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Commonality In Blake's The Little Black Boy and Soyinka's Telephone Conversation

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Separated by centuries, races, national identities, and countless literary movements, the English poet and artist William Blake and Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka still find commonality in their writings. They have somewhat of a thematic overlap; both Blake and Soyinka address a question of race in their poems “The Little Black Boy” and “Telephone Conversation,” respectively. The former details the story of an African child who comes to the profound realization that only after death can different races of humans be equalized. The latter poem appropriately depicts a phone conversation between a white landlady and an African man recently moved to England. “The Little Black Boy” saw publication in 1789 while “Telephone Conversation” was initially published in 1960. The poems intertwine despite their historical separation and thus engage with history in a similar manner. “The Little Black Boy” and “Telephone Conversation,” while varying considerably in rhythm, rhyme, and syntax, do share their questioning tone, racial imagery, and dialogical speech acts which unite figures of innocence with those of experience. This polymerization creates an innocence/experience binary allowing the poems to generate meaning similarly. Each resists the thematic topos of their time in order to didactically reframe the issue of racial equality in a pre- and post-civil rights era.
Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience are first and foremost songs. They are also “Christian poems, and they are often consciously didactic” (Bottrall 180). William Blake engages with history in many of his poems, his effect usually subtle and religious. It is his use of epigrammatic moments that casts a broader net. What makes Blake unique is his identity as a...


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...allel each other is confront an epigrammatic moment in history, one in the 1780s and the other in the 1960s, and show that pre- and post-civil rights a system of power still exists. In each poem, history is given new life, new experience. Each directs didactic and experiential attitude toward history by subverting the stereotype of black inexperience.



Works Cited

Bentley Jr., G. E. The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake. New Haven, CT:
Yale UP, 2001. Print.
Bottrall, Margaret. William Blake: Songs of Innocence and Experience. London: Macmillin,
1989. Print.
Jones, Eldred Durosimi. Wole Soyinka. New York: Twayne, 1973. Print.
Maduakor, Obi. Wole Soyinka: An Introduction to His Writings. New York: Garland, 1986.
Print.
Wilson, Kathleen. The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the Eighteenth Century.
London: Routledge, 2003. Print.



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