Select any one text from the first semester set texts and write an essay about it that examines how that text relates to any one of the issues that the class is exploring. These issues might include questions of period, genre, national tradition, the nature of childhood, education, history, gender, literary form, text and illustration, and so on (see Class Description).
William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789, 1794) extensively explores the concept of childhood. Often the concept explored is the Romantic vision of childhood, yet this is not always the case. It is therefore possible to suggest that the Songs of Innocence and of Experience presents polarized depictions of childhood. Consequently, two poems from the Songs of Innocence and of Experience will be compared and contrasted to answer the question of how the text relates to the Romantic concept of childhood. In Blake's Songs of Innocence, "Laughing Song" could be regarded as a poem that directly explores the idea of the Romantic childhood. The way in which nature is explored and portrayed in the poem is of particular significance to the Romantic concept of childhood. The Romantics believed that a natural or rural childhood was of paramount importance, possibly because this idea was integral to Romantic theology itself. Romanticism promoted country life, connecting the countryside with physical and moral purity, as well as a means of escapism. Wordsworth highlights the elevation of the rural, stating that "in that [rural] condition, the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature" (Leitch 2001, p.650). The view of superior country life was an idea that was also largely promoted by Rousseau, who advocated the notion of the noble savage. The noble savage was a figure who lived an essentially primitive lifestyle, and fused his own being with his natural surroundings:.