“Jerusalem,” by William Blake, is a contemplative portrayal of England’s development during the time period in question. This poem is concerned with the theme of England’s loss of innocence; this is important because it shows that development is not, as people often perceive, beneficial for a country; rather, it destroys nature and corrupts humanity. Through the use of descriptive imagery, Blake conveys the “wicked” transformation nature and humans experience due to modernization. The use of anaphora and rhetorical questions both heightens the theme of lost innocence and reinforces the poet’s desire to regain this innocence. In addition, Blake’s skillful use of figurative language enhances the reader’s comprehension of the poem. Throughout the poem, Blake uses vivid imagery to describe England’s loss of innocence due to industrial development. Blake begins the poem by painting images of nature’s innocence in the reader’s mind, using words such as “mountains green” (2) and “pleasant pasture” (4). He portrays nature as peaceful and beautiful: as it always has been, and as it is always meant to be. In the second stanza, however, the images of nature’s innocence are lost and are replaced by images of “clouded hills” (6) and “dark satanic mills” (8). These images suggest that England’s development causes the innocence of nature to become lost. Nature’s untouched beauty is tainted by industrialization; hills which were once green become clouded, and mills that were once providers become satanic. Blake makes clever use of imagery to show the effects of England’s development on nature. Moreover, Blake uses imagery to portray humans losing their innocence. Prior to England’s development people led a simple life, the life of “the holy lamb of God” (3). People led a simple life resembling that of Jesus Christ, where there was no greed, jealousy, or corruption. This innocence, however, was lost as a consequence of England’s industrial development. People took on the characteristics of “clouded hills” (6).Those who previously led an honest life became corrupted by greed and power. Their innocence became clouded by sins, and was eventually lost. Blake also uses rhetorical questions to convey the theme of lost innocence. Blake begins the poem with four rhetorical questions, which he uses to illustrate the poem’s main theme: “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green?”(1-2). By questioning whether England’s mountains were green in the past, Blake evokes the theme of lost innocence in the reader’s mind. The reader learns that England did have green mountains in the past, but now they have been transformed into “clouded hills” with “dark satanic mills” as a result of industrialization. Blake uses this question to accentuate nature’s loss of innocence. In addition, Blake uses anaphora to emphasize his determination to regain England’s innocence: Bring me my bow of burning gold! Bring me my arrow of desire! Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! (9-12)To reinforce Blake’s determination, strength, and desire to regain innocence, the speaker makes skilful use of anaphora. Through this type of repetition the poem rhetorically enacts Blake’s sincere wish to regain innocence. The use of repetition also serves to mimic Blake’s relentless effort and desire to regain innocence at any cost. Blake uses figurative language to give the reader a more concrete understanding of the poem’s major theme. In the first stanza, Blake makes clever use of synecdoche to reinforce England’s innocence prior to its development. This is evident when Blake says, “the holy lamb of god/on England’s pleasant pastures seen” (3-4). Here, Blake uses the idea of a shepherd god to signify Jesus Christ. Christ is a symbol of justice, humanity, and innocence. Accordingly, placing Christ on English soil recalls the innocence of English citizens before England transformed into an industrial country. The idea of Jesus seen in England suggests the spiritual connection that England enjoyed prior to industrialization. However, during industrialization England lost its spiritual connection; thus, people begin to commit sins and lose their innocence. Blake also uses personification to express his determination to create Jerusalem, a representation of the old England, which embodies both natural and human innocence:I will not cease from mental fight,Nor shall my sword sleep in my handTill we have built JerusalemIn England’s green and pleasant land. (13-16)In line 14, Blake personifies his sword to enhance the meaning of the poem. Blake insists he will not let England’s loss of innocence paralyze him; he will continue to fight, and will bring back innocence “in England’s green and pleasant land.” William Blake’s “Jerusalem” conveys the effects that industrial development had on England. The central theme of the poem is England’s loss of innocence. This theme is of great importance because people usually overlook the horrific consequences of development, such as destruction of nature and corruption of humanity. Through the use of imagery, Blake reinforces the wicked transformation that nature and humanity undergo as a consequence of modernization. Through the use of rhetorical questions and anaphora, Blake both enlightens the theme of lost innocence and accentuates his desire to regain this innocence. Furthermore, through cunning use of figurative language Blake enhances the reader’s comprehension of the poem. Through this poem Blake not only expresses his determination to regain the loss of innocence, but he also endeavors to make the reader conscious of it. In other words, Blake writes this poem to enlighten his reader about the adverse effects of industrialization. Blake not only writes about England’s present, but also about the future adverse effects of development. Given the current world situation, one must admit that there is some validity to Blake’s concerns.
The word apocalypse derives from the Greek word meaning “revelation”, lending its name to the last book of the New Testament, The Book of Revelations. It refers to a prophetic vision which, through elaborate and often violent symbolism, signals an end to the current world and its inhabitants and importantly is followed by a regeneration of the world to a perfect state. The violence and destruction visited upon the earth is cleansing, purging the earth of its evils and evil-doers, in preparation of the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom on earth. I aim to explore this idea of apocalypse through an examination of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and discussion of its social, political, historical and poetic context.Followers of Millenarianism believe that with the evil and unjust destroyed, there will be a period of one thousand years of peaceful bliss upon earth, the millennium, after which the forces of evil will be released in order for them to be banished forever. The philosophy of the Three Ages refers to the belief that apocalypse would follow a thousand years after the completion of the Age of the Father, the Age of the Son and the Age of the Holy Spirit respectively. Famously Adolf Hitler subscribed to the theology of the Three Ages, believing that his Third Reich would bestow glory upon the world for a thousand years. Such images of destruction and great changes in the state of the world readily lend themselves to ideas of political revolution. Through the reading of the Bible’s apocalyptic books one could read into them the promotion of destroying the status quo in order that humanity’s plight should be replaced by a new earth and in it a paradise regained. This is immediately relevant to the Romantic poets who were inspired by the promise of the American Revolution, which culminated in the election of George Washington as the first President of the United States of America in 1789, and the more radical expectations prompted by the early years of the French Revolution happening at the same time. They saw the French Revolution as an overture to the end of history, presaging a new age of joy, a return to Paradise. Given this context, and England’s own ongoing revolution from a primarily agricultural to a modern industrial nation, it is understandable why so many thought the social structure was on the verge of collapse and apocalypse imminent.Political revolution was running alongside literary revolution, and Shelley in his Defense of Poetry described how the literature of the age “has arisen as it were from a new birth” and that within the age’s works an “electric life burns” which is “less their spirit than the spirit of the age” , thus coining the term the Spirit of the Age. William Hazlitt entitled his book of essays The Spirit of the Age and in it claimed that the early years of the French Revolution had appeared to herald “the dawn of a new era” and claimed that “a new impulse had been given to men’s minds”, commenting that it was “a time of promise, a renewal of the world – and of letters.” Wordsworth and Coleridge embodied this spirit when they revolutionized the theory and practice of poetry with their Lyrical Ballads of 1798. It is difficult for us to comprehend this spirit of fervour and anticipation of something truly great, as Robert Southey, writing in 1824, recognised:”Few persons but those who lived in it can conceive or comprehend what the memory of the French Revolution was, nor what a visionary world seemed to open upon those who were just entering it. Old things seemed passing away, and nothing was dreamt of but the regeneration of the human race.” As well as poets, this biblical language of regeneration was taken up by preachers, such as Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, Joseph Fawcett and Elhanan Winchester, who openly supported the Revolution, envisioning it as a confirmation of biblical prophecy. William Blake wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in the early 1790s during the early years of the French Revolution. At this point it still promised much and Blake had high expectations of it being the universal violence which would bring about the inauguration of the Kingdom of Christ. By opening The Argument (Plate 2, line 1) with “Rintrah”, whom Morton D. Paley believes “embodies…the prophetic wrath of the just man” Blake immediately sets his work in line with the biblical prophets Elijah of the Old Testament and John the Baptist, who retells the prophecy of the Apocalypse in Revelations. The idea of the poet himself as a prophet is presented to us in the introduction to the poem on Plate 3, where Blake mentions Swedenborg, whose most famous work was entitled a Treatise Concerning Heaven and Hell, and his prediction that the Messiah would return in 1757, the year of Blake’s birth. At the time of composing this poem Blake was thirty three years old, the same age as