Rhythmical Patterns in William Blake's Infant Sorrow
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Rhythmical Patterns of "Infant Sorrow" in William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience
In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, by William Blake, we come to the realization that although innocence and experience are dichotomies it’s common for a reader of songs to detect experience in a poem about innocence and vice versa. To fully understand "Infant Sorrow" a look at the definition of innocence and its relationship to experience is needed.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary innocence is defined as uncorrupted by evil, malice, without wrongdoing, sinless, and not experienced. Experience, however, is the activity or practice through which knowledge or skill is derived. If this is the case why are both in the same poem? Some would say that in poems such as "Infant Sorrow" the innocence that is usually attributed to the birth of a newborn can become a harsh and dreadful experience to both the mother and the infant being pulled from the womb.
To discern the dreadful experience of "Infant Sorrow" we must first understand the format of this poem. "Infant Sorrow" is that of a 4x4 formation, the rhythmical patterns of the poem. This formation indicates to the readers that four beats are contained in each line of the poem. For every four lines a total of sixteen beats are noticeable.
x _/ x _/ x _/ x _/
My mother groand! my father wept
x _x x _/ x x _/ x _/
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
_/ x _/ x _/ x _/ [x]
Helpless, naked, piping loud:
_/ x _/ / _x x _/ [x]
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
Offbeats (x), although not heard, are relatively important because they combine and hold together stressed words. Thi...
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...Infant Sorrow," the newly born baby, who is also the speaker of the poem, tells the story of his helpless debut into this new world. He informs the readers of the pain and agony he and his parents dealt with as he struggled with his father to spread his arms. He talks about the discomfort he felt as he tried to tussle and free himself, before ultimately giving into his experienced mother to ultimately "sulk" upon her breast for nourishment. The mix of iambic and trochaic verse in this poem shows the sorrowful state of the baby and the struggle that compels him to break free. Transitional words like "leapt" in the first stanza and "striving" in the second show the baby’s attempt to transform and take himself out of an uncomfortable situation.
Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and of Experience. New York: Orion, 1967. Rpt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970.