on June 1, 2012
Other Amazon users may be familiar with the Amazon.com practice of posting the Editorial reviews from a SIMILAR product and adding marginal and easy-to-overlook footnotes stating that the posted reviews actually refer to an "alternate paperback edition." I was not aware of the practice before purchasing this book, but aside from that there is no twin footnote floating around the Customer Reviews section below the Editorials to tell you that the reviews provided are from a different book as well, nor can you see what book is ACTUALLY being reviewed unless you leave the book's page and go to See All. Most of the reviews are for this book:
Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, 1789-1794 (Worlds Classics) [Paperback] William Blake (Author, Illustrator), Sir Geoffrey Keynes (Introduction) http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0192810898/ref=dp_proddesc_2?ie=UTF8&n=283155
Why post reviews of a book that the reviews are not for, on its own page? That is not only confusing, but misleading. The book I bought and received is the one with a portrait of Blake on the cover, and its ISBN is 97816119492998--which is not the ISBN posted in Amazon.com's Product Details section, as of June 1, 2012. Amazon lists it as xxxxxxxxxx2997.
There are NO illustrations in this edition. In fact, there isn't any publisher information beyond "Printed in the USA" on the bottom of the first page after the cover. I have not read this book, and am not familiar enough with Blake's work to be able to determine off the cuff if there are any errors or typos. I am assuming that if you only want the poetry of Songs of Innocence and Experience, than it is probably fine--and yes, most likely free of errors/typos. But this book is not an Oxford or any other dependably high-quality published edition. Most importantly, it is not the book that other customers reviewed, it is not a very high-quality or compelling edition in general, and it has no illustration plates. Do not buy this edition if you are a bibliophile looking for a beautiful and collectible book and/or you really want to experience the work of William Blake as it is meant to be experienced--that is, with his illustrations.
on March 15, 2000
William Blake is one of the giants of poetry. He is often overlooked because of the obliqueness of many of his poems. But this affordable (read: cheap) collection of poems is well worth the price of admission. Most of Blakes most famous and well loved poems are included in this volume. Most of us had to read at least a couple of these poems in school. The Tyger still stands as one of the great poems of the English language. The Fly, The Lamb, Children of a Future Age, London and Ah, Sunflower are all included here. These are some of the most beautiful poems ever written. Even if you struggle to understand the meaning, the sheer beauty and music of the verses can still carry you away. Anyone interested in poetry needs to read these poems. It is among the best ever written.
To begin with, it can be helpful to distinguish between "aesthetic" worldly poets/musicians and "vatic"/prophetic artists. Keats and Shakespeare, Ellington and Bill Evans belong in the first category; Shelley and Milton (and, of course, Dante) along with John Coltrane and Sun Ra belong in the second.
Blake is the foremost representative of the latter group--the bards (Milton was his hero; America's Ezra Pound his foremost descendant). Of all the so-called "Romantic" poets, he is in many respects the most atypical. Time, its passing, its presence as "personal memory," specific referents to particular places, the fleshing-out of human figures, whether upper or lower class--all this is of little interest to the visionary prophet written off as "crazy" during his life-time, eventually canonized by the Beatniks in the 1950s, and finally admitted to respectable academia. Earthly phenomena are of little interest to him because, frankly, they have no status in reality. I deliberately steer students away from his graphic art, because its symbolic nature is poorly understood by a generation brought up on images that glorify the material world (if the emphasis isn't on the "real," it's on the surreal or "hyper-real"--but the real with which today's readers identify is anything but the spiritual cosmos that Blake finds everywhere, whether a tiger or a grain of sand. (Pity his wife, who understandably had little patience with him.) More often than not, Blake's pictures nowadays detract from, rather than support, the poetry. When Blake said, "the eye can see more than the heart can know," he envisioned a human potential which few are able to realize--the sort of epiphany granted to the prophet who, after a lifetime of struggle, sees the New Jerusalem or, like Dante, the Godhead itself (the spinning wheel at the end of The Paradiso).
