Monday, September 15, 2014

Blake - Children's Fear of the Dark

 William Blake’s Songs of Innocence puts forth many different views of the feeling of innocence that can be interpreted along with certain images.  A particular characteristic of innocence that Blake shows is that of hope in the face of possible danger by using contradicting parts in one engraving.  We see that one part of the image is darkened and foreboding and the other is light and happy looking.  Two images that Blake uses to illustrate this technique are the engravings for the poems “Little Boy Lost” and “Little Boy Found.”  In these images there is a top half which is the actual illustration part of the frame and it is distinctly dark, and then there is a bottom half for the words of the poem that is the opposite.  It is light and uses brighter colors like sky blue and orange and conveys a very different feeling than its corresponding portion.  I believe that Blake made the pictures in this fashion to comment on the fear of the dark and the unknown that is born out of a child’s innocence, as one of his many themes of innocence.
                Looking first at the engraving for “Little Boy Lost,” the top portion features an image of someone, presumably the “boy”, wandering through a black forest alone, chasing after a vaporous light which is what he believes to be his comfort and salvation.  The dark surrounds him and the light is the only thing for him to follow.  This is very much alike to a child fearing the dark and holding it at bay with a nightlight in the corner of his room.  The child is afraid of being swallowed into darkness because it is difficult for children to understand that just because it is dark does not mean something bad is going to happen.  It is an irrational view that a child takes simply because they cannot see through the darkness and the child is afraid that in the darkness they will be alone, which is unacceptable.  But the bottom portion of the plate serves to ward off the dark of the overall image.  Its bright colors and flowing words are like the nightlight in the corner.  Even though the poem itself is scary and the child is in the black forest alone the bottom portion keeps the engraving as a whole light and it is as if the child is only being told a story about someone else.  The simple close placement of the bright and the dark represents the tendency towards fear in a child and that fear can be abated through the use of light.
                To further prove this point, the picture for the consequent poem “Little Boy Found” also utilizes the two sections of dark and light to bring about the return from the darkness.  Here the focus is coming out and away from the dark.  The forest, present and still ready to swallow up the boy, is now behind him as he is lead out to safety.  This picture invokes happiness by still using the fear that the dark could still win.  By being in the background the blackness is close and if the child should be separated again he could be lost forever.  Again, the bottom portion where the actual script is located is bright and alluring, as if pointing out that it was still just a story and light and warmth has won out over the darkness.  That is what a child would look for when he fears the dark and unknown.  He wants to see that light and familiarity are still there to protect his way of life.

                These two poems and two engravings go together perfectly to symbolize the fear that children have of the dark.  Placed side by side they make a kind of story that can be told to children, the kind of story where the child is afraid of the outcome because of the dark, but the child also knows that eventually it will all work out because the brightness is still there in the form of the lower panels.  They take on the voice of the narrator, lending to the view that the child listening to the story is on the outside looking in and the danger cannot really hurt him.  Blake designed the panels this so that the fear of the dark is there but not able to cause harm, and the child hearing the story is shielded by the same innocence that creates the fear of the dark in the first place.  Blake wanted to show that one time everyone had a point where they were a child afraid of the dark and that we were brought back by the light that children always are grasping for.


  1. Your discussion is interesting about how child felt darkness. I like you mentioned about "the child is afraid of being swallowed into darkness because it is difficult for children to understand that just because it is dark does not mean something bad is going to happen." It is a way to reconsider about these illustrations. I also discussed "the little boy lost" and " the little boy found" in my essay, your thoughts remind me there is more than one possible I should think about the relationship between poem and illustration. If you want to revise this response as an essay, you need to find the relationship between dark and light in Songs of Experience. How did dark and light influence us in Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence differently? I think it is an argument worth to discuss.

  2. Your main idea is interesting, but I don't think you work very hard at either any difficulties that it has, or following it through to its implications. Dealing with the use of color in the "illustration" and "text" parts of the page as if they are both open to interpretation (regarding color, rather than just the words) is a good idea, which has two notable problems that I see.

    First, you don't do enough with the use of color within the illustration itself - with "A Little Boy Found" we need to pay attention not just to the darkness of the outside of the illustration or the light of the text, but also the light radiating from the figure who seems to be God himself - which is also weirdly similar to the misleading life of the previous image.

    Second, you don't think hard enough about what it might mean that the images are dark and the illustrations are light. You find the "text" half of the page bright and alluring - but note also that this is the text. Is Blake deliberately showing us darkness and despair in images of the world, contrasted with light and joy in the text of the poem? Is his subject matter something about a contrast or conflict between language (or at least written language) and the world?

    So the idea is good, and open to further development, but I would have liked to see you push a little harder into asking what the brightness of the text means, and I especially would have liked to see you deal with the more problematic details, like God's presence in the midst of what you call darkness...