The Poems of William Blake
“The Tyger” by William Blake
“The Tyger” by William Blake Now seen as one of the most prominent figures of poetry and visual arts during the Romantic Age, William Blake was an outcast during his time and often thought to be crazy due to his radical views on religion and theology. Although he was Christian, his family rejected the generally accepted form of Christianity and going to church. While he was young, Blake claimed to have seen and interacted with the angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary and the spirit of his deceased brother, Robert Blake. Because of these divine experiences he had so early in his life, he believed that everyone could communicate with God through good deeds, imagination and prayer and that there was no need to go to church to reaffirm this relationship. He believed that the church was solely a political institution and that it acted as a middle-man that interfered with someone’s connection with God. Blake’s views on religion greatly influenced many of his works, including “The Tyger” which was a part of his “Songs of Innocence and Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. “The Tyger” is composed of six stanzas and has a rhyme scheme of AABB, which makes it easy to read. The meter is regular and rhythmic and can be associated with the pounding and banging of a blacksmith and his tools, as described in stanza four of the poem. In “The Tyger,” William Blake questions the nature of God and faith. He asks two important rhetorical questions in the poem; Does God create both good and evil? If so what right does God have to do this? The poem is a cycle of questioning the creator of the tiger, discussing how it could have been created, and back to questioning the creator. The theme of the poem is the tiger and who created it. Was it the same God that created the gentle and innocent lamb? Or was it a much darker force, perhaps even Satan? For some Christians there is no need for such questioning; they believe God made Lucifer beautiful and perfect just as He made Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but like Adam, Lucifer’s own indiscretion were what changed him to what he has become. Other people, like William Blake, wonder, “If God is such a compassionate, loving, caring God, why would He make such a horrifying and wicked being who causes so much harm in the world? Through vivid imagery, symbolism, and metaphors William Blake explores the question of whether or not God creates evil as well as good in the world. Right from the beginning of the poem, readers are slammed with imagery that conjures a picture of a tiger with fur blazing like fire, lighting up a dark forest. The fact that the tiger can illuminate a forest in the dead of night gives the idea that the tiger is very powerful and not like other animals. Blake then goes on to describe the tiger’s burning eyes, filled with an intense fire that should be feared by all of its prey. The fire in the eyes of the tiger creates a negative image of the tiger, that it is a wicked and fearsome beast. Blake also illustrates a large furnace that was used to craft the tiger’s brain. When reading this, you can feel the heat given off by the scorching fire and see the blacksmith reaching into the flames with his tongs and extract the brain that gives the tiger its life. Symbolism plays a huge part in how this poem portrays its message to readers. The tiger, having fire in its eyes and a brain created in a furnace, is the most obvious symbol that represents evil. Blake is not merely looking at an animal and wondering how it was made, but he is using the animal allegorically. Blake speaks directly to the tiger, an animal that lives in dark, secret places; “in the forests of the night. ” The fierceness and cunningness of the tiger that lurks in the darkness seeking out its prey is a metaphor that gives the reader a vivid mental picture of who believers call Satan. The lamb symbolizes good in the world and also refers one of Blake’s earlier poems, “The Lamb,” which was included in the “Songs of Innocence” collection. Just as the tiger could represent Satan, the Lamb, which Blake capitalizes in his poem, could be a representation of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. The last line of the fifth stanza actually states the central question that is explored throughout the poem; “Did he who made the lamb make thee? ” This poses the question as to whether God, who has created everything good and beautiful in the world, could also be capable of making such an evil and frightening beast as the tiger. Up until the speaker poses this question, the poem has been pointing towards Satan being behind the creation of the tiger. It is not until this question is asked that the idea that God is ultimately responsible for the creation of good as well as evil is presented. There is a reference to a hammer, chain, furnace and an anvil that is an extended metaphor comparing the creator of the tiger to a blacksmith. The idea that a blacksmith forged the tiger with his furnace and tools gives the reader the idea of the creator being very deliberate in fashioning every aspect of the creature. It also ties in with the fire references throughout the poem and solidifies the notion that the speaker thinks the tiger may have been created within fire, possibly the fires of hell. Blake compares the eyes of the tiger to a distant fire that only someone with wings could reach, someone such as an angel, either good or bad. It also asks who would “dare seize the fire? ” The speaker is inquiring as to who would be so brave as to dare to put their hands in such a fire that the tiger surely has been created with. All of the questions that Blake poses in this poem are left unanswered only invoke more questions. Blake leaves it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions about good and evil as well as who is behind it. To me, there is further depth than simply the creation of evil by God. I think the poem touches one of the most troubling issue that racks the brain of all theologians. How can God allow, for example, the death of an innocent child through famine in Niger? The change in the poem from simply a capable creator to a brave creator suggests that Blake saw and appreciated that a brave creator knew the need for misery in the world as well as job. Blake does a superb job stimulating the mind to go beyond what is known and to question the mysterious origins of the world and all that is in it.
