William Blake

‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’: ‘Infant Sorrow’

1794, reprinted 1831 or later

Image released under

License this image

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
William Blake 1757–1827
Relief etching on paper
Image: 112 × 97 mm
Presented by Mrs John Richmond 1922

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.

Gallery label, May 2003

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

A00036 [from] Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Miscellaneous Pages 1789 and 1794/1831 or later [A00035-A00039; complete]

A00035- A00039/ -

5 relief etchings, printed in grey
Presented by Mrs John Richmond 1922
PROVENANCE ?Mrs Blake; Frederick Tatham; his brother-in-law George Richmond, sold Christie's 29 April 1897 (in 147 with 22 other works; see no.2) £2.10.0 bt Dr Richard Sisley; his daughter Mrs John Richmond
LITERATURE Keynes Bibliography 1921, pp.114–28; Erdman Illuminated Blake 1974, pp.41–97, book repr.; Bentley Blake Books 1977, pp.364–432 no.139 (Tate works pp.371, 430); Bindman Graphic Works 1978, pp.468–9 nos.40–70, 474 nos.214–69, two books repr.

Blake published his Songs of Innocence on their own in 1789. In his prospectus To the Public of 10 October 1793 he advertised both Songs of Innocence and, as a separate item, Songs of Experience; however the separate title-page for Songs of Experience is dated 1794 (Keynes Writings 1957, p.208). Most though not all of the existing copies of Songs of Experience are bound up with Songs of Innocence with a joint titlepage reading Songs of Innocence and of Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul; this is undated. In some of these joint copies certain poems originally included in Songs of Innocence are moved to Songs of Experience. Even within the two sets, the order of the poems was frequently altered.

A00037 is watermarked ‘1831’ and, as all these pages show the same palish grey inking and type of paper, all were presumably printed after Blake's death in 1827, probably by Frederick Tatham from the plates that Mrs Blake would have brought with her when she went to stay with him in September 1828, though not necessarily before her death on 18 October 1831.

These works were formerly inventoried as nos.3694 vii, viii, vi, v, va and iv respectively.

A00036 Songs of Innocence and of Experience: ‘Infant Sorrow’ (second copy) 1794/1831 or later

A 00036/-
Relief etching, printed in grey 112×97 (4 5/8×3 13/16) on paper 241×202 (9 5/8×8)

Published in:
Martin Butlin, William Blake 1757-1827, Tate Gallery Collections, V, London 1990

You might like

In the shop