Canti dell'Innocenza e dell'Esperienza: Che mostrano i due contrari stati dell'anima umana

By William Blake, T.S. Eliot

42,235 ratings - 4.09* vote

‟I Songs of Innocence, i Songs of Experience e le composizioni tratte dal manoscritto di Rossetti sono opera di un uomo dotato di profondo interesse per i sentimenti umani e di profonda conoscenza del loro esplicarsi. I sentimenti vi sono presentati in forma semplificata al massimo, astratta; tale forma è un esempio dell'eterna lotta dell'arte contro l'educazione, dell'art ‟I Songs of Innocence, i Songs of Experience e le composizioni tratte dal manoscritto di

... more

Book details

Kindle Edition, 156 pages
June 4th 2014 by Feltrinelli

(first published 1789)

Original Title
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul
1420925806 (ISBN13: 9781420925807)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Two contrary states of the human soul

The moon like a flower,
In Heavens high bower;
With silent delight,
Sits and smiles on the night.


At times the weight of the reputation of an artist is that intimidating I can barely overcome trepidation to venture into approaching his or her work. William Blake is such an artist. So when this lovely little book arrived in the letter box as a birthday present, it felt like a sweet little heartening push, giving me the courage to dive into the refreshing water of the unknown, holding the promise of a thrilling encounter with the imagination of supreme mind.

Unsure what to expect and what those two parts – innocence and experience – would stand for, making Blake’s acquaintance was a highly rewarding reading experience I cannot really compare to any other I had before.


From innocence, which seems mostly the one of childhood, symbolised by scenes on infants, children, a shepherd, mothers in a pastoral setting, the transition to experience is evocated by a darkening mood and tone, in which consciousness rises of the adult world in which danger, menace , anxiety undeniably will encumber happiness and joy and where comfort is hard to find – for adults nor for children.

The powerful imagery is replete with fauna and flora, happiness and joy take the shape of a sparrow, a lamb, a robin, a grasshopper, a rose, spring, green fields, sweet sleep. Revolving to experience, a child is hungry, sweet flowers in the Garden of Love have changed into graves and tombstones, youthfulness dissolves, the narrative voice bemoans the multitudinous forms of human woe and suffering in London (‘The mind-forg’d manacles I hear’). A rose is tainted at the core. A mighty tiger roars, reminding of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans characterizing the religious experience of transcendence.


At the first read I was particularly enthralled by the compelling, sublime musicality of the rhymes and the dynamics of the verses (it is thought that Blake set several of the verses to his own tunes, no scores have survived however). These are poems one can imagine a joy to learn and know by heart. In a second read, now having read the illuminating introduction which gives insight into the patterns of ‘contrary’ or answering poems in both parts of the book and the contrasts existing within the poems themselves, pointing at the the puzzling ambiguities, the contrary energies flowing through the poems, the angle of the brilliant mirroring interconnectivity of the composition was a delightful one, and I can easily imagine a third read will unveil other aspects.

The beauteous edition I read draws on the version sold by his wife Catherine Boucher to the Bishop of Limerick in 1830 which ended up into the hands of E.M. Forster, offering it to King’s College, Cambridge – on the left page a literal transcription of each poem is printed, on the right page a reproduction of the original illustrated plate (the designs are not just for embellishment of the poems but intrinsically part of Blake’s poetic imagination).

Absorbing the combination of both the words and the quaint images of Blake’s ‘illuminated printing’ at the same time proved ineffectual for me at the first read, so this gem volunteered as a new nightstand companion. At the moment it might be mostly obscure to me, but perhaps the more complex and mysterious meanings of the verses will further show upon rereading and exploring Blake more in depth.

Youth of delight! come hither
And see the opening morn,
Image of Truth new-born.
Doubt is fled, and clouds of reason,
Dark disputes and artful teazing.
Folly is an endless maze;
Tangled roots perplex her ways;
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead;
And feel—they know not what but care;
And wish to lead others, when they should be led.

(The Voice of the Ancient Bard)

Sean Barrs

“Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?”

Out of all the poetry I have read, these four lines are amongst my favourite. They have stuck with me over several years and seem to resonate within me. I’ve even considered having them tattooed onto my arm. Why these lines? You may ask.