"The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
One of the most intriguing topics of discussion among people, especially among Christians, is the issue of the entities of Heaven and Hell. Many books and essays have been written by a multitude of authors attempting to explain the supernatural concepts of Heaven and Hell in human terms. Among these many literary works, one particular essay stands out as being informative, yet direct in the style of writing. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is the product of William Blake, who was born on November 28, 1757 in London, England He devoted his life to writing, and many would consider William Blake to be more than just an author; instead many consider him a prophetic writer. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is a metaphorical essay more than an allegorical essay over the topic of the supernatural realms, Heaven and Hell. The whole of the essay is written as an in-depth response to one of Blake’s colleagues, Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist and philosopher, and as an argument against organized religion. The essay opens with William Blake introducing the main character, Rintrah, who many believe is a metaphor for or a parallel of Blake himself. Also, many literary critics view Rintrah as the spirit of revolutionary power and as a possible personification of the just will of the Prophet. Using the title as a context clue, the reader, based off of the lines, “shakes his fires in the burden’d air; hungry clouds swag on the deep” can extrapolate the setting of beginning part of the essay as Hell. To understand the essay as a whole, the reader must breakdown and analyze the two lines, “Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. ” The first line, “Without Contraries is no progression,” has enormous meaning; in simple words this line can be rephrased, “Without disagreement humanity cannot progress. ” This idea of competition creating “good” or progress is a Biblical concept. In Proverbs 27:17, David writes, ”Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. ” Therefore, competition and opposing viewpoints are not only just a fact of humanity, but are essential for humanity to progress in a positive manner. The second line is a descriptive reiteration of the first line. The action words, such as attraction and repulsion, and love and hate, Blake utilizes as a way to describe how humans interact with each other in opposing manners, which ultimately allows humanity to progress. Another task accomplished by these two lines is they sum up Blake’s argument against organized religion. William Blake sees organized religion as detriment to humanity. He sees organized religion as being opposed to the one thing that allows humanity to grow in a positive way, competition. Blake sees organized religion as an entity that is blind to a concept that could be beneficial to religion as a whole, which would ultimately lead to more people hearing the message of Jesus Christ. The essay, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” though “to-the-point,” in literary style, there is an enormous amount of depth to every part of the essay. As the main character travels throughout Hell, he experiences several different emotions such as anger and resentment. In addition, the main character sees several scenes during his journey through Hell; including, seeing the abyss of Hell and how evil spirits actually research and study humans. Then, William Blake continues on and writes about the main character’s experience during his journey through Heaven. Throughout his entire experience, both in Heaven and Hell, the main character sees how the different beings in their respective supernatural realms interact with each other and with human beings. Altogether this essay by William Blake does an excellent job of providing the reader with a seemingly prophetic insight into Heaven and Hell and how the two realms interact.
William Blake: A Representor Of Romanticism
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. This quote by William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is just a piece of how thoughtful and unique his works are. Blake inspired everyone and was a big part of the romanticism movement. As well he influenced a great amount of writers.
Born on November 28, 1757, in London, England. William Blake started writing at the age of 10, little did he know that his works would touch everyone. As a kid, he was homeschooled by his mother and at an early age the Bible influenced him and it became a big part of his life. In 1784 he set up a print shop with a friend, James Parker, but this project failed after several years. For the remainder of his life, Blake made a meager living as an engraver and illustrator for books and magazines but his journey was just beginning.
Blake started romanticism in the late 19th century when he was about 60 years old. Once he left the Royal Academy he published his book, Poetical Sketches, in 1783. From that moment on he started publishing his famous works. These were Songs of Innocence(1789) and Songs of Experience (1794). Unappreciated in life, William Blake grew in literary, and his visionary approach to writing has not only touched countless people, but they have inspired a vast amount of writers.
