Seriously, the apocalypse must be on its way. I just picked up a book of poetry all on my own, without prompting, and read it by choice, rather than by force or coercion. Even more miraculously, I mostly understood what I read, which (when it comes to poetry) is so rare I can probably count on one hand the times that it’s happened in my life. Furthermore, I actually enjoyed the book. So I’m sorry. I know I’ve probably caused the end of the world, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.
Songs if Innocence and Experience are two companion books of poetry that William Blake illustrated and published himself. The version we now own (I had to buy it for Jason after his much-gushing review) has copies of the original illustrations, which contain the poetry. (Almost like a 1700s version of a graphic novel!) On the opposite page, the poetry is typed up for easier reading. The illustrations were probably my favorite part of the book. They were really gorgeous, and at times a bit disturbing. They certainly went well with the poetry.
The book is cut into two sections, and Innocence is the first. Its poetry is light, harmonious, easy to understand, and a little too innocent for my tastes, I admit. I enjoyed this section mostly for its contrast to the poems in Experience, which are often paired, one in each section. One Innocence poem stood out to me, “The Little Boy Lost.”
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
(Now, lest anyone accuse me of considering this poem too happy and innocent, just know that the next page has “The Little Boy Found,” which completes a happy return to his mother, the boy led by God himself.)
These poems are darker, more complicated, and more difficult for me to understand, but on the whole more interesting, especially when compared to their counterparts in Innocence. At least half the poems had an Innocent pair, and my favorite of these was “Nurse’s Song” (same title both places). I also enjoyed “The Tyger,” which one of my favorite bands turned into a song and I just never realized it, and “A Poison Tree,” which discusses how anger left unsaid can grow into something deadly. My favorite of all the Experience poems, however, was “The Human Abstract,” which I also think is a good example of how the poetry contrasts in this section from the first:
Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be.
If all were as happy as we;
And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish love increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.
He sits down with holy fears.
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot
Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpiller and Fly.
Feed on the Mystery.
And it bears the fruit of Deceit.
Ruddy and sweet to eat:
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.
The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain
In the end, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Jason, who considers it the best book he’s read in the last decade, but for poetry, it was pretty good.