Blake and Wordsworth Versus Society

January 17, 2019 by Essay Writer

Although scholars classify both William Wordsworth and William Blake as “romantic poets”, their writing styles and individual perspectives differ tremendously. Wordsworth, though he is not so blind as to ignore the strife that is prevalent in everyday society, tends to focus on more positive aspects of life, and chooses to dwells in an existence where silver-lined clouds float gently above pansy-blanketed fields. Blake, on the other hand, is more of a realist. He focuses on the many injustices humankind has suffered at the expense of industrialisation and on the malignancy of society.William Blake’s “The Tyger” clearly shows the speaker’s jaded view of society. “The Tyger” laments the advent of civilisation in the 18th century. The speaker does not necessarily oppose industrialisation in itself; the evil he sees lies in what society has done with new technology. The tiger that Blake drew at the bottom of the poem appears to be caught in a state of wide-eyed wonder and astonishment. He certainly has the potential to wreak havoc, but in this moment of time, he seems to be reluctant to do so. This beautiful creature must be exposed to the proper conditions in order to respond in such a way. In Blake’s view, technology is the same as the tiger. Machines, engines, and other technological advances are amazing inventions, but they all have the potential to destroy, maim, and kill. Our society provides technology with the opportunity to achieve these disastrous ends. Capitalistic factory owners exploit young children, sometimes resulting in their death, in order to become rich while others starve to death on the streets. Rapid advances in weaponry allow governments to achieve their political ends at the expense of soldier’s blood. The speaker feels that the celestial beings “water’d heaven with their tears” (5.18) because they foresaw the atrocities the industrial revolution would bring to society. He wonders aloud if the people responsible for these inventions knew what the result would be. If so, did this please them? The fact that such base people could exist plagues the speaker in line 19: “Did he smile his work to see?” The speaker goes on to ask, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” (5.20) He finds it hard to believe that a God who could create something as soft and gentle as a lamb could allow the hard, fierce tiger- technology- to be made. Surely, a loving God would prevent a society from advancing so far that it destroys its own sense of humanity. Blake, through “The Tyger”, shows his very real understanding of the destructive elements of human society and civilisation.Blake continues his commentary on society in the poem “London.” At the beginning of the poem, the speaker wanders freely through London, yet he sees how ordered the city, and even the Thames River, is. Even the people cannot escape from their predetermined course in life: “In every cry of every Man,/In every Infant’s cry of fear,/In every voice, in every ban,/The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.” (2.5-8) These “manacles” are formed in the mind; social status is merely an abstract construction. Society has declared that one born into poverty will remain in that state for the rest of his or her life. Even if this is true, who is to say that material wealth determines happiness and fullness of life? The speaker of “London” seems to be challenging these social traditions, and the society that creates such imposing restraints.While Blake sees society as an unfeeling monster that devours the downy innocents caught in its path, Wordsworth feels that society only ruins those who allow themselves to be jaded. In “Resolution and Independence”, the speaker starts the day full of life and youthful exuberance: “The pleasant season did my heart employ:/My old remembrances went from me wholly;/And all the ways of men, so vain and melancholy.” (3.19-21) While the speaker is happy at the moment, he realises that mankind cannot, or refuses to, escape from an existence marred by “vain and melancholy.” In stanza four, he begins to fear that with joy comes the realisation of all one has to lose; that for every mountain in life, there must also exist a valley that is at least as low as the mountain is high. However, this has not always been the case. The speaker reveals that “My whole life I have lived in pleasant thought/As if life’s business were a summer mood;/As if all needful things would come unsought/To genial faith, still rich in genial good.” (6.36-39) In other words, up until this present moment in time, he believed that in order to achieve happiness, all one had to do was have faith and lead a life of integrity, honesty and selflessness. Now, though, through exposure to society, he is filled with doubt and despair: “We Poets in our youth begin in gladness;/ But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” (7.48-49) Another aspect of society that the speaker exposes in “Resolution and Independence” is the artificiality of everyday communication. Though he feels depressed, he approaches the leech-gatherer and says, “This morning gives us promise of a glorious day.” (12.84) He could just be trying to give the leech-gatherer, or even himself, hope of a pleasant afternoon. However, more probably, he is revealing that society dictates what one can and cannot say to people in different situations. This holds true even today, as a co-worker asks “How are you?”, and gets the expected reply: “Fine.” Does the person who asks actually care about how the other person is feeling? Will the other person still respond the same way if he or she is suicidal? Wordsworth recognised that people rarely feel free to speak what is actually on their minds, and brings this to the forefront in his ridiculous statement to the leech-gatherer.Wordsworth compares the old man to huge stone on top of a cliff (9.57-60). Seen in this light, the leech-gatherer is no longer just another person in society, but a marvel that is somehow connected to the universe. Though he seems to have no reason to rejoice in life, he somehow seems content and fulfilled. He knows he possesses a significant role on earth, no matter how menial, and refuses to allow the despair and hopelessness of others affect him. Blake would undoubtedly see the old man and lament on the brutal society that allowed an elderly gentleman to arrive in such a state of apparent despondency. Wordsworth, however, sees an opportunity in the leech-gatherer. Instead of despairing over the old man he sees, the speaker instead chooses to learn what he can from him. Wordsworth sees what few others would: hope in an old man searching for leeches, wisdom in someone from the bottom of the economic and social ladder. The only people who are tainted by the evils of society are those who allow themselves to be.Blake and Wordsworth seem to agree that society is damaging. What they differ on though, is to what extent society has the ability with which to deplete the vitality of the body, the hope of the soul, and the sharpness of the mind. Blake sees nothing redeeming whatsoever in society, and would likely want the existing social system to be removed and replaced with one that is not so rife with social disparities and strife. Wordsworth, on the other hand, realises that injustices do exist, but also believes that life is what one makes of it. Certainly, it is impossible to never experience sorrow, but it is also possible for members of all social classes to lead a fulfilling life complete with hope, joy, wisdom, and contentment. The choice, in Wordsworth’s view at least, lies in the conscience decisions made by every man, woman and child.Works CitedBlake, William. “London.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 56-57.Blake, William. “The Tyger.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 54.Wordsworth, William. “Resolution and Independence.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 280-284.

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