It’s simple really: they say so much. Different readings can be made here, but the one I see most strongly is man talking to nature. Man questions it; he asks if he is the same as nature and if nature is the same as him. Is not the fly equal to him? Is not the fly’s life just as valuable as his own? All life is precious, and what I read here is a man coming to the realisation that this is so. Nature is valuable, and no matter how high man may place himself all life remains the same; it is the same force: the same energy. It could also be a bourgeoisie facing a member of the lower class and realising the same thing, but I prefer to stick with the human to animal relationship.

Nature is huge, the ecosystem is huge. And, again, no matter how high man may place himself he is still just another cog on an ever turning mechanism. In the modern world he has damaged the system, the environment, but he is still part of a greater whole. And his part is no more important than that of the rest of the cogs. What I read in Blake’s words is an ideal, a projection of a semi-paradise; one man can perhaps reach if when he has gained experience he remembers where he came from: his innocence.


Blake’s poetry is marvellously deceptive; it appears so simple, but that’s the beauty of it. Hidden behind the seemingly innocent childlike songs is a sense of irony, sarcasm and genius. The speakers of the poems describe the world as they see it; it is a mere reflection of their own limited perceptions; they see the world through a childlike and predetermined state. In essence, they see what they are meant to see, and nothing beyond that. Well, not until they gain experience and look back on their own folly. Even at this stage, Blake portrays the duality of the human soul; the two states coexist and inform each other. From this collection of poetry I’m left with the impression that these two stages are necessary for human development, but not exclusively so; it’s like Blake is suggesting that one should be able to see the world as an aspect of both.

Throughout the poetry Blake also questions the meaning of standard religion and proposes his own ideas of a more natural approach to divinity. He believed that the gods existed within the bosom of man, and not in an exogenous limited interpretation. In this, he is a true Romantic poet. The more poetry I read in this age, the more I come to appreciate this idea. Blake’s poetry stands out amongst the crowd though. He used a completely unique style to get his the two states of the human soul across to the reader. But, again, he reflects the movement; his poems have a heavy emphasis on the freedom of self-expression and can only really be appreciated in conjunction with the plates he engraved them on. He was a true artist:

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"


Indeed, for me, the comparison between the “Lamb” and the “Tyger” cannot be appreciated without looking at the images. The two poems are not simply about different animal types. They are about good and evil; they are a comparison of the badness and benevolence of humankind. The lamb represents the most profound sense of inexperience; it is innocence and pure: it is docile and vulnerable in its infancy. In this it is comparable to the Christian saviour: it is the best degree of humanity. The Tyger, on the other hand, has a corrupt heart. He represents the negative aspects of humankind, and can be interpreted as part of industrialisation, commerce and power. Through this comparison the narrator of the poems questions how a creator could forge two opposing states. What is the purpose of such a thing?

When the experience section has been read, it is vital to go back and look at innocence. It changes the nature of the poems, as the implicit becomes explicit. The layers of meaning are multiple and complex. I could spend a day pondering over some of them, but for me the most memorable one is “the fly” for the reasons I discussed: it will always stay with me.

Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥

I have to admit that I rarely read poetry, not because I don’t want to but mostly because my library usually doesn’t have the kind of poetry that I long for. So imagine my surprise when I found this little new gem in between one of my beloved and already so very familiar bookshelves.

It was love at first sight and I don’t regret anything. <3

”O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.”

- The Sick Rose

William Blake is definitely one of my favourite poets and I can recommend this to everyone who doesn’t only like his poetry but also appreciates his art. =)

P.S: "A Poison Tree", "The Tyger" and "London" are really good as well! ;-)

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
I don’t think I would dare give any collection of poems that contains the above lines anything less than five stars. Luckily, although every poem isn’t a winner for me (cough*Laughing Song*cough), there are so many immortal poems in this collection that I don’t feel the least bit guilty for giving the collection the full five stars. I started collecting some of my favorite lines to put in this review (not even the whole poem in many cases), and when I got to three pages in Word I realized I would have to restrain myself from posting half the collection in this review. This review is still going to be on the long side, but you’ll have to just deal. :)

William Blake, one of the most well-known authors of the Romantic era, published this short collection of poems or songs in the late 1700s. The full title was “Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul,” which aptly describes the dichotomy echoed in most of these poems, with innocent Christian belief and pastoral joy in the foreground in the nineteen Songs of Innocence, and dark cynicism, criticism of man’s institutions (including churches), and even despair playing a more prominent role in the twenty-seven Songs of Experience. In fact, many of the poems in the Innocence set have their darker counterpart in the Experience set. So you go from “The Lamb”:
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
to “The Tyger”:
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Even in the more lighthearted Songs of Innocence, more often than not there’s a dark undercurrent, a hint (or sometimes a slap across the face) that the narrator of the poem is being unintentionally ironic:
"The Little Black Boy"

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereav'd of light.

