Poems for Religion
Blake uses poetry to criticize organised religious influence and practise, and the effects on society.
1) Holy Thursday (Inn & Exp) - These poems offer alternative views of the same scene and demonstrate the flaws and hypocrisies of religious beliefs.
2) The Chimney Sweeper (Inn) - Partly attacks the Church for instructing the poor to keep their place and wait for rewards in Heaven, rather than trying to alleviate their suffering on Earth.
3) The Garden of Love (Inn) - The deteriorating garden demonstrates the corruptive effect of the organised religion upon our natural state of being.
Poems on Experience
Blake depicts experience in his poetry to show the transformation into adults and the loss of virginity. It also references the growth of industry.
- The Tiger (Exp) - Constant questions are left unanswered throughout the poem, through experience we learn not to expect an answer. Creation epicted as painful and unpleasant. Links to industrial growth.
- The Sick Rose (Exp) - Demonstrates gaining experience through login virginity. Seems to lead to loss of status and power, and they are used for sex.
- London (Exp) - We are presented with a true view of London, corrupted and overturned by religion, war, prostitues and disease.
- The Chimney Sweeper (Inn) - Children are forced into experience early on, and only find innocence again when dreaming of death. Symbolic loss of innocence through the shaving of the young boys hair.
Poems on Pastoral and Urban
Blake uses poetry to juxtapose the beautful concepts of nature with the horrific images of the urban city in his poetry.
- The Echoing Green (Inn) - This poem is full of pastoral imagery and depicts a happy pastoral community.
- Introduction (Inn) - Depicts happiness and song, with an older shepherd-like man passing knowledge onto the child and teaching him about the world.
- The Blossom (Inn) - Full of images of the "leaves so green" and the "happy blossom", the two stanzas are poetically identical but depict the contrast between the happiness of the upper class/ lower class, or urban/pastoral.
- London (Exp) - Completely opposes pastoral imagery and shows the consequences of industrialisation and how contrasting this is from the older countryside lifestyles.
- The Chimney Sweeper (Inn) - Demonstrates how in urban lifestyles, children are not expected to play, but to work. The only relief they find from this urban lifestyle is in their dreams, which are contrasted by the focus on pastoral imagery. This is chillingly a dream of death.
Poems on Sexuality/Politics
Several of Blake's poem contain such subtle and ambiguous imagery that they are open to several valid interpretations. Often where a poem can be considered sexual on first glance, it also references industrialisation and revolution.
The Sick Rose
This poem on the surface seems to represent virginity and the loss of it, and the damaging effect of infidelity. But a deeper look reveals Blake's influences connected to the revolution and the threat to England, the "bed of crimson joy".
This poem may represent sexual innocence and sexual freedom in each respective stanza. It may also however, examine the relationship between the lower and upper classes and their complex interactions of enjoyment and pain.
London's politics and sexuality are a little more obvious, however interpretations become tangled. Is the city in ruins as a result of immoral sex, or is the immoral sex a product of the deteriorating city?
Blake's Life Experience and Influences
Blake had several influences that are evident in his poetry:
- His dislike of organised religion - Blake disliked the practices of organised religion and believed it prevented people from truly experiencing religion.
- His visions and suppression of them - As a child, Blake saw angels in trees and other visions, which he was told he should not express.
- His rejection by a lover - Blake was rejected in marriage proposal several times until he found the woman he married. Influenced his opinions on free love.
- His hatred of the city - Spending the majority of his life in London, Blake detested any kind of urban imagery and associations. His brief time outside London had a profound effect on Blake, and he unwillingly retreated from the countryside.
- The French and American Revolutions - Blake was impressed by news of revolution, of overthrowing monarchy in favour of elected rulers etc.
- Industrialisation - Had a negative effect on Blake and as much as he encouraged revolution, he was frightened by the concepts of growing industry and believed them to be evil.
- Bad Childhoods - Not particularly his own, but by the denial of children's rights to enjoy childhood whilst they were young. The conflict between innocence and experience reflects this.
- His art - It is important to not simply regard Blake as a writer and poet - he was an artist and engraver, and this may have reflected how much imagery Blake fills his poems with.
Innocence and Childhood Quotes
Introduction (Inn)"On a cloud I saw a child, and he laughing said to me"
The Lamb - "Softest clothing woolly bright, gave thee such a tender voice"
The Echoing Green - "Old John with white hair, does laugh away care"
The Echoing Green - "Till the little ones weary, no more can be merry."
Holy Thursday (Inn) - "Walking two by two in red and blue and green."
Holy Thursday (Inn) - "Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands"
The Divine Image - "Mercy pity peace and love"
Nurse's Song - "No no, let us play, for it is yet day and we cannot go to sleep"
The Lamb - "Dost thou know who made thee"
The Echoing Green - "Make happy the skies, the merry bells ring"
Chimney Sweeper - "And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy, he'd have God for his father, and never want joy"
Holy Thursday (Inn) - "Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor. Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door."
London - "Every blackening church appals"
The Tiger - "Did He smile His work to see? Did He who made the lamb make thee?"
Holy Thursday (Exp) - "Babe can never hunger there, nor poverty the mind appal"
The Garden of Love - "A chapel was built in the midst where I used to play on the green."
The Chimney Sweeper - "Your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep."
The Chimney Sweeper - "His head that curled like a lamb's back was shaved"
The Echoing Green - "And sport no more seen on the darkening green"
Introduction (Exp) - "Calling the lapsed soul, and weeping in the evening dew"
Earth's Answer - "Stony dread! and her locks covered with grey despair"
The Tiger"On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand dare seize the fire?"
The Sick Rose - "And his dark secret love does thy life destroy"
London - "In every cry of every man, in every infant's cry of fear, in every voice, in every ban, the mind-forged manacles I hear."
Nurse's Song (Exp) - "The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind, my face turns green and pale."