Jesus was when he was resurrected, and he sees himself as the imaginative poet-prophet who will bring about redemption through this work, through the marriage of the “Contraries” for “progression”. Amongst these he cites “Reason and Energy” as “necessary for human existence” which he elaborates on as “”Good being the passive that obeys Reason, Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.” And it is through their marriage that the millennium will come about. He refers the reader to Isaiah XXXIV and XXXV which prophesy “the day of the Lord’s vengeance” and the subsequent redemption of the earth when “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose”, respectively. He also mentions Edom; the place whence the holy avenger comes stained with blood in Isaiah LXIII and prophesies the redemption of Adam and the recovery of Paradise. In the historical context of the early 1790s this nation of Edom comes to represent France with the figure of the holy avenger, a manifestation of the French Revolution; in Blake’s eyes the sign of apocalyptic regeneration and Paradise regained. In writing about such subject matter as Paradise, Blake aligns himself with Milton, whom Blake claims “was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it” in Plate 6.If the Apocalypse is a revelation, an unveiling, then Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell is apocalyptic in its very nature. He rails against any absolutism in religion by questioning how separate good and evil are and by confusing the roles of Jesus and Satan. Blake states that “in Paradise Lost…the Governor or Reason is call’d Messiah”, that is Jesus, “but in the Book of Job, Milton’s Messiah is call’d Satan” for it is he who acts as moral accuser and physical tormentor. Blake argues that if they can share roles how can such absolutism as orthodox religion preaches exist? Further similarities between Christ and Satan are exposed, such as the Devil rebelling against authority, challenging God, and being expelled from Heaven, while on Earth Jesus rebelled against the Pharisees whom he felt were oppressing Him and His people. The Devil questions “did He not mock at the Sabbath?” thus showing that Jesus questioned the status quo as it was too restrictive. Furthermore did He not “turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery” because of the hypocrisy and oppressive nature of the law? Both Satan and Jesus have acted as revolutionaries in the past and this not only supports Blake’s argument against absolutism in religion but also in proving that revolution is not necessarily evil.He also parodies Swedenborg, whom he once admired, for being a “conventional Angel in the disguise of a radical Devil”. He also felt alienated by the increased institutionalisation of the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem and some of his controversial writings on what Paley calls “the concubinage dispute” which sanctioned men’s use of concubines under certain circumstances but not women’s, perhaps referred to in the line “Brothels [are built] with bricks of Religion”. He inverts many of Swedenborg’s teachings, focusing at the start on Hell, depicted as a source of unrepressed creative and revolutionary energy, rather than Heaven, depicted as authoritarian and regulated, and casting himself as “a mighty Devil” writing with “corroding fires”, a reference to the technique employed by Blake of etching passages onto metal using acids. This technique in itself is apocalyptic in that it reveals the truth where there appeared nothing, thus achieving his apocalyptic goal “by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.” Again he aligns himself with tradition, this time of Dante’s Inferno where the poet, like Blake does here, journeys to Hell. Blake mixes the traditions of Milton and Dante with his own revolutionary aim: to reveal to his readers the repressive nature of institutional religion and conventional morality.He replaces the biblical Book of Proverbs with his diabolic version entitled “Proverbs of Hell”, a list of provocative and sometimes paradoxical proverbs whose purpose is to energise the mind and induce thought. In one diabolical proverb he issues a call to, presumably revolutionary, action with the proverb “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence”, treating inertia as if it were a highly contagious plague afflicting the world and preventing the necessary revolution. He also recognises that if revolution is to be apocalyptic then there will inevitably be casualties, but “The cut worm forgives the plow”, implying that people will be willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. In biblical terms, those who sacrificed their lives in the name of God would be the first to join Christ in the millennium of Heaven on Earth. Blake states that the world is “finite and corrupt” but through the revelations and regeneration of the Apocalypse it shall be “infinite and holy”. His job as the poet is to open the “doors of perception” so that everything would “appear to man as it is, infinite” through their heightened sensual perception of the world.Perhaps the most revelatory passage is that entitled Opposition is true Friendship which focuses on exposing and denouncing the preaching of Swedenborg. He claims that Swedenborg is like the Angel whom Blake met on his passage through Hell, as both have “the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning.” In the same way “Swedenborg boasts that what he writes is new; tho’ it is only the Contents or Index of already publish’d books.” Blake is promoting the use of imagination to create novel and revolutionary thoughts which will bring about Heaven on earth. Contrastingly Swedenborg is rooted in the opposite mindset, as Blake elucidates:”Now hear a plain fact: Swedenborg has not written one new truth. Now hear another: he has written all the old falshoods.” The reasoning behind this, according to Blake, is that he “conversed with Angels who are all religious, & conversed not with Devils, who all hate religion, for he was incapable thro’ his conceited notions”, again emphasising the repressive nature of formal, conventional religion. This idea is elaborated upon in the following section where Blake retells a conversation he witnessed between an Angel and a Devil. The conversation centres on a debate over the Ten Commandments, which the Devil sees as repressive, as a representative of orthodox religion, attempting to restrain desire and creativity. Only when the contraries of Reason and Energy are allowed to coexist will humankind flourish, argues Blake. In terms of apocalyptic imagery the most striking is that of the Leviathan wreaking havoc on the earth in Plate 18, a clear representation of the French Revolution as noted by Paley, who states that the “Leviathan is, as has widely been recognized, a vision of the French Revolution” and even more interestingly by Martin K. Nurmi who points out that the direction of Leviathan “to the east, distant about three degrees” points us in the direction of Paris, the centre of the French Revolution. Paley points out that “it is likely that this part of the episode parodies Swedenborg’s vision of the destruction of Babylon in A Treatise Concerning the Last Judgement and the Destruction of Babylon” whilst it also serves to show how the millennium and the Apocalypse are conterminous. Blake’s “friend the Angel” flees the terrifying scene leaving the narrator in what appears to be part of the millennial world “on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight, hearing a harper who sung to the harp”. The Apocalypse and millennium are in fact the same just seen with differing perceptions “owing to your metaphysics”, that is your spiritual beliefs. Thus Blake presents the French Revolution as both apocalyptic and millennial. As an appendix to The Marriage, Blake wrote A Song of Liberty which celebrates the toppling of a tyrant, with strong echoes of Revelations XII in the characters of the mother, the divine baby and the threatening beast. It mixes images of factual history, such as “France, rend down thy dungeon” in reference to the French Revolution’s storming and demolition of The Bastille prison, with biblical images of the Apocalypse. He employs a list of imperatives which culminate in a plea for man to “Look up! Look up!” and “enlarge thy countenance” whether you are in England (Oh citizen of London), the middle-east (Oh Jew) or Africa (Oh African! Black African!) in order that revolution, apocalypse and subsequently millennium be achieved worldwide. This would result in “the son of fire” wreaking apocalyptic doom upon the world then “loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night, crying, ‘Empire is no more! And now the lion and wolf shall cease.'” This echoes the prophecy in Isaiah LXV which reads “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” in the post-apocalyptic Kingdom of Heaven on earth.Blake, in choosing the to make the theme of this work a marriage, is part of the tradition amongst first generation Romantic poets which Kelvin Everest describes as the “frequent deployment of images of marriage… [which] draws on the biblical imagery of the millennium as a wedding” , as shown in Revelations when the holy city, the New Jerusalem is seen “coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelations, XXI) in order to constitute a marriage between the new Kingdom of Heaven and Christ. Blake aligns himself with this tradition whilst suggesting the most revolutionary marriage of Heaven and Hell. However, as a sceptic of orthodox religion and its sanctioned practices, Blake desires a marriage where neither of the contraries submits to the other, like a woman would submit to her husband. While orthodox religion maintains that the ultimate goal is a reconciliation of contraries that results in the destruction of evil by good, Blake states that such a reconciliation would destroy existence, as “without Contraries there is no progression” and that “opposition is true friendship”. He does not state that evil is superior to good, nor that Energy is better than Reason. His point is that if an individual combines the two in matrimony he will reach the desired millennium, but allow one to dominate the other and you will produce the opposite to what you intended. This, it appears, is what the leaders of the French Revolution did, not letting their Reason check their Energy, leading to an increasingly violent uprising which alienated many of their English sympathisers.In the early years of the French Revolution the expectation was that it would fulfill the millennial prophecy of Revelations. Coleridge appeared to have utter faith in this, succinctly summarising in his Religious Musings:”The French Revolution. Millennium. Universal Redemption. Conclusion”In the summer of 1793 the idealism of the French Revolution seemed under threat from foreign European monarchies, which feared the sort of universal apocalypse that Blake wrote would replace these absolutist seats of power with the more democratic popular sovereignty, as well as the former French nobility and the Roman Catholic Church. The former nobility had an obvious stake in the downfall of the Revolution as they had been displaced resulting in the loss of their inherited privileges and many of their counter-revolutionary friends and family had been victims of the horrendous September Massacres in 1792. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed in July 1790, subordinated the Roman Catholic Church to the French Government and confiscated lands in order that King Louis XVI could pay for armies to defend himself against the revolutionary armies. These imminent threats to the French Revolution resulted in perhaps the most shocking period of the Revolution, known simply in French as la Terreur which essentially resulted in systematic and lethal repression of perceived enemies within the country. Led and enforced by Maximilien Robespierre, “the Incorruptible”, the Reign of Terror reduced the democratic idealism of the Revolution to an increasingly dictatorial absolutism, associated with brutal violence. Thousands fell victim to the guillotine or mob violence for dissenting the Revolution and its leaders. However the Reign of Terror was successful in defeating the foreign armies from England, Austria, Prussia and Spain as the Jacobin Committee had raised a formidable army from its supporters through intimidation and fear of violent reprisal, as Robespierre stated:La terreur n’est autre chose que la justice prompte, sÃ©vÃ¨re, inflexible. (“Terror is nothing other than prompt, severe, inflexible justice.”) When he too was overthrown by the Thermidorian Reaction and guillotined just like King Louis XVI had been the previous year, the Reign of Terror was brought to an end. Now however, as Thomas Noon Talfourd, and eminent jurist, poet and playwright, noted:”On a sudden…the sublime expectations were swept away in the terrible changes of this August spectacle [The Reign of Terror]” This caused a definite shift in the poetic mood of the Romantics from that of revolutionary exultation to despair and disenchantment. Coleridge apparently sympathised with Robespierre’s grand vision in a lecture he gave in Bristol in 1795 entitled Conciones ad Populum, where he argues:”I rather think, that the distant prospect, to which he was traveling, appeared to him grand and beautiful; but that he fixed his eye on it with such intense eagerness as to neglect the foulness of the road.” He also argues, in a statement which appears to echo Blake’s marriage of the Contraries of Reason and Energy that “the ardour of undisciplined benevolence seduces us into malignity” . As a result, the idea of an apocalyptic political revolution, as presented by Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, was replaced in Romantic poetry with faith in an inner transformation of consciousness and morals so that through imagination humanity could perhaps make a Heaven of the Hell they lived in.
The concept of universal human suffering permeates through William Blake’s dolorous poem “London,” which depicts a city of causalities fallen to their own psychological and ideological demoralization. Though the poem is set in the London of Blake’s time, his use of symbolic characters throughout the piece and anaphoric use of the term “in every” in the first and second stanzas indicate that Blake’s backdrop of London is a connotative representation of all the world’s cities, whose inhabitants represent all the world’s people. In this sense, “London” is a poem about the universal human condition. It would be impossible to paraphrase “London” into prose, for its poetic meaning derives from the ambiguity of connotative language and from the necessity of unresolved paradox. The poem’s beauty and power result from concrete and specific images of London that evoke the ecumenical idea that man is suspended between the society he lives in and his own indeterminate nature. Man is helpless; hovering between these diametric poles, he cannot even escape his own distress. Blake’s theme unfolds through two central paradoxes in the poem—the fundamental and obvious paradox between man and society, and the underlying and enigmatic paradox between man and nature. The paradox between man and society is evident in Blake’s portrayal of social and political institutions as the purveyors of mankind’s philosophical angst. In fact, this despair is the consequence of the impenetrable paradox that arises when Man creates the very institutions that enslave him. The human characters in “London”—the Man, Infant, Chimney-sweeper, Soldier, and Harlot—simultaneously embody humanity’s cruel establishments as well as its individual experiences. For instance, Blake’s line “In every Infant’s cry of fear” means both a fear of perils lurking in “each charter’d street” and of the loss of vernal innocence. “And the hapless Soldier’s sigh/ Runs in blood down Palace walls” has the dual meaning of society living under a tradition of war and death, as well as the danger of submitting to vicious custom with nothing more than a “sigh,” because war’s destruction results equally from compliance and combat. These symbolic characters are deeply conflicted, because Blake indicates that they are shackled by their acquiescence to their own brutal oppressors. Paradox arises from the irrational, unexplainable propensity of mankind to surrender. In “London,” people become willing parts of a corrupt system, evidenced immediately in the opening stanza: “I wander thro’ each charter’d street/ Near where the charter’d Thames does flow/ And mark in every face I meet/ Marks of weakness, marks of woe.” The manmade streets are chartered, decreed and created by men, but so is the River Thames. How can a river be chartered? In altering his natural state by constructing society, man has somehow repressed his own nature; the Thames, a natural river, is chartered because it is bound by the city, not free. Blake first emphases the “weakness” of man, and afterward the “woe,” implying that human suffering arises first out of human weakness, that there is a causal relationship. “The mind-forg’d manacles” reinforce this notion of self-enslavement—and paradox, for man cannot be mutually beholden to society and to himself, when the demands of both seem so innately incongruous. Yet somehow, within the framework of the poem, Blake’s contradictory suggestions gain conviction and generate a singular, universal concept. “London” consists of four short stanzas of four lines each, but a secondary paradox runs through the poem, nestled within the poem’s primary paradox, that shows startling complexity for so concise a work. At its crudest interpretation, “London” can be construed as social criticism, but Blake’s combination of connotative language and paradox lends the deeper emotive meaning essential to the realm of art. It is critical that the reader avoid intentional fallacy, since Blake’s positions on the societal problems of his day are irrelevant in the reading of “London”; the poem is poetic because it combines social criticism with seemingly contradictory ideas that force the reader to work through networks of paradox. If the obvious paradox in “London” is between man and society, then the latent one is between man and nature. Blake focuses on the divergences between human biology and emotion through the metaphors of sex and disease—both recurring motifs in the poem—and intertwines biological particulars of sex and disease with the intangible emotive corollaries of the human heart. Sexuality and disease are coterminous entities in “London,” and Blake portrays lasciviousness as both a social and personality disorder. The final stanza of the poem is telling: “But most thro’ midnight streets I hear/ How the youthful Harlot’s curse/ Blasts the new born Infant’s tear/ And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.” Here, Blake refers both to infant blindness as the result of venereal disease, proliferated by prostitution, and jealousy as a sickness of the heart, proliferated by infidelity. The disease imagery of “blights,” “plagues,” and “hearse”—death being the ultimate product of disease—is used to emphasize the epidemic of carnality. The covenant of marriage is inevitably doomed when prostitution institutionalizes sex as a profane act, invalidating the sanctity of monogamous human relationships, and Blake alludes to this in the second stanza as well, in the lines “In every cry of every Man/ in every Infant’s cry of fear.”These moral lessons, however, seem almost contradictory to the pervasive theme of human freedom advocated throughout the poem, for marriage, even if sacrosanct, is another binding social convention. Does prostitution exist because monogamy is oppressive and unnatural or does sexual temptation defame the purity of love? “London” is thought provoking because it is never readily apparent whether human nature is innately virtuous or corrupt—and if people are naturally corrupt, then they cannot possibly be blamed for the folly and vice they are biologically predestined to encompass. Blake depicts concupiscence as destructive, but he does not make it clear whether it is natural or unnatural; he leaves the integrity of human nature in suspension and paradox. The tone of the second and fourth stanzas, therefore, is inconsistent with that of the first and third. Blake’s two central paradoxes in London are even paradoxical to one another, and his poem is so forged by and of paradox that these paradoxes create a language of poetry, so that meaning cannot be divorced from the poem’s form.Blake’s language is developed as the poem develops, so that the poem, at its end, becomes an independent verbal artifact—or as Cleanth Brooks puts it, “a well-wrought urn”—that can be stated in no other language than the poem itself. As Brooks writes in his essay, “The Language of Paradox”:I am interested rather in our seeing that the paradoxes spring from the very nature of the poet’s language: it is a language in which the connotations play as great a part as the denotations…The poet, within limits, has to make up his language as he goes.Blake takes the entire length of “London” to formulate a language capable of carving meaning out of his paradox: man is both a slave to society and to himself. The uncertainty of Blake’s poetic language is in itself a concrete universal, an account of the desperate entanglement of human fate and accountability that can only be expressed through the divine irrational. Though “London” is a work of paradox, the poem is in no way incomplete; it is, by its conclusion, a work of art upon in and of itself.
