Sunday, September 14, 2014

Blake Paintings and Poetry

                Songs of Innocence by William Blake is a series of illustrated poems. At face value two of the poems, “The Little Boy lost” and “The Little Boy found”, are about a little boy that gets lost and then found. However, poems alone are open to vast levels of interpretation, never mind adding a painting on top of it. Due to this, there are several ways to look at a painting or attempt to understand a poem and several others when combining the two together. Unless William Blake wrote about what he was trying to capture in the poems and paintings, it is completely open to personal interpretation. Depending on your opinion, this can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Regardless of how you view it, there are going to be people that are going to argue that their interpretation is the correct one and all other interpretations are wrong. However, that is not the intent of this essay. The intent of this essay is to attempt to explain or at least provide some possibilities for an object in the paintings that do not necessarily match the poems when viewed at face value.
                Although “The Little Boy found” mentions a boy, painting number thirteen appears to depict a girl. In the painting, the person appears to have long dark hair and wearing a dress, which are stereotypically characteristics of a female. The following poem, “The Little Boy found”, appears to be a continuation of “The Little Boy lost” and also refers to a boy in the poem. However, the painting for this poem, number fourteen, appears to actually depict a little boy. The person has short curly red hair, which is more commonly characterized as male than long black hair.
Regardless of the gender of person in the paintings, they are not depicted the same. Since the poems appear to be connected, this seems odd when reading the poems at face value. However, there are multiple reasons that someone can be lost. One reason that could be a possibility for this set of poems is loss of identity. In “The Little Boy lost”, there are lines referring to the father leaving the boy. If the boy was close to his mother, without a masculine father figure he could develop some feminine characteristics. The long dark hair in “The Little Boy lost” could be the boy losing his identity and become feminine.  In “The Little Boy found”, there are references to God leading the boy to his mother. Although God is not necessarily a physical being in this poem, he could be symbolizing a masculine figure. Along with the boy’s mother, the boy could have reclaimed his identity, which is why the depiction in painting fourteen is more masculine than in painting thirteen.
Another possible interpretation of being lost is the boy is physically lost. In modern time, it is very easy for a child to being separated from their parents in congested areas such as a mail. In the eighteenth century, there were probably locations where a child could become separated from their parents. In painting number thirteen, the background appears to be a cave. Generally, caves are very dark. To the left of the boy, there is a light source. The light source could represent the boy’s past or more specifically, when he was with his father. To the boy’s right, is a vast source of darkness, this could represent the boy’s thoughts of the future, or more specifically the fear of being lost forever. Although this may not directly explain why the boy is depicted differently, it is possible that it is representing the boy’s confusion. Another possibility is when viewing objects in the dark they do not always appear to look same.  In painting number fourteen, the boy is with his mother so his fear of being lost forever and his confusion have vanished or at least mostly disappeared.  The image is much brighter to show this sense of security. The boy is also depicted differently due to his lack of confusion.

Regardless of how you interpret the poems and paintings, there is no debate that the boy is depicted differently in both poems. This essay provided some explanations or at least possibilities on how the poems and paintings could be viewed differently due to this. However, poems and paintings are open to vast levels of interpretations so someone else could argue for another interpretation. Without knowing exactly what William Blake intended in these poems and paintings, every interpretation of these poems and paintings are solely personal opinion. It is possible that William Blake did not intend for these poems and paintings to be connected, despite their similar naming and seemingly connected story lines. This interpretation could change the way that the poems and painting are viewed even further. Essentially, there is no right or wrong way to view these poems and paintings resulting in numerous different ways that these poems and paintings can be viewed.


  1. The first paragraph of this essay spends a lot of time explaining what interpretation of poetry is. This isn’t really relevant to the essay, and a lot of that can be cut out of the essay to introduce the actual thesis of your essay. The thesis is also very vague, and rather in introducing the argument of the essay, is simply states that this essay is going to interpret the poem. The conclusion says a lot of the same things as your introduction, while it should be used to make a closing statement on your argument. A third interpretation is also brought up in the conclusion – that the poems/paintings are not connected. While this seems to be brought up to demonstrate the numerous interpretations there could be of Blake’s poetry, it’s not relevant to the body of the essay, and only raises new questions.
    The body of the essay is definitely clearer and more focused, and you used a lot of specific details from the paintings and the text of the poems. However, I think there should be a focus on a single interpretation rather than the two you outline here. You’re arguing for the gender-identity crisis interpretation as well as the fact that he could be physically lost. Choose one to focus on in the essay. A lot of the details you talk about with the darkness/light could be applied to both interpretations of the poems.

  2. Your first paragraph doesn't actually do anything - there's no argument, and no analysis of any particular poem. It can be cut totally.

    Interestingly, you are probably in error when you think that the first images is of a little girl. Embarrassingly, I'll link to Wikipedia to explain:
    It's not a big deal, but assumptions are dangerous! Our ancestors weren't always the same as us. More importantly, why do we care about gender here? You don't really clarify that.

    That being said, you're not necessarily wrong that the person in the first image *seems* more feminine and in the second image more masculine. So you might be on to something after all - but what you're not explaining is why all this material about gender, if it is present, really matters?

    In your second to last paragraph, I think you're on to something with the cave imagery (which you connect to the business about gender identity if you wish...). However, it seems like you're rushing through a bunch of alternative pseudo-explanations for it, rather than really working through a single coherent interpretation.

    Your final paragraph is worse than useless. Rather than actually advancing an argument, you're spending time and energy explaining that you're really not sure about any of it. That might be true, but it's not much of a strategy. You're doing some things well - you pick out the interesting, weird details and work with them, but you lack focus when doing so - rather than forcing yourself to articulate an interpretation *from* your good observations, you undermine yourself with your introduction and conclusion, which is easy but not very productive.