Infant Sorrow - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Infant Sorrow

Infant Sorrow

A baby speaks of its entry into the world, which brought pain to its parents. The world it came into seemed dangerous. It was helpless, vulnerable, noisy, encased in its body like a devil hidden in a cloud.

The baby struggled against the confinement of its father's hands and the swaddling in which it was wrapped. Unsuccessful it resigned itself to sulking on its mother's breast.


For Blake, a fiend was not to be regarded as evil – it was an embodiment of energy and instinct. So here the baby comes into the world not as a peaceful, meek being but as one filled with positive energy and instinctual life. However, the response of the parents is ambiguous. Do they groan and weep because

  • Of the physical anguish of childbirth?
  • The baby has arrived, suggesting it might not be entirely welcome?
  • They are aware of the ‘dangerous world' into which the child has been born?

Whichever it is, the birth of the child is not a source of joy but of fear and pain.

Similarly, the care of the parents (exemplified by the father's hands and the swaddling bands) is not experienced as safety and concern. Instead, it is portrayed as restraining and imprisoning. The child must fight against the limits imposed by the parents. Defeated in its first struggles, the baby then sulks upon the breast, so that what might be interpreted by the mother as rest and trust is, in fact, resentment.

Infant Sorrow is a companion poem to Infant Joy in Songs of Innocence, in which we see what the mother imagines are the baby's feelings. However, readers should not be tempted to say that one is ‘true' and the other a false view. Blake recognises that both states co-exist in human beings.

Investigating Infant Sorrow

  • Compare the mood and meaning of this poem with Infant Joy in Songs of Innocence.
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