A defining characteristic of William Blake’s poetry is that his poems are intended to be in conversation with one another. Blake allows his poetry to speak by using dialectically opposite images. Blake prominently uses Christian images in his poems to show different perspectives of faith. Two such examples of dialectically opposite poems are “The Lamb,” featured in “Songs of Innocence,” and “The Tyger,” featured in “Songs of Experience.” “The Lamb” speaks to a child-like faith, whereas “The Tyger” features the questionings of a more experienced person. Blake hinges these two poems on each other to push us past our limitations on faith into a deeper understanding. In using these opposite Christian images, Blake plunges us deep into our imaginations, the only place where we can comprehend a complex God who embodies both the tiger and the lamb. Thus Blake launches his view that only in our imaginations can we fully experience the complexity of the Divine, which is the pathway to Blake’s understanding of salvation.
Blake commonly uses voices of children to embody his poetry. “The Lamb” caters to the understanding of a child and serves as a representation of the simple faith of children. The poem takes on the form of a Bible lesson. An instructor presents questions to a child, calling the child a “little lamb” (1). The poem is written in a question-and-answer form, mimicking the catechisms children are often required to memorize. The catechism form was intended to instruct children on God’s attributes. God is clearly defined in this poem in several ways. First, God is described as a shepherd caring for his flock (3-8). He is also defined as calling “himself a lamb” (14). This represents God as a sacrificial lamb for our sins and also shows that we are made in the image of God. “We are called by his name” (18). Finally, God is described as a “little child,” which represents the God incarnate (16). The poem thus spells out a succinct, clear understanding of the divine that characterizes the innocent faith of children.
Blake mimics the style of catechism to comment on the educational structure of his day. Catechism, the “disciplining of society,” replaced the dialectical style of the Renaissance (Richardson 853). The catechism method was used to enforce strict doctrine on pupils. Blake saw this as inherently dangerous. He valued thinking for oneself and saw systems as limiting. Thus the poem, despite its sweetness, leaves us with a feeling of incompleteness. Imagination may be initially awakened, but it is limited by clear definitions. “The Lamb” does not address the total complexity of the divine. God is defined as “meek and mild,” but God’s power, might, and wrath are not addressed (15). We must be able to see God from a more experienced perspective in order to fully understand Him. Blake saw the dialectical method as the way to this intellectual flexibility, and his poems model this. Therefore, his work “The Lamb” must be understood in relationship to its dialectical opposite, “The Tyger.”
In “The Tyger,” the speaker asks a series of questions about the divine. Unlike the easy faith of a benevolent child, the poem reflects the questions of a person dealing with a mysterious God. The poet faces a central problem: art must in some way reflect its creator. The speaker looks to the tiger, made by God, to ascertain God’s attributes. The tiger, however, contains a “fearful symmetry” (4). The speaker is in awe of the tiger’s elegance but also in fear of its dangerous power. In looking at the tiger, the speaker sees that the world contains both beauty and horror, good and undeniable evil. The speaker wonders how God can reflect both parts of this artistry. The speaker asks, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”(20). We cannot fully comprehend this mystery of God, who calls himself a lamb yet created the tiger and takes on its “fearful symmetry.”
In a further point of contrast to “The Lamb,” in “The Tyger,” the speaker asks questions but receives no answers. The poem is entirely made up of questions, which reflects the gnawing of the human heart and our desire to understand our world and the divine. But the experienced person knows that God cannot be easily understood. “The Tyger” offers no simple definition of the divine. And rather than being offered a blessing at the end of the poem, as we are in “The Lamb” (20), we return to the original question asked at the beginning, “What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” (3-4). This poem pokes and prods its readers rather than providing them with answers. We are left wondering about the nature of God along with the speaker. The poem burns away an easy understanding of God.
This act of corroding easy understanding into deeper meaning is enacted in Blake’s illustrations that accompany his poems. To create his drawings, Blake used the process of relief etching, which requires the use of acid to erode at untreated copper to reveal the design (“William Blake” 113). Blake’s drawings thus enact the purpose of his language. The fire of Blake’s satire erodes the systems we create, a purifying process for Blake. The dialectical interaction of “The Tyger” burns “The Lamb’s” innocence to reveal a deeper level of experience and a larger vision through imagination. In their opposition, these poems sharpen each other and broaden our conception of the divine. God is both beautiful and powerful, merciful and just, benevolent and wrathful. To know God, Blake argues, we must be able to see him as embodying and creating both the lamb and the tiger.
Blake’s chief concern was enlarging the minds of a people whose vision had grown small. As Robert Gleckner writes, “Blake was. . . concerned with imaginatively exposing such blindness. . . and at the same time enlarging his song to encompass the multivalent horror of the state of experience” (375). As an artist, Blake is fascinated with images and their ability to open up new patterns of thinking. Blake’s poetry paints pictures for us that allow us to see anew. Blake’s satiric forms often attack our systematic ways of thinking and etch away at our limitations. In the Romantic period, Blake was concerned with the systems in churches and political spheres emerging around him. Gleckner explains, “What needed to be attacked were not devils, priests, merchants, kings, etc., but man’s own thinking processes, his refusal to acknowledge the growth of his own skull” (379). Through the use of his dialectically opposite images, Blake pushes our skulls, our minds, to grow.
The Christian images in Blake’s poetry challenge us to enlarge our view of God. We cannot put clear labels and definitions on God. This limits God and our understanding of Him. Blake thus used explicitly Christian images in opposition with each other to spark the flame of the deadened church. Blake saw a church that was stuck in doctrine and system (Richardson 856). He dared the church to believe that God is bigger and more complex than we could ever imagine.
Blake viewed the imagination as the place where this enlargement occurs. We cannot comprehend God’s complexity through logic, but we can begin to touch his mystery in our imagination. Our imaginations are not restrained by the systems of society and the doctrines of the church. God is not limited in imagination, and thus he can manifest himself in many different forms, as a child, a lamb, a shepherd, and even as the tiger. We can see God’s richness only in the mystic vision that our imagination provides. For Blake this is a form of salvation. The only truth and hope that the world provides is not in systems or doctrine, but in the power of the imagination, the only place we can really see God.
This view, however, raises questions about traditional Christian doctrine. Blake claims Christian symbols, but he also crafts myths into his poetry. His myth-making verges far away from traditional Christian faith, and his dialectical opposites often border on heresy. Jeffrey Satinover actually calls Blake a heretic and says that Blake and other writers similar to him “were seeking salvation not at the living hands of ‘the Holy one of Israel,’ but by [their] own grasping selves” (11-12). Blake’s work does seem to place more emphasis on our ability than God’s. Blake seems to value imagination more than the saving grace of Christ.
That being said, Blake’s poetry is still important because it provokes us to reconsider our notions of divinity. So often we are tempted to place restrictions on who we believe God to be and whom we believe God calls His own. But Blake reminds us that God is beyond our understanding. He dares us to imagine that God is more loving, more powerful, more awe-inspiring than we could ever comprehend. We read Blake because he challenges our minds to grow to a greater capacity, but we need to be careful not to give Blake higher authority on faith than he deserves. Still, Blake pushes us to examine dialectically opposite views in order to broaden our understanding. Blake shows us that through our questioning, we draw nearer to God. We must confront the tigers in our lives and ask, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
Blake, William. “The Lamb.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: the Romantic Period. 9th ed. Ed. Deidre Shauna Lunch and Jack Stillinger New York: Norton, 2012. 120. Print.
—. “The Tyger.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: the Romantic Period. 9th ed. Ed. Deidre Shauna Lunch and Jack Stillinger New York: Norton, 2012. 129-130. Print.
