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Sunday 23 March 2014

William Blake: Reeds of Innocence


reeds 7 #16 (kent): photo by chrisfriel, 13 March 2014

Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:

'Pipe a song about a Lamb!'
So I piped with merry cheer.
'Piper, pipe that song again;'
So I piped: he wept to hear.

'Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe;
Sing thy songs of happy cheer!'
So I sung the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.

'Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read.'
So he vanish'd from my sight;
And I pluck'd a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stain'd the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

William Blake (1757-1827): Introduction to Songs of Innocence (1789-1795)

reeds 2 #528 (kent): photo by chrisfriel, 22 January 2014

reeds 4 #236 (kent): photo by chrisfriel, 22 January 2014

130214 #98 (lake, winter): photo by chrisfriel, 10 February 2014

lake 2 #14: photo by chrisfriel, 13 February 2014

  wave 14 #634: photo by chrisfriel, 27 February 2014

  wave 14 #746 (beach, kent): photo by chrisfriel, 27 January 2014

  wave 10 #528 (kent): photo by chrisfriel, 27 January 2014

  fire 1 #73: photo by chrisfriel, 14 March 2014


awyn said...

Those photos are like paintings! Especially #98 and #14. In #2, in a sea of uniformity, as if noticing the sky is clearing, several reeds break rank, bend leftward (like emerging plant stems leaning toward the sun). Can you give a link to the photographer's website? Wonderful photos! Thanks

Mose23 said...

Laughter and tears; the ink staining the clear water; the hollow reed filling the page with song.

Those photographs are achingly beautiful.

ACravan said...

I think "achingly beautiful" says it all. Curtis

Nora said...

The photographs are amazing. Awyn, I found his work here:


and here:

Friel Photography

TC said...

The poet's own illustration:

Blake: Songs of Innocence, illuminated Introduction

TC said...

As part of the "discovery" or "invention" of childhood in the eighteenth century associated with the interest in early education shown by Locke, Rousseau, and the Sunday School movement, the decades before the Songs saw the genre of short collections of devotional and moral poems for children emerge as a "most prolific and controversial literary form". The genre's mainstay was Isaac Watts's Divine and Moral Songs Attempted in easy Language, for the Use of Children, 1715, influential enough to be parodied not only by Blake (in "A Cradle Song"), but still later in Alice in Wonderland; other titles could be cited, however, including Charles Wesley's Hymns for Children, 1763; Christopher Smart's Hymns for the Amusement of Children, 1770; and Anna Barbauld's Hymns in Prose for Children, 1781. These works make a small sub-set of eighteenth-century hymnody, itself arguably the most pervasively influential innovation of cultural discourse in Blake's time. While it has long been recognized that in terms of metrical and stanzaic variety, Blake's songs "make as clear a parallel with eighteenth-century hymns, as they make a contrast with eighteenth-century lyric", their contrast with the ideological burden of hymns has yet to be explored fully. If John Wesley could preface his brother's hymns with the hope that once children "understand them they will be children no longer, only in years and stature," then Blake might counter that if adults could understand his songs, their "doors of perception" might be cleansed. Following his own interpretation of the Gospel, Blake thinks "every Thing to be Evident to the Child", and writes that "the innocence of a child" can reproach the reader "with the errors of acquired folly". His songs "about" or "from the perspective of" a guiltless point of view offer parables to test what such pure perception might be, and how our sense might be folly.

Many readers have found the ballad-like "Introduction" to Innocence a commentary on individual and cultural artistic development, which moves from ("pipes down") pre-verbal, pure sound inspiration to sung words to written text -- and, simultaneously, from a state of presence and mutual participation to one of absence and emphatic separateness (the penultimate four lines which begin "And I"). This process also foregrounds Blake's ongoing concern with identity (repetition, sameness) and difference, as elsewhere in the focus on "echoing": in what sense is a song "the same again" if it is rendered in words rather than sound? In Blake's time, especially with the popular "Glee Club" movement, "glee" was familiar as a song scored for three or more voices to make up a series of interwoven melodies -- a meaning applicable throughout to these "songs of pleasant glee." The poem's closing sets up the paradoxical realization that the only way "every child may joy to hear" the song is through its being sung by one who has learned to read. So we return to the issue of inspiration and transmission, of the "pipe," the conduit, the I (to represent it typographically). The engendering spring of the song-stream comes to readers via the "hollow reed" of the pipe and the pen, but for hearers requires that readers reinspire (literally, blow into again) the otherwise "hollow read" of the text.

-- from Nelson Hilton: "William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience", in The Blackwell Companion to Romanticism, ed. Duncan Wu (1998)

TC said...

Blake: "Piping down the valleys wild" ("Reeds of Innocence"), put to music by Michael Emmanuel Koch

TC said...

Forgot to mention how much I did appreciate Annie's close looking:

"In #2, in a sea of uniformity, as if noticing the sky is clearing, several reeds break rank, bend leftward (like emerging plant stems leaning toward the sun)."

TC said...

And this of WB's, bringing the lovely Blake song to life:

"Laughter and tears; the ink staining the clear water; the hollow reed filling the page with song."

Blake liked to put it about that the Songs of Innocence were produced by divine inspiration. In fact he was commissioned to do a book of verses for children in 1789.

The Nelson Hilton comment (above) helps in understanding the popularity of the genre in Blake's time.