William Blake’s books combined poetry and visual images in a single whole. Rather than simply illustrating his words, however, the images that Blake included alongside his poetry enter into a dynamic relationship with the poetry itself. In order to fully understand his work, therefore, it is necessary to view the poems in the manner in which he intended.
This fact is evident in the two books that Blake combined into “Songs of Innocence and Experience.” While the poems in these books are often anthologized without the illustrations, such a presentation entirety removes the dynamic interaction between text and image that is a crucial aspect of Blake’s work. This is especially the case with “Songs of Experience” where the poems featured are often set alongside images of individuals turning away from an object or with their shoulders hunched or bent. Such images complicate and complement narrations that appear to be relatively simple statements of fact or personal recollection.
For example, the plate image of the poem “The Angel” presents a woman lying on her side and forcing a young cherub away from her with her palm. The text of the poem itself presents a story of maturity and a loss of innocence, but from the perspective of hiding and secrecy, rather than from a forceful exclusion. When viewing the poem in the form that Blake intended, it is possible to see how Blake establishes a relationship between hiding one’s inner thoughts and actively excluding someone. Such a relationship would be invisible were the words of the poem to be presented in isolation. As such, the combination of visual and poetic media is crucial for the poem’s meaning.