Gleckner, Robert F. “William Blake and the Human Abstract.” PMLA: Publications Of The Modern Language Association of America 76.4 (1961): 373-379. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
Richardson, Alan. “The Politics of Childhood: Wordsworth, Blake, and Catechistic Method.” ELH 56.4 (1989): 853-868. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Satinover, Jeffrey. The Empty Self: C.J. Jung and the Transformation of Modern Identity. Boone: Hamewith, 1996. Print.
“William Blake.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: the Romantic Period. 9th ed. Ed. Deidre Shauna Lunch and Jack Stillinger New York: Norton, 2012. 112-116. Print.
Blake explores ideas of power and corruption consistently throughout his two collections. Most notably corruption tends to focus around particular elements of society such as the Church with which Blake himself took issue. Power is interesting as it is seen in a variety of forms through the contrasting lenses of innocence and experience but often ties in with corruption as Blake makes scathing indictments of its abuse in society.
In a large portion of his poetry Blake takes aim at the institutionalized religion of the day which he believed had corrupted the true doctrines of Christianity, often at the expense of the poor and innocent in society. Such corruption is explored in his poems that center on the suffering or abuse of innocent child figures; for example, the Holy Thursday poems describe the event that took place in London each year, in which wealthy Church benefactors would parade orphans through the streets to St. Paul’s so they may give thanks for their patron’s generosity. Blake takes the role of the indignant observer who sees the hypocrisy in the Christian benefactor’s behavior. This is best conveyed through the symbol of the Church’s ‘Fed with cold and usurous hand?’ which creates a juxtaposition between the Christian act of generous feeding and charity and the practice of usury- in which such benefactors would take advantage of the poor, either through loans which perpetuated their poverty or through the demand of service from these children in return for their education. Blake exposes through the hand, which acts as a symbol for the Church and possibly society, the corruption within the Christian principle of philanthropy. Furthermore, poems such as the Chimney- Sweeper and the Little Black Boy reveal how Christian promises of afterlife were used to excuse the immense suffering of these children who were enslaved or persecuted in life. Both of the boy narrators, using a certain and accepting tone to reveal their naivety concerning the abuse, talk about shedding metaphors for the body such as ‘coffins of black’ and ‘black’ and ‘white cloud’s in order to find happiness with God away from this world in which they suffer. This reveals how innocence was forced into suffering through their ‘duty’ by the promise of reward from the Christian leaders of the day- thus showing both a huge abuse of the power over innocence and a corruption of Christian beliefs in the afterlife in perpetuating suffering.
This theme of an abuse of innocence is the main focus of power concerning the innocent narrators. For the children in Songs of Innocence, power such as that of God is seen as benevolent with poems like The Lamb creating a sense of safety and assurance through the confident, positive, pastoral imagery such as ‘vale’s and ‘meads’ aswell as the soft and gentle phonetics such as ‘l’ and ‘m’ sounds in ‘Little lamb who made thee?’. The same power however in Experience is something to be feared, as reflected through the use of antitypes in The Tyger. Here the language is much harsher with plosives and fricatives and a dropped syllable creating a harder, masculine rhyme- the tiger, also God’s creation embodies something terrifying and surrounded by imagery of industrial fire such as ‘furnace’ and ‘fire of thine eyes’. This demonstrates the tendency for power to be viewed as something dangerous and automatically deadly thereby showing how Experience has become accustomed to such tyrannical or frightening manifestations of power- perhaps referencing the monarchy or the terror of the French Revolution which unfolded between the writing of Innocence and Experience.
On the other hand however, even the innocent poems suggest the abuse they are open to through their ready acceptance of power as benevolent. In The Lamb, for example, although perfectly positive, the nursery rhyme structure created by the use of refrain and bouncy ballad verses also carries a darker double meaning. The use of question and answer such as ‘Dost thou know who made thee?’ ‘Little lamb I’ll tell thee’, complimented by a very certain tone evidenced through the repetition of ‘He is’ at the start of lines, mimics a sense of indoctrination often created by Catechism recitals- a repetition of Church doctrine used to teach children. This implies that innocence’s ready acceptance of power, perhaps in the Church institutions too, opens it up to abuse by those that Blake viewed as corrupted.
Largely outside of religion, Blake also takes aim at the corruption he perceives to be caused by rationalism and enlightenment thinking. This is perhaps most present in poems of experience such as The Human Abstract in which Blake criticizes the tendency of reason to produce abstract concepts represented by abstract nouns such as ‘Pity’ and ‘Mercy’ which, in his belief, have little relation to natural virtue. By personifying abstract concepts- as indicated by their capitalization as proper nous- he is able to create characters which reveal ideas of corruption such as ‘Cruelty knits a snare/ And spreads his baits with care.’ Similarly the imagery of the ‘tree’, typically associated with the tree of life or knowledge in Biblical terms, is now twisted by the raven- a symbol of death- and the ‘fruit of Deceit’ demonstrating how these products of abstract reasoning have created something which resembles the natural but, as revealed by ‘There grows one in the human brain.’ can be found nowhere in nature, thus conveying Blake’s message that such rational thought has corrupted what is natural in the human form and virtue. Similarly, in ‘The Sick Rose’, again showing his tendency to represent corruption through devastated natural or pastoral imagery, Blake uses a sexual allegory concerning the ‘crimson bed’ and phallic ‘worm’ as an extended metaphor for the damage man’s corruption inflicts on the world. In this case his ‘dark secret love’ may be said to represent materialism as it corrupts the natural forces symbolized in the flower.
Blake shows his condemnation of societal forces such as reason, materialism and church doctrine through his exploration of their corruptive impact. This is particularly highlighted within these collections because of their focus on nature and innocence which provide perfect victims in his poetry. Corruption and power are inextricably linked in this way as both are presented as responsible for various societal evils and abuses of the innocent voice. Like with most themes in The Songs of Innocence and Experience Blake seeks, particularly with his presentation of power, to condone or condemn neither of their reactions to power, but simply to highlight the irony, sadness, positivity or naivety respectively.
Social hierarchies function to elevate a group of elite citizens to a superior position, thus resulting in the disempowerment of groups that are below them in rank. William Blake was one of 18th century Britain’s most prolific Romantic poets, leaving a legacy of poetry largely unappreciated until after his death due to his working class social position. Blake focused on the plight of the working classes who lived and worked in inhumane conditions during the Industrial Revolution. He was a politically motivated social critic and his ideas still resonate strongly with social and political egalitarians today. His poetry books Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) contain numerous poems that pair and can be read dialectically to reveal two ways of viewing of similar issues, one from the understanding of a childlike mind and the other of a being with greater knowledge of the world. “Chimney Sweeper” from both books reveals the construction of social hierarchy in Blake’s society that disempowered the working classes by forcing them to be subservient to the (Christian) Church and state, as well as oppressing children of the working classes who often had no choice but to carry out work such as the dangerous task of chimney sweeping.
In “Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence, Blake subtly constructs the social hierarchy that represses the working class. He criticises the institution of the Church of England and the rigid system of monarchy from the perspective of a childlike mind that is aware of the social structures that constrict them yet is not wise or experienced enough to understand the implications of this. The persona is a chimney sweep whose “mother died when [he] was very young,” after which his “father sold [him]” into the chimney sweeping trade. From this line it can be inferred the persona’s family belong to the working class of British society, Blake’s focal society, where it was common for families to lose members due to diseases that would today be easily curable with modern medicine. The considerable gap that existed between the working class and the middle class meant working class families lived in relative extreme poverty which caused many to resort to ‘selling’ their children into dangerous or unsanitary trades to earn money, such as labour in workhouses or chimney sweeping. The persona employs the metaphor, “coffins of black” to describe the chimneys boys like himself work in. These “coffins” are symbols of death representing the fate awaiting the chimney sweepers who eventually die from breathing carcinogenic soot into their lungs at such a young age. They also symbolise the rigidity of the social hierarchy in England, of which the young sweepers are a part of. Blake constructs a hierarchy from which they will never be empowered enough to break free, reflecting the reality in 18th century England which made it generally impossible for people to improve their social position, especially those from the working class. The social hierarchy Blake evident in “Chimney Sweeper” of Songs of Innocence is implicitly constructed as the persona only has limited awareness of their position.
