Page:Facsimile of the original outlines before colouring of The songs of innocence and of experience executed by William Blake.djvu/11

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INTRODUCTION.




FROM first to last there is a prevailing note of kindliness and affection about the Songs of Innocence and Experience which enables every reader to find companionship in them. Here we do not seek for profound phrases but for rest of heart, and for sweet musical sounds that shall make this rest a delight and an exaltation, so that we may not only enjoy, but be proud to enjoy such height with such peace. From time to time a mysterious allusion or a stern saying shocks our tranquility. Why did the man who wrote the beautiful Cradle Song, place it in the same volume with—

"Thou mother of my mortal part,
In cruelty didst frame my heart,
And with false, self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my nostrils, eyes, and ears."

And, "Who is Tirzah?" we ask ourselves, as we see the unexpected name at the head of the verses where these lines occur. We turn the pages again and soon find that all is not smooth and facile. The "Human Abstract" is not a soothing song, nor is the "Divine Image." Even the "Little Black Boy" is no nursery rhyme. The words of the Bard to Earth, and Earth's Answer, are weighty with some intention that does not at first appear.

These are not the only places where strange words bring us to a pause. Even the simplest of the rhymes has a puzzling counterpart on some other page under a similar title. We begin to feel that unless we know what the poet meant by this volume, and why he called Innocence and Experience rather than Innocence and Guilt the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, we know nothing of his meaning and we are not reading our author at all, but playing with him, and perhaps deceiving ourselves.

In truth there is no book of Blake's so difficult to thoroughly understand as this collection of songs. The difficulty is increased by the sweetness and charm of the poetry. It seems almost a sin, and surely a folly, to awake ourselves with an effort of will from the half-dreamy enjoyment which we can receive here at our ease, and begin the serious task of giving ourselves an