On Another's Sorrow - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of On Another's Sorrow

On Another's Sorrow

The speaker begins with rhetorical questions:

  • Is it possible to be unmoved by another's sorrow and not to wish to ease it?
  • Can a father be unmoved by his child's distress?
  • Can a mother bear to hear her child groan or express terror?

S/he forcefully denies the possibility.

S/he then reflects on God who (according to the teaching of Jesus) cares for the smallest sparrow, and asks another rhetorical question:

  • If God cares like this, is it possible that he would not grieve with grieving birds, weep with the weeping child and wipe away everyone's tears throughout their times of sorrow?

Again, this is forcefully denied.

The speaker continues with more reflections on God / Jesus. According to Christian belief, God entered human life in the shape of the child Jesus, who then grew to become a ‘man of sorrows'. Therefore, in any human sorrow, God identifies with his children, drawing alongside them. Although he gives them joy which will overcome their grief, until that process is complete he shares in their suffering.


Blake describes the expression of human sympathy as a reflection of God's compassion for his creation. Such tender concern does not immediately remove the causes of human and animal distress, but does make suffering endurable by empathising with it.

This generous perception of human and divine compassion is essentially innocent as it does not recognise that the worldly response to the rhetorical questions in the first section could well be ‘yes'. Other Songs have already demonstrated that hard-heartedness and parental failure is a reality. Innocence thus makes itself vulnerable by:

  • Its inability to recognise failure and ‘woe' in human life
  • An unwillingness to contemplate a similar failure on God's part.

However, the beauty of this innocent perspective is asserted. The idea of God presented in, for example, To Nobodaddy is rejected (see Religious / philosophical background > Blake's religious outlook > Blake's perspective on God). God is not an external ruler and law-giver, beyond human experience. Instead, he is shown to be close to human beings because he is, in effect, identifiable with the best in them:

  • Just as individuals can ‘feel another's woe', so does God
  • As human beings seek to relieve sorrow, so does God.

By making this connection, Blake invites his readers to contemplate something divine which dwells within the human rather than to look for it outside themselves.

However, the love of God goes further:

  • It extends to all creation
  • It has the power to destroy suffering.

The portrayal of a loving God here echoes that of The Shepherd, A Cradle Song and The Divine Image.

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