The poem of the same name in Songs of Experience more explicitly constructs the hierarchy of 18th century Britain, revealing the superior position of the Church and state over the rest of society, subjugating the masses and demanding their total subservience. The persona of this poem is a more vocal social critic who is bitter and without hope. This is overt through the use of figurative language such as his cry of “Weep! Weep!” to symbolise the trauma of chimney sweeping on young boys, ‘weep’ not incidentally being found within the word ‘sweep’. The Church’s influence is evident in the persona’s explanation his mother and father have “gone up to church to pray” while also placing their own child’s life in danger as a chimney sweeper, seemingly not caring about him enough to prevent his being dressed “in the clothes of death.” In other words, Blake suggests the parents seal their son’s fate every day they force him to work in the confines of the chimney. The institution of the Church held a dominant position over much of Blake’s society because they provided charity for struggling families and church leaders often held positions of power within government and communities. This thereby forced working class families to maintain excellent relations with the church in order to avoid causing offence to the parish they resided within, namely by attending Mass as in the example of the chimney sweepers parents. Blake is implying the Church care more about maintaining the hierarchy than the welfare of children, thus giving parents no choice but to have the same priority. This elevates the Church’s importance to society while ensuring working classes families submit to the will of the Church. Blake highlights this due to his own dislike for institutions, particularly the Church. He viewed religions as institutions of oppression, which disempowered the masses who could not oppose the Church’s dominance. Where the persona in this poem says his mother and father are praying “before God and his Church and King”, the term ‘King’ metaphorically refers to the state, at this time closely aligned to the Church because the religion of British kings determined Britain’s religion – in Blake’s time, Christianity. The state or ‘King’ are the at the top of the British social hierarchy, with aristocrats and nobility empowered by the “Heaven made of [the misery]” of the working classes and the profits the elite ruling classes earned from the Industrial Revolution. Thus, in the darker and more overtly critical “Chimney Sweeper” found in Songs of Experience, the social hierarchy supports the elevated position of the Church and State at the expense of the working classes.
Finally, in both poems Blake succeeds in the construction of a ‘third party’ to reestablish and cement the notion the elite and middle classes fulfil a much dominant role over the working classes. In doing so, Blake seems to address his intended audience, those fortunate enough to read poetry, a text form that in the 18th century was generally only readable by those of the middle and upper classes with a costly public school education. In the Songs of Innocence version of the poem, the persona addresses an unnamed new party, telling them, “So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep.” The sweeper speaks to the privileged middle and upper classes who could afford a chimney sweeper’s services and had the means of maintaining their authority, such as the necessary money and property. They held a superior position over the chimney sweepers and other workers who had no means to seek a life beyond their inferior place in the hierarchy. The empowered elite’s position juxtaposes that of the “thousands of chimney sweepers all locked up in coffins of black.” Similarly, in the poem from Songs of Experience, the chimney sweeper is asked by a passerby, “Where are your father and mother say?” Despite the thousands of chimney sweepers in London, the passerby is evidently in a position of privilege and ignorant of mistreatment and poor living conditions of the working class, especially children, in his own society. He represents the middle and upper classes, and his presence and lack of understanding highlights the stark juxtaposition between the empowerment of the elite and inferiority of the working classes.
Thus, Blake speaks for the oppressed, those at the bottom of the hierarchy, and he is deeply critical of institutions for their part in this. He calls to light their plight by describing the fate of the young sweepers and exposing the disparity between the working and middle classes. The convictions Blake held were of particular concern during the time of publishing Songs of Experience due to the 1789 French Revolution. This Revolution emancipated many and inspired humanity to challenge the rigidity of social hierarchies. No doubt this upheaval had enormous bearing on the critical perspective of Blake towards the existence of the British hierarchy, as firmly expressed in “Chimney Sweeper.”
In an era driven by rationalism and logic, the poets and authors of the Romantic era sought to defend what they understood as a more natural system of values. Among the themes prevalent throughout the era, the theme of the imagination’s power is definitely central, for not only is the context of the literature rich with the theme, but the works themselves serve as products of the authors’ imaginative vision. William Blake’s series of philosophical aphorisms, “All Religions Are One” and, “There Is No Natural Religion”, exemplify the common belief imagination shall prevail over reason which is also found throughout Romantic literature such as William Wordsworth’s, “The Crossing of the Alps”. Furthermore, the literature can also serve as tools to provide insight to the historical and cultural state of their time.
Both, “All Religions Are One” and, “There Is No Natural Religion” are written with the goal of defending imagination over reason. In, “There Is No Natural Religion” Blake begins his defense in part [b], “Man’s perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception” (117). In a reference to positions of philosophers such as John Locke, Blake takes the stance similar to many Romantic writers and believes people are not limited to sense perceptions, for imagination also offers a way to interpret and perceive the world. In part [a] Blake points out, “The desires & perceptions of man, untaught by any thing but organs of sense, must be limited to objects of sense” (117,) that is, because we can conceptualize and desire things that can not be understood through the senses alone, there must be other components (such as imagination, intuition, and feelings) which allow for such experiences. Complementing this idea in, “All Religions Are One” the first principal begins, “The Poetic Genius is the true Man” (116). Not only does Blake argue that people also perceive reality through imaginative vision (named the Poetic Genius), but that this quality is the truest part of people. Despite being a common theme, the concept of imagination is described in indefinite terms throughout Romantic literature. However, throughout the literature a common reverence for the concept of imagination manifests itself similar to the way Blake has described the Poetic Genius: it is an intuitive way of experiencing life from a higher self which differs from the rational and logical mind.
Wordsworth understands the abstract quality of imagination and begins the 1850 version of, “The Crossing of the Alps”, “Imagination—here the power so called/ Through sad incompetence of human speech” (1-2). It is as if the power of imagination is so profound and obscure that it can not be properly put into worlds. Perhaps this is why the poets of the Romantic era felt so compelled to encompass the common theme; to try and capture the obscurity of imagination. Wordsworth recognizes imagination as a source of escape as well as disappointment, and acknowledges the power in both. His experience in the Alps was not as he had pre-imagined it would be, yet in retrospect he is able to recollect his experience in his mind in a way that leads him to appreciation:
‘I recognize thy glory’. In such strength
Of usurpation, in in such visitings
Of awful promise, when the light of sense
Goes out in flashes that have shewn to us
The invisible world, doth greatness make abode, (532-536)
Here, Wordsworth also points out that in the lack of the senses, one can better connect to the, “invisible world”. This concept is particularly similar to Blake’s philosophy in, “All Religions Are One”: “As none by traveling over known lands can find out the unknown, So from already acquired knowledge Man could not acquire more. Therefore the Universal Poetic Genius exists” (116). That is, one can not study the known to find the unknown, therefore a universal imagination must exists. In the final stanza of book sixth of The Prelude, Wordsworth finds ultimate peace and enlightenment in the coincidence between imagination and the natural world, “Tumult and peace, the darkness and light,/ were all like workings of one mind, the features/ Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree” (567-569). Here, imagination has integrated into the everyday experience of nature in a manner that the natural world and imagination begin to mirror each other; they become one of the same. Again, Blake also acknowledges the same relationship between imagination and reality as the final notes of, “There is No Natural Religion” encompass the idea that God is only a reflection of our own ability to imagine, and those with imagination are the creator. In other words, he is making the point that our perceptions as a product of our imagination create our reality.
On a final note, the selections from the Romantic Era themselves are products of imaginative vision. The poems themselves serve for their audience at the time as an example of mankind’s imaginative and creative capacity. As possessors of such visionary minds, it is only understandable that the writers of the time would want to express and defend their world of imagination–a world that they believe all humans naturally have–during an Era that is obsessed with rationalism and the controlled order of things. Through the heavy use of imaginative themes and defense on the matter, a correlation can be drawn between the works and their historical context. The Enlightenment surely had a strong effect on the writers of the Romantic era, as the works of the Romantic era can be seen as a rebellion of philosophers of the time such as John Locke who’s theories are clearly argued by William Blake.
In Blake’s, “All Religions Are One” and, “There Is No Natural Religion” imagination is described through the concept of the, “Poetic Genius” in his reaction against rationalism. In Wordsworth’s, “The Prelude” imagination is revered, analyzed, and even acknowledge for its undefinable nature in, “The Crossing of the Alps”. Despite the variety in their works, the use of an abstract idea of imagination or the higher self seems to be an underlining theme throughout many of the works in the Romantic Era.