Blake’s works had many characteristics such as nature, an interest in the past, personal freedom, the supernatural, and occult, as well as imagination and emotion. For these and many more reasons Blake is considered a romantic writer. Blake, however, was different from the other romanticism writers because he was a mysterious man he had even claimed to see an angel when he was young. Another characteristic that Blake used a lot in his writing was his imagination and a great of many references to the supernatural.
Blake himself believed that his writings were of national importance and that they could be understood by a majority of people. In 1824 his health began to weaken, and he died singing in London, England, on August 12, 1827. Blake was not forgotten, in his lifetime he was unknown to many except the few faithful friends. But interest in his works grew over the centuries, showing Blake’s beautiful, detailed, and difficult works.
Romanticism And The Process Of Life
The mystery of the ceaseless nature of life and death has baffled thinkers, great and small, for millennia. Hundreds of years passed with nothing except speculation to interpret your place in the world, but the spread of the Enlightenment and the idea of scientific reasoning brought a new wave of assumptions to Europe. Men and women started using reason in order to make sense of the world around them.
This led to the delegitimizing of what came to encompass the Romantic movement; observation of nature, the sublime, and individual expression; among others. These poets wished to bring back an emphasis on the more indescribable and mysterious aspects of life. Thought and emotion guided their documented experiences, especially when it came to the interpretation of life and death. Although Blake, Shelley, and Keats each discuss the process of aging and resulting death, Blake believes it to be a necessary aspect of nature while Shelley and Keats view it as burdensome.
Blake represents the first generation of Romantic poets, who ardently stressed a harmonious relationship between man and nature. The most visible example of this association lies in the collection Songs of Innocence, wherein Blake considers the brightest side of humanity, meaning before the Biblical fall of man. This includes the process of aging and eventual death as, in a perfect relationship between man and nature, growing older is accepted and as much a part of life as the changing of the seasons. No one fights against it or looks with jealousy upon those younger than them. For example, in Echoing Green, a group of children play while the older men and women watch them nostalgically; these elders laugh away care as they look on, but do not reference any feelings of wanting to go back or hold anything against the children, themselves. They recognize that youth must fade (Blake, Echoing Green 10-14).
Another aspect of a perfect correlation between man and nature is the joy that comes along with the birth of new life. In Infant Joy, a mother welcomes her child into the world and asks the newborn what she shall be called. The infant replies, I happy am,/ Joy is my name. The mother blesses her child and sings her to sleep, wishing that Sweet joy befall thee! Both poems exhibit instances in which life, at all stages, is cherished and exalted (Blake, Infant Joy 4-12). No worry or sadness exists over the prospect of having to grow old or to bring forth another mouth to feed. Men, women, and children accept their place within the natural order and even celebrate it.
Conversely, Songs of Experience, emphasizes the fallen, corrupted aspects of human nature, including the reluctance to accept aging. The subjects of Songs of Experience find themselves to be jealous and hostile towards those who still have their youth. Nurser’s Song, especially, references ill feelings that the nurse has for the children in her care. Watching the children play on the green triggers a flood of childhood memories for the nurse, causing her face to turn green and pale. She longs for what the children have, youth and the opportunity that it brings.
However, the nurse knows that it has already passed her and resents the children for what she cannot have. This is seen through her scolding of their childish ways, Your spring & your day, are wasted in play/ And your winter and night in disguise. Her reprimanding not only exhibits a reluctance to age, but also a kind of resentment towards those forces that caused her to grow old (Blake, Nurser’s Song 1-8). Life, in Songs of Experience, is not revered, but despised. Children are shackled and taught to ignore the inherit freedom of their nature while families fear the idea of new life, as it means a new mouth to feed. For example, in Infant Sorrow, an infant enters the world crying and struggling to a family that does not want her. The parents view the child as a burden on them, a person they will have to support into adulthood (Blake, Infant Sorrow 1-8). The happiness that resulted from the birth of the newborn in Infant Joy, does not appear in this particular poem. It is obvious that the stages of life are not to be celebrated in a world that has been corrupted by man.
