‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence’ is the first poem in William Blake’s collection of poetry the ‘Songs of Innocence’ written in 1789. The poems present in this collection expresses a naive, childlike view of salvation, as most of the poems are addressed to children. In his simple perspective of life, the world is beautiful and Jesus died for our sins. This poem titled ‘Introduction’ sets the tone for the entire sequence. The poet is projected as a visionary who is divinely inspired by angels. ‘Introduction’ also reflects the process of poetic composition. It defines the composition of poetry as a process of making what was formless into artistic creation.
Introduction to the Songs of Innocence William Blake Piping down the valleys wild Piping songs of pleasant glee On a cloud I saw a child. And he laughing said to me. Pipe a song about a Lamb; So I piped with merry chear, Piper pipe that song again— So I piped, he wept to hear. Drop thy pipe thy happy pipe Sing thy songs of happy chear, So I sung the same again While he wept with joy to hear Piper sit thee down and write In a book that all may read— So he vanish'd from my sight. And I pluck'd a hollow reed. And I made a rural pen, And I stain'd the water clear, And I wrote my happy songs Every child may joy to hear
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‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence’ links the poem and the book within the context of pastoral poems. Also, it stands as a testimony to his purpose in writing poetry and his belief in simple rural life.
The poem ‘Introduction’ introduces the poet’s purpose and inspiration behind penning down poetry. In this poem, the narrator is described as a piper. He is happily piping when he sees a child on a cloud. The child asks him to pipe a song about a lamb, when he does sing, the child weeps on hearing it. Again, the child asks the piper to sing and he sings the same song. But now the child cries with joy when he hears it. Further, the child tells the narrator to write a book before he disappears. Inspired by the child, the piper takes a reed to make a pen. With it, he writes happy songs for children to bring them joy. Therefore, the voice of the poems is written as that of a child and/or accessible to children.
Form and Structure
‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence’ is the first poem in the series. Following the poetic convention, Blake sets the scene for his collection in this first poem. It is written in the form of lyric. This poem consists of five quatrains, with some following heroic stanza form. The rhyme scheme of the poem varies depending upon the stanza form. Stanzas 1 and 4 follow the “ABAB” pattern, while stanzas 2, 3, and 5 use an “ABCB” pattern. Being the first of the series it serves as a preface and gives a brief overview to the ‘Song of Innocence.’ The poem is structured like a conversation between the child and the speaker who describes it to his audience.
Theme and Settings
The theme of the poem ‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence’ is about the poet’s inspiration for writing poetry. Like the other poems in this series the poem alludes to the poet’s simple perspective of life and his religious beliefs. Blake, as a young boy had visions of seeing angels in the trees, which returned throughout his life. As he disclosed about his dreams: “I am under the direction of Messengers from Heaven, Daily & Nightly; but the nature of such things is not, as some suppose, without trouble or care.”
Further, the setting of the poem substantiates the theme. The speaker is “piping down the valleys” before seeing the child on the cloud. There begins the conversation that the poet describes in the poem. The poet using the “reed as a pen” denotes the rustic setting. The theme and the setting evoke an ideal, idyllic world of innocence and simplicity, before the industrial revolution which is considered by many as a Fall of humankind.
Blake uses a number of symbols in ‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence’ to best support his idea or the theme. The ‘child’ on the cloud symbolizes the angels of God. ‘The lamb’ also refers to God, alluding to the innocence and the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross. The place ‘Valleys wild’ where the piper is singing the happy songs, symbolize the rural/rustic life, evoking a world of simplicity and innocence. ‘Stain’d the water clear’ refers to coloring of the water to make ink, but this could be seen as the way the poet’s view on the blood of Christ being stained by the sins of the people. On the other hand, writing down the poet’s vision is seen by some critics as an act of destroying the purity as the poet corrupting the purity of vision/imagination by the act of writing.
Stanza One and Two
Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child.
And he laughing said to me.
Pipe a song about a Lamb;
So I piped with merry chear,
Piper pipe that song again—
So I piped, he wept to hear.
In the first and the second stanza of ‘Introduction’ to the Songs of Innocence, the narrator describes his encounter with the child. Here, the poet envisions himself as a shepherd. He is happily piping the songs of happiness “down the valleys wild.” As he does so, he sees a child on a cloud. The child seems to be admiring the songs the piper has been singing. So, he asks him to pipe a song “about a Lamb”. The “Child” represents the heavenly angel, while the capitalized “Lamb” alludes to Jesus Christ. The piper started piping the song with cheerfulness; the child felt happy and asked the piper to pipe the song again. When the piper pipes the song again, the child weeps hearing it.
Drop thy pipe thy happy pipe
Sing thy songs of happy chear,
So I sung the same again
While he wept with joy to hear
In the third stanza of ‘Introduction to the Songs of Innocence, the child further encourages the piper to sing the song of about the Lamb. He asks the piper to “Drop his pipe” and sing his “songs of happy chear.” This time when the poet started singing the song, the child cries, but it wasn’t a cry of melancholy but of joy. The piper immediately agreeing to the child’s request denotes his obedience to his heavenly call.
Stanza Four & Five
Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read—
So he vanish’d from my sight.
And I pluck’d a hollow reed.
The conversation between the child and the piper ends in the fourth stanza and the piper continues with the task assigned in the fifth stanza. These stanzas explain the purpose of the poet behind penning down his poems. After enjoying the lyrics, the child tells the narrator to “sit down and write” the songs he has created. The child suggests that he write them down “In a book that all may read”. After the child disappears, the piper takes a reed to make a pen.
And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear
The poet makes a pen of the reed that he picked. Also, he colored the water to use them as ink. With what he had at hand, he started writing his “happy songs.” The major purpose of his writing is to make his poetry available to all children. The poet reveals his ultimate purpose here. Especially, his concern for the poor children, who are often the major subject of his poetry.
Blake’s poems often propagate his idea of a simplistic life and religious belief. His dreams of angels play a major role in his poetry. His compassion towards the poor children left to do odd jobs, who are the victims of society is the major concern of his poetry. Some of the poems in the collection “Songs of Innocence”, namely “The Chimney Sweeper,” “The Little Black Boy,” “The Divine Image,” “Infant Joy,” “Infant Sorrow,” and “The Lamb” pictures the life of innocent young ones.