Blake's poetry, in both the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, is music that, even when tranquil and serene on the surface, is never resolved in its minor modalities and dissonant counter-themes. In the second set of poems, that verbal music rises to a deafening fortissimo in the poem "London," in which the speaker, above all, "hears" in every cry--from the infant's to the prostitute's to the numerous thralls of the church, state and crown--a threnody of pain and suffering that climaxes in an uproar of righteous anger and indignation at the horrible realization of the consequences of "mind-forged manacles" upon the world and its inhabitants. But even in the poems from the early collection, the tone is characterized by ever-present irony--the disjuncture between the voice of the innocent child and that of the poet who knows all too well what is in store, or the disparity between the trusting faith of the child and the selfish scenarios of the "wise" keepers--the grey-haired beadles--who will violate that trust with their well-laid plans. Blake's message is unceasingly twofold--first, a testament to the holy birthright of the human child and, second, withering criticism of the "rational engines" of society that will act to estrange the child from the Father, from the Son, from its own spiritual identity.
Each of the poems may be read simply, but make no mistake about it: each is ironic and complex, inexhaustibly so. The reader must, with each passing word, be attuned, above all, to irony, ambiguity, and radical shifts in tone--or risk inflicting upon the poet the same distortions the poet finds in human society. The "enemy" is not the "Tiger" which, like the Lamb, is merely evidence of Divine Mystery and Power--but of another order. For Blake, the Lamb, the Tiger, the babe--and a poisonous reptile or virus--are created by God and are equally holy. And now the true antagonist makes its appearance: human reason and its institutions--climaxing in the state-sanctioned marriage of children and parents to the "bridegroom" of organized government and religion.
It can be discouraging to read these poems with students and discover, practically without fail, that a large majority will misinterpret them, frequently coming to conclusions opposite to the evidence of the poems individually as well as collectively. The reasons are at least three-fold: fast and careless readings of short poems that often require (and deserve) the amount of time devoted to a novel; imposition of one's own belief system (or instilled principles and conventional aphorisms); the sheer challenge offered by Blake's "radical" ideas and their deceptive expression.
Those who are serious about poetry and Blake will no doubt soon infer his "message": we must see not with the eye of reason, which measures and "charters" the flowing Thames as readily as it maps out the dehumanizing streets of London, but with the imagination, with the symbolic faculty that enables us to see the underlying spiritual basis of all material reality and thus to empathize with all living things and to live in harmony only with what is alive and vital. Blake is the first thinker I'm familiar with who puts the child first and foremost--and not until the early 19th century. For the Age of Enlightenment (The Age of Reason), children simply don't count. They have no individualism, no identity, no status in art and literature. In his own time, children were little more than the utilitarian objects of the Church-State, deployed to sweep chimneys, then disposed of. The dying chimney sweep of the first "Chimney Sweeper" poem (how regrettable that many readers do not even understand that little Tommy Dacer's "awakening" at the end of the poem is possible only because of his "murder" by the church) is, in the 2nd poem of the same title, a dead child, whose excoriating criticism includes his parents but is leveled primarily at the church. Some readers dismiss the second poem because it doesn't make sense to have a dead child lying in the snow and speaking--it's not rational.
But that's to place ourselves at the mercy of the poems' judgments--as misguided tools of Reason, deaf to the harmonious world and the discordant society around us. If it helps to postpone taking on some of the more difficult poems in either collection, fine. But each poem, each ironic line and musical phrase, each word and note of sorrow or joy is integral with the whole, each part absolutely and completely consistent with the overall theme, meaning and purpose. Seeing with the imagination requires practice and patience: reclaiming one's inner child (Wordsworth's "child-philosopher" who, trailing clouds of glory, is borne of another realm and place) is not a piece of cake. Neither is reading Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience.