… And thus I say to little English boy:
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I'll shade him from the heat, till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our father's knee;
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.
That last line is a heartbreaker. Even though the black boy sees that the white child is equally under a cloud, he still can’t imagine being accepted by him until he looks like him.

Similarly, we have “The Chimney Sweeper,” where the young boys sold by their destitute families to be chimney sweepers’ assistants ― a terrible, cold, dirty job ― aptly cry “weep” in their childish lisps instead of "sweep":
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep, & in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curl'd like a lamb's back, was shav'd: so I said
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when you head's bare
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them lock'd up in coffins of black.

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he open'd the coffins & set them free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags & our brushes to work,
Tho the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm,
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.
Such an indictment of those who mistreat children and the less fortunate among us!

This next one has stuck with my since I studied it in college. Even if you have Christian beliefs (as I do), you have to admit that the institutions of churches have often been misused by those in power. The last lines are haunting:
“The Garden of Love”

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And “Thou shalt not” writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore;

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.
Notice how the meter and rhyme change in those last two lines ― there’s something inexorable about it.

A few more: I appreciate the insight into the effects of anger and grudges offered by “A Poison Tree”:
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I water'd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright;
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veil'd the pole:
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretch'd beneath the tree.
And the stultifying strictures and chains of society get a knock in “London”:
I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.
I’ll go back to the Songs of Innocence to end on a more hopeful note:
“On Another's Sorrow”

Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill'd?

… He doth give his joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy
That our grief he may destroy;
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan.
I highly recommend this collection, and you can find copies of it free all over the web.

A couple of notes on bonus material: When this book was originally published, each poem was handwritten by Blake on a separate page with an original painting that he did to go with that poem. For example:


They're worth looking up, and often add to understanding of the meaning or intent of the poem.

Also, many of these "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" actually were songs: at least some of them were set to music. As far as I'm aware none of the original tunes used by Blake have survived, but different people since have tried their hand at setting some of them to music, with varying results. Wikipedia links several of these modern song versions of the poems. I haven't checked them out yet, but if I find any good ones I'll link them here.

2016 Classic Bingo Challenge: 5 down, 19 to go.


Billy Blake Who Made Thee?


Poet Poet, burning bright,
In the stanzas of the night;
What romantic coquetry,
Could frame thy fearful poetry?

In what distant when or whys,
roll'd the epic of thine eyes?
On wet verse dare he aspire?
What poet's hand, robs Shelly's pyre?

And what meter, & what art,
Could twist the cadence of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread iambs? & what dread feet?

What the motif? what the type,
In what belly was thy gripe?
What the image? what simile,
Dare its deadly metaphors be!

When all critics threw down their pens
And water'd heaven twixt now and then:
Did Marx his smile his classes see?
Did he who made cultural criticism make thee?

Poet Poet, burning bright,
In the stanzas of the night;
What romantic coquetry,
Dare frame thy fearful poetry?


...Folly is an endless maze;
Tangled roots perplex her ways;
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead;
And feel — they know not what but care;
And wish to lead others, when they should be led.

- William Blake, "The Voice of the Ancient Bard"

The smile of a child. The face of a lamb. The purity of maternal love. Solidarity. These are images chosen by Blake to convey his thoughts on innocence. When I think of innocence, I cannot help picturing in my head the greenest meadows, sheltered by the warm light of the sun, and the sound of a nearby river serving as a mirror to reflect your own thoughts. Such an idyllic setting is an invitation to contemplate your own soul. For me, the countryside is where anything can happen. I feel hopeful. I find rest. I make time stand still; I see bliss. And I accept the countryside's cruelty on a dark, rainy day. That is the inevitable dichotomy of any form of life.
Innocence. To see the world through the eyes of a child. Something so necessary, and so distant. Something that we lose too soon, now.
Simply too soon.

