The poem Infant Sorrow by William Blake is about the harsh reality of the working class after the Industrial Revolution which poet was quite against. During the industrial revolution, there was a massive migration of people from Rural Areas to Urban.
With increase in population, the areas near industries became slums. Unemployment, diseases, child-labour, poverty, depression and death rates started increasing. The poet here is talking about a child who is born in a worker-class family.
The poem is told from the perspective of the infant whom poet imagines to be mature enough to understand the harsh realities. This is the symbol of child-labour that made the young children mature and experienced in very young ages.
The poem has been divided into two quatrains. The rhyme scheme of the poem is AABB. The child describes his sorrowful story while coming into the harsh world.
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Infant Sorrow Summary
The child says that his mother groaned and his father wept when he leapt into the dangerous world. The word groaned means making sound with miserable tone. The child says that as soon as he leapt i.e. jumped into the dangerous world, his parents started crying in grief and despair.
Here we have 2 important things to take into consideration. First, the child considers world ‘dangerous’ though he has just come into it. Thus he is mature, experienced and well aware of the upcoming dangers right from his birth.
Second, he says that his parents are weeping because of his birth which on contrary to the what happens usually. The are sorrowful because they know well, how their child will be the part of suffering. He will have to work day and night in the factories.
The child called himself helpless and naked. These two words symbolise how vulnerable the child is and his parents are helpless in protecting him from the dangers that await him. He is piping loud i.e. crying loudly.
In the fourth ine, the child says that he is like a fiend hid in a cloud. Fiend means a monster or a cruel person. Cloud may be the protection of his parents which is vulnerable and very limited. Now he calls him fiend not because he is going to be a demon but because he will soon be a cruel person when he will be working in the harsh conditions.
Thus the word fiend is not used in negative way but to show how poverty makes a man cruel and the people who are born poor are cruel right from their childhood.
In the second stanza, the child says that when his father (while weeping) takes him into his hand, he starts struggling and resisting as he does not want to be comforted by his father. In the second line, he says that when his father tries to put him in the swaddling bands, he started resisting again.
In these two lines, we find that the child is resisting the care given by his father. There can two reasons – either the parents are not been able to provide him proper care and irritating him or because he, as a mature child doesn’t want to get used to the comforts.
In the third line, he feels himself to be bound and weary and ‘sulks’ upon the breasts of his mother. He is bound in the swaddling bands which makes him tired and weary. Note that the word weary is usually used for matured people. Hence he is mature and experienced enough.
In the end, he sulks upon his mother’s breasts. Sulk refers to being irritated. The child has no love or compassion starts sucking the breasts of his mother to survive. The line symbolises a lack of emotions and compassion among the working class family.