William Blake: the Romantic

William Blake was one of the first romantic poets, writing during the French and American revolutions in 1780. Romantic poets believe that people should be free to follow their own desires, everyone has a right to pursue and fulfil their desires in order to be happy, that imagination is more important than science and logic, and that childhood is important and should be innocent. Blake was a visionary writer, he talked to God and angels came to him in his dreams and visions. He translates these experiences into his poems. He viewed God as an artist, active and full of passion and love, rather than a scientist. However, Blake disliked institutions such as the Church and formal religion, the government and the royal family.
Blake believed that people should have open marriages and to enjoy sex, possibly with multiple partners, and was also against unions such as marriages. Society and the Church taught people to think that sex was sinful and wrong, whereas Blake believed sex and desire is a connection to God and spirituality. Blake was especially frustrated with the Church, he thought they were controlling people, especially the poor and working classes. These institutions would teach that although people may be poor and unhappy in this life, if they do not rebel they will be able to go to Heaven and be rewarded. This was seen by Blake as a form of brain washing,
‘London’, a poem found in Blake’s Songs of Experience, relates to the poet’s views on the English capital in the 19th century. Blake employs a consistent rhyming structure similar to that of ‘The Schoolboy’ but with shorter four line verses. The poem, written in Blake’s first person, is obviously expressing his own personal opinions. The first stanza relates to the strict uniformity of London’s plotted land (a pet hate of Blake’s) along with the poet’s observations of troubled citizens (‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe’). The second chorus style verse expands upon Blake’s views of public constraint, implying that citizens have been conditioned into believing that their lives are tolerable (‘mind-forged manacles’). Examples of which kind of people should not put up with their miserable lives are provided in the third stanza (chimney sweeps, soldiers) and the poems ends with a specific development of the life of a 19th century prostitute (‘harlot’).
The first verse of the poem relates to Blake himself wandering through the streets of London, noting the wretchedness of the unaware citizens. The poet curses the dictatorial layout of London in quiet outrage with the use of the word ‘chartered’ in consecutive lines. Blake believed that life could be better for everyone without the strict rules and regulations imposed by governing bodies, and his unusual wording plays on this fact. The ‘marks’ Blake apparently sees on ‘every face’ he passes are not of the physical variety; a deeper, more sinister interpretation relating to deprivation of the population at the time should be considered. The ‘weakness’ and ‘woe’ Blake speaks of cannot be perceived by the uncaring eye.
In the second chorus style verse, Blake attempts to show the reader the totalitarian influence of the ‘mind-forged manacles’ he can ‘hear’. The use of the word ‘every’ in three successive lines emphasises the entirety of the population he is referring to; men, women and infants alike are all included in his exclamation. Blake obviously wants the reader to realise that the ‘mind-forged manacles’ he refers to are a bad thing. Negative imagery (such as the ‘infant’s cry of fear’), the repetition of the word ‘cry’ and the relation of his statement to arguments (‘bans’) are each included to contribute towards the overall feel of sadness. The ‘mind-forged manacles’ Blake mentions associate with his view that the people of London unintentionally restrict their minds and imaginations by the ‘proper’ customs of 19th century England.
The third stanza of London subjectively considers two different figures that Blake believes have been deprived. The plight of the chimney sweep is one the poet takes particularly to heart (exhibited by other works), with once again a ‘cry’ falling upon deaf ears. This time, it is the church that is ignoring the heartbreaking situation of the young sweeps (‘How the chimney-sweeper’s cry/Every blackening church appals’). ‘Blackening’ is used here as a link to the growing pollution levels in London and as a reference the soot which covered the little chimney sweeps.
Symbolically, it may also relate to the church’s reluctance to help the sweeps which Blake thought seemed painfully hypocritical and cruel. Blake’s description of a ‘hapless’ soldier in the second half of the verse refers to the unpleasant life of many combatants. The imagery of their blood running ‘down palace walls’ relates to the many pointless wars that higher powers have deemed necessary. Meanwhile, many lives of those that could have enjoyed life have been wasted in futile struggles for supremacy.
The last verse displays another personal exasperation of Blake’s. It is made out to be of greatest importance of the three cases the poet mentions via the use of the word ‘most’ (‘But most thro’ midnight streets I hear/How the youthful harlot’s curse’). The ‘youthful harlot’ is just one of many young girls that had to resort to selling their bodies to survive. Blake attempts to relate to the situation some young women had to deal with by having no choice but to take care of an unwanted, fatherless child (‘Blasts the new born infants tear’). The poet takes upon a tone of irony in the final line as he mentions the strange image of a ‘marriage hearse’. A hearse, usually used in funeral processions, does not fit the joyful representation of a wedding. This may be a reference to the adverse affect prostitution had on a marriage both physically and psychologically. The ending of this poem is another perhaps more subtle example of Blake’s dislike for the disingenuous social culture of his time.