The two separate collections, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience exist in order to illustrate the contrast between a pre and post-Biblical fall world. From that point of view, Blaker’s own thoughts on inequality and the perception of aging shine through. Blake recognizes that the world consists of imperfect people trying to live in correlation with nature, despite their tendency towards folly. Blake, himself, believes in an acceptance of the natural order, including the processes of aging, and acts as a sort of prophet. He tells the youth, and all those reading his poetry, to listen to his words, as many …wish to lead others when they should be led (Blake, The Voice of the Ancient Bard 11). The two collections represent the perfect versus the realistic. Blake asserts that the world should be as is described in Songs of Innocence, but Songs of Experience shows that to be false. Humans do not act in accordance with God and nature. They fight against their steady aging and look with disdain upon those who are farther away from dying than they.
While Blake considers this mindset to be a byproduct of humanityr’s corrupted nature, Shelley views aging through the lense of Songs of Experience, burdensome and almost torturous. In To a Skylark, Shelley struggles to encapsulate the immortality of the birdr’s song in comparison to the doomed mortality of his, and mankind’r’s, own. Shelley structured the piece to mimic a prayer. The opening line reads, Hail to thee, blithe spirit! and follows with a praise of the skylarkr’s ability to sing such a heavenly song. The speaker then details the fact that the birdr’s song is not tainted as the poetr’s because it cannot comprehend the pains that accompany human existence. The skylark is not conscience of its own being, let alone its own mortality. Therefore, its song is pure, unaltered, and continuous. In contrast, a man understands the fact that he will die one day and is deeply troubled by his own consciousness. Manr’s poetry, even that concerning a happy subject, brims with the knowledge of his own death:
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs tell of saddest thought (Shelley, To a Skylark 86-90).
The speaker continues by asking the skylark to allow him to sing in a similar way, so that The world should listen then, as I am listening now (Shelley, To a Skylark 105). Unlike Blake, Shelley never explicitly references the aging process, but he discusses the prospect of death, itself. Instead of advocating an acceptance of death and its place in the natural order, as Blake does, Shelley questions the consciousness of man. Treating the understanding of aging and death as a curse, he details how a manr’s poetry could never match that of a birdr’s due to his own comprehension of his impending mortality. He ponders the depth of the knowledge of the skylark, believing that perhaps the bird is cognizant of more than humans. Thou of death must deem/ Things more true and deep/ Than we mortals dream (Shelley, To a Skylark 81-84). Therefore, Shelley claims that the burden of the human existence is not the process of aging and death, but the knowledge of its inevitability. As a fellow member of the second generation of Romantic poets, Keats also views the natural order as taxing and questions his own cognizance.
Keatsr’s poetry more explicitly references death, as he contracted tuberculosis at a young age. Like Shelley, Keats regards recognition of oner’s own mortality as true death. In Ode to a Nightingale, he stresses how much he longs for … a draught of vintage, hoping to numb his ability to contemplate the greater purpose of life. Keats states that he wants to be left alone with the nightingale to … fade away into the forest dim. He hopes to dissolve into the night with the bird, forgetting all knowledge he has of his own impending death. Keats describes the pains and sorrows of the human experience that have escaped the nightingale, as it cannot recognize its own misery (Keats, Ode to a Nightingale 11-20). Both Shelley and Keats look to nature, specifically birds, as representative of the freedom which alludes all of humanity. Doomed to feel and interpret all the sadness life entails, especially death, the poets long to be as the nightingale or the skylark, ignorant of their own precarious nature. Because the birds are not able to foresee their own deaths, their song reaches an immortal significance. The poet’s voice and message may change, but a birdr’s song remains the same from generation to generation. Keats illustrates this when he tells the nightingale, Thou was not born for death, immortal Bird! (Keats, Ode to a Nightingale 71). Aging may be apart of the natural cycle of life, but the knowledge of such a sequence is a significant burden, according to Shelley and Keats.
Blake emphasizes the necessity of accepting oner’s position in life, whether that be a young child or an elderly person. In a pre-Biblical fall, i.e. perfect, society, man and nature should have a harmonious relationship in which humans respect and work within the context of the natural order. This obviously is not actually the case in the outside world. Blake observes that men try to control nature and force it to bend to their whims, proudly thinking it will kneel to them. They feel jealousy and hostility towards those that have the things they once did, such as youth. The world described in Songs of Experience is one that Shelley and Keats try to make sense of. The two poets detail their consciousness of aging and death as burdensome and almost unnecessary. They do not advertise living within the natural order, but instead represent exactly what Blake was arguing against, not accepting your age as part of the everchanging and continuous circle of life.
