Songs of Innocence: On Another’s Sorrow


“On Another’s Sorrow” is the climactic, intense concluding movement of Songs of Innocence.  In a great meditation on suffering and sympathy, Blake raises the question: “Can I see another’s woe and not be in sorrow too?”  The men begin in three parts, on a relentless, rhythmic, rising figure.  Each verse ends with the poet’s answer to the question first posed: “Never, never can it be!”  The women take up the second stanza as did the men, in three parts, with the same, driving material.  An interlude combines all six parts before the poet’s great proclamation:” Oh! He gives to us his joy that our grief he may destroy.”  The piece concludes with one of the great half-rhymes in poetry, with rending vocal lines: “Till our grief is fled and gone, He doth sit by us and moan.”

A licensed copy is required for each member performing.



I was going through the record collection of my mentor, Steve Kinzie, one summer during college when I found the (Iowan!) folksinger Greg Brown’s album on the Songs of Innocence and Experience of William Blake.  The one that stayed with me — “On Another’s Sorrow” — was quite literally a one-note wonder; Brown chanted the whole poem on a single note while his guitar accompanied on a driving, repeating chord pattern.  I still hear in my “mind’s ear” his singing on that insistent refrain: “Never, never can it be.”  (This refrain is in response to the poet’s litany of questions:)

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?
Can a mother sit and hear / an infant grown, an infant fear?
Never, never can it be / No, no, never can it be.

The whole poem is a declaration of empathy, human and divine, and it comes to a powerful close on what are, for me, some of the most amazing lines in all poetry:

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.

My own jazz “take” on this poem arrived quite suddenly one day in 2007, as my late friend, Anne Price, was arriving at my front door.  For several years I had been working on a choral composition on this same text, so it was “a regular” hanging out in my brain, but it was surprising for an alternate jazz version to appear, out of the blue.  Anne arrived at just that moment, and I had to excuse myself to follow the winding path of that melody.  I later retained the tune while adapting the Blake text into a secular and modern re-telling for performances with my jazz quartet, entitling it “If Your Sky Turns Gray.”

Additional information


SATB a cappella

Reviews (0)


There are no reviews yet.

Be the first to review “Songs of Innocence: On Another’s Sorrow”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart