‘Infant Joy’ was published in 1789 in Songs of Innocence, its companion piece, ‘Infant Sorrow,’ appeared in Songs of Experience in 1794. The poem is quite direct, needing little interpretation, but it is a good representative of Songs of Innocence. Blake uses literary devices such as repetition, anaphora, and exclamations to emphasize his point and drive home the idea that “joy” is the most important thing of all. As well as the best way to combat sorrow.
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Summary of Infant Joy
In the first stanza of ‘Infant Joy,’ the speaker, who is immediately revealed to be a two-day-old child, chooses the name “Joy” when its mother asks what she should name. The child settled on this option because “joy” is what they feel at all times. The mother approves and empathizes with her own joy by repeating the word and further blessings on her newborn. It is interesting to consider in the last lines of the poem, whether Blake intended to give a voice to a newborn child or, more broadly, convey the connection between the child and their mother.
Themes in Infant Joy
In ‘Infant Joy,’ Blake taps into themes of innocence and happiness above all else. The speaker is both of these things embodied. They are new to the world and completely without the sorrow that they’ll meet later in life. The child chooses their own name, “Joy,” to solidify how they want to live their life. While this poem is quite simple, it is also a statement of resistance against life’s future sorrows. With a name like Joy and the blessings of a mother, surely innocence and happiness will prevail.
Structure and Form
‘Infant Joy’ by William Blake is a two-stanza poem separated into sets of three lines known as sestets. These sestets follow a rhyme scheme of ABCDAC ABCDDC. The meter in these twelve lines is not consistent throughout, but most of the lines contain between three and six beats. Blake uses something that resembles a question and answer format in ‘Infant Joy’ to convey the conversation between mother and child. The first two lines of the first stanza are spoken by an infant child, while the following line comes from the mother. This is then repeated. He chose to use dashes at the end of lines to convey the fact that there is a transition from one speaker to the next. This poem and its companion piece have a similar form, but there are some marked differences. This poem’s rhyme scheme is much more varied while ‘Infant Sorrow’ rhymes with a consistent AABB pattern.
Blake makes use of several literary devices in ‘Infant Joy.’ These include but are not limited to repetition, anaphora, enjambment, and alliteration. There are several examples of repetition in this short poem; one of the most prominent is anaphora. It is concerned with the use and reuse of lines that start with the same words. For example, “Sweet joy” in stanzas one and two. There are more general examples of repetition in the use of the same sentence structure. For example, lines two and three of both stanzas.
Enjambment is a formal device that refers to how lines are broken before the end of a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza and lines four and five. Alliteration is another common literary device. It refers to the use and reuse of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “no-name” in the first line of the poem.
Analysis of Infant Joy
I have no name
I am but two days old.—
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name,—
Sweet joy befall thee!
In the first stanza of ‘Infant Joy,’ the speaker declares that they are only “two days old” and without a name. The speaker is a newborn, someone who shouldn’t, by all accounts, be able to speak. But, in the world of Blake’s poetry, this is possible. They can convey their emotions. The dash at the end of the second line conveys the end of the child’s words, and the beginning of another’s, presumably the mother’s.
She asks the child what she should name them, and they reply, “Joy.” The infant thinks this is the ideal name because it represents everything that they feel at that moment. The same technique is used with the dash at the end of line five. The mother blesses the child, asking that “joy” come to them throughout their life.
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee;
Thou dost smile.
I sing the while
Sweet joy befall thee.
The second stanza is even more direct than the first. In it, the mother celebrates the child’s birth and uses repetition to emphasize her hope that they live a blessed and happy life. The word “joy” is used four lines in the second stanza. She praises her child, clearly hoping that they live a life of happiness.
Readers should take note of the use of repetition in these lines as well as enjambment and anaphora. This is not one of Blake’s more complicated poems, but numerous literary devices contribute to its success.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Infant Joy’ should also consider reading some of Blake’s other best-known poems. These include ‘The Lamb,’ ‘The Tyger,’ and ‘Auguries of Innocence.’ The latter cyclically describes the natural world. The world is reborn and remade throughout nature, symbolizing the innocence of humanity. ‘The Tyger’ is from Songs of Experience, and its companion piece, ‘The Lamb,’ is from Songs of Innocence. Some other interesting, related poems are ‘Child of Our Time’ by Eavan Boland and ‘Children’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. ‘Children’ explores the joy of childhood as well as the happiness that having children can bring to someone.