How does William Blake use his work to show his disapproval of the society of his time?

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William Blake, a visionary writer and one of the pioneering romantic poets, emerged during the tumultuous era of the French and American revolutions in 1780. Romantic poets championed the concept of individual freedom, emphasizing the pursuit and fulfillment of desires as essential for happiness. They valued imagination over science and logic, while also recognizing the significance of an innocent and cherished childhood. Blake’s unique experiences included conversing with God and experiencing the presence of angels in his dreams and visions.

In his poetry, he transforms these encounters into artistic expressions. Blake saw God as a passionate and loving artist, rather than a scientist. Nevertheless, he harbored a distaste for institutions like the Church, formal religion, the government, and the royal family. Furthermore, Blake advocated for open marriages and the freedom to engage in sexual experiences, potentially with multiple partners. He also opposed conventional unions like marriage.

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Society and the Church indoctrinated individuals to perceive sex as immoral and incorrect, whereas Blake perceived it as a conduit to God and spirituality. Blake particularly resented the Church, believing it manipulated and oppressed the impoverished and laboring masses. These establishments propagated the notion that, despite their current poverty and misery, individuals would attain eternal bliss in Heaven if they obediently submitted. Blake regarded this teaching as a manipulative tactic akin to brainwashing. He expressed his perspective in his compilation of poems titled “Songs of Experience” and “Songs of Innocence.”

Children are born into a realm of innocence, where they are free and happy, shielded from the world of experience by adults as long as possible. Blake desired for adults to delve into the world of experience but eventually return to innocence and safeguard the children. The world of experience, according to Blake and other romantic writers, is unavoidable yet brutal, harsh, and sorrowful, burdened with limitations and disappointment. In his poetry, Blake implies that individuals and children lack control over their own lives, prohibited from independent thinking and constrained by a corrupt, apathetic Church and monarchy.

I will discuss William Blake’s objection to society’s poverty, government neglect, and the exploitation of children in this essay. I will also explore how religion discourages sex and collaborates with the state to perpetuate poverty for moral reasons. Two versions of “The Chimney Sweeper” exist, one in Songs of Experience and another in Innocence. The boy in Songs of Innocence retains his innocence despite the death of his mother and being sold by his father while still young.

Blakes uses end rhyme in the first stanza to convey the young age of the child who is being sold and does not have a family to protect him. The repetition of “weep!” followed by exclamation marks highlights the terrible nature of this child’s first utterance, which contradicts the belief that babies are born innocent and happy. The line “So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.” signifies the child’s unfortunate fate and acceptance of his situation as a chimney sweeper. It suggests that he does not aspire to anything more and believes that true happiness can only be found in death.

During the second stanza, there is a moment when Tom Darce’s head is shaved. The narrator, a young boy, remains optimistic and pragmatic by pointing out that at least the soot won’t ruin Tom’s hair. Blake employs run-on lines to emphasize the children’s youthful nature and vulnerability. Specifically, the line “Hush, Tom! Never mind it, for when your head’s bareYou know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.” subtly reveals the boy unknowingly contributing to Tom’s indoctrination by encouraging him to accept his current predicament.

Tom’s hair, originally white, has turned black from the soot. This transformation symbolizes the loss of innocence. According to Blake, dreams and imagination offer true freedom. Yet, this particular boy dreams of angels, suggesting he has been heavily influenced or indoctrinated by the Church. He still believes that if he behaves well, God will be his father and he will never lack joy.

In this poem, Blake conveys the desperate unhappiness of chimney sweepers who eagerly anticipate death as their means to attain freedom and happiness. Additionally, Blake criticizes the passivity of God and angels towards these sorrowful children. Symbolic words like ‘bright key’, ‘free’, ‘green’, ‘leaping, laughing, they run’, ‘lamb’s back’, and ‘joy’ are associated with the realm of innocence. However, there are also words like ‘soot’ and ‘coffins of black’ that demonstrate the harsh realities of experience and corruption surrounding these children without any form of protection. For Blake, black and grey represent the world of unhappiness and experience, while white and green represent the world of innocence.

Both the children who dream of running ‘down a green plain’ and the chimney sweeper in the world of experience have different experiences. The children dream in a world of innocence, while the chimney sweeper wears ‘clothes of death’ and does not dream in innocence. Despite having parents, the chimney sweeper is neglected by them as they go to the church to pray, making him feel as if he has no parents, similar to the boy in the songs of innocence.