I was recently lucky to see the Gutenburg to Gone With the Wind Exhibit in Austin, Texas recently. At that marvelous exhibit I got to see one of Blake's original editions of Songs of Innocence. After that, I (of course) had to find a copy with the amazing poems and the amazing artwork by Blake. This edition satisfied both criteria well. First of all, the poems are brilliant. Everybody has read such works as "Little Boy Lost," "Little Boy Found," "The Shepherd," "The Lamb," and "The Tyger." These poems are just as good as they are made out to be. Each poem is excrutiatingly simple (in the style of children's verse), and each has such depth. The artwork is all in this edition, too, and it is fabulous. The colors are exactly like those of Blake's. I really think that the poems should never be read without Blake's engravings. This is a marvelous book for poetry lovers to own. It is high quality and affordable. Any fan of Blake's should own this book.
on July 9, 2010
This review is specific to the Kindle edition which is impossible to read due to formatting problems. As a previous reviewer noted, even on the smallest size font the end of many of the poems is cut off. I even tried reading it on my PC to see if that helped - it didn't. A great pity because the content deserves five stars. Don't waste your time downloading this version, even if it is free. Either wait until the formatting issues have been resolved, or pay for a decent version.
on June 18, 2010
A very high-quality hardback edition, with thick paper, sewn binding, and fine, full-size reproductions of Blake's illustrations from the excellent Cambridge originals. Originals vary a good deal; compare these with the muddy ones used in the Oxford edition. Each illustration faces the associated poem, the only sensible layout, but something the Oxford edition does not do, for some reason. The introductory notes by Richard Holmes are brief, but extremely good.
All that's lacking are detailed explanatory notes for the individual poems, but those are available on web and elsewhere, and they aren't much needed for these poems in any case.
on March 10, 2010
William Blake is one of the most original and influential English poets - so eccentric and ground-breaking that even his biggest fans considered him insane long after his death. The poems in Songs of Innocence & Experience are his most popular and lasting achievement, essential for anyone even remotely interested in poetry and a good place for those new to Blake and poetry generally to start.
1789's Songs of Innocence celebrated innocence as variously reflected in childhood, showing infants' and children's relatively pure mental and physical states before adult corruption. Many of its poems are first person from a child's perspective, and most of the rest describe a child's point of view; others speak to or about them. Blake used appropriately simple vocabulary and form; lines are short, rhymes obvious, and imagery very pared down. Indeed, at first glance, the poems seem puerile. However, a closer look shows they are anything but; despite - or perhaps even to a certain degree because of - this, they have a wealth of significance. They are in fact at least as complex as most far longer works; extremely thought-provoking and often morally ambiguous, they raise a host of important questions. These apparently simple poems address a wide range of theological and ontological queries. They also deal with more practical themes like class, race, and family relations, taking on economic, social, and other concerns. Most of these are answered with conventional platitudes heavily soaked in Christianity; the poems seem a paean to optimism and can be very uplifting, but cynics may even laugh aloud.
However, this is only half the story. In 1794 Blake added Songs of Experience, which essentially carried the concept into adulthood. Simple poetic trappings remained, but the tone was now far darker; cynicism and pessimism crept in, showing an opposite plane of thought and seemingly even a different world. Several poems were direct responses to those in Innocence, sometimes with the same name. This greatly multiplied the works' already very complex nature. It is important to remember Blake's subtitle: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. Experience essentially deals with the same questions as Innocence but has contrary conclusions. Having them in the same book is disarming and perhaps somewhat unsettling. Blake does not say which, if either, he believes or show any favoritism; one might say putting the Experience poems last does the latter, but this is merely chronological. He creates a true moral and intellectual murk, leaving us to find our way out - if we can.
