This study will examine a number of poems from John Donne's "Holy Sonnets" and William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience." Specifically, the study will discuss the relationship to religion and politics established by these two sets of poems, will analyze the ways in which they establish different worlds, struggles, and audiences, and will present reasons for these differences.
The major difference between these two sets of poems is rooted in the conflicting consciousnesses of the two poets. Donne is a man who has arrived at a religious certainty in his life. He has settled within himself the kinds of contradictions with which Blake in his poems still wrestles. Blake is trying, for himself and for the reader, to present his view of the process of spiritual maturation. Donne is presenting his view of the relationship with God which he has entered into at the end of his own spiritual journey. Donne in the Holy Sonnets has left far behind the kinds of contradictions which mark Blake's Songs.
Another important difference is the centrality of God in Donne's poems and the centrality of humanity in Blake's poems. Although both sets of poems deal with the relationship between humans and God, the relationship in Donne's poems put God in a superior position, while Blake keeps humanity at the core of the discussion.
The sources consulted for this study are split on the nature of Blake's intentions in his Songs. Northrop Frye, for example, writes that "The Songs of Experience are satires, but one of the things that they satirize is the state of innocence. Conversely, the Songs of Innocence satirize the state of experience" (Frye 237). On the other hand, Victor Paananen writes that "Attempts by critics to make the Songs of Innocence ironic, to suggest that Blake undercuts or even mocks the perspective and language of innocence, are based on an inadequate grasp of Blake's thought" (Paananen 74). Paananen sees the Songs of Inno...