William Blake And Emily Dickinson
William Blake and Emily Dickeson Both discuss love in their poems, but the kind of love their expressing are different. The way they approach and leave their poems are also both different. William Blake’s poem A Sick Rose and Emily Dickerson’s poem I died for Beauty”but was scarce are both about love but it’s very clear that these poems are very different but very similar in different ways.
They both are expressing what they feel love is for the time being. Both poems approach the topic with a distinct sense of intimacy and comfort,but express it in a dark and somber manner. A similarity that is noticeable is in the tone of the two poems. Dickinson’s and Blakes poems are fairly somber and express feelings.
William Blake, among other romantic poets may be name first asprecursor pararomanticism. Besides portraying the blissfulness of nature and earth, William Blake illustrated the pains, remorse and dark features enclosing human beings. William Blake’s “Songs of Experience” abound with the poet’s focus on the malevolent shadows of life. Hunger, poverty, exploitations, diseases, sins, social injustice and other unpleasant things affecting life catch our eyes and move our hearts while perusing the poems presented in William Blake’s “Songs of Experience.” Poor, hungry, homeless children, repressed women, people’s agonies make these poems shockingly penetrative and sadly resonant. In the poem The Sick Rose. In this poem Blake uses a rose as a metaphor for representing the troubled state of humans while tolerating concealed pains and torment which cannot be expressed. Flowers have been viewed by most of the romantic poets as lovely and attractive things but,William Blake has touched upon the secret sufferings that (based on what’s seen or what seems obvious) happy-looking faces hide. Exposure of hidden severely upset feelings instead of highlighting the joy and charms of life makes William Blake move away from the attractiveness of core romantic ways of thinking/basic truths/rules and gets him closer to pararomantic visions.Actually the Industrial Revolution in England during the beginning of 19th century started mechanizing people’s (way of living) and drove away the softness of their minds. This is the point that touched William Blake most. Pararomantic poetry is found in American books too. As shown in Pararomancism: William Blake And Emily Dickinson William Blake expresses his feelings in different ways that others weren’t expecting right away.
If we study Emily Dickinson’s poems clearly and intelligently, very deep/extreme pararomantic supports/supporting details can be traced. Emily Dickinson grew/showed/waved in America when the American Age of Understanding and American Romantic Increase in numbers (happened at the same time with a great deal of identical values and normal behaviors. While American romantic litterateurs like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau honored and praised the brilliance and beauty of life and nature, Emily Dickinson exercised most of her poetic amazing abilities on showing/representation of death. Showing the image of death again and again by Emily Dickinson (in a surprising and interesting way) went against/argued against with the wonderful and flavorsome angles of life illustrated by her modern romantic poets in America. Emily Dickinson presented together two universal things in this poem-truth and beauty– which are larger than life and for which death has been hugged/supported by millions of people through ages. The conversation described in this poem between two dead people inside their (places where bodies are buried) remind us of metempsychosis-the transmigration of souls beyond the (places that are off to the side) of death and time. (at the same time), this poem puts forwa Emily Dickinson to the readers in an especially/famously pararomanticic light. These two poets express love in simillarities.
These two poets use poems to express how they feel about love. They express love in different ways because of course their virgin of love in their eyes are going to be different. In The Sick Rose Blake explains how other people love and what it looks like in his eyes. In I died for beauty Dickinson explains how she feels about love. Two people in their death tombs talking about what they died for. Emily Dickinson and William Blake both use metaphors, and they both explain love in their own ways by the poems they wrote. They spent time writing peoms about love so that people who has read their work understands the time and place that they were coming from. Emily Dickinson is one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time. She took definition as her province and challenged the existing definitions of poetry and the poet’s work. William Blake was a 19th century writer and artist who is regarded as a seminal figure of the Romantic Age. His writings have influenced countless writers and artists through the ages, and he has been deemed both a major poet and an original thinker as said in William Blake biography. These two poets strongly express their versions of love through their indivisual poems by just letting go and let their words speak for them.
England’s Loss of Innocence: An Examination of William Blake’s Jerusalem
“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.
To what extent is Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” apocalyptic?
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 Art of Paradox in William Blake’s “London”
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.
Enlargement of Vision: The Power of Dialectical Opposites in William Blake’s Poetry
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.
Power and Corruption
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.