Blake is highlighting how the parents, like the Church, are involved in indoctrinating their child. He explicitly expresses his opinions on the monarchy and the church in the final two lines: “And are gone to praise God and His Priest and King, Who make up a Heaven of our misery.” The period at the end of the sentence solidifies the poem’s message that the child, along with his parents and other church attendees, are destined to be unhappy as long as the Church and monarchy persist in limiting and manipulating. The young boy in the world of experience seems to have no chance of regaining innocence.

Unlike the boy in the Songs of Innocence, this child is unable to dream in the world of innocence. Blake demonstrates that the boy is so constrained that even in his dreams, he lacks freedom. In the initial poem, the boy refers to himself as ‘I’, while this child is depicted as ‘a little black thing’. This illustrates that the child is unaware of its own identity as it has been greatly exposed to the world of experience.

The inclusion of ‘a little black thing’ implies the corruption of the child, as black is a symbol of negativity in this context. The use of the word ‘thing’ implies that the child is insignificant and lacks protection. Being weaker and more vulnerable, the child does not have the support of parents or even other chimney sweepers. The child exists in complete isolation, with no assistance from the church or anyone else.

The poem uses the words ‘Snow’ and ‘woe’ as end rhyme twice, highlighting that despite snow being a pure color, it is cold and incapable of providing warmth. This connection is made to ‘woe’, where the child is consistently unhappy and sorrowful. The two poems are juxtaposed to present the contrast between a child in a state of innocence and one who has experienced the world’s hardships. Although the child in the songs of innocence is not joyous, there remains a glimmer of hope. The child finds solace in their innocence, but we can sense that their circumstances are so dire that they may one day have to face the harsh realities of the world.

‘Infant Joy’ and ‘Infant Sorrow’ share the theme of childhood. In my interpretation, ‘Infant Joy’ represents Blake’s concept of ultimate innocence. The infant in the poem is only two days old and has not yet been given a name. While an adult attempts to name the child, the baby resists, content in its label-free state and untouched by the influence of adults and worldly experiences.

The adult is searching for a way to gain power and control over the pure state of happiness the baby possesses from birth. They attempt to do so by questioning the baby’s refusal to have a name. However, the baby is conveying to the experienced adult that it is already as happy as it can be without a name. The adult is amazed by the baby’s blissful state, as indicated by the use of exclamation marks.

The adult desires the infant to remain innocent, but the structured stanzas indicate the unavoidable transition into the world of experience. Symbolic terms like ‘sweet,’ ‘Joy,’ and ‘happy’ are consistently employed to strengthen the infant’s delight in its innocence. Nevertheless, the adult compromises the infant’s purity by giving it the name ‘Joy.’ Despite the absence of periods implying a grim future for the child, the poem concludes with an exclamation mark, expressing the adult’s astonishment and enthusiasm upon witnessing such a blissful and unrestricted infant.

Infant Sorrow depicts a newborn entering a world marked by experience. The initial words ‘My mother groaned, my father wept’ suggest an unhappy marriage that is unlikely to provide a nurturing and protective environment for the child. Blake held strong opinions against marriages. During his time, women often married for financial support and social status rather than for love.

According to Blake, women engaged in prostitution by marrying without love for their husbands. This, in turn, caused unhappiness for both the women and any children that resulted from these unions. Blake saw marriage as the cessation of desire, sexuality, and personal freedom. The poem “Infant Sorrow” serves as an illustration of this perspective, as it portrays parents who do not appear joyous or content with the arrival of a new baby, suggesting that the infant is unwanted.

The phrase ‘Into the dangerous world I leapt;’ illustrates the child’s possession of some energy and resilience. The use of a semi-colon indicates a brief pause following the outburst of energy and liveliness from the infant. Although struggling initially, the infant eventually surrenders, depicted as ‘sulking upon my mother’s breast.’ A full stop symbolizes a barrier, representing the infant’s entrapment in the realm of experience. Despite ‘striving against my swaddling-bands,’ the battle concludes when the child is no longer unrestricted and vulnerable. Blake’s poem “The Echoing Green” portrays an environment that he desires all children to grow up in, one where they are safeguarded for as long as feasible by wise and pure-hearted adults referred to as ‘old folk.’

Both the character named Old John and the green scenery symbolize purity and innocence. Old John, with his white hair, is seen laughing. The children are delighted, as evident from the use of words like ‘happy’, ‘merry bells’, and ‘cheerful’ to describe the green environment. This greenness is also a symbolic representation of innocence. The language utilized is straightforward, illustrating the simplicity of innocence. The title ‘Echoing Green’ implies that the children are surrounded by the greenness, creating a protective atmosphere. The term ‘echoing’ further suggests the resemblance to church bells ringing in celebration of the arrival of Spring.