In conclusion, William Blake’s poems are very successful in presenting his social viewpoints. Using relatively simple language, subtle irony and sarcasm, powerful imagery and easily identifiable meanings, Blake makes sure that his points get across to the reader. It is easy to see that the Songs of Innocence and Experience are not just idle words that have wandered onto a piece of paper: Blake wrote each of his poems for a purpose and with a clear significance. William Blake was a man fighting against the mainstream opinions of 19th society. His strong willed independent attitudes meant that no matter what the odds, he would ‘stick to his guns’. Blake had an intense dislike for government and other established ruling bodies.
He believed that people would lead happier lives if left to their own devices, unrestricted by rules or regulations. William Blake was also great critic of the church, viewing them as wretched hypocrites in the battle against the evils of society. Even in today’s modern era, the central themes of his poems (poverty, social injustice, the church) still remain relevant and Blake serves a wonderful icon for those battling against such political constraints. Although his work was not truly appreciated until a century and a half after his death, Blake was a undoubtedly a genius of his time.
Blake believed that the Church was so corrupt, it brain washed individuals into not questioning fate, God and its authority. The Church would teach catechisms to small children, such as the child in The Lamb. In this poem, the young child has found a lamb and talking to it, and telling the lamb how wonderful God is and how they are both part of God. The little child is confident and asks questions to the lamb,
‘Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?’
In the second stanza, with no response from the lamb, the child continues with
‘Little lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:’
The child is brain washing the lamb, having been brain washed himself. He has been taught questions and answers, and knows that God was once a lamb and then a child, but the child no longer questions what he has been taught. He (or she) is happy and safe, and so is still in the world of innocence.
In this poem Blake is challenging the way the Church has brain washed children to not question their fate and to accept unhappiness. The child in the Lamb describes God as
‘He is meek, and He is mild;’
which to Blake is too passive. A God needs to be strong and helpful, the opposite to meek and mild. The language used is simple, and reflective of the world of innocence. For example, ‘delight’ and ‘bright’. This is also end rhyme, to emphasise the child’s delight at talking with the little lamb about his God, and how everyone is a part of him. The child rejoices in his knowledge and is proud of himself on teaching the lamb about his creator.
As a romantic writer, Blake saw God as more of an artist, and in the poem ‘The Tiger’ demonstrates what he believes God to be like. The Tiger is paired with the Lamb, and although it is in the songs of experience, the person is returning to innocence by asking so many questions. These questions, such as
‘In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What hand dare seize the fire?’
challenge God. In this poem, Blake is marvelling what kind of God could make such a beautiful, deadly creature. Blake is showing that if God can make something as gentle as a lamb, and then makes a killing machine such as a Tiger, He must be dangerous. Blake is also portraying God as a workman or blacksmith, with the line
‘In what furnace was thy brain?’.
The God in this poem, despite not answering the questions, is clearly more of an artist. He is strong and powerful, the opposite to a lamb. The use of exclamation marks throughout indicates the awe and wonder felt by the person asking the questions. The pace is fast, and is almost predatory, similar to the movement of a tiger. The pace also reflects the thoughts processes of the person asking the questions, there is a sense of excitement and the images created are vivid. Run on lines are used in the first stanza, and also in the last as the first stanza is repeated at the end of the poem to reinforce the magnificence of such a beautiful creature and its creator.
‘Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?’
The combination of end rhyme for ‘bright’ and ‘night’ and also the run on line for that sentence create a strong image of the Tiger prowling through a forest, and is clearly visible in the night. The second line rhymes ‘eye’ and ‘symmetry’ to suggest that God must be physically perfect and immortal to create such a beautiful, strong creature.
In conclusion, Blake has used his collection of poems to demonstrate many of his views on the society of his era, including his disapproval of institutions such as the church, the government and royal family, his ideas on marriage and sexuality, the neglect of the poor, and also the way the church brainwash people to control them so that they do not question anything.
Blake demonstrated his views in his collection of poems called the Songs of Experience and the Songs of Innocence. Children are born into the world of innocence, where they are allowed to be free and happy, and are also protected from the world of experience for as long as possible by adults. Blake would have hoped that adults would enter the world of experience but someday return to innocence, and protect the children. The world of experience to Blake and other romantic writers was inevitable yet a harsh, cruel and unhappy place full of restrictions and frustration. Blake suggests in his poems that people and children are not in control of their own lives, they are not allowed to think for themselves and are restricted by a corrupt, uncaring Church and monarchy.
