Perspective and Perception, Everything Changes
In this picture, two people are looking at the same thing but from different perspectives.
Because they are seeing it differently, they are also perceiving it differently. (Kate.)
Perspective is the way a person thinks about or understands something, and perception is the way a person’s regards something. Perception; sometimes it’s right, sometimes, it’s wrong, and sometimes it changes. In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Blake’s perception of life experiences changes as his perspective changes. “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” (Lewis.) This statement relates to Blake’s poems because the poems show how differently people see things because of where they are standing. Looking at it from an innocent standpoint versus an experienced standpoint changes how a person perceives the same event.
The main theme of Songs of Innocence and of Experience is that perception changes as perspective changes. William Blake’s perception of certain events changes when going from innocence to experience. This can be seen in the counterparts of some of the poems.
The Lamb and The Tyger are counterparts that show how Blake’s perception changes. The Lamb sounds as if it is being told from a young child’s point of view. He sees this lamb and proceeds to sing about where it came from. The speaker sounds very certain of everything that they say. There are no questions like there are in The Tyger. Unlike in The Lamb, the speaker of The Tyger sounds uncertain. Instead of telling the tiger where it came from like they did with lamb, they are asking it where it came from. The speaker sounds like the child from the first poem who is now older and almost fearful of the tiger. The speak wonders “he who made the Lamb [made] thee” (Blake 197.) They want to know if the same person who made the lamb with “softest clothing woolly bright” (Blake 179) is the same person who made the tiger with “fearful symmetry” (197.) During innocence, the speaker is happy and likes seeing the lamb, but during experience, they are afraid and disbelieving. They are perceiving the animals as different from one age to another.
Another example of poems that are counterparts are The Blossom and The Sick Rose. The Blossom paints a beautiful image of new growth and bright colors. It shows the blossom as “happy” (Blake 181) with where they are and what they are surrounded by. The Blossom speaks of a “pretty pretty robin” (Blake 181) unlike in The Sick Rose, in which the narrators speaks of worms. In The Sick Rose, there is no happiness. It is dark and gloomy. The rose is not surrounded by beauty because it is dying in this poem. Blake is perceiving the flower in two different ways. In the first poem, all he sees is the beauty of the flower. He focuses on all of the good parts and does not mention anything bad about it. In a stark contrast, he only sees the bad parts of what happens to the rose in the second poem. He understands now, with his experience, that the life of the rose will come to an end even if it did live a beautiful and joyous life. He has seen how different things that happen in lifetime can change how events are seen.
The two different versions of The Chimney Sweeper also show how an event can be perceived differently based on how you look at it. During innocence the speaker is hopeful, thinking that something good will come after all of this hard work. They are young and naïve; they do not know what will really come afterwards. They do not know that they will just be tossed away like garbage once they get to be too big to be a chimney sweeper. Even though they know that their friends will die during the innocence poem, they have hope that they will get to see God and “never want joy” (Blake 182.) The chimney sweeper in the second poem seems to be a few years older but not much older since they still have to be able to fit into the chimney. They have more knowledge of what is happening. They are happy now but they still have been harmed by what they have had to do during their childhood. Their parents are at church while they have to sit out in the snow. Their parents see the chimney sweeping as a good thing even though their child has suffered because of it. The child has gone from being hopeful to seeing that maybe it was not as great as they thought it might be. They are seeing the same thing from a different perspective so they are thinking differently of it now.
Holy Thursday is another poem with a counterpart where the perception changes from a good view to a bad view. During innocence, Holy Thursday is a good time where the children are ushered towards the church. They hold hands and are described as innocent (Blake 184.) They are “sit[ting] with radiance” like lambs described in Blake’s other poem (Blake 181.) In contrast, Holy Thursday in experience speaks of “misery” and “poverty” (Blake 190.) The children in this poem are alone, and their lives are “eternal winter[s]” (Blake 191.) They cannot find happiness or sunshine. They have nothing. It is a stark, stark contrast between the two poems. Their hands are no longer innocent but are now “cold and usurous” (Blake 190.) There is no question whether or not the perception has changed from one point to another. The poems are so different in how they are written and what they are about. The italics in the experience version of the poem adds to the affect. It makes it seem somewhat ominous and dreary.
Blake’s perception of all of these things has definitely changed from innocence to experience. The change from innocence does not always have to be negative like Blake show it though. Sometimes, it can mean wisdom. It all depends on your perspective.
Blake, William. “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Romantics and their Contemporaries, edited by Joseph Terry, Pearson, 2012, pp. 178-203.
Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew. New York: Macmillan, 1955.
Kate. Elevate Empathy: A Book Study of What’s Under Your Cape. 20 July 2014. Blogspot. Web.03 April 2017.