The children spend the whole day running around and playing sports until they become exhausted. Their homes are mentioned as nests, providing safety and protection for the children as the Green darkens. The poem subtly implies that despite the happiness of this place, it cannot endure. As the children play, the sun sets, symbolizing the loss of innocence.

The sun is personified and could also symbolize religious significance, suggesting that it is Christ watching the children play. The use of commas throughout the poem portrays a sense of happiness, allowing both children and adults to pause and observe, as if time could stand still and they have the leisure to enjoy themselves. The final line, “And sport no more seenOn the darkening Green,” is a run-on sentence that emphasizes the end with a full stop, indicating the loss of innocence for these children. Additionally, the end rhyme between “descend” and “end” further underscores the conclusion of their childhood.

Blake held a strong belief that society was being overlooked by the state, resulting in widespread poverty and unhappiness. In his collection of poems called “Songs of Experience,” the poem ‘London’ stands out as a major expression of Blake’s anger towards the society of his era. Through referencing London, the capital city of England, Blake suggests that the entire country is equally troubled. The rhythm of the poem mirrors that of a person walking and observing the people of London as they go about their lives.

The narrator observes that every person they pass in London is visibly burdened with “marks of weakness, marks of woe.” The phrase “cry of every man” implies widespread unhappiness, reflecting the ubiquity of these experiences. This unhappiness is evident on people’s faces, suggesting that suffering is prevalent and pervasive throughout the city. The use of the word “chartered” conveys the idea that nothing is free and highlights people’s greed through the creation of tolls. The presence of restrictions in London is also mirrored by the use of commas within the stanza. The people, in turn, are controlled by “mind-forged manacles,” vividly depicting the extensive brainwashing that must be occurring within society.

In the third stanza, Blake once again mentions chimney sweepers crying and a ‘blackening church’, indicating the increasing corruption of the Church and its lack of concern for the young chimney sweepers. Blake employs end rhyme to accentuate the similarity between the people in London and slaves, such as the use of ‘every man’ and ‘every ban’ to convey various restrictions hindering happiness. The use of such rhyme scheme also implies that the sounds in London are gloomy, with people constantly ‘sighing’ and an overwhelmingly negative environment. Blake’s use of run-on lines mirrors the prevailing unhappiness in London.

In the third stanza, Blake expresses his anger towards institutions like the royal family and the Church through the run-on line “And the hapless soldier’s sigh/Runs in blood down palace walls.” Blake disapproves because, while those in the palace are safe, soldiers are dying. “London” serves as Blake’s exemplification of the worst kind of experience, and it is juxtaposed with the peaceful scene of the Echoing Green.

The two environments bear stark contrasts, and the vocabulary employed in London reflects the realm of familiarity. Blake establishes an association between marriage and death through the line ‘And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.’ Once more, Blake expresses his disapproval of matrimony by suggesting that it resembles death; once wedded, one’s freedom ceases, rendering existence akin to being deceased. Utilizing the poems the Garden of Love, the Blossom, and the Sick Rose, Blake conveys his grievances towards the Church and religion for deeming sexuality and desire as sinful.

The Garden of Love and the Sick Rose are both included in the songs of experience. In the opening stanza of the Garden of Love, the garden symbolizes the character’s sexuality and happiness. In the center, a chapel has been constructed where the character used to engage in leisurely activities. The chapel represents religion that inhibits the person from experiencing sexual pleasure. Once the character starts questioning the morality of their desires, they can no longer go back to being carefree and enjoy sex.

The horror and shock of suddenly being unable to play on the green is amplified by the ‘ – ‘ at the end of ‘And saw what I never had seen – ‘. The church is shown to be preventing this person from freely enjoying what they would like to do, as the second stanza quotes one of the Ten Commandments, ‘”Thou shalt not”‘. In the third stanza, the horror of seeing that the Garden has changed is described as ‘And I saw it was filled with graves, And tombstones where flowers should be;’, creating a strong image of death and the end of enjoying sex in innocence. The final two lines depict priests in black gowns walking their rounds and binding with briars this person’s joys and desires.

The text highlights the transformation of the character, who has permanently lost their innocence. The person’s happiness is now intertwined with feelings of shame, as indicated by the connection between joy and briars. The individual’s freedom is now constrained due to brainwashing and self-regulation, which is attributed to the Church’s involvement. The presence of black priests in the chapel further strengthens the barriers established by the Church. The punctuation, consisting of commas, full stops, and semi-colons at the end of each sentence, serves as a symbolic representation of how the world has become akin to a prison.

