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Blake: Songs of Innocence and of Experience

1. Context

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In this module, we think about the historical, political and cultural context in which Blake was writing, and his opposition to some of the main currents of his time. In particular, we focus on: (i) his relationship with other poets in the Romantic movement; (ii) his reflections on industrialisation in Britain, especially its impact on ordinary people; (iii) his response to the American and French Revolutions, and to the conservative counter-revolution in Britain and Europe; (iv) his interest in education and the cultivation of the young; (v) his status as a visual artist; (vi) his interest in Christianity and his own unorthodox Christian beliefs; and (vii) how he relates to nature in his poetry and how this contrasts with other Romantic poets.


In this course, Dr Ross Wilson (University of Cambridge) explores William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’. We begin in the first module by thinking about the historical, political and cultural context in which Blake was writing. After that, we think about the theme of opposites in Blake’s poetry, focusing in particular on the connection between conflict and progress and the use of oppositions as a structuring device for his poetry. In the third module, we turn from opposites to likenesses, thinking about the similarities and differences between different versions of the same poem, as well as the idea of likeness in Romantic poetry more generally. In the fourth module, we explore the ‘soundscape’ of Blake’s poetry, before moving on in the fifth module to consider the ways in which Blake uses his poetry to pose and answer challenging questions. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about Blake’s views on Christianity and religion more broadly.


Ross Wilson was born in Salford and brought up in north Manchester, where he attended Philips High School and Bury College. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and University College London before completing his doctorate at Cambridge in 2004. He held a Research Fellowship at Emmanuel (2004-7) and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship in the Faculty of English, Cambridge (2007-9) before being appointed to a lectureship in Literature in the School of Literature, Drama, and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2009. He returned to Cambridge in 2013 as Lecturer in Criticism in the Faculty of English and took up a fellowship at Trinity College. He is editor of Romantic Circles Reviews & Receptions and very occasionally tweets @RossWilso . In 2015-16 he is the Crausaz Wordsworth Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities.

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Wilson, R. (2019, April 05). Blake: Songs of Innocence and of Experience - Context [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Wilson, R. "Blake: Songs of Innocence and of Experience – Context." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 05 Apr 2019,

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