Despite not having children himself, Blake had very clear ideas on how children should be brought up and was aggressively critical of the way that they were being treated. He lived through an era where children were famously meant to be ‘seen and not heard’ but through his songs, he gives the children a voice whilst using his own to convey his ideas on the treatment on them emphasising the importance of nature, retaining youth and innocence, freedom from oppression and love and support from parents.
The idea that children need the support and freedom of nature is a common idea featured in many of Blake’s songs. ‘The Echoing Green’ is just one example where Blake creates a pastoral idyll through the use of ‘sun’ singing birds and ‘merry bells’ as a backdrop to a happy childhood. Through this poem Blake creates a world where children are governed only by nature and that children and nature co-exist in perfect harmony through the way the sun is the only thing that controls their day as the children’s games begin at the sunrise and come to a natural end with the setting of the sun. He also conveys this sense of perfect harmony through the use of rhyming couplets. This rhyme scheme creates the idea of simplicity and gives the poem a natural, flowing, harmonious sound. The children are likened to ‘birds’ which completes the idea that it is through nature that these children are free and able to flourish as flying birds represent freedom. Nature allows children to become who they are naturally meant to be and by offering them the entire expanse of the sky to explore shows that nature does not restrict them. A sense of happiness is also created through the sound of ‘merry bells’ which is a joyous sound and often represents celebration showing that nature celebrates children and supports them and ‘Old John’ who can ‘laugh away care’ also shows how nature brings together the young and old harmoniously.
Blake emphasises the importance of playing through other like ‘Nurse’s song’ from both Songs of Innocence. In Nurse’s song from songs of Innocence Blake represents play through the sound of ‘laughing’ which is ‘heard on the hill.’ Not only does this re-enforce the importance of nature but it also shows that playing and freedom s the way to make a child happy. When the nurse hears them playing she says ‘my heart is at rest within my breast’ and this use of internal rhyme shows the comfort she gains from hearing their happiness and her harmony with the children. As the day draws to a close she tells them to ‘leave off play’ to which the children protest ‘let us play’ which shows that it is something that all children want. It also shows that to stop children from playing is to enforce restriction upon their happiness and that just because an adult perceives it to be harmful to children does not mean that they are right. When she lets them play ‘the little ones leaped, and shouted, and laughed,’ which shows their complete happiness and ‘all the hills echoed’ shows that the hills echoed this happiness and supports the children playing. Therefore child’s play is in their nature and is essential for their happiness no matter what the adult world thinks is more important for children as they are not right.
This freedom from oppression is an idea reflected in several poems. During Blake’s time, children were oppressed in many different ways. There was the oppression on education, as written about in ‘The Schoolboy’ oppression from the church as written in ‘Holy Thursday’ and oppression from the adult world as written in ‘Infant Sorrow.’
Blake wrote ‘The Schoolboy during an age where education up to a certain age, had just started to become compulsory for children. Blake responded with this poem which clearly conveys the message that school is more of a hindrance than a help in the developing of a child’s mind. The child narrator in this poem says school ‘drives all joy away.’ This child is likened to a flower, something natural, and Blake tires to get the message across to say that school goes against the natural upbringing of a child. ‘Buds are nipped and blossoms blown away’ reflects this idea and also emphasises that school prevents a child from flourishing into his full potential as he is effectively as a ‘bud’ is symbolic of youth and potential. However the blossoms are ‘blown away’ which is emphatic of destruction and an image of the destruction of beauty. The children are denied their ‘summer fruits’ ie their full potential and, in addition are unable to cope with the ‘blasts of winter’ having had no preparation on how to deal with life problems. Blake is showing through this that schooling hinders children rather than helps them and is just another restriction forced upon them to steal their unhappiness
‘Holy Thursday’ is written about the other restriction on children, the church. Blake detests the church but in this poem focuses on the part the church play in the oppression of children. He critics the church for their hypocrisy in making the children go give thanks to the ‘wise guardians of the poor’ who donated money to help impoverished children, when in fact these children shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. He asks ‘Is this a holy thing to see, in a rich and fruitful land’ in songs of experience to make the point that the church are wrong to celebrate this day as a ‘holy’ Thursday when it should not be celebrated that these children are so poor when they are living in ‘a rich and fruitful land.’ Like education, the church is also portrayed as a hindrance rather than a help to these children. They are fed with a ‘cold usurous hand’ which reflects the idea that they are given the bare minimum in terms of food and no love or kindness at all, which Blake views as essential for children. As a result of this coldness ‘it is eternal winter’ for these children and ‘their ways are filled with thorns’ showing that they will have a tough future ahead of them because the church has denied them what they need.
‘Infant Joy’ and ‘Infant Sorrow’ portray Blake’s idea that children need a close relationship with their parents, especially the close maternal bond as shown through the conversation between mother and baby in ‘Infant Joy.’ The simplistic structure and layout of this poem reflects the innocence of youth and through the use of music and poetry and love, this innocence can be retained and the child can have a life of ‘sweet joy’ as the mother wishes. However in ‘Infant Sorrow,’ the baby is denied this love and relationship with parents. At the birth .[the] mother groaned, [the] father wept’ which shows the lack of support and love from the parents right from the beginning of its life. Unlike ‘Infant Joy’ Blake does not give this baby a voice to show that this baby is born into a world where its opinion does not count and it just another baby as it is denied a name as well. The restraints that the parents put o this child are symbolically shown through the ‘swaddling bands’ which the baby tries to fight against but to no avail. This baby has learnt its place in society right from the start and has resigned itself to it. The fact that it then chooses to ‘sulk upon my mother’s breast’ shows not only the uncomfortable relationship between mother and child but that this child now faces a lifetime of misery as a cause of this.