The Sick Rose explores sexuality within the realm of human experience. As an artist, Blake attributed metaphorical significance to the rose, often representing a woman and purity. The title implies that the individual referred to as “sick” is deemed so due to their enjoyment of sex, which goes against societal expectations for women. The emphatic exclamation mark following the opening line, “O Rose, thou art sick!”, mirrors the disgust felt by either the woman herself, burdened with guilt and shame, or by a potential discoverer of her secret.

The woman is aware that her forbidden pleasure is prohibited, as indicated by the lines “The invisible worm that flies in the night, in the howling storm.” This worm symbolizes brainwashing and doubt seeping in, while the storm represents the internal turmoil and unnecessary guilt that she feels when she becomes ashamed of herself. The use of a full stop after this line highlights the barrier that has been created, possibly by the Church. In the second stanza, the extended line “He has found out thy bed of crimson joy;” signifies the end of happiness for the woman. As a result, she changes her behavior, ultimately leading to the destruction of her life and any chance of returning to innocence.

The Blossom is juxtaposed with the Sick Rose and explores the concept of embracing sexuality in a state of innocence. Blake employs the imagery of two birds, a sparrow and a robin, to illustrate how the sparrow finds joy in engaging in sexual activity while the robin laments and squanders the opportunity. By sobbing, the robin signifies its presence in the world of experience. Blake underscores the naturalness of sex by using these two birds, and further emphasizes this notion with the lines “Sees you, swift as arrow, Seek your cradle narrow.” These stanzas are compact and highlight the limitations of the world of experience for the sorrowful robin.

According to Blake, the Church’s corruption was so extensive that it manipulated individuals into unquestioningly accepting fate, God, and its authority. As part of its teachings, the Church would instruct young children in catechisms, as seen in the poem “The Lamb.” In this poem, a young child encounters a lamb and engages in a conversation with it, praising the greatness of God and emphasizing their mutual connection to Him. The child displays confidence and poses questions to the lamb, such as “Little lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?” Despite receiving no response from the lamb in the second stanza, the child persists in trying to indoctrinate the lamb, reflecting his own prior indoctrination.

According to Blake, the child is aware of the teachings about God being a lamb and then a child, but they no longer question their beliefs. Despite being content and secure, the child remains in a state of innocence. This poem challenges the Church’s influence in discouraging children from questioning their fate and accepting unhappiness. Blake finds fault in how the child describes God as meek and mild, seeing it as a passive depiction.

In order for a God to be considered strong and helpful, they must be the opposite of meek and mild. The language utilized is uncomplicated and mirrors the realm of purity. For instance, terms like ‘delight’ and ‘bright’. There is also the presence of end rhyme, which serves to highlight the child’s joy in conversing with the tiny lamb about their God and how every individual is connected to Him.

According to Blake, the child is filled with joy and pride as he imparts knowledge to the lamb about their creator. As a romantic writer, Blake sees God more as an artist, which is reflected in his poem ‘The Tiger’. Despite being in the songs of experience, the person is able to return to innocence by asking numerous questions about God. These thought-provoking questions challenge God’s nature and origin, such as ‘In what distant deeps or skiesBurnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What hand dare seize the fire?’

In this poem, Blake marvels at the creation of a beautiful yet deadly creature, questioning the nature of the God responsible for such a contradiction. By juxtaposing the gentle lamb and the ferocious tiger, Blake suggests that if God can create both, He must possess a dangerous and enigmatic side. Moreover, Blake presents God as a skilled craftsman or blacksmith, as indicated by the line “In what furnace was thy brain?” Despite leaving his questions unanswered, Blake portrays God more as an artist in this poem.

The person asking the questions is in awe and wonder of him. He is powerful and strong, like a tiger. The fast pace and use of exclamation marks convey excitement and vivid imagery.

Both the first and last stanzas employ run-on lines to emphasize the beauty of the tiger and its creator. The repetition of the first stanza at the end of the poem serves to reinforce this magnificence. ‘Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright/ In the forests of the night/ What immortal hand or eye/ Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?’ The use of end rhyme with ‘bright’ and ‘night’ combined with the run-on line creates a vivid image of the tiger prowling through a forest, particularly visible during the nighttime. The second line rhymes ‘eye’ and ‘symmetry,’ suggesting that God must possess physical perfection and immortality to fashion such a splendid and powerful creature. Ultimately, Blake’s collection of poems serves as a platform to express his societal critiques, including his disapproval of institutions like the church, government, and royal family, as well as his thoughts on marriage, sexuality, poverty neglect, and the manipulative tactics employed by the church to stifle questioning.

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