William Blake Study Guide

The introduction from my William Blake study guide published by ZigZag in 2013

William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience is one of the most satisfying texts I have ever taught.  I return to it again and again as I find the poems so open to interpretation that they are accessible to, and rewarding for, a wide range of students from Year 7 right through to gifted and talented A’ Level students.  His radicalism and idiosyncratic analysis seems as relevant to the twenty first century as it did to the end of the eighteenth.

This guide is for teachers who want to deepen and broaden their knowledge of the Songs of Innocence and Experience and will be equally accessible to everyone: those with no knowledge of Blake will find sufficient background and context to guide them through their teaching; whilst I hope those with considerable experience will find the analyses and ideas provide stimulating alternative readings and new ideas.

There are plenty of challenges provided by Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience starting from their apparent simplicity.  I have provided an analysis of form and structure where I have felt it is relevant to an analysis of the poem; often their superficial simplicity masks a far more complex structure which emerges where the structure breaks down.  As teachers we also have to help students understand the apparent inconsistencies in the Songs: students, for instance, struggle with the idea that the God of The Lamb can be the same God as the one in The Tyger.  It is, however, these inconsistencies that open up the poems to some really interesting analyses.

The analyses are designed for teachers to provide a quick reference point for each poem, but some may be suitable for sharing with students. I have punctuated the text with some anecdotes from the life of Blake which, although not necessarily relevant to the individual analyses, show the complexity of the character of Blake himself and provide an interesting diversion.  Many of these anecdotes come from Peter Ackroyd’s excellent biography Blake which I would recommend to anyone teaching Blake at this level.

Finally a quick note on the order of the poems. Throughout Blake’s lifetime different editions of the Songs of Innocence and Experience placed the poems in different orders and even moved poems between the two volumes.  This means that modern editions often follow quite different orders.  The poems in this guide are placed in an order which reflects many available editions, but may be very different to the edition you are using.

It is interesting to look at the original illuminated editions which are available from the Blake Archive at http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/work.xq?workid=songsie.

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