William Blake's Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence have the word "song" in their title. Why is that? Are they actually songs? Or is the word "song" a metaphor for something else.

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There's a substantial body of evidence that the title "Songs of Innocence" points to the fact that the poems were intended to be sung.

In the article William Blake and the Music of the Songs, Kevin Hutchins outlines several pieces of evidence for this:

  1. The romantic period sought to draw on the historic connection between music and poetry. As Hutchins writes:

    Some of the most famous poems of the period thus had musical titles, titles representing the poet or poetic narrator as a veritable singer: Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel, Byron’s Hebrew Melodies, Whitman’s Song of Myself, and Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience are among the most famous Romantic texts figuring poetry as song. In all of these works, music functions as a metaphor for the poetry’s connection to a primal origin yoking graphic text to the living human voice in what is arguably its most passionate mode of articulation: that of song.

  2. Blake would frequently sing his poems. Hutchins writes:

    Writing of events that occurred between 1782 and 1784, John Thomas Smith—an acquaintance of Blake’s for over forty years and a childhood playfellow to his younger brother Robert—provided an answer to this question, noting that Blake “wrote many … songs to which he also composed tunes,” and that “he would occasionally sing [them] to his friends” (2.458).


    Smith wrote: “I have often heard him read and sing several of his poems. He was listened to by the company with profound silence, and allowed by most of the visitors to possess original and extraordinary merit” (2.458).

Not only did Blake sing his poems, but he was described as being very musically talented!

The evidence points to the fact that the word song points to the fact that the poem is a song that can (or should?) be sung.

  • very nice! Blake was the original "triple threat" :)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 20:21

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