‘Infant Sorrow’ was published in Songs of Experience in 1794. Its companion piece ‘Infant Joy’ was published several years earlier in 1789. The two poems present opposing ideas of childbirth and new life, as one should expect from Blake. This poem deals with the darker, less pleasant sides of bringing a new life into the world while ‘Infant Joy’ is all about a young child as the embodiment of joy.
Explore Infant Sorrow
Summary of Infant Sorrow
The first stanza depicts the child emerging into the world after the mother’s painful labor. The father was in quite a state, and no one seemed particularly thrilled to see the child. As a newborn, the child narrates the first moments of its life. This odd feature of ‘Infant Sorrow’ also occurs in ‘Infant Joy.’ But rather than expressing pure happiness and joy, this child is screaming, kicking, and refusing to cooperate with its parents. Finally, the child is swaddled, and sulkily takes to his mother’s breast.
Themes in Infant Sorrow
‘Infant Sorrow’ is slightly more complex than ‘Infant Joy.’ It explores themes of birth, happiness/sorrow, as well as conflict. The speaker, a newborn child, enters into a more sorrowful world than it is joyful. His mother was in pain when he was born, and his father was weeping. It was these two things that greeted him upon his arrival. The child, the likely independent of the parent’s sorrow, was just as distressed. He fought against his family members and was not soothed by their presence. In Songs of Experience, Blake explores the darker side of many happier topics he instructed in Songs of Innocence. This is one of the best examples. The child comes into a world of conflict that he feels he must fight back against.
Structure and Form
‘Infant Sorrow’ by William Blake is a two-stanza poem divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of AABB. The changing end sounds in the second stanza. Blake structured this poem quite simply, even more so than he did its companion piece, ‘Infant Joy.’ The latter follows a more complex rhyme scheme and has lines that vary to a greater degree in length. The meter in ‘Infant Sorrow’ is also more consistent. All the lines contain either seven or eight syllables, which mimics the unhappy and uncomfortable content.
Blake makes use of several literary devices in ‘Infant Sorrow.’ These include but are not limited to examples of alliteration, caesurae, similes, and enjambment. The latter refers to a technique used when a phrase is cut off on one line and restarted on the following line—for example, the transition between the last two lines of the poem. Readers have to go down to line four of the second stanza to find out what the child “thought best.”
Caesurae are moments in poems in which the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, the first line of the poem reads: “My mother groand! my father wept”. These pauses might be signified through punctuation or meter. In this case, both are used. Alliteration is another common literary device that refers to words that start with the same consonant sound. For instance, “bands” and “best” in the last two lines of the poem and “lept” and “loud” in lines two and three of the first stanza.
Lastly, there is a good example of a simile in ‘Infant Sorrow.’ It can be found in line four of the first stanza where Blake’s speaker compares themselves to “a fiend hid in a cloud.”
Analysis of Infant Sorrow
My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
In the first stanza of ‘Infant Sorrow,’ the speaker begins with an exclamation. He describes his mother groaning over his birth and his father weeping” as he left into the world. This chaotic and powerful movement suggests that the child did not come peacefully. The mother’s labor was likely quite long and painful, and both parents were not in the best mood when their child arrived. Despite this, the child screamed as children do. Blake uses a simile in the last line of this stanza to compare the young child to “a fiend hid in a cloud.” This suggests that the child is far separated from the child named Joy in ‘Infant Joy.’ Despite the unfortunate circumstances around this child’s birth, it is still as “Helpless” as any other.
Struggling in my fathers hands:
Striving against my swaddling bands:
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mothers breast.
In the second stanza of ‘Infant Sorrow,’ the speaker describes how he struggled in his father’s hands and did whatever he could to keep from being swaddled. The words “Struggling,” “Striving,” and “swaddling” are connected through half-rhyme in the first two lines. This adds an extra element of rhythm to the poem and suggests that the child’s struggle is not over. They aren’t going to be so easily subdued.
In the third line of ‘Infant Sorrow,’ the speaker finally finds himself exhausted and “weary.” He is “Bound” in the swaddling blankets and defeated for the time being. The poem concludes with the child at his mother’s breast, “sulk[ing].”
Readers who enjoyed ‘Infant Sorrow’ should also consider reading some of Blake’s other best-known poems. These include ‘The Sick Rose,’ ‘London,’ and ‘A Cradle Song.’ The latter, ‘A Cradle Song,’ is a Romantic poem, which is just about a mother’s love toward her baby. ‘London’ was published along with ‘Infant Sorrow’ in Songs of Experience. It describes the difficulties of London life while the speaker moves through the city. Some other related poems are ‘And When My Sorrow was Born’ by Kahlil Gibran and ‘The Sad Shepherd’ by William Butler Yeats.