Introduction to the Songs of Experience

This page displays Michael Phillips’s reproduction of the Experience poem “Introduction” from William Blake’s best known collection of poems, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, alongside Blake’s original. Click the link above to read more about the Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Phillips’s reproduction was displayed in the Blake in the Heartland exhibit at Tiffin University, which ran March-April 2015.

The “Introduction” to Experience represents a prophetic voice speaking to a fallen world. It is no longer innocent, but neither does it reflect the bitter, knowing disillusionment of other Experience poems such as “The Chimney Sweeper.” As a prophetic voice, it is both aware of sin, as are other Experience speakers, but in a state of faith, like the Innocence speakers found in poems such as “The Lamb.” Claiming from the first line to be the voice of the Bard, it represents the point of view of the poet, who has passed through the states of innocence and experience to attain a visionary state that encompasses both points of view.

The image in the poem is a relatively simple one in terms of composition. Against the backdrop of a night sky, a cloud fills the center of the plate. At the bottom of the cloud is a nude, reclining figure who is facing away from the reader. Since this plate follows the Frontispiece to the Songs of Experience, which pictures the piper and cherub combination of Innocence with one difference — the cherub is being held down on the piper’s shoulders — it is possible the nude, reclining figure here is a merger, or marriage, or combination of the piper and cherub, the ideal form of the Bard.  

Blake’s originals taken from Wikimedia Commons. See a list of all copies of the Songs available on the internet, with the ability to view different copies of the same page side by side, at The William Blake Archive, which also provides transcriptions of and annotations for each individual plateYou can also read David Erdman’s edition of all of Blake’s works at The Blake Digital Text Project. Images of Michael Phillips’s reproductions by permission. Click on the images to enlarge.

William Blake's Introduction to the Songs of Experience
William Blake’s Introduction to the Songs of Experience, Copy AA

Michael Phillips's reproduction of Introduction, Songs of Experience
Michael Phillips’s reproduction of Introduction, Songs of Experience

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