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Songs of Innocence and of Experience is an illustrated collection of poems by William Blake. It appeared in two phases. A few first copies were printed and illuminated by William Blake himself in 1789; five years later he bound these poems with a set of new poems in a volume titled Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.
"Innocence" and "Experience" are definitions of consciousness that rethink Milton's existential-mythic states of "Paradise" and the "Fall." Blake's categories are modes of perception that tend to coordinate with a chronology that would become standard in Romanticism: childhood is a state of protected innocence rather than original sin, but not immune to the fallen world and its institutions. This world sometimes impinges on childhood itself, and in any event becomes known through "experience," a state of being marked by the loss of childhood vitality, by fear and inhibition, by social and political corruption, and by the manifold oppression of Church, State, and the ruling classes. The volume's "Contrary States" are sometimes signalled by patently repeated or contrasted titles: in Innocence, Infant Joy, in Experience, Infant Sorrow; in Innocence, The Lamb, in Experience, The Fly and The Tyger. The stark simplicity of poems such as The Chimney Sweeper and The Little Black Boy display Blake's acute sensibility to the realities of poverty and exploitation that accompanied the "dark satanic mills" of the Industrial Revolution.
Songs of Innocence was originally a complete work first printed in 1789. It is a conceptual collection of 19 poems, engraved with artwork.
The poems are each listed below:
Songs of Experience is a poetry collection of 26 poems forming the second part of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The poems were published in 1794 (see 1794 in poetry). Some of the poems, such as The Little Girl Lost and The Little Girl Found were moved by Blake to Songs of Innocence, and were frequently moved between the two books.
Poems from both books have been set to music by many composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Joseph Holbrooke, John Frandsen, Per Drud Nielsen, Sven-David Sandström, Benjamin Britten, and Jacob ter Veldhuis. Individual poems have also been set by, among others, John Tavener, Victoria Poleva, Jah Wobble, Tangerine Dream, Jeff Johnson, and Daniel Amos. A modified version of the poem "The Little Black Boy" was set to music in the song "My Mother Bore Me" from Maury Yeston's musical Phantom. The folk musician Greg Brown recorded sixteen of the poems on his 1987 album Songs of Innocence and of Experience and by Finn Coren in his Blake Project. In 2011 Victor Vertunni released a new music album on songs of Innocence and of Experience, another stepping stone in the long tradition.
The poet Allen Ginsberg believed the poems were originally intended to be sung, and that through study of the rhyme and metre of the works, a Blakean performance could be approximately replicated. In 1969, he conceived, arranged, directed, sang on, and played piano and harmonium for an album of songs entitled Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, tuned by Allen Ginsberg (1970).
The composer William Bolcom completed a setting of the entire collection of poems in 1984. In 2005, a recording of Bolcom's work by Leonard Slatkin, the Michigan State Children's Choir, and the University of Michigan on the Naxos label won four Grammy Awards: Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Producer of the Year (classical).
The composer Victoria Poleva completed "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" in 2002, a chamber cycle on the verses by Blake for soprano, clarinet and accordion. It was first performed by the ensemble Accroche-Note of France.
Popular group Tangerine Dream, based their album 'Tyger' on lyrics by William Blake.
The Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino, California, published a small facsimile edition in 1975 that included sixteen plates reproduced from two copies of Songs of Innocence and of Experience in their collection, with an introduction by James Thorpe. The songs reproduced were Introduction, Infant Joy, The Lamb, Laughing Song and Nurse's Song from Songs of Innocence, and Introduction, The Clod & the Pebble, The Tyger, The Sick Rose, Nurses Song and Infant Sorrow from Songs of Experience. Tate Publishing, in collaboration with The William Blake Trust, produced a folio edition containing all of the songs of Innocence and Experience in 2006. A colour plate of each poem is accompanied by a literal transcription, and the volume is introduced by critic and historian Richard Holmes.
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