‘Mad Song’ by William Blake is a short three-stanza poem which is made up of eight-line stanzas, or octaves. These octaves each follow their own rhyme scheme. The first is written in the pattern of ababccd, the second: ababcded, and the third: ababccdd. This changing pattern of rhyme helps to emphasize the madness the speaker is experiencing. He is unable to contain himself to one way of speaking and is franticly changing, as if in an effort to find some solution to his problems. The structure of the line spacing has the same impact. As it is read, one’s eyes are forced to flick quickly back and forth across the page.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the terrible weather that is plaguing the night. It is windy and freezing cold. These elements reflect the chaos which is the speaker’s mental state. This is expanded on when he states that he sees the dawning of the day and is horrified by its coming.
The speaker is desperate to remain in the darkness, especially as it offered him his only chance of infolding his grief in sleep. The following lines describe how the weather patterns become more violent and mimic the increasing desperation of the speaker. He is unable to control his own emotions and the raging weather reflects that.
The poem concludes with his vow to follow the night, with his back to the east, and never face another sunrise again.
You can read more poetry by William Blake here.
Analysis of Mad Song
The wild winds weep,
And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
And my griefs infold:
But lo! the morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And the rustling birds of dawn
The earth do scorn.
Blake’s speaker begins this piece by setting the scene in which he is suffering. The weather conditions of this particular night are quite harsh. The “wild winds” are weeping and the night is “a-cold.” There is nothing pleasant about the world outside this speaker’s bedroom. The poet chose these conditions in an effort to create an immersive and convincing environment. The weather outside the house mimics the mood and mental state of the speaker who is inside.
The third line of the poem describes what it is that the speaker is suffering from, a lack of sleep, or at least a need for darkness. He is begging sleep to “Come hither,” or come here, and “infold” his griefs. There is something in his life that is causing him immense pain, and it is in sleep that he is able to escape from it. These short phrases make clear that the speaker has been trying for a long time to find some peace from his thoughts, but sleep will not come.
In the second half of this stanza the speaker, even more frustrated, announces that “lo!” the “morning” is coming. It is “peep[ing] out from the “eastern steeps,” or mountains. It is easy to imagine how he would feel in these moments as his last chance for a reprieve from his life disappears. The dawn also brings the birds. They “rustle” as they rise and begin to call to one another. While these might normally be sights that are welcome, in this case, they are the last thing the speaker wants to see.
Lo! to the vault
Of paved heaven,
With sorrow fraught
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of night,
Make weep the eyes of day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
And with tempests play.
In the second stanza, the speaker continues to look out at the sky and the coming day. He speaks of the “vault / Of paved heaven” that is becoming clearer and clearer with the dawn. Once more there is a contrast between what would be expected, especially from a poet like Blake, and what this speaker is experiencing. He is completely unwilling to accept that dawn is here already.
The coming of the new day brings with it a renewal of all his pain. Blake never states what it is exactly that has put his speaker in this state. While this leaves the poem open-ended, it also allows a reader to imagine themselves in this same situation and think back to moments that the coming of a new day was not something to be appreciated and marveled over.
The speaker is so distraught by the sun in the east that his “notes,” perhaps referring to weeping, moans, or sounds of frustration, are directed up at the night sky. They travel towards that “paved heaven” and “strike the ear of night.” He is desperate for something to change and continues pleading for a reprieve from his suffering.
In the next lines and those that follow in the third stanza, the speaker makes clear that his emotions are having a physical impact on the weather occurring around him. They are becoming manifest in the wind, rain, and clouds.
This power that he seems to have over his environment is interesting in two different ways. First, it shows the vast reach of his frustrations and suffering. He feels these emotions so intensely that they are reaching out beyond his body to touch “heaven.” Secondly, the control he has over the weather patterns contrasts with the lack of control he has over his life.
In the world just outside his window, he knows that the “eyes of day” are weeping due to his “notes.” This is likely a reference to an intense rain that falls while the sun is out. An event often ascribes to supernatural conditions. He continues on to say that his “notes” are making the roaring wind “mad.” They are so strong that they are able to work the wind up into a frenzy.
This all speaks to the circular nature of emotions. The more that one feels, the more frustrated one gets, resulting in an increase in emotional intensity until everything is out of one’s control. The final line refers to the wind. He is making “tempests,” or great storms, blow. It might be useful at this point to refer back to the title of the poem, ‘Mad Song.’ All of these weather patterns are the embodiment of this person’s emotional madness.
Like a fiend in a cloud
With howling woe,
After night I do croud,
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east,
From whence comforts have increas’d;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.
In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker continues ranting about the changing weather and how his “notes,” or words of madness, have spurned the weather on.
He describes how he is like a “fiend in a cloud” who is “howling” out from the sky in “woe.” The speaker has placed his own emotions upon his environment, personifying them, and using them to show the reader how strongly he feels. The next lines return to the speaker’s need for darkness. He claims that he will “croud,” or crowd, the night. He is going to follow night and stay close by its side.
The speaker will “turn [his] back to the east.” This is part of his quest to follow the night from east to west, never turning around to the side in which the sun will rise. He knows this is going to be a sacrifice and states that he is willingly leaving behind increased “comforts.” He is happy to change his life in this way because he cannot stand the thought of light “seiz[ing]” his brain. The speaker is desperate to rid himself of the “frantic pain” which pursues him in the daylight.