Students’ thoughts on first reading Blake

M wrote:

From first reading through the poems of William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence & Experience,’ I found that some of the poems were clearly related to the title of the collection, and others seemed to have a more abstract take on the idea of ‘Innocence and Experience’.

For example, the poem titled ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ gave an immediate impression of a young, vulnerable child within the opening few lines of the first stanza. The beginning of the poem seemed to have a strong focus upon innocence and was suggestive of the fact that the young boy had a considerably lack of experience because of his age, ‘weep weep weep weep’. The repetition of the dynamic verb ‘weep,’ seems really powerful within the opening of the poem, because it suggests that the young chimney sweeper is innocent and vulnerable, possibly because of the experience of his mothers death and his father’s suggested dismissal of him.

In contrast to this, the poem titled ‘The Clod & the Pebble’ didn’t seem to give any impression of being relatable to either innocence or experience when initially reading through the poem. The concepts within the poem seemed very abstract, and the idea of the poem portraying a sense of ‘experience’ was something that I did not find immediately obvious. When thinking about this poem further, it seems to be relatable to love and relationships, and a possible interpretation of this poem would be that it is a metaphor, and is representative of the experience that love can give you, but is hidden within a more simple concept of ‘The Clod and the Pebble’.

T wrote:

FIRST THOUGHTS ON POEMS

As a group, we decided to read through all of the poems first before stopping to analyse them. Obviously, the common theme through the first half was innocence however it proved to us that sometimes it is hard to identify what the link to innocence or experience in the second half was. For example in songs of innocence a lot of the poems seemed to be to do with youth, either portrayed through children or animals (lamb) or even simply young minded. I thought that some of the poems seemed sad e.g. the chimney sweeper. I enjoyed reading the poems further to see how they linked and connected because reading through all of them gives you a better first understanding than analyzing deeply into one after a first look at it. Our group brought up the question of whether our original views of what innocence and experience was were changed after reading the poems. Sometimes, we found it difficult to understanding what was going on in the poems, I found it confusing that there is no definite beginning, middle and end like a story has. I think the poems try to get information across without saying it directly, I get this opinion because some of the poems do not link and connect.

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What are students’ favourite Blake poems on first reading?


 
 

My students finished reading ‘The Songs of Innocence and Experience’ today and then read out their favourite poems. It was interesting to see their diverse responses.

The first group chose: ‘The Fly’, ‘The Chimney Sweeper — Experience’, and ‘The Lilly’.

Harry says: “I like this poem because It uses the fly as a symbol of day to day life: it could be metaphoric in the sense that the fly represents different daily troubles.”

Millie: “I like the Chimney Sweeper I thought it showed the hypocrisy of the people living in Blake’s time who would go to church and then at same time neglect their children.”

Sophie: “I like London because it gives an insight into the context of the time; it shows how children were chimney sweepers, families were really struggling and everyone was unhappy.”

Nahum: “I liked the Lilly because it is saying that everything else has its opposite side; the Lilly stands out against the rest, she’s just there being beautiful. It can’t be touched by all this other stuff, the thorns, the roses can’t touch it or her. She’s on another level to everything else.”

Group 2:
The Chimney Sweeper: Innocence
The Ecchoing Green
The School Boy
The Clod and the Pebble

I was interested in the comment about ‘The Clod and the Pebble’ from a pupil who felt that the poem represented the problems we encounter in everyday life. ‘The Ecchoing Green’ was chosen because of the way it travelled through the different phases of the day. Interestingly, The Chimney Sweeper from the Songs of Innocence was chosen for its representation of the horrors of child slave labour and the terrible treatment of children generally.

I was fascinated to notice that some students were already beginning to sing and do drum beats to the poems.

Group 3:
Chimney Sweeper – Experience
The School Boy
Introduction to Innocence

This group liked the Introduction because of its happy atmosphere and its last line that invited every child to hear the poems.

Here are some more detailed, written responses from the students:

G writes:

The School Boy

I really liked this poem because it shows Blake’s anger and his protest against the destruction of innocence and youthful joy. The powerful animalistic imagery of the bird symbolizes freedom and innocence which is juxtaposed with the Cage which represents the education system 200 years ago. Blake’s self education influenced his views on education which we can still relate to today.

The Chimney Sweeper (experience)

The first line in this poem shows strong imagery of contrast between the black boy (covered in soot) and the snow which connotes innocence and heaven. This poem has a lot of anger in it.  I like the fact that Blake is attacking authority and blames parents for  inflicting cruelty on innocent children.

Introduction (innocence)

I like the way Blake sets the scene for his songs showing innocence throughout the introduction. He uses symbolism for religious purposes to show innocence such as the lamb and also children which is a main theme in his poems. The last line for me shows that the children are his audience, this could be why his songs of innocence seem very sweet and short?

Blake’s ‘Clod and the Pebble’: is love unselfish (the Clod) or selfish (the Pebble)?

songsie.b.p53-32.100

Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

So sang a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattles feet;
But a Pebble of the brook,
Warbled out these metres meet.

Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight:
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.

You can compare different versions of the poems 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?