Introduction to the Songs of Innocence

Original Text: 
William Blake, Songs of Innocence (1789). Blake's Illuminated Books, ed. David Bindman (Princeton, NJ: William Blake Trust; London: Tate Gallery, 1991-). See Vol. 2. PR 4142 B46 1991 ROBA.
2Piping songs of pleasant glee,
3On a cloud I saw a child,
4And he laughing said to me:
5"Pipe a song about a Lamb!"
6So I piped with merry cheer.
7"Piper, pipe that song again;"
8So I piped: he wept to hear.
9"Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe;
10Sing thy songs of happy cheer:"
11So I sung the same again,
12While he wept with joy to hear.
13"Piper, sit thee down and write
14In a book, that all may read."
15So he vanish'd from my sight,
16And I pluck'd a hollow reed,
17And I made a rural pen,
19And I wrote my happy songs
20Every child may joy to hear.


1] Most of Blake's poetry was not published in the ordinary way, but engraved or etched by Blake himself on copper plates, with accompanying designs. Design and text were cut in relief, stamped on paper, and then coloured by hand. The Songs of Innocence were first engraved in 1789; the Songs of Experience in 1794. The Songs of Experience were never issued separately, but always with the Songs of Innocence, the two collections having the subtitle: "Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul." Many of the Songs of Innocence have counterparts in the Songs of Experience, the relationship being indicated either by a common title, as with "Holy Thursday," "The Chimney Sweeper," and "Nurse's Song," or by contrasting titles, as with "The Lamb" and "The Tyger," "The Divine Image" and "The Human Abstract," "Infant Joy" and "Infant Sorrow." "Innocence" is the ideal or Paradisal world of protection and peace which the child assumes is the world he is born into; "experience" is the actual world. [In the printed edition of Representative Poetry, because of the close relation of the two sets of lyrics, the Songs of Experience were placed directly after the Songs of Innocence. This poem and the six following poems were from the Songs of Innocence; the nine poems following were from the Songs of Experience.] Back to Line
18] stain'd. A reference to the fact that the accompanying designs are painted in water-colour. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Northrop Frye
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.277.