On Another’s Sorrow Poem by William Blake Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


On Another’s Sorrow is a poem written by the English poet William Blake. The poem appears in Blake’s famous work Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Published in 1789, this poem appears as the last song in the Songs of Innocence section. This is the only poem in the volume written in Blake’s own voice. In this poem, Blake talks about the significance of sympathy which is a fundamental emotion in all humans alike. Blake takes this further and also talks about the sympathy of God with rest to the entire mankind and its suffering. 

About the Author 

Born on 28th November 1757, in London, William Blake is an English poet, painter and printmaker. Born during the Enlightenment era, Blake is considered to be a seminal figure in the poetry and visual art of the Romantic Age. Blake’s works were often characterized by a blend of mysticism, spirituality, and a unique artistic style. He was a self-taught artist and poet, and his creativity spanned various mediums, including poetry, painting, and engraving. His most famous illuminated works include Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), where he explores themes of innocence, experience, and the duality of human nature. Some of his other works include The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (written 1790–1793), Visions of the Daughters of Albion (edited 1793), The Gates of Paradise (written 1793, edited 1818), and more. 


The poem comprises thrifty-six lines that are divided into nine quatrains, or four-line stanzas. The poem is written in a questioning tone, and Blake himself provides the answers to those. Blake has employed the first-person point of view to give a lyrical quality to the poem. 

Lines 1- 8

Can I see another's woe,

And not be in sorrow too?

Can I see another's grief,

And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,

And not feel my sorrow's share?

Can a father see his child

Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?


The poem, written in Blake’s voice, starts with a question. Blake asks if he can witness someone else’s distress and not feel sympathy, or sorrow for them too. He next questions whether he can see someone’s grief and not seek a kind relief for them. Blake continues with his interrogative tone and next asks if he can see someone weeping, and now feel a part of their sorrow himself. Lastly, Blake asks if a father can see his child crying or suffering, and not be filled with sorrow himself. 


The poet has introduced the main theme of the poem from the first line itself, which is human sympathy. When we see someone else going through a tough time, even if it is a stranger, we are bound to feel for them. This suggests how humans share a deep interconnectedness with each other. 

Blake highlights how all humans go through suffering and it 

Lines 9-12

Can a mother sit and hear

An infant groan, an infant fear?

No, no! never can it be!

Never, never can it be!


The poet next talks about a mother and asks if it is possible for her to sit and hear an infant cry in distress or fear. Blake strongly believes this is not possible and repeats the phrase “ never can it be!” twice. 


The poet introduces the concept of motherhood next in order to show that every human relationship is underlined with empathy and compassion. Just like a mother worrying for an infant, other people too feel and express their commiseration. 

Lines 13-24

And can He who smiles on all

Hear the wren with sorrows small,

Hear the small bird's grief and care,

Hear the woes that infants bear -

And not sit beside the nest,

Pouring pity in their breast,

And not sit the cradle near,

Weeping tear on infant's tear?

And not sit both night and day,

Wiping all our tears away?

O no! never can it be!

Never, never can it be!


Here, the poet moves on from talking about human relationships to the divine power. The poet questions whether a compassionate God, who smiles at all, can hear the sorrows of small creatures like the wren, a small bird and the woes of an infant and remain indifferent. The poet interrrogates in the next stanza whether God wouldnt sit next to the nest of a suffering bird, and pour pity in its heart. The poet asks his reader if God won’t sit near the cradle of an infant and weep with the baby. Lastly, the poet questions whether a compassionate God would not sit by the nest and the cradle, wiping away tears and providing comfort.


Here, the poet moves away from the notion that God is distant and indifferent towards the suffering of mankind and other natural creatures. These lines paint a vivid picture of a compassionate God who is actively present in the lives of small birds and infants who soothe their grief with His presence. The repetition of “Never, never can it be!” towards the end reinforces the poet’s opinion of a compassionate deity. 

Lines 25-28

He doth give His joy to all:

He becomes an infant small,

He becomes a man of woe,

He doth feel the sorrow too.


The poet continues talking about the divine and remarks how God gives His joy to everyone. God has the capability to become a small infant, or a woeful man just so he can experience the sorrow that his creations feel. 


Blake here suggests that the involvement of God in our sorrows and distress is so great that it is as if He becomes a small infant or a woeful man. This indicates that God feels the pain of all his creations. 

Lines 29-36

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,

And thy Maker is not by:

Think not thou canst weep a tear,

And thy Maker is not near.

O He gives to us His joy,

That our grief He may destroy:

Till our grief is fled and gone

He doth sit by us and moan.


Here, the poet directly addresses his readers. The lines convey the idea that one should not believe they can sigh or weep without the divine being near. The poet asserts that God provides joy to humanity, not for its own sake, but to alleviate grief. The joy bestowed by God is intended to destroy human sorrow. The divine sits with us in our grief until it hasn’t fled and gone. 


These lines are directly addressed to us which suggests that Blake is offering to us some words of comfort. Blake suggests that our Maker is considerate of our feelings and sits with us in order to provide us solace. The imagery of God sitting beside individuals and sharing in their sorrows portrays a compassionate deity actively engaged in comforting humanity.