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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The Little Boy Lost — a child goes missing when his father ignores him…

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Father, father, where are you going
O do not walk so fast.
Speak father, speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost,

The night was dark no father was there
The child was wet with dew
The mire was deep, & the child did weep
And away the vapour flew.

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?

Blake’s ‘Chimney Sweeper’ — the horror of child slave labour

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You can compare different versions of the poem here.

 

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep.
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curl’d like a lambs back, was shav’d, so I said,
Hush Tom never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a sleeping he had such a sight,
That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned & Jack,
Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black,

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open’d the coffins & set them all free.
Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm.
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

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?

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