Two contrary states

Textual Analysis of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience

Lexie Heinle | April 20, 2015

In Songs of Innocence and Experience, William Blake explores the interactions between the innocent and experienced side of human nature. Analyzing word frequency counts from the book supports the theme of the connective nature of these supposed opposite ideals.

Most popular words

This visualization displays the interactions between the top 20 most common words from both Innocence and Experience. Thirteen of those 20 words are found in both books' most popular words. Additionally, the book breakdown of each word supports the main viewpoint of that book although there are suprising words. For example, "love," "weep," "away" and "father" are almost evenly distributed in both Innocence and Experience. In contrast, "happy," "child" and "smiles" are found in Innocence more, while Experience has "dread," "fears" and even "church."

Companion poems

In Blake's quest to emphasize the connection between innocence and experience, one of his most effective tools is companion poems. By writing a poem from one perspective and then switching, Blake encourages the reader to make connections, focusing on how the poems can be different, yet similar. This visualization demonstrates the top 10 most common words present in five of the companion poems including "The Divine Image" and "The Human Abstract"; "Nurse's Song"; "The Tyger" and "The Lamb"; and "A Dream" and "The Angel."

Pronoun usage

This visualization shows the distribution of pronouns and possessives in Songs of Innocence and Experience. The most signficant aspect involves the feminine words. In addition to those terms' scarcity, every feminine word was found more often in Experience than Innocence. Additionally, these distributions were noticeably uneven as the word "her" was found only three times in Innocence, yet 18 times in Experience. This use of feminine words displays the male-centered society in which Blake lived and adds another element to Blake's complicated view of women.

Complete frequency counts

This visualization has the distribution for every word in Songs of Innocence and Experience. In addition to expected distributions like "peace" found more often in Innocence, there are suprises like "heart," "rose" and "tree" being found more often in Experience due to poems like "A Cradle Song" and "My Pretty Rose Tree." However, these unexpected distributions only emphasize the interlacing aspect of those contrary states of the human soul.

Methods & Limitations

To find the frequency counts for William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, I used a word counter website and found an electronic text through the Internet Archive website. The data visualizations were completed with Tableau Public, and that data is available in a Google spreadsheet.

Limitations for this project include not consolidating word stems. For example, in the "Introduction," "pipe," "piped" and "piper" were all found and counted as separate entities. A more sophistated language analysis program would have satisifed this problem, but was beyond the scope of the project. These frequency counts didn't consider surrounding words, which also affect the word's meaning.