William Blake
‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’: ‘Infant Sorrow’ 1794, reprinted 1831 or later

Artwork details

William Blake 1757–1827
‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’: ‘Infant Sorrow’
Date 1794, reprinted 1831 or later
Medium Relief etching on paper
Dimensions Image: 112 x 97 mm
Acquisition Presented by Mrs John Richmond 1922
On display at Tate Britain

Display caption

This poem is a contrast to Infant Joy from Songs of Innocence. The child is born into a dangerous world, despite the trappings of comfort and prosperity around his bed.

Even in his first natural state of naked helplessness, the child conceals what adults would regard as an evil spirit (‘fiend’). The pressures of conformity (‘my swaddling bands’) will release this spirit in ‘struggling’ and ‘striving against’. The act of sulking on his mother’s breast suggests only a brief respite before the ‘fiend’ (properly, the child’s true individuality) finally asserts itself in adulthood.

May 2003

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