Blake, William. “All Religions Are One” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. 116. Print.
—. “There is no Natural Religion” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. 116-117. Print. Wordsworth, William. “Crossing of the Alps” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. 352-353. Print.
—. “From Book Sixth” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. 386-387. Print.
The motif of the fall of man is quite often used in poems and prose alike. More specifically, William Blake uses the motif of the fall of man in his poem The Book of Thel as well as in his poem The Shepherd. Blake, in this case, uses this motif in some of his poems to incite different feelings through allusions to Adam and Eve. The Book of Thel presents to us a world very close to Adam and Eve’s, a pastoral paradise in which man and nature are bonded in a form of mystical unity. Thel is able to speak to the nature around her, and gain knowledge of the world, much like Eve gained knowledge after eating the forbidden fruit. This world, although seemingly perfect, traps Thel and is a catalyst for her limitation of herself. Much like The Book of Thel, The Shepherd presents a pastoral paradise as well, in which there is a Shepherd (an allusion to God) watching over his sheep (God’s people). Creating a contrast with Thel’s situation, though, Blake presents this world as one in which the sheep, or people, are given free choice and independence because of their knowledge of God watching over them, an effect of the fall of man. In using this motif of the fall of man, Blake both critiques the way in which people limit themselves based on different aspects of life (such as mortality) that are an effect of the Fall, and praises the independence that people have based on the Fall and the consequent independence from God.
The Book of Thel uses the motif of the fall of man to suggest a critique of the way in which people limit themselves and their experiences based, firstly by bringing together the religious and the secular. The first sign of this motif resides in the pastoral paradise in which Thel is living; this paradise mimics the Garden of Eden which Adam and Eve inhabited. Secondly, Thel’s innocence and lack of experience are what most closely resemble Adam and Eve’s own relationship with the world around them. Thel wonders aloud, “…why fades the lotus of the water?” (Blake, pg. 45). Her innocence parallels Adam and Eve’s, yet unlike Eve’s, Thel’s fears are eventually what cause her to limit herself, thereby critiquing the way in which the fall of man influences some people. Thel is conveyed as fearing that no one “shall find [her] place” when she dies and that “when [she] complain[s], no one hears [her] voice” (Blake, pg. 45). Blake presents these complaints as normal, especially after the affect God that had on humans after the Fall. It is only when Thel goes to her own grave site, and flees after she hears a voice, that we consider the limits that Thel has put upon herself (Blake, pg. 49). Rather than seeing past mortality, she runs to it. Furthermore, she is said to have “Fled back unhindered till she came into the vales of Har,” implying that she is once again hindered (possibly by her own devices) in Har (Blake, 49). In presenting this scene, which is coupled with the allusions to the story of Adam and Eve, Blake depicts the motif of the fall of man as a critique of the limitations that some put on themselves, in fear of God’s wrath. In the same way that Adam and Eve fell from God, Thel too falls from grace in continually limiting and questioning herself.
Moreover, Blake combines allusions to religion with mystical allusions to nature to show the way in which earthly mortality becomes akin to a prison for some. In The Book of Thel, the unity between man and nature before the allusion to death and the broken bond seems to mimic the theme of the fall of man almost exactly. Blake depicts the Clouds, Lilies, and Clay as helping Thel in her quest to gain knowledge of mortality and of her purpose; her innocence allows her to gain the trust of nature around her, bringing to mind the unity that Eve had with nature. It is only once she gains knowledge and learns of death that she falls from God—or perhaps from the world’s—good graces, recalling the fall of man after Eve’s having gained knowledge. We can see in the poem that God’s punishments for Eve and Thel, and the fall of man as a motif, relate to the larger question of whether God has created a mortal prison for some or has instead created the joy of life. Blake seems to think the latter, and Blake is apparently critiquing the prison that people make for themselves. In his poetry, he uses religion, nature, and imagination to convey this stance. When Thel fears that no one would notice her gone, the Cloud assures her that when he passes away, “It is to tenfold life, to love, to peace, and raptures holy,” to which Thel immediately responds that she is “not like thee” (Blake, 47). In saying this, Thel begins to break the bonds between herself and nature—or, rather, between herself and life—in a manner that recalls Eve’s disruption when she gained knowledge of the apple, deceit, the Devil, and life. Thel uses her own questions about life, which parallel Eve’s questioning, to imprison herself—much as others do because of questions of their own mortality. It is only at the end, though, that Blake’s critiques come forth. “Why cannot the Ear be closed to its own destruction?” Blake inquires, through “the voice of sorrow” (Blake, 49). Here, Blake asks why people are incapable of forgetting about their own mortality, why they must question everything and limit themselves based on it. He seems to arrive at this critique of humans based on their fear of God’s wrath, and conveys his sentiments through alluding to the fall of man, among other things.
The motif of the fall of man is used more subtly in the poem The Shepherd; rather than alluding to the pain that separation from God causes, Blake chooses to explore the positive side of the Fall, showing God’s punishment as a blessing rather than a curse. Although God’s punishment due to the fall of man is often looked on as a curse, Blake seems to be explaining here that the penchant to be good to others and not sin comes from our knowledge of God’s ever-present power. “He is watchful while they are in peace, / For they know when their Shepherd is nigh,” Blake says of the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd (Blake, pg. 2). Although this line appear to suggest that the shepherd is only watchful when the sheep are in peace, it could also convey a different meaning entirely. Since the sheep know when their “Shepherd is nigh,” Blake seems to be suggesting that the sheep are peaceful (read: well-behaved) whenever their Shepherd—God—is near. If God is ever-present and omnipotent, they are assumed to always be impelled to be good. Rather than God forcing his people to be good citizens and follow his word, he gives them the choice to do so, although under the assumption that God is always watching and will punish them if necessary. Blake highlights this blessing of God’s influence by noting that God’s tongue is constantly “filled with praise” (Blake, 2). Not only does Blake say that people are compelled to be good because of the Fall, but he also says that they are rewarded in doing so.
The Shepherd begs the question of whether Blake is conveying that people feel forced to do good, or whether they are willingly compelled to do good because of God’s influence. Blake seems to think the latter, that God has given people free will, and that they are only slightly coerced. To articulate this idea, Blake juxtaposes the fall of man motif with the idea that God follows his people, rather than forcing them to follow him. “How sweet the Shepherd’s sweet lot! / From the morn to the evening he strays,” Blake says of God and his people—here symbolized as a Shepherd and his sheep, respectively (Blake, pg. 2). Rather than depicting God as the force which governs his people to follow him, Blake suggests that God is the one who follows his people. This concept is the exact opposite of what the Bible says about his relationship with humans. Blake seems to say that the fall of man allowed people to have independence from God, rather than limiting their freedom of choice. God’s praise comes from his being a follower. In being “watchful” of his sheep when he “follow[s] his sheep all the day,” he is able to see the good that his people do for him (Blake, pg. 2). Beyond this independence is also a love of God that Blake shows through the effect of the fall of man. To this end, Blake writes that, “He is watchful while they are in peace, / For they know when their Shepherd is nigh” (Blake, pg. 2). Although the poem suggests, in part, that the “sheep” are compelled to be peaceful and do good for others, it also seems to suggest a reading which means that “He is watchful when they are in peace because they know when their shepherd is near.” Because God is always present and always watching, the sheep rely on their shepherd for peacefulness. Rather than the fall of man being a complete punishment, people are eased by the knowledge that God is watching, allowing free choice, and praising them. People rely on God to bring them peace, and to compel them to be peaceful as well, Blake suggests. The fall, then, is shown to be a blessing once more.
Blake presents two similar worlds, both pastoral paradises, yet very different in the outcome of the peoples’ actions inside of them. Thel’s world is one in which nature and man’s unity is broken by her knowledge of death, and by her subsequent limitations on herself. The Shepherd’s world, though, presents conditions in which the sheep are given free choice and the ability to freely do good in the world because of God’s influence, rather than because they are forced to do good. In looking at these two poems, and their implications, we can raise the question of whether Blake is correct in both senses. Are people limited because of their fear of death and God’s wrath, as well as sometimes compelled to do good because of his teachings? Perhaps both conceptions are true, in which case we are given a more accurate view of life instead.
