‘Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody poor;
And mercy no more could be,
If all we as happy as we;’
The poems originally appeared in phases, with Blake first publishing a few copies of Songs of Innocence in 1789, and then combining the sets of poems for a complete volume in 1794. Blake produced and illustrated the original copies himself, selling them privately to collectors and friends. The poems are a strange and wonderful exploration of: ‘the two contrary states of the human soul’. They follow simple rhythms and rhyming patterns, echoing the forms of 18th-century children’s ballads, but their meanings are complex and often ambiguous. Blake railed against the political, social and religious institutions of his time. Here he addresses troubling subjects such as poverty, child labour and the repressive influence of the Church, often through subtle satire.