Tonight, I was thinking about some lines from Blake, and I typed them into Google as a way of finding the complete poem. As often happens, the Wikipedia entry on the poem came up first, so I clicked it. Now the thing is, I love Wikipedia, and I love the fact that they have an accurate text of the poem available two clicks away from anywhere (I just checked, and the text matches the text in my bookself reference: The Portable Blake, edited by Alfred Kazin, and the text from Blake's own illuminated pages: https://www.google.com/search?q=Infant+sorrow+blake&tbm=isch) although the Wikipedia text inexplicably adds quotes around the body of poem, and indents the first lines of each stanza, which I would guess is a relic of some public-domain edition of the poems (probably at least 75 years old.)

Anyway, the text is good, if not perfect, and the Wikipedia article is a great resource, but the interpretation…. well that left something to be desired.

Before we go any further, here's the text of the poem, copied and pasted out of Wikipedia:

Infant Sorrow

"My mother groan'd! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt.
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father's hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands;
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mother's breast."

My reading of this text:

The world is a harsh, unwelcoming place. We emerge from the womb full of rage at the injustice of being born. The air hurts our lungs and we scream. We aren't going to take it. In that first moment, we are uncompromising little revolutionaries. We are going to let everyone know just how horrible this world is. But we grow tired. The giants wrap us in swaddling clothes. We are captured, we are bound, but it feels better than the cold air against our skin. The soft giant holds us against her breast. She offers us something to suck on. It feels good. We decide to postpone the revolution. We go along to get along.

In other words, our first act as a new human being is to sell out to the existing power structure.

Wikipedia's interpretation:

You can view it the current article yourself at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_Sorrow

The version I'm talking about is the one that's available today (20 Feb 2014) and I believe this is the persistent link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Infant_Sorrow&oldid=578716589

Difference between my reading and the current Wikipedia interpretation:

  • The existing Wikipedia version locates the difference between the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience in the differences between a happy family and an unhappy family, and by extension, the difference between a prosperous family and poor exploited family.
  • My interpretation is based on Blake's statement that the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience show "two contrary states of the human soul" -- states which can be experienced by both the rich and the poor.
  • In other words, my reading of the poem applies to everyone. The Wikipedia version would seem to apply only to unhappy poor victims of the industrial revolution.
  • That said, I'm willing to grant that the poem is heavily influenced by the revolutionary rhetoric of the times in which Blake lived.

A few weeks ago, when I began to get ready to make an audio recording of the first episode of MWTC, Mannheim: The Rental Car, my lips and tongue found many little things to which they objected: a missing transition here, an unpronounceable sequence of consonants there. So at the insistence of my vocal equipment, or I suppose at the prodding of the intuitive consciousness which guides those muscles – the mute being which smiles or frowns or grimaces as I speak, or attempt to speak – I rewrote the piece.

Interestingly, the character of The Blogger began to change as I rewrote, rehearsed, rejected, then repeated the process again and again. Now The Blogger seems much more a creature of his age, which is to say our age: a traveler obsessed as much with internet connectivity as he his with his hobby, medieval history. Or maybe his character just revealed itself more clearly.

Some people of great sensibility and intelligence—Larkin, Auden, and Emily Dickinson, to name three—find intolerable the idea of open seas, of high windows letting in the light, and nothing beyond. If the leap to God is only a leap of the imagination, they still prefer the precarious footing. Others—Elizabeth Bishop, William Empson, and Wallace Stevens—find the scenario unthreatening, and recoil at the idea of a universe set up as a game of blood sacrifice and eternal torture, or even with the promise of eternal bliss not easily distinguishable from eternal boredom. They find a universe of matter, pleasure, and community-made morality the only kind of life possible, and the only kind worth living.

via Adam Gopnik: When Did Faith Start to Fade? : The New Yorker.