Laughing Song
When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,
And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;
When the air does laugh with our merry wit,
And the green hill laughs with the noise of it;
When the meadows laugh with lively green,
And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene;
When Mary and Susan and Emily
With their sweet round mouths sing 'Ha ha he!'
When the painted birds laugh in the shade,
Where our table with cherries and nuts is spread:
Come live, and be merry, and join with me,
To sing the sweet chorus of 'Ha ha he!' (10)

The sun descending in the West,
The evening star does shine;
The birds are silent in their nest,
And I must seek for mine.
The moon, like a flower
In heaven's high bower,
With silent delight,
Sits and smiles on the night.
Farewell, green fields and happy groves,
Where flocks have took delight,
Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves
The feet of angels bright;
Unseen, they pour blessing,
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom... (14)

Different perspectives. The pain of adulthood. The fight between love and selfishness. The corruption of innocence and our salvation. Our preservation: the world will not eat us alive—apparently. The fear of what is to come. Of the unknown. The gray despair of aging. These are some of the images of Blake's Experience.

The Clod and the Pebble
'Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair.'

So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

'Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite.' (23)

Ah, sunflower
Ah, sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go! (36)

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper's cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse. (40)

The lyrical voice of this fine poet stands out for its apparent simplicity. Blake knew his surroundings too well. He was aware of the social and political situation of his time as well as the spiritual concerns of human beings. And he transferred them to his pages to make them immortal. His sensitive and evocative poetry can conquer the most anxious soul and give it an ideal place to rest for a while.

Jul 30, 14
* Also on my blog.


Well, one lousy review can't do Blake's poems any justice, not unless you're flush with time and the soul of a poet, yourself. :)

I can say, however, that the title kinda gives the whole gig away. :) The first section is rife with allusions to Jesus and the second is full of wry and rather sarcastic religious revolutionary insights that I *clearly* appreciate much more than the innocent ones. :)

Yes, love should be shown! No, life should not be this dreary and repressed thing. :)

I particularly love how Blake uses limited PoV narrations, from a little child or an old bard. The mirroring of both characters and themes really does a big number on both types of poetry. I only wish I was reading it with the engravings. :)

Such classics! Well worth the Experience. Everyone should Experience it. :)

Michael Finocchiaro

I adore William Blake's poetry and this illustrated collection is fantastic. Unlike other British poets from centuries back (like John Donne for example), his text is usually far easier to read even without a thesaurus and always delightful and full of imagery. a Must!


William Blake’s remarkably written and illustrated poems have endured the test of time and continue to amaze and delight me, even though I have read them dozens of times over the years.

My favorite poems from the Songs of Innocence are, sadly, about innocence abused. It seems such a contrast to me to read Nurse’s Song, in which the children beg for more time to play and frolic in the open air and the “laughing is heard on the hill”, and the Chimney Sweeper, which opens with the death of a mother and selling of a child to work in the soot and suffocation of the chimney sweep. That the sweeper is able to maintain his innocence and trust in the face of such a fate is a remarkable testament to the faith of the yet unspoiled child.

Of course, there are religious implications in each of the poems, which are intended and profound. The symbol of the lamb, as standing for both the children and their saviour, runs through several of the poems, including the most famous, The Lamb, which begins, familiarly, “Little lamb who made thee?”

These poems would be quite impressive had Blake written only of innocence, but he wrote a second set of poems, Songs of Experience, which contrast diametrically with the innocence poems. In fact, many of them bear the same name, as in the poems titled Holy Thursday. The poem from Songs of Innocence portrays the children, lined up in twos, entering the cathedral with angelic faces and voices, close to heaven. It’s counterpart in Songs of Experience speaks of the poverty and hunger suffered by so many children of the time.

Parallels exist between many of the poems, contrasting innocence and experience. As The Lamb is the most famous of the Innocence poems, The Tiger is the most famous of the Experience poems. The poems represent the natural world and God’s creation of both the predator and the prey. Blake’s exploration of the two aspects of God and the complexity of His creation.

Cannot close without including my favorite of all the poems:

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunnèd it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,—
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.