As this suggests, the poems were not only at the very advent of Romanticism but also very modern in a way literature almost never was until the late nineteenth century. Blake was so far ahead of his time that it is small surprise he was little understood or appreciated. Succeeding generations have seen him and his work in various ways, but the notable thing is that both have endured; his work has such greatness and depth that each age sees itself in it. This is partly because of its ambiguity but at least as due to its universality; Blake's themes are fundamental human thoughts and emotions that let his work speak as profoundly now as ever. Here we begin to see just how important his simple forms are; they are as appropriate for the themes as the subjects. Since his concerns are elemental, so are his forms; the former are relevant to all and the latter accessible to all, letting him speak to all. This aspect also makes the songs a great way to introduce the uninitiated to poetry and are indeed often used in introductory classes; his eminently accessible verse is perfectly suited for showing the rudiments of meter, tropes, and rhyme. Conversely, of course, his treatments are anything but simple, which makes him ideal for the most abstruse close readings - an apparent paradox he would doubtless have appreciated.
There are many ways to buy Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, but it is essential to get both and read consecutively, whether in individual or combined editions. Blake meant them to be experienced as one, and they play off each other as few works do. Getting one is not just missing half the experience but nearly the whole; they are able to stand on their own, but the impression is extremely misleading and, perhaps more importantly, unintended. They are so excellent in any case that anyone who reads one will immediately want the other, making both doubly necessary.
It is also important to realize that Blake was as much a visual as a literary artist and in fact issued the poems in "Illuminated Books" where they were written on color plates with various pictorial representations. He did not consider the poems standalone works, and the visual element is indeed important. Pictures often underline or reinforce the words but sometimes seem to give a contrary impression; only a few are apparently incidental. Whether or not one likes visual art and regardless of how one thinks the poems work in themselves, they do play off visual elements in complicated and interesting ways. Needless to say, because the plates are expensive and difficult to reproduce, nearly all collections have only the poems - a concept that would have appalled Blake if he could have even conceived it. The poems are of course more than good enough to stand alone, but we must remember that Blake never meant them to do so. The dedicated will want to seek out editions reproducing the artwork in addition to the poems.
on November 3, 2003
There are larger, more luxurious graphical editions of Blake's two most popular works but the Oxford SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE is perhaps the most affordable and convenient.
After a short introductory piece which makes the reader expect a pastoral mood, SONGS OF INNOCENCE opens with "The Shepherd", and the reader is immediately acquainted with Blake's style: deceptively simple, but filled with metaphor and allusion. Many of the poems speak of the solace of Christianity, but Blake shows a more universal and tolerant tranquility found through appreciation of simple human virtues. In "The Divine Image", he writes: "And all must love the human form, / in heathen, turk, or jew. / Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell, / there God is dwelling too."
Even within SONGS OF EXPERIENCE, the most pessimistic and cynical half, Blake maintains a his childlike style in order to bring the truth of human experience to anyone at all, young and old. In "A Poison Tree" he writes: "I was angry with my friend: / I told my wrath, my wrath did end. / I was angry with my foe: / I told it not, my wrath did grow", concisely summarising the effects of pride and ill-will on one's soul.
Blake was by profession an engraver, and his engravings for SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE are so closely bound to the text of the poems that a photocopy edition is really the only way to enjoy the poems as they were meant. In this paperback edition, the original engraving can be seen along side a typeset text, presented in a size large enough that the words can be relatively easily made out and, perhaps more importantly, the reader can see Blake's mythological characters. These personages, such as Urizen and Lothos, are key to understanding Blake's larger metaphysical work, for which the Songs present a good introduction.
This edition is especially valuable as it contains a photocopy of the engraving of "A Divine Image", a poem intended for SONGS OF EXPERIENCE which Blake subsequently left out because of its savage pessimism. The poem survives on an uncolored plate which is not found within many collections of the poet's work.
If you are intrigued by poets who transcend mere beautiful words to present a complete worldview, Blake is certainly worth reading. The Oxford Paperbacks edition is, in my opinion, the best place to get started with this deep and tricky, but fulfilling and fascinating poet.
on October 17, 2011
The poems are amazing, but the Kindle edition is mediocre. The poems are poorly laid-out, lines unaligned. There is no thought to the aesthetic look of the page. And, worst of all, there are none of Blake's illustrations, which are integral to the poems and would be gorgeous on a Kindle or pad.
on July 9, 2010
A great poet, but this edition chops off the ends of many of his poems. A frustrating experience.