Blake’s Depiction of How Innocence and Experience Are Interconnected Through “Infant Sorrow”
William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience explores the interconnection of innocence and lack thereof, known as experience. As society is known to believe, childhood is a time of innocence before understanding the hardships from experiencing adult life and responsibility. In challenge of this, Blake wrote “Infant Sorrow” as proving experience can occur at any time, at any age, while holding onto innocence.
The experience of this sorrowful infant Blake explores is childbirth as explicitly stated: “Into the dangerous world I leapt:/Helpless, naked, piping loud” (200). It can be easy to glance over the traumatic experience a child faces being birthed as opposed to the experience of the mother and her loss of innocence towards the birthing event. This idea of a newborn being without complete innocence appears to be the basis of Blake’s idea as this newborn is depicted to be sullen at its loss of innocence from being in its mother’s womb as it is now experiencing the outside world.
According to Ricks Carson’s peer-reviewed “Blake’s Infant Sorrow,” “To stop in either benign innocence or experience’s asperity would be to fail to recognize that life participates in both states” (150). Despite the birthing event, this infant still possesses its innocence as it still has a lifetime of never-ending experiences to experience. This is the basis of Blake’s argument of how innocence and experience coincide. One cannot exist without the other and neither exist independently of the other.
With this traumatic event, the infant claims to “sulk upon [its] mothers breast” (200). This infant, just born, is learning emotions not thought to be associated with “innocent” children (innocence here regarding lack of society’s idea of life experiences). In Carson’s terms, a child breastfeeding is “an archetype of innocence, vulnerability, and spontaneous affection” and its dismaying how the infant in the poem understands “disillusionment and cynicism” during such an event (150). An infant should feel a comforting bond with its mother and satisfaction while feeding as its hunger is being satiated.
It is alarming how depressed this infant comes across. Infants are thought to be happy creatures as they are oblivious to the world around them, have no responsibilities and are cared for completely. Thinking about a newborn sulking defies stereotypes as “it depicts infancy not as blissful, but as the induction into a contradictory and threatening life” (Carson 150). This poem demonstrates how innocence does not limit the possibilities of a human’s experience. This child is the epitome of innocence yet the experiences it has already gone through in its short life takes part of that away.
Blake, nonetheless, is not trying to convince the reader to “drape our nurseries in black and shudder at every baby’s cry” because it is losing part of its innocence during any trying time, but to demonstrate the human soul’s two seemingly-conflicting conditions (Carson 150). This infant may not contain the innocence it is believed to have, but no single person has had every experience so that there is no room left over for innocence in their soul. Therefore, as Blake demonstrates throughout his Songs of Innocence and Experience, both situations coexist inside a single person without sacrificing the other.
“Infant Sorrow” is from the “Songs of Experience” side of Songs of Innocence and experience yet effectively demonstrates both conditions. An infant, innocence in society’s eyes and should not have a care in the world, experiences being expelled from its mother during birth. Although the newborn itself does not have to put in much effort during this, it is just as real of an experience for it as it is for the mother. Blake’s effectively puts forth the idea of how each experience, no matter how small it seems for an individual, replaces innocence but does not completely destroy it.
Blake, William. “Infant Sorrow.” Damrosh, David, Kevin J. H. Dettmar and Amelia Klein. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Fifth Edition. Pearson, 2012. 200. Print.
Carson, Ricks. “Blake’s Infant Sorrow.” The Explicator (1994): 150. Web.
Blake, William. Infant Sorrow. Web. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_Sorrow