Follies in Project Design

Reflections on Other Works
Nov 12, 2021

My advising professor recommended to me a few works to reflect on as my project nears its end. William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, for some of its similarity to my own work, and J. R. R. Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle, for its commentary on the artistic process.

William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience is all about duality, that much is obvious. More specifically, I feel as though this collection is contrasting the variance in humanity, life, and virtue. There is a surprising amount of variety in topic across all of the poems, but they're connected with this through line of contrast.

I think the pair, Infant Joy (Songs of Innocence) and Infant Sorrow (Songs of Experience) are perfect examples. They're short poems that both tell the story of a child's birth. You have the Joy poem centered around the bliss of creating new life, from the dual-perspectives of child and mother, joined in their happiness. Then Sorrow, where only the child's view is expressed, and the tone of the poem is sullen. The baby unwanted by its parents, by the end it has nothing left to do other than sulk.

Each poem has only 2 stanzas, but are structured slightly differently: Infant Joy uses a AABB rhyme scheme, while Infant Sorrow uses ABCDAC for its first stanza and ABCDDC for its second. This serves to make the Joy poem feel more harmonious and peaceful when read, it has a sense of internal unity. The mismatching and chaotic rhythm of the Sorrow poem gives a more discordant feeling, a sense of "not-quite-right" within the writing itself.

One more pair I thought was interesting was both versions of Nurse's Song -- two pieces with the same title but contrasting content. Nurse's Song (Innocence) portrays a carer looking over a group of children playing on the hills. She observes them, speaks to them gently, then takes them in for the night once it gets dark. Again, there's a sense of harmony and peace within the work, an intertwining joy between young and old, with an added theme of nature. Nurse's Song (Experience), on the other hand, the nurse is seen listening in on the children playing, reflecting on her own past and looking towards them with jealousy. She brings the children in early, as she believes that their days are "wasted in play." The fun cut short, there is the echo of the discordance we saw earlier. The nurse is sick, not of the body but of the mind, as she turns "green and pale" at the thought of the children having what she no longer does, youth.

Two perspectives, two experiences, two contrasting ways of life that reflect on to each other to create a bigger, fuller picture of humanity. Beautiful and ugly, harmony and discord.

Leaf by Niggle is, in my opinion, a meta-commentary on the process of creating art in a world that devalues creativity and recreation. Niggle spends so much time pouring love and effort into his work, his ever-growing and infinitely complex Tree, only for the people of his world, his neighbors, the townspeople, the "Voices," to treat his painting as a waste of time. It's better used for material to repair a house. It's all lines and color, nothing of value.

Meanwhile, we get the perspectives of what I assume are authority figures in the town: Tompkins. Atkins, and Perkins, who look back on Niggle's life and contemplate his "usefulness." Perkins mentions that he found a torn corner of Niggle's painting left in a field, and had not been able to get it out of its mind, despite how small of a portion it was. That corner, a leaf, hung in the town museum, only to be forgotten. This speaks to the fact that, when given a chance, his work can have a profound effect, but the society surrounding him chooses to neglect his work and let it die with him.

His journey, what he pushed off for so long in favor of his painting, is (again, in my opinion) an allegory for death. He is judged, he atones, and he spends his days bettering himself and wandering in a utopic landscape of his own creation. Only in afterlife does his work receive the work it truly deserves and the appreciation it was owed in life. It's left to be enjoyed and loved by Parish and his wife while Niggle goes on to presumably create more scrawling works on beauty. A bittersweet commentary on the artist and their plight.

I related very much to the character of Niggle, an almost frightening amount to be honest. I, too, procrastinate on the most important tasks and worry endlessly about perfecting my work. I’ve been told (many times) that I’m complacent, conflict-avoidant, a “yes-man,” very true, I admit, and I can see myself being shuffled around without protest much like Niggle as he’s dragged through his “journey.” I suppose I have an afterlife of finished projects to look forward to.