Piping Down the Valleys Wild by William Blake

Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:—

“Pipe a song about a lamb:”
So I piped with merry cheer.
“Piper, pipe that song again:”
So I piped: he wept to hear.

“Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe,
Sing thy songs of happy cheer!”
So I sang the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.

“Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read—”
So he vanished from my sight;
And I plucked a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

Summary

Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794) juxtapose the innocent, pastoral world of childhood against an adult world of corruption and repression; while such poems as “The Lamb” represent a meek virtue, poems like “The Tiger” exhibit opposing, darker forces. Thus the collection as a whole explores the value and limitations of two different perspectives on the world. Many of the poems fall into pairs, so that the same situation or problem is seen through the lens of innocence first and then experience. Blake does not identify himself wholly with either view; most of the poems are dramatic–that is, in the voice of a speaker other than the poet himself. Blake stands outside innocence and experience, in a distanced position from which he hopes to be able to recognize and correct the fallacies of both. In particular, he pits himself against despotic authority, restrictive morality, sexual repression, and institutionalized religion; his great insight is into the way these separate modes of control work together to squelch what is most holy in human beings.

Blake imagines that a child on a cloud ordered him to write these poems for children. While Blake descended down the wild forest stretching to the valley down below, he was playing the sweet melodious tunes of the pan-pipe with a pleasant glee; a feeling of great happiness; and in the midst of preludes of the music that he played, he claimed to have seen an angelic child standing on the cloud and laughing with joy, instructed him to play the tune and pipe the song about the Lamb. This order was later fulfilled in Blake’s third “Songs of Innocence”; “Little Lamb, who made thee?” The lamb symbolizes youth and meekness.

Blake complied with the little child’s order, piped the song and played the tune with a merry spirit. After he had finished playing for the first time, the child ordered Blake to pipe the song again. So Blake piped the song again and the child wept as he heard it. The next thing that the child ordered was for Blake to stop playing the pipe and put it down aside. Blake was to sing his songs verbally in the merriest note and he did as he was told. The child wept even louder and with greater joy when he heard Blake sang his songs without the pipe. Then lastly, the child ordered the piper (Blake) to sit down and write in a book, that all may read for generations to come. “In a Book” here refers to the “Songs of Innocence”.

Blake then created a traditional pen of the (rural) country, which was made out of reed and wrote all his happy songs. He made the ink out of water and all the songs he wrote were meant for every child to hear and enjoy.

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