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"Infant Joy" and "Infant Sorrow" are parts William Blake's collections of poetry, the former in "Songs of Innocence" while the latter in "Songs of Experience". As Blake often did with his poems, the images he created for these poem help the reader better understand the meaning of these poems and better convey any emotion the reader could feel from reading them. One of the most noticeable things about the titles of the poems and the collections in which they are contained is that they prepare the reader for the tone of the poems. "Infant Joy" and "Infant Sorrow" have been constructed by Blake to show two points of view for a single event. The first describes the innocence and joy of childbirth. The latter a more realistic view from the parents. "Infant Joy" and "Infant Sorrow" both use two stanzas. "Infant Joy" uses the rhyme scheme ABCDAC for the first stanza, and ABCDDC for the second. "Infant Sorrow" uses AABB as the rhyme scheme for both stanzas.
These poems can clearly be seen as Romantic due to the subject of childbirth being one of the most important parts of Nature. It was a subject that crossed all social lines and at many times was the initial cause of rifts in partnerships, such as arranged marriages meant to solidify an agreement between two families which may have had high social standing. The infant mortality rate was so high that many people did not bother to name their children until it was apparent that the child would live into adolescence. It can also be said that these poems deal with the Individual as well, being that childbirth is indeed a very personal experience. The two poems also share the baby as the focal point, and it seems that the baby is the narrator in "Infant Sorrow", although it could be thought that the narrator is actually the grown up version of the baby recollecting the event of birth. "Infant Joy" has a theme of unrealized potential and gives the reader a look into the happiness that comes over the parents during this occasion. "Infant Sorrow", on the other hand, holds a darker connotation, in which the parents know that any hopes they have for a happy life for their child is wishful thinking at best.
The theme of unrealized potential in "Infant Joy" is first presented by the dialogue in the poem, in which the child is simply called Joy. The significance of this is that parents can be thought to be basking in their newfound happiness and joy and for a brief moment they think of the possibilities that face their child. It should be noted that the parents are not actually mentioned in the poem, but it could be suggested that the mother is talking to her newborn child. As Robert Essick points out, Joy is emphasized with the description of the child's smiling face (110-111).
In "Infant Joy" the mother seems to sing to the child, a song of innocence, in "Infant Sorrow" the mother and the father express anguish and sadness, a song of experience. Some might argue that groaning and weeping are not songs, but John Grant argues that it could equally be argued that these are songs of realism, songs of pain, songs of experience (54).
There is a very evident sense of hope in "Infant Joy", with many simple adjectives which describe the scene. In contrast, "Infant Sorrow" generates a sense of quiet despair with the way it uses emotion. The illustrations Blake created for each of the poems reflect these thoughts. The illustration for "Infant Joy" has been painted in bright, vibrant colors with the simple flowing shapes of flowers as a background. The flower represents the mother's womb, protecting the child. The presence of the angel is an allusion to the biblical Annunciation. Stuart Peterfreund has interpreted this religious overtone, in conjunction with the repeated use of "I am" in the poem, as an allusion to Exodus 3:14 where God says "I am that I am" (109). Blake could be implying that the infant is divine and therefore divinity is "joy".
In "Infant Sorrow", the parents can be thought to have come back to reality and now understand that despite their best wishes, their child has a very bleak future and any hopes or dreams they have for their child are meaningless. The child is described as being "helpless", signifying the feelings that have now replaced the happiness they felt earlier. They have no illusions of greatness for their child, and could possibly even feel pity for the child since it has no idea what awaits it. The accompanying image for "Infant Sorrow" depicts the mother tending to her child, but her face does not convey a sense of happiness. The poem focuses on the horror of the world, and the physical act of the infant's birth. Unlike "Infant Joy", "Infant Sorrow" does mention the child's father, albeit in a minor role, "My mother groan'd! my father wept/Struggling in my father's hands" (1,5). The language used in "Infant Sorrow" stands in stark contrast with that found in "Infant Joy". The frequent repetition and monosyllabic words create a very childlike and innocent atmosphere:
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee: (7-9)
The use of assonance gives the poem a song-like quality. The rhyming couplet with "smile" towards the end of the poem also aids this presentation, and reinforces the pleasant atmosphere with simple joy and happiness. In "Infant Sorrow", however, Blake makes more use of rhyming couplets but in this case, they create a more sinister tone in the poem. Another contrast between "infant Joy" and "Infant Sorrow" is the image which accompanies "Infant Sorrow". John Bender and Anne Mellor describe how the image bears almost no resemblance to "Infant Joy", save the hair color of the character's hair. The smiling face of the mother is replaced with that of a mother who realizes the hardship that awaits her child. Blake has removed the safe womb-like structure of the flower and replaces it with an ordinary room with no overlooking angel (297-319).
One of the things that make Blake's poems so effective was that he often created his poems in pairs, with both poems coming from different points of view. There is no doubt that many may have seen his poems as subversive, as is evident with his poems which focus on God and the Creation, but Blake always did his best to make the reader view a single subject from an aspect which the reader might have never considered otherwise. Blake uses this device extremely well with "Infant Joy" and "Infant Sorrow". It almost seems like Blake sets up the reader for disappointment with the initial happiness of "Infant Joy", creating an emotional wave that mirrors the transition that takes place between the two poems. Using this writing style, Blake certainly created some of the most thought provoking writings during his period.
Bender, John, and Anne Mellor. Liberating the Sister Arts: The Revolution of Blake's "Infant Sorrow". Baltimore: John Hopkins U, 1983. 297-319. Print.
Essick, Robert. William Blake in a Newtonian World: Essays on Literature as Art and Science. Oxford: Oxford U, 1989. Print.
Grant, John. Blake's Poetry and Designs. London: W.W.Norton, 1979. Print.
Peterfreund, Stuart. William Blake in a Newtonian World: Essays on Literature as Art and Science. Norman: U of O P, 1998. Print.