If “Songs of Innocence” describe a peaceful and nice world picture, “Songs of Experience’ would be a picture of ironic and cynic. Blake finished the transformation of his mind --- the happy singer did not exist anymore, but the wisdom poet showed up. He used his experience and cynical attitude told people what the real world looked like. In the “Songs of Experience”, the sun never light anymore, the field becomes desert, and the relationship between people is cold and detached. I can see the real world in Blake’s eyes. If the “Songs of Innocence” was the Utopia that Blake made for us to go for it, the “Songs of Experience” would be the purgatory we are undergoing now.
The first one I want to discuss is “The Sick Rose”. Blake described an invisible worm tired to find a sick rose in a howling storm night in the first section. It made me think about what will happen. In the second section, the worm find the rose actually, and “his dark secret love destroyed rose’s life.” The first thought I come up with is a young man take away the girl’s chastity. The illustration about this poem also proved my thought since girls become the rose’s leaves, and the worm eat the leaves up left in the picture. It looks like the rose already dying; represent those girls are lost them themselves in the dark secret love. The selfish and evil “worm” destroyed the pure “rose”. It is interesting I come up with a second thought after I read the poem on the illustration. Why does the “worm” look like full of energy? He tried so hard to go up. In the opposite, the rose droop her head on the ground, looks like decadent and lost. The girl in the middle of the rose tried to hug something. Even if the “worm” represents some bad evil things, does the rose one hundred percent pure? I doubt that. It made me think about an old principle in China, there is no simply black or white in the real world, most of things are gray. It reminds me that evil and foul exists in everyone’s soul, the appearance of beautiful do not decide the inside good and evil. I think Blake used those metaphors made us to think about the world and the reality. It is always hard to find the essence of things. “The Sick Rose” leads me to think more before I judge. If I want to find some realities, I need to think as “gray” --- not black or white.
So what is the reality of the world? Blake attempted to show us a sick society which is “London”. “How the chimney-sweeper’ cry/ Every blackening church appals/ And the hapless soldier’s sign/ Runs in blood down palace-walls.” It is the London in the end of the 18th century. The angry, disappointed, and despair. Where is the hope? What is justice? Who can protect us? The government and Royal only cared about how to defeat other countries and get more and more wealth. How about People? They did not even think about it. Except the governing classes, every single man in this country is just a small accessory, nobody is irreplaceable. Someone dead, other one will continue his work. Just like a machine, apathy and cold. In the end of “London”, “but most, through midnight streets I hear/ How the youthful harlot’s curse/ Blasts the new-born infant’s tear/ And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.” The harlot, which is the lowest class in the society, nobody care about them. They sold their body to exchange bread. No hope, no future, no happiness. It is hardly to say they are still completely human beings after all these sufferings. The body and soul are already fragmented for a long time. Does the religion will save those young lives? No, false religion would only tell us those young women do not worth to save. The city is sick. When I watch the illustration of “London”, there is an old man in the middle of the top of the picture. I have to say it is the best way to describe a sick city. He was already sick and old, but he still thought he was good enough to walk to the future. However, the future does not need a sick old man. It is the reality of the world Blake underwent. He located at a timeline the world started change. Old things became decayed, laws already obsolete, no freedom and rights, and war destroyed everything. Those complicated and struggled moods we can never feel anymore. It is the confusion of an era. People lived in 18th century could never image one day we selected president by vote.
Now, I already saw a sick ugly society from “London”. I am wondering there is hope exists in the “Songs of Experience” Then I found this particular poem that I really want to discuss which is “The Tiger”. It was a power that broke the world of the “Songs of Experience”. Blake used his words to describe this powerful king of the beasts. “Tiger, tiger, buring bright/ In the forest of the night/ What immortal hand or eye/ could Frame thy fearful symmetry?” Blake used this part twice to describe tiger. I keep ask myself why he did this. Does this fire and the tiger inside his body? Does the fire burn all the dark into light? Destroy or reborn? I believe Blake was also struggled about “the tiger”. When I read this poem, the hot feeling occupied my mind. What is the tiger? Just an animal? I have to say most of time tiger symbolizes power. After I read the poem I keep thinking why Blake gave us a vivid picture of the tiger. The whole Songs of Experience tried to describe a cold, cruel and depressing world; a tiger seems like do not belong to this world. I keep thinking about the tiger and I come up with a roughly idea --- this tiger means revolution. The fire and the tiger made me felt the violence and the heat only revolution can bring to this world. Yes, follow the tiger and fight for our human rights and freedom. People will reborn from the revolution. If we suppose the illustration is a small world, we can see the tiger burned the whole world (the whole poem is on fire in the illustration). After the revolution the sky is still blue, but the cost of revolution damaged the whole society. Wait, I thought the revolution is the best way to solve the sick “London”. Why Blake said “Did he who made lamb make thee?” Who is “lamb”? The tiger had such strong power, but how to use it? The more I know, the more I do not know. The question come back to the beginning of my essay, how to judge “the tiger is good or bad.” I think Blake stand by the revolution in the beginning, then he finally realized revolution would destroy a country. Revolution killed thousands of people, numerous people lost their family. After the revolution, the city was heavily damaged. Did revolution really a good way for people to find their future? Blake also felt uncertain. There is not only “tiger”, but also “lamb”. I mean this is the charming part of Blake’s poem that we can never find an answer directly.
The contradictions and complexities always exist. Mark Schorer provided a new version to me. He attempted to describe the relationship between tiger and lamb. “The innocent impulses of the lamb have been curbed by restraints, and the lamb has been turned into the tiger”, and the new animal “bursts forth in revolutionary wrath.”(250) David Erdman extends Schorer's argument into Blake's own historical context. Erdman is careful "not to imply the "The Tyger" is a political allegory," but finds ample political resonance in the contemporary events of France and America. But the poem culminates in the fifth stanza when the counter-revolutionary "stars threw down their spears" like the surrendering armies at Yorktown and Valmy, long at their wars (in the American and French revolutions, respectively), and "seemed ready to coexist with the Lamb." The cycle is complete, when "the wrath of the Tiger"-- both revolutionary and counter- revolutionary-- "done its task."(84) These people believe the lamb will finally realize they need to fight for themselves, and weakness could not help them. So there is an evolution from lamb to tiger. The revolution is a task, it needs to be done. Since I live in a peaceful and stable world after those revolutions for hundreds of years, I can see the damage was recovered. So I can say those revolutions actually helped the world go to a right direction. Although there still are bad things happened, but it is already a much better world than Blake underwent. If we choose to chase for the perfection, everything became meaningless. The only reason we keep progress is we are imperfect creature. Revolution is not only an end, but also a start.
Schorer, Mark. William Blake: The Politics of Vision. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1946.
Erdman, David. The Illuminated Blake Garden City, New York: Anchor Press Doubleday, 1974.