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Assigned: Songs of Innocence and of Experience (43-59) and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (72-84).
Songs of Innocence
1. What do you consider to be the task or purpose of Songs of Innocence? In other words, do the songs teach us anything? If so, what?
2. How is the title phrase "songs of innocence" capable of more than one interpretation?
3. Are adult limitations in understanding different in kind from a child's limitations? What bounds the perceptions of an adult? What bounds the perceptions of a child?
4. What is the child's role in relation to the piper? What does the child want the piper to do?
5. Might the line "I stain'd the water clear" be read in two different ways? If so, how?
"The Echoing Green"
6. How do the poem's aged characters perceive the children's joyful play?
7. What interpretation of the passage of time does the child provide? In other words, how does the child-speaker view the cessation of play and the coming on of night? Does the child welcome the nightfall? If so, why?
8. How are the child-speaker, the lamb, and Christ "the Lamb" set in relation to one another? Why is it so easy for the child to identify the lamb's creator, and so easy to invoke God's blessing on the lamb?
"The Little Black Boy"
9. Where has the child learned that he is "bereaved of light"? How would you characterize his interpretation of his race?
10. How does the child's mother accommodate the boy's understanding and yet correct it? How does she view racial difference?
"The Chimney Sweeper"
11. Why does the child-speaker interpret his situation — practically a form of industrial-age slavery — in a positive light? Does the content of his narration undercut his innocent trust in God?
12. What is the child-speaker's relationship to little Tom Dacre? What does Tom's dream mean?
"The Divine Image"
13. Why are "mercy, pity, peace, and love" good attributes in this poem? (The poem's contrary is to be found in Songs of Experience, "The Human Abstract")
14. How does the speaker describe the movements of the children? Is this description ambivalent, and is the poem as a whole less innocent-sounding than some of the others? If so, why? What lines or phrases might lead us to that conclusion?
15. What is the difference in the way the Nurse perceives the children's playing and their own understanding of their day's events? How does an adult perceive time (and play) differently than a child?
16. What happens to us when we transition from a nameless being to one that has been endowed with a name? What is gained? What is lost?
17. What is the significance of the fact that the child names herself?
Songs of Experience
To be in a fallen condition and not interpret it spiritually and in light of the doctrine of contraries is to compound and perpetuate human error.
18. What is the difference between the "piper" of the introduction to Songs of Innocence and the "Bard" in Songs of Experience?
19. How do you interpret the symbolism of the introduction — its references to "Earth," light and darkness, and the "starry floor / watry shore"?
20. Who does Earth say prevents her from being regenerated? How does he do that?
21. What ideal relationship between nature and humanity does the poem imply? What is the relationship as it stands in the poem?
"The Clod and the Pebble"
22. Is the Clod's interpretation of love privileged? Is the Pebble's?
23. What view of love emerges when you try to put both interpretations of it together?
24. How has the speaker's perspective changed from the corresponding poem in Songs of Innocence? What allows the speaker to see things differently?
25. What is the "trembling cry"?
26. How do you understand the poem's references to natural things — sun, rain, fields, thorns, etc.?
27. Compare the poem to its Innocence precursor. Again, what enables the child to interpret his situation so differently?
28. Is it significant that the child uses the present tense in the last stanza — "because I am happy, & dance and sing…"? What is the nature of his dancing and singing?
29. What is the logic of the child's statement that his parents, their conception of God, and that God's Priest and King "make up a heaven of our misery"? How can they all "make up" a heaven from the existence of misery?
30. Compare this poem with its Innocence predecessor, "The Ecchoing Green." Characterize the difference in perspective that distinguishes the Nurse from the elders in the earlier poem.
"The Sick Rose"
31. What does the worm or caterpillar symbolize?
32. Characterize the unhealthy "sexual economy" (as in "political economy") figured by this poem.
33. Compare this poem with its Innocence predecessor, "The Blossom" if you happen to have a full copy of Songs of Innocence — you can get it from David Erdman's Complete Works of William Blake from an offsite hyperlink.
34. Is the speaker's identification with the fly a healthy one?
35. Refer to King Lear 4.1, where Gloucester says "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. / They kill us for their sport." How similar is the thought about the fly in Blake's poem?
36. What power does the speaker attribute to "thought"? Is the attribution or perspective convincing?
37. What emotional progression does the poem imply in the speaker's contemplation of the Tyger?
38. What is the answer to the question in line 20, "Did he who made the lamb make thee?" Why does the speaker need to ask the question? Who is "he," i.e. the lamb's creator?
39. What is the significance of the poem's references to "fire," "burning," and the "furnace"? What does fire often symbolize?
40. Examine the plate on page 55 — describe the Tyger's attributes. What sort of "tiger" is this that Blake has engraved? What effect does the odd spelling "tyger" create?