In this essay I will discuss how William Blake objected to the poverty suffered by most of the society, neglect by the government and how children were used and not allowed a childhood. I will also look at religion’s disapproval of sex and its agreement with the state to keep the poor, ‘poor’, for their own moral good.
Durkheim theorised hi123’s marxism .
There are two ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ poems, one in the Songs of Experience and one in Innocence. The boy in the songs of innocence has maintained his innocence despite experiencing the death of his mother and his father selling him at such a young age. In this first stanza, Blake uses end rhyme for ‘young’ and ‘tongue’ to indicate how young this child is to be sold and not have a family to protect him.
”weep!’ ‘weep!’ ‘weep!’ ‘weep!”
is repeated and followed by exclamation marks to emphasise how awful that ‘weep!’ is the first thing this child says, when babies are supposedly born into pure innocence and should be happy.
‘So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.’ ,
Ends in a full stop and indicates that this child is doomed to be unhappy, he has been brain washed into accepting his situation and does not aspire to be anything other than a chimney sweeper, and believes he can only be happy in death.
In the second stanza, when Tom Darce’s head is shaved, the narrating boy is positive and practical in saying that at least the soot will not spoil his hair. Blake uses run on lines to reinforce the youth of these children, and their vulnerability with the line
coed ed” . “r se” . ed . “ed” . “w or”. ed . ” ” . ed . “k ined foed ” . ed . “!
‘ “Hush, Tom! Never mind it, for when your head’s bare
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”‘.
cogb gb” . “r se” . gb . “gb” . “w or”. gb . ” ” . gb . “k ingb fogb ” . gb . “.
Without realising, the boy is helping to brain wash Tom by telling him to accept the situation. Tom’s hair was white and with the soot had become black, symbolic of the end of innocence.
Blake believed that in dreams and in our imaginations, we are truly free. However, this boy dreams of angels. Blake is showing how deeply brain washed by the Church this child must be for dreaming of angels and still believing that if
cogb gb” . “r se” . gb . “gb” . “w or”. gb . ” ” . gb . “k ingb fogb ” . gb . “.
‘he’d be a good boy, He’d have God for his father, and never want joy.’
These chimney sweepers are so desperately unhappy, they are looking forward to their deaths in order for them to be free and happy. Blake is also criticising the God and angels in this poem for being too passive in the lives of these young, unhappy children.
Symbolic words such as ‘bright key’, ‘free’, ‘green’, ‘leaping, laughing, they run’, ‘lamb’s back’ and ‘joy’ are all associated with the world of innocence, however there are also words such as ‘soot’ and ‘coffins of black’ showing that these children are surrounded by the harsh world of experience and corruption with no protection. To Blake, the colours black and grey were the colours for the world of experience and unhappiness, whereas white and green were for the world of innocence. As the children dream of running ‘down a green plain’, it shows the children dream in the world of innocence.
The chimney sweeper in the world of experience does not even dream in innocence, he wears ‘clothes of death’.
Although this child has parents, they have left him to go to the church to pray. It is as though he has no parents, like the boy in the songs of innocence. Blake is showing that the parents have also been corrupted by the Church, and are helping to brain wash their child. Blake also explicitly demonstrates his views on the monarchy and the church in the last two lines,
‘And are gone to praise God and His Priest and King,
Who make up a Heaven of our misery.’
The full stop at the end of the sentence finalises the poem’s message that the child, along with his parents and church goers, are doomed to be unhappy whilst the Church and monarchy continue to restrict and control.
The young boy in the world of experience appears no hope of return to innocence. Unlike the boy in the songs of innocence, this child cannot even dream in the world of innocence. Blake is showing the boy is so restricted that not even in his dreams is he able to be free. In the first poem, the boy uses ‘I’ , whereas this child is described as ‘a little black thing’. This is showing that the child is not aware of its own identity, it has been so exposed to the world of experience. ‘a little black thing’ also shows that he has been corrupted, the colour black being a negative colour in the world of experience. ‘thing’ suggests that the child is of no importance to anyone, the child is weaker and more vulnerable.
He has no protection from parents or even other chimney sweepers as companions and support. He is totally alone in a world where no one, including the church, will help him. ‘Snow’ and ‘woe’ are used as end rhyme twice in the poem, emphasising that although the snow is white, a pure colour, it is cold and cannot offer warmth, linking it to ‘woe’ where the child is constantly unhappy and full of sorrow.

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