English Literature Revision - Comparison of Blake and Betjeman as social observers

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Blake and Betjeman as social observers
Blake observes the relationships between adults and children in his society,
exploring what makes for good, positive relationships and what produces
negative, destructive ones. He asks, and prompts the reader to ask, how
children should be treated so that they will be happy and will grow up to lead
balanced, productive lives both socially and personally.
Important poems
o Introduction (Innocence) The Ecchoing Green Laughing
Song A Cradle Song Holy Thursday (Innocence) Spring
Nurse's Song (Innocence) Infant Joy Holy Thursday
(Experience) The Chimney Sweeper (Experience) Nurse's
Song (Experience) Infant Sorrow.
Key points in Blake's representation of childhood:
o Adults should be responsive to children rather than trying to dominate
them or force them to behave as the adults want them to behave.
o Children should be allowed to express and develop their natural
energy and delight in life: uninhibited laughing, leaping and shouting
are good. The world of Innocence is a wild place, but this wildness is
full of creative potential.
o Children naturally create free and open relationships with each other
as they play, and this should be encouraged.
o Children enjoy simple, spontaneous songs, and should be
encouraged to take part in creating them. This is far better than trying
to teach them sober moral lessons through the didactic poems written
by adults.
o The happy energy of children can bring the whole world to life ­
echoing off the distant hills and reminding old people of their own
youth, so that a community of joyful harmony is created.
o The energy of children is powerful, like a mighty wind, the river
Thames or even the thunder that is heard "the seats of heaven
among". Their innocence can even protect them from understanding
how cruel the world is, and how they are being exploited by insensitive
adults: the victimised Chimney Sweeper of Innocence dreams of
freedom in an innocent landscape even though he cannot experience
it in his waking life. In the Songs of Experience the energy of children
can be distorted ­ see Infant Sorrow, which describes this process
beginning at the moment of birth.
o Blake's world of Innocence is guarded by gentle, strong, protective
figures (the piper, the nurse, the mother in Infant Joy) who talk and
sing to the children and do not try to stop them from playing: on the

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They behave in this positive way
because they are aware that the children's innocence will come to an
end ­ the sun will go down and the light fade away. Children must
therefore be strengthened for their encounters with the world of
o Any kind of restraint is negative. Swaddling bands (recommended in
Blake's day in the belief that they protected babies from injuring
themselves) not only restrain the child physically but also lead to sulky
resentment and the beginnings of rebelliousness (Infant Sorrow).…read more

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Songs of Innocence were being written, so the
Songs are rooted in the social reality of Blake's London.
Points about poetic technique, style, form
o Key words in the Innocence poems are glee, laughing, happy, joy, and
so on: simple language is used to create the atmosphere of
o Structure: it is important that these poems are songs, with simple
metres and rhymeschemes to create a dancing, energetic effect.…read more

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Betjeman's relationship with his own father,
bringing in his characteristic fear and resentment of death.
o Group Life, Letchworth is a comic version, but serious too, of how
oppressive liberalminded attitudes can be when they are imposed on
children. Betjeman, like Blake, does not like the idea of children being
patronised and manipulated into being "good".…read more

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London, his own city)
Important poems
o Abuse of children
o Holy Thursday (both versions) The Chimney Sweeper (both
As above (section 1): children should be nurtured by their
parents or by truly charitable institutions, not repressed and
exploited, as they are by the foundling hospitals and charity
schools of London, or the brutal system of child labour.…read more

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God's love.
o The City
o London (also The Chimney Sweeper and Holy Thursday
London is about how people's lives are controlled by charters,
which give freedom to some by denying it to others even the
streets and the Thames are chartered. The Church and the
Palace are polluted by the injustices and exploitation that they
tolerate in society, and childprostitution pollutes the world into
which new babies are born, and blights marriage with disease
and hypocrisy. (N.B.…read more

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He lived in London almost all his life, and was close to the grim reality
of life there: he really did wander through the chartered streets,
observing and recording what he saw.
o He engraved illustrations for a book about the sufferings of slaves,
and this affected him deeply. Much of Britain's wealth was derived
from the Slave Trade, and pressure for its abolition was an important
site of political and moral debate as Blake was writing these poems.…read more

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In Original Sin on the Sussex Coast it is implied that children learn
bullying attitudes from adults ("...Andrew Knox, welldressed,
wellborn, wellfed, Even at nine a perfect gentleman"), and school
does nothing to correct this.…read more

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Stylistically, again, there is a lot of selfmocking irony in Betjeman, as
well as a tone of reassurance and contentment in the poems about
happiness and security. Blake is a poet who characteristically directs
his fierce irony outwards, against the cruelty, injustice and hypocrisy of
society (as in the first stanza of The Human Abstract, or the Chimney
Sweeper poems). The nearest approach to this angry irony in
Betjeman is in In Westminster Abbey, Executive and Original Sin on
the Sussex Coast.…read more

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In both of these poems young people fall victim to repressive
religious attitudes that are associated with the authority of the
Priest and his tyrannical interpretation of the Bible (Blake loved
the Bible but thought that it was being misinterpreted by those
who wanted to exercise social control, and to do it by cruel
means). There should be no "most holy Mystery" in mankind's
relationship with God, as the true Christian message is clear to
a child (as in The Lamb).…read more


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