“Can it be a song of joy? / And so many children poor?”: William Blake and the Child
William Blake’s engraving accompanying “A Cradle Song” in Songs of Innocence (1789). The legend goes that Blake developed the method of engraving he used in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience after witnessing a vision of his dead brother Robert, who told Blake what he should do. Blake sketched the illustrations on a copper plate before adding another chemical, which would erode certain parts of the plate, leaving an outline behind. After the plates were printed, Blake or his wife, Catherine Blake, would add color to the engraving print by hand.
Blake incorporates the speech of children into his poetry as well. In “Nurse’s Song,” from Songs of Innocence, for example, Blake captures both the speech of a group of children as well as the words of their nurse calling them home at the end of a long day playing outside. While the Nurse bids them “come home my children the sun is gone down,” the children reject this order, of course, and reply “No no let us play, for it is yet day/ And we cannot go to sleep.” Throughout Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, the children speak in different ways. At times, as in “Nurse’s Song,” they seem much like children you might meet today, carefree and unconcerned with adult worries. In other poems, such as “The Chimney Sweeper” found in Songs of Experience, Blake strikes a very different tone with the child’s speech. There, the sweep seems much more adult when he recounts that his parents “are gone to praise God & his Priest & King/ Who make up a heaven of our misery.” The sweep seems to reflect the use of more adult language, while the children of “Nurse’s Song” seem unconcerned with adult worries such as the passage of time and adhering to a schedule. Blake uses the various representations of children to show a natural innocence in which they can participate, as well as a more adult outlook that has been taught to them and which denies their childhood. In doing so, Blake reflects the historical shift which began to recognize childhood as its own developmental stage.
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Ferber, Michael. “Not for the Kiddies.” Academe 87.4 (2001): 50-52. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 8
Kennedy, Thomas C. “From Anna Barbauld’s Hymns in Prose to William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of
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