The Voice of the Ancient Bard - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of The Voice of the Ancient Bard

The Voice of the Ancient Bard

The bard addresses the youth capable of delight to see the new day when truth is revealed and everything that obscures it has fled. Folly is like an endless labyrinth and her paths are made more difficult to negotiate because they are covered in tangled roots. Many people have fallen in this maze because of it. All night they stumble over the bones of the dead and have nothing but trouble. Nevertheless, they desire to lead others when, in fact, they themselves need to be led.


This poem was originally in the Songs of Innocence but was moved to Songs of Experience when the complete sequence was published. Like To Tirzah, it has proved very puzzling to critics. Some see it as a conclusion to the entire sequence so that it stands outside the incomplete vision of either a Song of Innocence or a Song of Experience.

The poem would seem to be a call to embrace the ‘new day' when the truth about existence is revealed and the effect of the ‘mind-forg'd manacles' thrown off. In other poems, ‘clouds' have indicated what obscures a ‘true' perception / vision of human existence.

The cause of folly

The poem's speaker portrays the ‘old' day as characterised by foolishness. For Blake, this folly is people's perception that:

  • The truth about reality is known solely through the senses (as rejected in To Tirzah)
  • Everything can be quantified through ‘reason', ‘disputes' and ‘artful teazing'.

Like a maze, such folly gets people lost in any number of dead ends.

Living death

Blake uses the image of people falling over the ‘bones of the dead':

  • This is an allusion to the valley of dry bones seen by the prophet Ezekiel in the Old Testament. (Ezekiel 37:1-10). Blake's other poems indicate that the ‘dead' are those who have been trapped in laws and prohibitions, so that their bodies are like coffins. Their bones, therefore, would be whatever remains of them, their legacy
  • To stumble over these suggests losing balance, being unable to progress because of their lasting effects, through their teaching and influence. The foolish people of Blake's day are totally imprisoned and made wearisome by their entrapment in folly. They are dead to any feeling except worry (‘care')
  • Nevertheless, such ‘fools' still desire to lead in society, despite the fact that they have greater need to be led and enlightened themselves. This alludes to the criticism made by Jesus about the religious leaders of his day, that they were ‘blind guides' (Matthew 15:12-14).

Investigating The voice of the ancient Bard

  • This poem has puzzled critics
    • Can you think of what has puzzled you about it?
      • Is there anything in this commentary that answers any of these puzzles?
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