Satan's labyrinth: A study of irony in Blake's Songs of innocence and of experience



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In the past, superficial estimates of Blake's songs may have helped ensure their survival in an age ill-equipped to appreciate them. The innocuous prattlings of Innocence and the embittered lamentations of Experience have been regarded as reinforcements of conventional behavior patterns of naivete and disillusionment. The songs, however, are profoundly ironic. Epitomes of human bondage, they illuminate Blake's incorruptible faith in human liberty as the key to redemption. Both series reflect a significant disparity between text and icon; and the consummate irony of the songs is that their polarization of Innocence and Experience has been accepted as definitive. Leitmotifs of bondage interpenetrate both states. Innocence is innocuous only as long as one chooses to ignore, its illuminations. Experience is not its nemesis, but its fulfillment. The songs themselves constitute an indictment of Church and State, matriarchy and patriarchy, and all the tribal totems of both primitive and civilized society. They expose man as creator and creature of the states that confound him, victim and perpetrator of the tyrannies that deny his inherent need for self-development