“Poetry,” said Robert Frost “is a way of seizing life by the throat.” Not having been equipped with the media and technology of today, poets of the post-1770s era often approached their poetry in this fashion. They took advantage of the freedom of words and used poetry to express their views and opinions on social and personal issues, which was most effectively done through the usage of vibrant language. “London” by William Blake is one such example of a poet using aggressive language to express his dissatisfaction with the oppression and alienation evident in his days. Blake responds to these societal inequities by representing what many have called a form of “social protest” against the political and economic gloom Blake believed had gripped London at that time. Blake wishes to use the poem to show his contempt for the “charter’d” city of London, and he does this effectively through the use of subtle word choices, which leave an impact on the reader. He uses repetition and words with double meaning to explain the appalling conditions of the city of London. One example would be the repetitive use of “charter’d” in the poem, which emphasizes how Blake felt that the city had been forced to submit to an organized structure. Even the Thames and the streets had not been exempt from this oppression, having been swayed from their natural course to conform to the oppressive administration. According to William Blake, the city of London had been, as one critic put it, “mapped, licenced, controlled and choked with commerce.” As he describes the plight of the common man, evident in the “marks of weakness, marks of woe” that scar their faces, Blake again employs repetition for the words “mark” and “every,” effectively representing the atmosphere of despair and misery. The repetition of “every” may also suggest that Londoners are not the only sufferers, that the struggle against submission to oppression is universal. Similarly, Blake’s use of the condemning word “black’ning” to describe the Church can also be said to have a double meaning. Written during the time of the Industrial Revolution, when London was transforming from an agrarian society to an urbanized one, it can be assumed that the Church was physically covered in soot from the spread of industry. However, it is difficult to miss the figurative meaning as well: Blake claims that the Church had blackened itself from its responsibility for the deaths of the young chimney sweepers who comfortably got into the chimneys but seldom got out. Blake’s disgust at the economically exploited life of a young chimney sweeper is further highlighted in his poem “The Chimney Sweeper.” In addition to demonstrating Blake’s condemnation of the exploited lives of the poor and young for the sake of a prosperous economy, his choice of “black’ning” is also used to express the corruption he perceived in the institutionalized Church. What is interesting to note in this stanza is how Blake has turned the oppressors (religion and the monarchy) into cold and dark inanimate buildings (the church and the palace), while the oppressed are real people, taking their last breaths in the form of a “hapless sigh” and a “cry.” Blake sympathizes with the cruel fate of the soldiers, and the mention of the “blood down Palace walls” implies that the Palace has blood on its hands, the result of being responsible for too many soldiers’ deaths. One of the things that stands out most to the reader is Blake’s employment of imagery to emphasize the level of imprisonment and submission. His “mind-forg’d manacles” enforces a dramatic image of mental restrictions and internal struggles, “manacled” on by higher authoritative bodies through their exertions on moral sanctions. He attacks them as people who impose shackles on the common man’s spiritual freedom and happiness. He also accepts that many of the limitations people have in their lives are through their own creations, and as a Romantic poet who believed in the importance of understanding imagination in order to understand human personality, he clearly loathed this form of “mental constriction.”“London” ends on a pessimistic note, as the baby born from the young poverty-stricken prostitute mother is greeted with a curse. London seems to have no hope of a rebirth or regeneration, as even this young, pure infant will in no time be beleaguered under oppression and poverty. Even a joyous occasion such as a marriage is a death sentence, plagued by venereal disease. Apart from the language used, what makes “London” unique among other poems is Blake’s use of observations made as he “wanders through each chartered street,” which implies that these are personal experiences rather than general commentaries. By choosing to show in his poetry the plight of his fellow Londoners, Blake has started his own method of social reform. Perhaps this is how poets fulfill Robert Frost’s charge to “[seize] life by the throat”: they use their poetry to voice not only their own concerns, but also the dissatisfaction of others with society and with life in general. After all, as Jean Cocteau once said, “The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.”
In “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” (1793), Blake writes with a strong prophetic voice, bringing forth a new set of proverbs, a new poetics, twisting and flipping traditional wisdom. Blake challenges the status quo, questioning stagnant, conventional thought. As if standing before a gathering crowd, he cries out “All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors…” (MHH 4). It is a searing, powerful, poetic production, a collection of proverbs that very easily soars over those still enchained in those forsaken “mind-forg’d manacles” ( London 27). The words of Blake, like those of a prophet, at first, throw us into confusion. He wants to lead the reader off the taken path, through the dark forest, making us feel as if we were lost, with hopes of us entering into a new a clearing; a new understanding of our being, throwing open the “doors of perception” (MHH 39). (We can only imagine how confused the Disciples were when Christ declared, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” taking the commandment against coveting, marginalized within the set of ten, and making it central to his teaching, completely rearranging the social landscape around the question of desire.) Blake desires to inverse the relationship between Energy and Reason, between Imagination/Vision and Materialism, otherwise known as the “Vegetable Ratio” (Mil 5.35). Such a dramatic shift in paradigms calls for a dramatic approach, which Blake finds in the hyperbolic poetics of the prophets. Why though is hyperbole necessary? Blake condemns the “Ratio of the five senses” (MHH 35), that abyss, seen as the foundation of not only Lockean thought, but also the Age of Reason, leading Man astray; the prophet must call him back. Under the section “A Memorable Fancy,” Blake puts words into the mouth of Isaiah and Ezekiel to fit his new Vision. He has Isaiah profess, “I saw no God nor heard any, in a finite organical perception,” and Ezekiel claim, “we of Israel taught that the Poetic Genius…was the first principle and all the others derivative” (35). The Poetic Genius, the prophet, goes beyond the correspondence theory of truth, of rectitudo, adaequatio, assimilatio, convenientia, into the poetics of prophecy, a hyperbolic theory of truth. We do not seize and size up their revelations, but rather they seize us. Blake’s writing style is not a testament of what we can sit before us and measure, of what we can stand over and against. It reaches beyond what we can perceive with our physical organs; “Mans perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception. He perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover” (NNR 2). Blake’s writing style is a testament to what we can “perceive” with our Vision and Imagination, as he so poetically puts it: Now I a fourfold vision see And a fourfold vision is given to me Tis fourfold in my supreme delight And three fold in soft Beulahs night And twofold Always. May God us keep From Single vision & Newton’s sleep (TB, 722.83-8).Blake personifies the banality of single vision, the limitations of reason, the “Vegetable Ratio,” manifested through the limited creation of closed, overarching systems, and generalizing concepts, in the god Urizen (a play on “your reason” and the Greek horizo, meaning “to limit”). Urizen’s mechanical creation is sterile; it is capable only of the predictable repetition of the Same, not of something purely different in and of itself, which requires Imagination and inspiration. He is Nobodaddy, “nobody’s daddy,” the jealous god of the Old Testament and the Decalogue, stifling Imagination through the Net of Religion, shackling Man to limited vision. For Blake, “Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy” (Blake, MHH 4.8). Urizen is guilty of circumscribing and placing form upon boundless, infinite Energy: “Times on times he divided, & measur’d / Space by space” (BU 3.8-9). Blake describes Urizen as having form’d a dividing rule: He formed scales to weigh; He formed a brzen quadrant; He formed golden compasses (35-39).A closed system, Energy circumscribed, encompassed by the Mundane Shell (Mil 37.19-43), denies the possibility of the multiple, the particular, of otherness, of a productive repetition; it is the reign of the Same. Blake believes “Every Minute Particular is Holy” (Jer 69.42), every multiple embodying difference, thus Urizen’s law, his absolute morality, is an injustice, placing the One over the Many: “one command, one joy, one desire, one curse, one weight, one measure, one King, one God, one Law” (BU 4. 34-40). Protesting the logic of Urizen’s law, Blake will decree, “One law for the ox and the lion is oppression” (MHH 25). The affirmation of the poetics of prophecy, demanding an “elevation” in our vision beyond the correspondence of what conventionally lies present before us, beyond adaequatio to the realm of hyperbole, attempts to deconstruct the Law; it is a call for justice, opening a space for the multiplicity of the Minute Particular within the barren rule of the One. Works CitedBlake, William, David V. Erdman, and Harold Bloom. Jerusalem. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. New York: Anchor, 1988. 144-259.—.”London.” 26-7.—.”The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” 33-44.—. Milton. 95-144.—.“There is No Natural Religion.” 2.—. “To Thomas Butts, 22 November 1802.” 720-22.