During the Romantic era, many significant events or occurrences had taken their places such as Industrial Revolution, French and American Revolution, Period of Enlightenment and also opposition to realism and scientific rationalization of nature. All of these events however, had triggered many poets to write or express their thoughts, beliefs and feelings through their poems and works that many of us today have analyzed and even criticized.
During this time, several poets were kind of actively involved in a literary movement known as Romanticism and they were William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Samuel Coleridge and other famous poets in his time. William Blake as one of the members of the movement can be considered as a very radical poet during that time for he was somehow preoccupied with the issues of liberalism, radicalism and also nationalism later on. He was portrayed as someone who was hostile towards all the revolutions and series of oppressions that had happened.
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During his lifetime, he was known as a Romantic poet, a painter and also an engraver. Although he was unlikely to be prominently recognized throughout his lifetime, he is now somewhat a renowned figure of Romantic era owing to his literary works and visual arts. It was said that myriad of his works are very eccentric and complex for the people back then in the late 18th century and early 19th century. According to one of his best companions, Henry Crabb Robinson, Blake was a genius artist and poet that his wits and intelligence were indescribable.
Apparently, he was also considered as a Romantic poet due to the reason that many of his poems were composed illuminating these situations or conditions of living in the England throughout his days. William Blake was perceived as someone who is visionary. Most of his poems were inspired and visualized through nature and supernatural elements that he then conveyed in his poems. It appears that he somehow could see visions during his early days. He started seeing other realms and even sometimes angels.
This statement however can be proven through a recording; “God ‘put his head to the window’ and he screamed, at the age of four; and that he saw angels walking among haymakers in the fields around London at a similar age. ” (Marsh, 2001, p. 199) It seems that his visions were undoubtedly one of his ways of elucidating his new idea or insight. It is also noticeable that all of his visions were rational and insightful despite of many skeptical arguments about his visionary ability.
Particularly, Blake’s poetry concerned about the ideas of visions and imaginations where the themes were centralized upon childhood and innocence together with radical and extreme ideas related to nature. It was also believed that his concept on vision acted as a basis upon his dogmatic beliefs. What can be deduced is that Blake was implementing the idea that vision is actually more real as compared to the oppressed and exploited world that we have witnessed with our senses. The fact that he used vision to give such unique and prophetic symbolisms to what happened during the time he lived in is very fascinating and appealing.
For instance, we can see through his famous works such as the Songs of Innocence and of Experience. In both songs, he portrayed the deterioration of the innocence of children that were being oppressed and used by the society during that time for their selfish needs. In regard to the series of oppression and other occurrences that had happened in the society, Blake then channeled his thoughts, feelings and emotions through his poems. We can see that during the time when revolutions took their places, the focal points were only on democracy, material wealth and suppression.
In spite of many political revolutions during his era, Blake however, was not aggressively or actively involved in any political party or revolt but he rather criticized or showed his rebellion through poetry. For example, an allusion to those revolutions had been made by Blake as to portray the political, economical and social turbulences that the people during that time had to endure. London is one of his poems alluding to the critical condition in London at that time. In the poem, Blake was merely describing the helter skelter living society that he lived in and how it was dominated by materialistic people and exploitation of class power.
Through London, he used symbolic allegory that symbolized his rebellion against the oppression that people in his society had to suffer. Industrial Revolution that was said to be improving the life condition of the people was merely half truths. Indeed, the cost of living during that time increased rapidly that it caused poverty since the living cost doubled promptly. Only few people in the society survived the Industrial Revolution while many of them could not endure the condition that seems to be worsening.
Therefore, all these revolutions that occurred in that era actually had ignited the spark that triggered Blake to indirectly write London and other poems related to the current condition during the Revolutions era. Since Blake was known as a person who really critiques the oppression of people especially children, The Chimney-Sweeper from the Songs of Experience (1793) is one of his poems depicting the cruelty of the adults during those days towards the innocent children. Some critics have come into consent that this poem was inspired by the protest against the law of exploiting the children as chimney sweeps.
Regrettably, the law was slackly enforced and Blake was very bothered by this matter and thought that a great emphasis should be instigated in fighting for the children’s rights. Chimney sweeping at that time was considered as a dangerous job due to the reason that they had to clean and remove the soot and the children could die from inhaling these particles because it can somehow suffocate them. Yet the parents of the children forced and pushed their children to come out from their childhood and work as a chimney sweep meanwhile they were living carefree without holding up the responsibilities.
It can be seen in the lines from The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Experience,1793); “Where are thy father and mother? Say! They are both gone up to the church to pray. ” This line clearly highlights the abuse of the children by their own parents. The parents were willing to send their children off to work as chimney sweeps while they were slacking off and devoted themselves to the negligent religious institution which was the Church. This shows that the parents failed to raise their children well and not defending the children’s rights but rather, they violated those innocence’s rights.
For that aforementioned reason, Blake in this poem also criticized the Church for their ignorance and inconsideration towards the children through last stanza; “And are gone to praise God and his priest and king, Who make up heaven of our misery. ” Here, Blake tried to prove that the Church as a religious institution had failed to nurture the children and unacceptably, they even took advantage on the children’s innocence mind and pure heart. The fact that they had received such devotion, adoration and even monetary support that the children earned from their oppressive and dangerous work were very frustrating and unacceptable.
