Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blake's Songs of Innocence

Preface: This is the first poem for the challenge hosted at bookwookey. I don't pretend to be any good at poetry analysis; I took one class in college on writing poetry, because I needed an arts credit to graduate, and I can't draw. My most extensive experience with poetry is memorising famous Russian ones; that started me off, and now I enjoy memorising English ones as well. So, for me the most important thing about a poem is that I enjoy how it sounds; I tend to not worry about the meaning. Keep that in mind as you read my desperate, fumbling attempts over the next week.


"A Cradle Song" by William Blake
(note...here's the original with engravings)

Sweet dreams, form a shade
O'er my lovely infant's head!
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
By happy, silent, moony beams!

Sweet Sleep, with soft down
Weave thy brows an infant crown!
Sweet Sleep, angel mild,
Hover o'er my happy child!

Sweet smiles, in the night
Hover over my delight!
Sweet smiles, mother's smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes!
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep, sleep, happy child!
All creation slept and smiled.
Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,
While o'er thee thy mother weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Holy image I can trace;
Sweet babe, once like thee
Thy Maker lay, and wept for me:

Wept for me, for thee, for all,
When He was an infant small.
Thou His image ever see,
Heavenly face that smiles on thee!

Smiles on thee, on me, on all,
Who became an infant small;
Infant smiles are His own smiles;
Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.

I have to admit: I didn't expect to enjoy William Blake. I really don't like his paintings (number one reason-the colours), so I've always avoided his poetry. When I saw the Poetry Challenge, though, I thought that now would be as good a time as ever to tackle Songs of Innocence and Experience. After all, I feel that everyone *ought* to have read Blake, even if they don't enjoy him! So, imagine my surprise when I found his poetry to be beautiful, and evocative, and touching! For the challenge, I read the whole collection. For posting, however, I'm going to choose one from each part. Why'd I pick "A Cradle Song"? Well, I live with my baby niece, and as soon as I read through the poem, it just jumped at me.

The poem starts out soft and happy...
the first three stanzas are filled with adjectives like sweet, mild, pleasant. The mother seems to be friends with who she's addressing (dreams, sleep, smiles); the baby seems in a good place.

The fourth stanza continues with the soothing diction...
making the reader feel safe, but the addition of the word "moans" introduces something else.

Then, the fifth stanza approaches. It starts out quite positive: Blake repeats the word happy, but that's just him lulling the reader so that the jolt of the last line is all the sharper: "while o'er thee thy mother weep." After almost being rocked to sleep in perfect harmony, Blake goes back on the reader's trust. Now, it seems the mother is unhappy.

However, the closing stanzas clarify this. The mother is thinking about God, and when God became a baby. I'm fairly certain it's not a huge leap to assume that would be Jesus. ;) It closes on a feel-good, Jesus loves us kind of note.

In case you couldn't tell, I like the poem more when you chop off the last three stanzas. That way, you have the really strong (because unexpected) line ending the poem. However, I'm sure that Blake had a point to make; a quick minute at Wikipedia informed me that Blake liked Jesus, but didn't like the Church. Hmmm..apparently he developed his own religion and mythology. Quite interesting. (can you tell we never discussed Blake in my high school? I feel like my complete ignorance about him is embarrasing me) So, I suppose his Jesus references weren't ironic; they were a real sign of his beliefs. You have to admit, it's a nice belief-very rosy. Perhaps that's why this poem was from Songs of Innocence. ;)

Ok, I think I've rambled on long enough. I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to be doing for the Poetry Challenge (I was half tempted to just post the poem and tell people to read it), so I hope I've done my duty. This is definitely a poem that I'll memorise. Perhaps after this challenge I'll be so addicted to poetry that I'll start posting a poem a week. But without the analysis.

8 comments:

Ted said...

I am so delighted you're doing the poetry challenge, Eva, and you certainly don't have anything to apologize for. I love reading people's responses and insights into poetry, which is the whole reason I suggested it - and I love it too when more people read. And given the fact that we're parallel reading, I enjoy how Blake (you and Dewey), Whitman (me) and Milton (Sheila & Imani) were all - in a way - creating their own mythologies. I'm interested to see what kind of cross currents we observe.

Sarah said...

As Ted said: you have nothing to apologize for. Thanks for the William Blake poem! (Oh, and my first "real" intro to poetry was Anna Akhmatova--hooray for Russian poets). I'm absolutely no good at analyzing poetry, but I'm enjoying going around and reading everyone's postings...

Imani said...

Blake is one of my favourite poets ever so I'm pleased you started it off with one of his poems. It does end rosily but I think that the mother's weeping strikes a more sombre note, a bit of adult "experience" tainting the symbols of perfect innocence represented in children and Jesus. You almost forget it at the end, but it lingers.

Blake does that quite often with his "Innocence" poems, which I like, because it keeps things on edge.

Nyssaneala said...

I have read very little Blake poetry before, so the last 4 stanzas were a bit of a surprise! I agree with Imani, and I also really like how Blake introduces the more adult emotions of the mother into this poem, as a contrast to the innocence of her sleeping babe.

Eva said...

Ted, it is interesting to see how different poets go about creating different mythologies. :) Looking forward to your post on Whitman!

Sarah, I *love* Anna Akhmatova-the first poem I ever memorised was written by her (about her husband).

Imani, I agree that it's the contrast in the poem that really makes it work; if there wasn't any weeping at all, it'd be pretty boring. :)

Nyssaneala, until I checked on wikipedia, I thought that Blake might be poking fun at Christianity, since I've never read anything by him before. We didn't really have a poetry section in any high school lit class that I took.

Dewey said...

I was going to say I chose a Blake poem, too, but Ted beat me to it!

Are you going to post a poem a day over the next few days, then? I think I'd rather do that than put all four in one post.

Ted said...

Eva & Dewey, personally I'm doing a post per poem (at least, perhaps one poem will require more).

Eva - Dewey sent this very helpful hint to me which might be useful to all the poetry participants:

I wanted to share a handy tool with you and the other participants before people start posting. Sometimes a poem is formatted in a particular way that would be hard to recreate in a blog post: unusual indentations, concrete poems. etc. You can see what I mean here where one of the poems I chose is shown with all its indentations.You can use the preserve tag before your posting of the poem as you have copied it in its original structure. Just copy the poem, past it, and put the preserve tag around it. The preserve tag is just pre (with the usual html/xtml brackets around it >< (those only backwards). After the poem, use /pre in the same brackets. This will display the poem exactly as it should look. If anyone has any questions about this, feel free to email me at dewpie at gmail dot com.

Eva said...

Dewey, I'll only be doing one poem per post, but I'm not sure if I'll be doing it every day. They'll definitely all be done this week though! Thanks for the advice you fave Ted-that came in handy.

Ted, thanks for passing on Dewey's advice!