Power and Corruption

June 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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