Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Contrary States, Conflicting Voices


William Blake’s later writings more fully articulate the problem of self-closed, monologic discourse and the necessary process of self-annihilation that invests discourse with dialogic inspiration. However, his earlier works wrestle with these same issues as he develops the philosophic and poetic vocabulary he needs to articulate them. Among these earlier works, the Songs of Innocence and of Experience provide a particularly telling example, because this collection of lyrics considers the ways that children acquire language, enter the community of discourse, and become shaped by social forces within that community. According to Blake, children in a state of innocence tend to consider elements in their surroundings as potential participants in dialogue. Harold Pagliaro argues that Blake shows the mind in a state of innocence as continuous with its surroundings, and Christopher Heppner finds the source for this continuity in Swedenborg’s notions of Correspondences and Representatives that help Blake to formulate an idea of individual identity as not an isolated consciousness but as inclusive of its surroundings through imagination (17-18; 87). This continuity and inclusiveness, moreover, is clearly indicated in the discursive practice of speakers in the Songs.1 Robert N. Essick has placed this situation into the context of the late eighteenth-century search for the originary, prelapsarian language.


Social Institution Muse Figure Institutional Discourse Authorial Voice Dialogic Relationship 
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© John H. Jones 2010

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