The authority of the Church during that time seemed to be domineering without having a second thought that they had caused misery and agony to the innocent children whom were supposed to live brightly and lightheartedly. He later was influenced by Emanuel Swedenborg who wrote a theological work entitled Heaven and Hell. Blake then, satirized the oppressive authority in church and state through one of his influential work entitled The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Nonetheless, it can be noticed that Blake worshipped the Bible.
It was just that he was rather unreceptive to the church during that time due to their many corruption and treachery. For instance, he still imitated some Biblical prophecy and employed it in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It can be seen through the depiction of his Proverbs of Hell which he impersonated the Book of Proverbs. What makes it difference from the latter is that his Proverbs of Hell are rather provoking and ironical as compared to the Book of Proverbs. Basically, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is somewhat an expression of Blake’s personal thoughts as to show opposition to the corruption of the authority during his time.
He wanted to bring to light the cruel and exploitive nature of conventional morality and institutional religion. In this poem, Blake tried to enlighten us that every human is contrary to God’s nature and that he believed that evolution and advancement of human requires contraries. When talking about religious institution during his days, we can see that Blake was quite heated and furious with the religious authority that he thought were supposed to be reinvigorating the political, economic and social system for the betterment of the society during that era.
Through his poems such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that has been aforementioned before, Holy Thursday, The Little Vagabond and a lot of his other poems, it is crystal clear that Blake was very disappointed and frustrated with such hypocrisy that the church and state authority had exhibited. In Blake’s view, the authority as a leader should guide the flock and not oppressing them especially the innocent children. Furthermore, the religious institution such as the church and the state during that time were aid to be against human reasoning. Due to this reason, many of the philosophers and poets including Blake came out and yearned for the free play of emotions, imaginations and creativity especially during the Period of Enlightenment. During the period of Enlightenment, Blake was said to be conflicting with the Enlightenment philosophy that was widely propagated at that time. It has been abovementioned before that Blake was really into his visionary beliefs and the period of Enlightenment merely hindered the free play of visions and imagination.
All the thoughts must be bounded to the logical thinking and reasoning only. This had caused the rise of Blake who was very into his visionary ability and undeniably because as we can see, most of his works were inspired by God, imagination, untouched nature, supernatural element and also mythical symbolisms. Blake even went up against Newton’s theory of the universe through one of his poems, Jerusalem; “I turn my eyes to the Schools & Universities of Europe And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton. lack the cloth In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation; cruel Works Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic Moving by compulsion each other: not as those in Eden: which Wheel within Wheel in freedom revolve in harmony & peace. ” Blake was considered as a rebel of Enlightenment in the sense that he rejected and criticized logical thinking and reasoning. However, it has been claimed that indirectly, he was somehow merging the rejection of the authority with the narrow conception of the Enlightenment.
Additionally, Blake also criticized the issues of sexuality during that the Romantic era. Besides being one of the members of the Romantic Movement, he was also a predecessor of a movement called “Free Love” movement. This movement basically opposed the conventional form of marriage which was during that time was considered as a form of social and financial enslavement. He was really against the denial of natural sex by the adults during that time and had expressed his thoughts through his several poems such as The Sick Rose, The Blossom, The Echoing Green and many more.
In one of his poems, A Little Girl Lost from the Songs of Experience he highlighted the issue of natural sex and its interference by the adults during that time. Mainly, he wanted the reader to get the picture about how love and sex was portrayed during his time. He was very much disagreed with the idea that natural sex and love were regarded as a crime in the eyes of God and the people in that era. He expressed his indignation through the first stanza of the poem; “Children of the future age, Reading this indignant page,
Know that in a former time Love, sweet love, was thought a crime. ” In short, Blake was trying to tell us how religious and social laws had confined us to a specific mindset that having a natural desire of love and sex was considered as a crime to his society in his days. Blake, on the other hand, did not want the society to be enslaved by the oppressive religious and social laws form by human. He opted for such an expressive society who could express themselves without feeling dismal and torn apart.
In a nutshell, it is acknowledged that William Blake is a Romantic poet through his usage of symbolic allegory, metaphor, and a bit of his revolutionary spirit. We could see from Blake how his poetry permanently represents his rebellion against the abuse of power of the authority during his day during the days of revolutions that came to happen during his existence. It is very interesting that he can come up with such symbolic allegory of those revolutions and beautify them with such visions and subjective imagination.
What makes his poetry even inspiring is that how he relates his magnificent poems to the situations that happen in his time. All these show that he was very sensitive towards his surrounding and he wanted his society to live without feeling depressed and oppressed. Moreover, Blake also has his own opinion about his religion and he somehow campaigned and showed his outrage against dogmatic religion that one must abide to all core principles of the religion such as conforming to the religious nstitution and authority. Initially, most of his poems showed attitudes of rebellion and insurgence of religion, authority and society. But towards his old days, he highlighted more on forgiveness, redemption and emotional authenticity. On the whole, his poetry was formed based on his concerns about the society wholly and also relatable to individuals. Not only that, his poems also reveal the situations that happen to occur during his days that we can figure out and understand and even learn from them.