"My Pretty Rose Tree" / "Ah Sun-flower"
41. What two states of love do these poems invoke?
"The Garden of Love"
42. Explain the speaker's perspective on morality as a system of oppression.
43. To what extent is the speaker complicit in what is happening?
44. What effects do the poem's insistent particularity and totality have — i.e. "charter'd," "mark," every"?
45. Why is the reference to prostitution the most significant one to the speaker, as we see from the last stanza?
"The Human Abstract"
46. This poem is the companion of "The Divine Image" in Songs of Innocence. Why is it significant that Blake uses the word "abstract" in the title of this poem? What exactly does that word mean in context, and how is abstraction perhaps the key to the erroneous thinking about mercy and pity that the poem laments?
47. What progression of mental states does the poem trace? What are the material consequences of those successive states?
48. Refer to Songs of Innocence's "Infant Joy." Why is the child sad following upon the trial of birth?
49. What relationship to the father and mother does the infant-speaker assert?
"A Poison Tree"
50. What is the "apple," and why does it kill the foe? Why does the foe try to steal the apple?
51. As with "The Human Abstract," what progression of mental states does the poem trace? What are the material consequences of those successive states?
52. Tirzah is Blake's figure for material nature, in addition to what the Norton editors say. Blake seems to have added this poem to Songs of Experience only in later copies. Does that mean we should take the speaker's attitude towards nature and the human body as definitive?
53. Look up the editorial reference to the Gospel of John 2:4 and its surrounding context. How does it affect your understanding of Blake's poem? (Time permitting, you might also look up Song of Solomon 4:6 and I Corinthians 15:44.
"A Divine Image"
54. Refer to "The Divine Image" in Songs of Innocence. What was Blake saying about the relation between the human and the divine in that poem? How has it changed in "A Divine Image" in Songs of Experience?
55. The Norton editors say that "The Human Abstract" is subtler than this poem. How so? Which poem do you consider a more effective contrary to "The Divine Image" in Songs of Innocence?
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93)
56. To what extent, if at all, does Blake privilege the Voice of the Devil and other characters or statements from Hell throughout MHH? To what extent does the prophetic narrator identify with or ally himself with the Devil?
57. What will result in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell? What are the implications of calling the desired result a "marriage"?
58. Trace the progression of events / ideas in MHH.
59. How might MHH fit within the long tradition of satire?
"The Argument" (page 73)
60. What general expectations does the Argument establish for the rest of MHH?
"Plate 3" (73-74)
61. What is a "contrary"? How do contraries differ from simple opposites?
62. Whose perspective do the last four sentences flow from? Are they to be accepted at face value?
"The Voice of the Devil" (74)
63. Does the Devil satisfactorily correct the Errors he says have been caused by "Bibles or sacred codes"?
"Plate 5" (74-75)
64. In what ways has Milton misread the Bible, according to the narrator?
65. Why does the narrator nonetheless admire Milton? What does that admiration have to do with the doctrine of contraries?
"A Memorable Fancy and Proverbs of Hell" (75-77)
66. Explicate three or more of the Proverbs and, if possible, relate them to one another. In what way might the proverbs be true, in spite of their apparent contradictoriness?
"Plate 11" (75)
67. What is Blake's warning about the poetic device of personification? I.e. "The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses…"
"A Memorable Fancy II" (77-78)
68. What does the narrator learn from the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel?
"Plates 14 and 15, A Memorable Fancy III" (78-79)
69. What constitutes the Apocalypse alluded to in the line "the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years"?
70. What, if anything, does Blake's own writing or engraving have to do with the Apocalypse? (The Norton editors write that the Fancy is an allegory about Blake's methods as an engraver. Is it more than that?)
"Plate 16" (79)
71. What are the "Prolific" and the "Devouring," respectively? What is the relationship between them?
"A Memorable Fancy IV" (79-80)
72. From what perspective does the Angel admonish the narrator?
73. By what means do the Angel and the narrator descend into the abyss or "void boundless"? Can you provide some explication of the various "places" along the way?
74. Why should it matter that the Angel is upside down? I.e. that "he was suspended in a fungus which hung with the head downward into the deep" (80 top)?
75. Why does the narrator's comic vision of the Angel's eternal lot take the particular form it does? What can you add to the editors' note on this passage at the top of pg. 81?
"Opposition is True Friendship" (81)
76. What is the narrator's basic criticism of the Angel's view and of those who ground their opinions in sacred codes, or institutional religion? What, then, is the way to true knowledge?
"A Memorable Fancy V" (82)
77. Why is it significant for MHH as a whole that the Angel is converted to the narrator's and the Devil's perspective?
"A Song of Liberty" (82-83)
78. Blake apparently added this poem to some copies of MHH. How does it complement MHH?
Edition: Abrams, M.H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volumes 2A-C. 7th edition. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.