Innocence Lost, and Innocence Regained; An Analysis of the Opinions of Blake and Wordsworth

 

Angels come to release the deceased chimney sweepers into divine innocence.

Angels come to release the deceased chimney sweepers into divine innocence.

The Chimney Sweeper, 2009, by Nitrouz

Picture courtesy of http://nitrouzzz.deviantart.com/art/The-Chimney-Sweeper-141158929

Romantics Blake and Wordsworth both share an infatuation with innocence, and lack thereof. These poets diverge regarding the return to and departing from innocence. Blake’s The Chimney Sweeper from songs of innocence and songs of experience, and Wordsworth’s Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey both show the contrasting views of these poets regarding the view of the obtaining, losing, and regaining of innocence. The Chimney Sweeper reflects Blake’s belief that it is possible to regain innocence once you have lost it, hence its appearance in both Songs of Innocence and Songs of experience, by taking away the child’s innocence through trials on earth, and giving it back to him in death; Wordsworth reveals through his reflections recorded in Tintern Abbey that innocence is something that is not regained once it is lost, but you are able to reflect on the same things with more philosophical maturity.

From songs of innocence, Blake uses powerful imagery through the perspective of the child to convey their innocence, and loss thereof. “There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,/That curled like a lambs back, was shav’d…” (Blake 181) Blake’s comparing the child’s hair to lambs wool is representing the loss of the child’s innocence. In his poem “The Lamb”, Blake uses the white wool and nativity of the lamb to represent innocence, so the shaving of the child’s lamblike hair is metaphorical for his loss of innocence as he becomes a chimney sweep. As Blake continues describing Tom’s loss of innocence by describing a dream of Tom’s: “As tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight!/ That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, or Jack./Were all of them lock’d up in coffins black.” (Blake 182) By describing his fellow chimneysweepers in “coffins black”, he is describing further gaining of experience through Tom’s realization of death through this vision. As Blake continues however, he describes an angel that comes and sets them all free, and the children become “naked and white” as he returns to the imagery of innocence. When “the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,/He’d have God for his father and never want joy.” (Blake 182) Tom regains his innocence through the shedding of the strife that came with his experience. This innocent acceptance of God and life after death has given him back his white innocence in the next life where there is nothing but faith and happiness. As Tom went back to his duty he was “…happy and warm,/So if all do their duty they need fear no harm,” (Blake 182). His innocent acceptance of the faith-based supernatural has made him innocent in that which made him experienced.

Blake references the same scenario, using the same title, in his later work “Songs of Experience”. A bit briefer than the last, this poem furthers Blake’s view that Innocence and experience are not one-way streets. When the narrator, who seems to be the child himself says: “Because I was happy upon the heath,/ and smil’d among the winter’s snow,/They clothed me in the clothes of death,/and taught me to sing the notes of woe.”(Blake 194). He is portraying the same instance of Tom who, innocent as a lamb at first, was eventually taught the notes of woe himself when his hair was shaved after entering this deadly occupation; this show’s Blake’s perspective on the fluctuation of innocence and experience. This poem being written after Songs of Experience portrays Blake’s view that innocence and experience are both eternally open doors by his constant, back-and-forth reflections on the issues. In this poem, the little boy was taught his experience, but his innocence was inherent to his human nature, something he was born with, and something he will have in death as portrayed in The Songs of Innocence,  showing part of Blake’s reason for holding this philosophy.

Wordsworth holds the contrasting view that innocence is something that is lost to make way for a more philosophical understanding of things as you grow up, and that it cannot be regained in its original glory as can be seen in his poem “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”. In the poem, Wordsworth is returning to a place that he has not visited in a very long time, and realizes that it does not make him feel the same way it did five years ago. During the fourth stanza Wordsworth observes that “That time is past,/and all its aching joys are now no more/…other gifts have followed…/For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour/ of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes/The still, sad music of humanity.”, (Wordsworth 430-431) He knows he can’t go back to his old self, but he is ok with this because it gives him access to experience life in a more philosophical way. In the final stanza, Wordsworth encounters his sister and condescendingly explains to her that “…in after years,/When these wild ecstasies shall be matured/Into a sober pleasure…/With what healing thoughts/Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,/And these my exhortations!” (Wordsworth 432). Wordsworth is blatantly and condescendingly expressing his findings of innocence and the enjoyment of philosophical experience to his sister who, according to him, has not had sufficient experience to know life in this way, and he therefore reflects his views even further in this way.

Wordsworth and Blake’s romantic interest in innocence are blatantly portrayed in their poetry, particularly those that were discussed. Blake, through his description of the young Chimney Sweeper in both Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience shows through the shearing and blackening of the lamb-like child, the pure and heavenly return to innocent joy after death, and the learned behavior through experience, that these two mindsets are portals which you can cross too and from as you please. Wordsworth, through his reflections on Tintern Abbey, concludes that innocence is lost with maturity, and philosophical understanding takes its place.

 

Works Cited

Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Peter Manning, and Susan Wolfson. “”Lines Written a Few Miles Above  Tintern Abbey”, The Chimney Sweeper”” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. Boston, Mass.:      Longman, 2010. N. pag. Print.

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