A child of the Romantic Period, William Blake was a poet born into the lively grounds of Soho, England. Since childhood, people observed in him a keen sense of imagination. This recognition then encouraged his parents to support his career path as an artist (Merriman n. p. ). Blake was largely considered as eccentric or demented by his contemporaries, causing him to be denied in his lifetime the recognition he deserved. However, literary critics now consider him an influential force in the development of Romanticism (Barker n. p. ). Blake’s works and style of writing cannot be classified into a single category or genre.
However, his works showed recurring themes of knowledge and innocence, heaven and hell, external reality and internal reality, and most of all, good and evil (Merriman n. p. ). Most of his works are expressed with simplicity, except for some of his later works. With this simplicity, Blake was able to portray opposing aspects of human nature. He achieved this superbly by using one literary piece to present the negative side of another earlier literary work. Sorrow: the Antithesis of Joy This style of Blake was highlighted in his two poems Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow.
Infant Joy was presented to dwell on the joys of life, childbirth, and existence. Then, in contrast, Infant Sorrow came to life to demonstrate the sadness of life and human existence. Content Comparison. In Infant Sorrow, the infant’s realization that the world is an unhappy place to live in summed up human existence. This poem renders a bleak understanding of human conditions and strongly contrasts with the earlier poem, Infant Joy. This other poem celebrates childbirth, as shown by the infant christening herself as ‘Joy. ’ The voice of her mother celebrates with her baby too.
However, the poem’s too-evident joyfulness invites suspicion. The mask of exaggeration can be unfurled to reveal a deeper understanding of human existence. Both poems share similar strong emotions in describing birth, and both use little to no figurative language. However, they differ in structures and in the portrayal of human oppression. The poems both describe the sentiments that surround the birth of a child. Infant Joy portrays the happiness of an infant for being alive (Blake 4-5). There is a sense of gladness because human existence is worth celebrating.
When one is born, he/she is given civil rights and freedoms that are worth being born for. Nonetheless, the infant cannot realistically even be aware of herself in such a way. A source even notes that it is still the mother who provides the infant’s voice: she merely projects herself unto her baby’s seeming happiness (Gilham 3). Still, the mother’s voice (as herself) is also present in the poem. She also feels exuberant, so she sings for her baby (Blake 11). On the other hand, Infant Sorrow depicts the infant’s feelings of lack of safety and security, as well as experiences of oppression (Blake 5).
The parents in this poem also express resounding emotions, as the “mother groaned” and the “father wept” (Blake 1). This first line of the poem emphasized the parents’ sadness and misery about the baby’s birth. Thus, both poems explore the avalanche of powerful feelings that come with childbirth. Use of Figurative Language. Both poems similarly employ little to no figurative language. For Infant Sorrow, the most striking figurative language is the simile, “Like a fiend hid in the cloud” (Blake 4). This indicates that the baby is like a criminal in the clouds of happiness.
The irony stands out: here is a two-day old infant who normally feels peaceful and happy, but in reality should really feel like another criminal who cannot hide anywhere, not even in the comfort of his dreams. Another figurative speech is the pun of “sulk,” instead of “suck” (Blake 8). The baby sulks in being fed by her mother, which is confounding, because there should be a natural connection between feeding and existence, a connection that is more positive than depressing. For Infant Joy, there are no evident figures of speech.
This makes the poem very straightforward to some extent. Curran calls this as having no word “in excess” (6), which have made the poem a pithy rendition of childbirth happiness. Structure and Rhyming Patterns. The poems also diverge in different aspects, beginning with their dissimilar rhyming patterns. In Infant Sorrow, Blake uses a regular AABB rhyme scheme for its two stanzas, but in Infant Joy, he utilizes ABCDAC for the first stanza and ABCDDC for the second. The dissimilar rhyming patterns depict the underlying chaos behind the sweet joy of the infant.
This rhyming style suggests the incongruence that exists between what is said and what is not said in Infant Joy. Furthermore, the most distinct pattern in Infant Joy is the double rhyme that recurs in lines three, six, nine, and twelve. This rhyming pattern contrasts with the more stable rhyme of Infant Sorrow. As pointed out already, this signifies an uncertainty in the voice of the mother in Infant Joy, as she wishes her child a happy life. The mother could be suppressing the reality that happiness is rarely attainable, when human existence cannot be described as joyful at all.
Other Structures. Both poems possess different structures that also impact their meanings. These poems use different strategies in illustrating human oppression. Infant Joy uses two voices of happiness and the theme of innocence to mask the latent doubts of insecurity in the mother’s voice. The voices come from an infant and mother who believe that human life is joyful and so being born into it must be a cause of cheerful disposition. The poem portrays the happiness of an infant in being born: “I happy am. /Joy is my name” (Blake 4-5).
The mother feels high-spirited also and she sings for her baby. The poem also celebrates innocence by repeating the phrase “sweet joy” five times over in lines 6, 8, 9, and 12. The repetition emphasizes the sweetness of being born and being so young. Infant Joy, however, somehow masks an uncertainty. The mother keeps on saying that the baby is only two days old. In a way, it indicates that this is the main reason why the baby feels too happy; she is still too young to experience the harshness of living. Furthermore, there is a tone of wishful thinking about happiness from the mother.
When she says “Sweet joy befall thee! ” (Blake 12), it is more of a benediction rather than a conviction (Gilham 3). In here, human innocence has resembled a mask, a charade for a mother who wishes a form of short-term happiness for her baby. Blake undermines the happiness of human existence through Infant Sorrow, which directly assaults human innocence through dark symbolism, imagery, and figurative expressions. It is quite shocking that an infant would describe a new world as dangerous, one where the infant’s parents would weep or groan, as if in terror.
Parents should be happy when they see their baby, but this poem paints an extremely contrasting picture. This point of view can be explained by the fact that Blake lived in a time of war (Curran 6). Thus, in the author’s context, he was right to say that a child born in such a society only “leapt to a dangerous world” (Blake 2). An infant described as a fiend is also hardly anticipated. This image is quite perplexing, because innocence has been plunged into the murky waters of evil (Blake 4).
At the same time, the infant, who has just been born, already feels “bound and weary” (Blake 7). A baby should be free of the world’s numerous worries, but this infant is like an adult who has been disillusioned by the burdens of human life. The infant even sulks upon his mother’s breast. “Sulk” is a pun for “suck,” which renders a different interpretation of depending on a mother for nurturance (Carson 150; Bender and Mellor 300). “Sulk” underscores the resistance to the passive role of the baby in society (Gilham 4).
The struggles of the infant symbolize the struggles of adults against the oppression from political and economic forces of society. The “swaddling bands” indicate how people also struggle to fight the institutions that make it impossible for them to enjoy their civil liberties. Infant Sorrow, hence, takes the voice of an adult who has briskly shaken off the pretensions of modern liberties. Blake used infants as the starting point of his argument about human existence.
Conclusion Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow may directly oppose each other in the choice of words, structure and rhyming pattern. Underneath them, however, are the same strong human emotions, portrayed simply with little use of figurative language. These poems possess the voice of a weary and dissatisfied adult who wants to escape but cannot wholly leave society. The innocence and happiness was a mere mask for the realities of life. They also express inconspicuously the voice of a human being who constantly fights the battle against dominant social institutions that trample on civil liberties. Ultimately, both poems remarkably render in diverse ways, the tortures of human existence.