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Songs of Experience: Facsimile Reproduction with 26 Plates in Full Color (Dover Fine Art, History of Art) Paperback – Facsimile, July 1, 1984
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From the Back Cover
One of Blake's most inspired creations, "The Tyger" mingles the lyric and mystical in an exquisite union. Now you can experience the beauty of this and other poems the way Blake intended them—with his own hand-colored illustrations giving them visual form.
This facsimile edition of one of Blake's celebrated "Illuminated Books" reproduces a collection of calligraphed poems, each enclosed in a masterful full-color illustration. Twenty-six plates reprinted from a rare 1826 etched edition include "London," "A Little Boy Lost," "Holy Thursday," The Voice of the Ancient Bard," and other immortal verse. To enhance reading, the texts of all the poems are transcribed separately, following the plates.
Dynamic designs and simplicity of language convey Blake's vision of mankind and his condemnation of a wealthy society insensitive to poverty and unhappiness. Moreover, its universal themes make Songs of Experience just as poignant and profound today. Lovers of literature and fine art will want to add this faithful, inexpensive facsimile of an immortal classic to their libraries.
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I don’t completely understand why some people choose to take the classics, respect them for what they are on the shelf, and then shove them into a box in the back of the closet. I understand that some may feel the classics are a little over analyzed, but the more you read them, the more you comprehend them and the more you understand how very important they are in the grand scheme of the literary world.
Hence why I pulled my weathered copy of the illustrated version of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience from the shelf and attempted to decipher it for the ump-tenth time. Essentially, the book is a two-part collection of William Blake’s poems. The first section of poems contains sweet, childish poems written from the perspectives of either children, or adults speaking to children. Common repetitive elements include those of lambs, cherubs, and other sweet items, such as flowers, birds, or other small creatures. Totally contrary to the first sections, the experience section makes the innocence sections look like Justin Bieber in comparison to Marilyn Manson. Think sex, death, anger, murder, and betrayal. In short, Blake revolutionized the approachable concepts of poetry. His experience section is essentially a summary of the life and styles we find totally acceptable today. However, for it’s time, this was completely disgusting and unexplainable.
Part of the glory of this book comes from the way in which you read it. If you read it with the mindset of someone in the twenty-first century, this is nothing special and Fifty Shades of Gray did the whole screwed up relationships thing much better. However, if you approach this collection of work with the mindset of a nobleman or a noblewoman from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, everything becomes just that much more interesting.
Critique-wise, in my particular copy, the Oxford edition, the publishers printed the illustrations side-by side with the poems printed on the back. However, this makes for inconvenient and confusing reading when the poems are split as the illustrations originally were. Perhaps the publishers should have printed an illustration with a translation directly next to the poem, since the images are essential in the reading and comprehension process.
I highly recommend this book for art lovers, poetry fanatics, or those who love to explore the scandal of centuries gone past.
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.