green’.

There was some debate about students reluctance to post things on the blog; they preferred to put things in their books where it could be definitively marked, rather than responded to. I have thought about this, but still feel a blog is a good venue for posting ideas and thoughts for the students because everyone can read it, and learn more easily from each other. This could be done on a discussion forum on the VLE, but that shuts down at the end of the year and everything is lost.

I suppose I left the lesson feeling that Blake’s teaching are still very radical; that they challenge not only what you teach but how you teach. His aesthetics demand a holistic engagement with his work rather than a lecture-based approach.

Next week though, having introduced the poems in this way, I am going to make the lessons much more “traditional”; the students will be researching allocated poems in depth and presenting their thoughts to the class, having looked at the relevant critics. I am aiming to teach them about the historical and literary context of Blake’s poems.