Infant Sorrow and Infant Joy are works of the popular English poet and artist William Blake. Although William Blake was quite unrecognized during his own life time, his works both in literature and visual arts amassed great popularity after his death. His works are a reflection of his spirituality, creativity and originality and both his poems, “Infant Sorrow” and “Infant Joy” are proofs of these.
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From the title itself, it is evident that the main topic of both poems is about infants; however, there exists a number of differences between both poems not only in terms of style and composition but also in the views and perspectives of the supposed speakers of the poems. Comparing and contrasting both poems are useful in helping readers better understand and appreciate the literary works as well as the topic being discussed in the poem.
One of the first and most obvious difference that I noticed is the person supposedly talking in the poem or from whose viewpoint the poem has been written. It is quite apparent that “Infant Sorrow” is a narration from an infant’s perspective as suggested in the use of the following lines, “My mother groaned! My father wept. Into the dangerous word I leapt.” (Norton 095, II 1 – 2). These lines can only be uttered by an infant whose coming into the world is marked by great uncertainty, not knowing what to expect from this world.
“Infant’s Joy’s” style, on the other hand, is similar to a conversation between an adult and an infant, as evidenced in the lines, “I have no name, I am but two days old. What shall I call thee?” (Norton, 87, II 1 – 3). These perspectives or views are suggestive that the two poems, despite being about infants, are different in the viewpoints from which the poems’ ideas and words are based on. This difference makes both poems even more creative and novel because there are a few writers especially during William Blake’s time who would have thought of doing such.
Aside from the differences in perspective based on the supposed speaker in both poems, I also believe that the experiences of the speakers also affect the poem’s message to its readers. These viewpoints differ because of the different attitudes people, particularly a newborn and his or her parent, have has towards childbirth. Infants, for instance, may find it quite traumatic since they have been kept in the safety of their mothers’ wombs for nine months, and their transition into the world may bring about worries or anxieties as to what and who to expect in the outside world. The first stanza in the poem “Infant’s Sorrow” speaks about how the infant’s mother groaned and how his/her father wept; the infant might have thought and taken his/her parents’ actions negatively making it quite traumatic for the infant. The use of the word ‘helpless’ also suggests that the infant felt scared and fearful upon birth. “Infant Joy” on the other hand provides a clear contrast based on the perspective of adults regarding infants. What seems traumatic in the part of the infant is happy and joyful in the part of the parent (or the speaker in the poem “Infant Joy”) which is another point of comparison in both poems. Further, the poem “Infant Joy” is more like a dialogue between an infant and an adult, compared to “Infant Sorrow” which is more like a narrative, even a monologue by the infant.
Although the parents are mentioned in both poems, greater emphasis is put upon parents in the poem “Infant Suffering” especially in the first stanza. “Infant Joy” does not directly mention the parents; however, readers can notice that the lines being uttered in the second stanza are clearly from parents who are apparently excited, overwhelmed and blissful over their newborn.
In terms of how the poems are composed, one can also notice several differences in the way both William Blake’s poems have been written. Although both poems are composed of two stanzas each, one can notice that the rhyme patterns vary. In “Infant Joy” there are double rhymes repeated in the third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth lines, like “Sweet Joy I call thee: Thou dost smile, I sing the while; Sweet joy befall thee!” (Norton, 87, II 4 – 6) The poem “Infant Sorrow” on the other hand has more consistent rhyming evident in the end of each line. Wept and leapt, loud and cloud, hands and bands, and best and breast are the final words of the poem’s lines which clearly suggest the consistent and quite heavy rhyming throughout the entire poem. Even the rhythm that goes into reading each poem differ in a way that also shows the feelings of the supposed speaker. The rhythmic flow of words in “Infant Sorrow” captures the uncertainty of the infant while the steadier and accented rhythmic pattern in the poem “Infant Joy” expresses the happy and hopeful thoughts of the adult. The same rhythmic structure of “Infant Joy” captures the feelings of intense happiness and joy that parents feel upon meeting their newborn for the first time. These differences in the rhythmic flow of words in both “Infant Joy” and “Infant Sorrow” allow the readers to experience the different viewpoints and attitudes related to childbirth as clearly explained earlier on.
Further, I also noticed that “Infant Sorrow” uses the regular AA BB rhyme scheme for both the first and second stanzas, whereas “Infant Joy” uses ABCDAC in the first stanza and ABCDDC in the second stanza. These differences may be quite subtle but still adds to the contrast of both poems.
In conclusion, it is true that the experiences of childbirth is subjective. It differs from one mother to another, one father to the other, one infant to the other. Infants may find it quite traumatic since a great change comes with the transition of living inside the mother’s womb and into the real world. “Infant Sorrow” captures the feeling of newborn infants as they come out to the world, greeted by their mothers’ groans and their fathers’ tears, not of grief but of great happiness and bliss. The same poem also somehow manifests the lack of infant’s feelings for his/her parents, only struggling to keep warm and well fed; which is actually a normal manifestation of newborn infant’s suckling mechanism for survival.
“Infant Joy” on the other hand captures the unspoken yet exchanged thoughts between an infant and his parent. One will notice the uncertainty in the infant’s question, perhaps even the infant’s doubt and skepticism, which was patiently addressed by the infant’s parent. The parent’s reply is an expression of great joy and happiness that comes with having a new child.
Both poems, their differences and similarities, make us aware of what we have gone through as infants during child birth – our unspoken fears and uncertainties, and how we could have possibly perceived the world then. “Infant Joy” expresses how our parents must have felt when we were born, blissful and ecstatic, ready to grant every wish that their child will ask for later on.
We have gone through numerous things since our birth, and we should learn to make the most of these experiences even if some of them may be quite traumatic. We can surpass traumatic experiences the same way we have surpassed the seemingly traumatic experience we had during childbirth as based on the poem “Infant Sorrow”. Thus, we must learn to accept whatever challenges that come our way and remember that it is our job and responsibility to accept and pass these tests as important tasks in our lives if we want to make our lives better.
Another simple song celebrating happiness, this poem focuses on the gift of life in a newborn baby. Only two days old, the baby is asked, presumably by its mother, what name it wants. The baby names itself Joy, for that is all it knows. The mother then happily blesses the baby Joy, with the hope that joy will indeed be its lot in life.
This simple poem is two stanzas of six lines each. The two stanzas each follow an ABCDDC rhyme scheme, a contrast to most of Blake's other poetic patterns. The rhyming words are always framed by the repetition of "thee" at the end of the fourth and sixth lines, drawing the reader's attention to the parent, who speaks, and his or her concern with the baby. The infant's words, or those imagined by the parent to be spoken by the infant, are set off with dashes at the end of each line, turning this short poem into a dialogue between parent and child regarding the naming of the baby.
That the baby names itself reflects Blake’s desire to see the human spirit determine its own state of bliss, rather than to rely upon a form of happiness imposed upon it by social constructs or religious institutions. This baby is the perfect innocent who, when left alone to determine its own nature, find joy rather than guilt or repression within.