The narrator is a piper who is happily piping when he sees a child on a cloud. The child tells him to pipe a song about a lamb. He does so and the child weeps on hearing it. He then asks the piper to sing. He sings the same song and the child cries with joy when he hears it. The child then tells the narrator to write a book and disappears. The piper takes a reed to make a pen. With it he writes happy songs for children to bring them joy.
This poem sets the tone for the entire sequence. It establishes the poet as a visionary who is divinely inspired. It also establishes the voice of the poems as being that of a child and/or accessible to children. Introduction also reflects the process of poetic composition. It moves from free music, allied with divine inspiration, to songs with words, which are then written down with a pen for others to read in a book. What was formless has become an artistic creation.
Introduction introduces the Songs of Innocence within the context of the pastoral poem. This style of writing evokes an ideal, idyllic world of innocence and simplicity, a Golden Age before the Fall of humankind. The genre recognises, however, that such a state does not exist unalloyed in the present world. Innocence here is presented as a state of happiness and obedience. The piper is happy to do whatever he is told. He has no fear or suspicion regarding the voice he hears and no reluctance to do its bidding. He acts as one child responding to another.
Valleys wild – This reference establishes the context as rural/rustic. This suggests the poem will be pastoral, evoking an idealised world of simplicity and innocence. stain’d the water clear - Critics have argued over the implications of this: •
Read at a literal level, it would merely refer to the colouring of the water to make ink •
Some, however, have seen negative connotations in ‘stain’d’; the piper is destroying the clear purity of the water in making ink to write •
They see this as the poet corrupting the purity of the poet’s vision by the act of writing, i.e. that any attempt at poetic communication is a distortion of reality. The reader should therefore approach the poems with this awareness in mind. The vocabulary is restricted and simple – ‘piping’, ‘happy’, ‘merry’, ‘pleasant’, ‘glee’, ‘laughing’, ‘joy’. This simplicity is heightened by repetition of a few words – ‘pipe’, ‘piper’, ‘piping’, ‘chear’, ‘happy’. This all suggests an experience of simple, unalloyed happiness. Nothing negative is allowed to darken the atmosphere. It establishes the voice of the poem as that of a child
The metre is trochaic (stressed, unstressed) and ends with a stressed syllable. This gives it a positive-sounding tone •
The pattern of repeated ‘So’ and then ‘And’ suggests the child-like simplicity of the piper: o
The repetition of ‘So’ suggests his obedience - he is asked to act, so he does so o
The repetition of ‘and’ in connecting sentences is characteristic of a young child’s way of writing and emphasises the absence of any complexity •
It enhances the impression that the voice of the poem as that of a child.
Blake makes many references to Greek and Roman mythology in his poetry. This enables him to give deeper significance to the characters and situations in a poem. Myths are more than stories; they are told to suggest some truths about human nature and experiences or to explain how the world has become the way it is. Piping - The presence of a piper, especially in this rural setting, suggests the Greek god Pan, god of rustic music. This reinforces the idea of simple, unsophisticated songs, ‘songs of innocence’. However, behind Pan lies the image of the great Greek god of music, Orpheus. He could charm nature with the power of his music. For the Romantics, he represented the poet as an inspired singer, possessed by a power or ‘genius’ beyond himself. The use of this imagery enables Blake to suggest that his poems are the work of...
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