WILLIAM BLAKE Essay, Research Paper
WILLIAM BLAKE : A MAN BEFORE HIS TIME
William Blake was a critic of his own time and was a prophet of times to come (Mooney William Blake?s Relevance to the Modern World 3). Blake, who lived in the latter half of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth, was a profoundly stirring poet who was, in large part, responsible for bringing about the Romantic movement in poetry; was able to achieve ?remarkable results with the simplest means?; and was one of several of the time who restored ?rich musicality to the language? (Appelbaum English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology 5). He was an accomplished poet, as well as a painter and engraver (Mooney 3).
Blake lived during a time of intense social change. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial revolution all took place during his lifetime. These changes gave Blake a chance to see the most dramatic stages in the transformation of the Western World (Europe) from a somewhat feudal, agricultural society to an industrial society where philosophers and political thinkers such as Locke, Franklin and Paine championed the rights of the individual (Mooney 5). Some of these changes had Blake?s approval; others did not.
One example of Blake?s disapproval of changes that happened in his time is shown in his poem ?London?:
I wander thro? each charter?d street,
Near where the charter?d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant?s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg?d manacles I hear.
How the Chimney-sweeper?s cry
Every black?ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier?s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.
But most thro? midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot?s curse
Blast the newborn Infant?s tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.
This poem is from his work Songs of Experience. In ?London?, which has been said to sum up many implications of Songs of Experience, Blake describes the woes that the Industrial Revolution (with its mechanistic, heartless, clocklike insensitivity) and the breaking of the common man?s ties to the land have brought upon him (Mack The Norton Anthology: World Master Masterpieces, Expanded Edition, Volume 2 785). For instance, the narrator in ?London? describes Thames and the city streets as ?chartered? (Blake first wrote ?dirty?, then ?cheating?; the word may be an ironic allusion to ?Rule Britannia?) (Frye William Blake 6), or controlled by commercial interests: he refers to ?mind-forged manacles? (Blake?s original version was the ?German forged links?, which might reflect popular resentment at the presence of Hessian and other German mercenaries in the city) (Frye William Blake 6); he relates the every man?s face contains ?Marks of weakness, marks of woe?; and he discuses the ?every cry of every Man? and ?every Infant?s cry of fear.? He connects marriage and death by referring to a ?marriage hearse? and describes it as ?blighted with plague.? He also talks about ?the hapless Soldier?s sigh? and the ?youthful Harlot?s curse? and describes ?blackening Churches? and palaces running blood (?London?) (Mooney 12).
Blake?s vision gains depth as well as complexity. Simple ?songs? turn out to be intricate knots. Lines between innocence and experience blur (Albright A View on William Blake 1). Blake tried to express his own system of political, religious, and philosophical ideas. ? I must Create a System, or be enslaved by another Man?s,? he said. His poetic efforts to make his ?system? are complex and difficult; they are far different from the simple, direct songs that he first wrote and for which he is best known (Harcourt Adventures in Poetry 399). He wrote a complementary set of poems; Songs of Innocence, which shows life as it seems to innocent children, and Songs of Experience which tells a mature person?s realization of pain and terror in the universe. In reading selections from both books, one can come to understand the meaning of Blake?s two worlds, innocence and experience. They represent a fundamental, natural transiting in life. And it was these two states, these two kinds of visions, that Blake later tried to unite in his efforts to make a ?system?. Blake had an enormous reverence for life. He knew that people must grow, that they cannot remain as children, that they must take their place in society. But the cruelties of society outraged him. The outrage Blake expressed is directed toward those who believe that they are worthy of heaven and that their society is secure, although they are oblivious to the cruelty they exert upon other creatures. All life, all creation was precious to Blake; he wanted his readers
?To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.?
And something like this vision, Blake believed, was possible for the child (Harcourt 400,404).
Blake did however, approve of some of the measures that individuals and societies took to gain and maintain individual freedom. ?He was liberal in politics, sensitive to the oppressive government measures of his day, [and] favorably inspired by the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolution.? (Appelbaum 5)
The similarities between our own age and Blake?s are striking. Blake had the Industrial Revolution; we are living in the age of the Information Revolution, which is with the Internet, entering a new phase which will enable information to be distributed on a scale never before possible. Blake lived in a time when greedy, upper-class capitalists exploited the working class for personal profit. Blake lived in an age when Deism, a faith that denied any possibility of direct experience with God, had captured the minds of the more intelligent people of the West; we live in an age of doubt, searching, rejection of traditional dogmatic religion, and science with no mystical experience. Certainly Blake?s vision of a personal mythology actualizing an individual, revealed religion can offer as much to our society as it did to Blake?s (Mooney7).
William Blake also writes many poems about nature. Blake feels that nature can be an escapefrom the fakeness of the world. But Blake uses God as nature.
God appears and God is light
To those poor souls who dwell in night,
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in the realms of day. (Auguries Of Innocence)
Blake finds happiness and comfort in God. Reguardless of what ones life may be like, God will bring
joy into it.
If he'd be a good boy, He'd have God for a father, And never want joy.
(The Chimney Sweeper: When My Mother Died I Was Very Young)
Blake writes in a heavily mechanical rhyme scheme. His style and structure relate to his ideas.
Blake uses blank verse to match his subject. In "Proverbs of Hell", Blake uses blank verse. He wants it to sound ugly so he uses zero rhyme meter.
Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plow.
Blake saw many pitfalls in the world and of religion and thought. Many of his poems comment on the
ugliness of the world and the beauty of the world. Blake was very visual. He tried to bring his poetry alive
by using much symbolism.
In conclusion, Blake was definitely born before his time. His ideas reflect the rebellious ones of today and had he been acknowledged and studied during his lifetime, we might have been different. It only takes one person with an idea and the power to lead people to create a way of thought. People don?t know the way things are unless they experience them. Better said, ?The true method of knowledge is experiment.? (Blake All Religions are One 23).