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Comment on William Blake’s themes, language and imagery
In this coursework I intend to comment on William Blake's themes,
language and imagery, in his poetry. I will also discuss to what
extent he can be regarded as relevant for contemporary readers.
Blake, who was widely self-taught, was, however widely read. His
poetry shows the influence of the German mystic Jakob Boehme, for
example and of Emanuel Swedenborg. As a child, Blake wanted to become
a painter, and by the age of 12 he was diligently collecting prints.
He was also writing poetry: the lyric "How sweet I roam'd from Field
to Field" is thought to have been written before he was 12.
At the Royal Academy, Blake established friendships with such artists
as John Flaxman and Henry Fuseli, whose work may of influenced them.
The volume of Blake's poetry, published by Flaxman was a collection of
Blake's youthful verse. Amid its traditional derivative elements are
hints of his later innovative style and themes. As with all his
poetry, this volume reached few contemporary readers. In 1789, unable
to find a publisher for his Songs of Innocence, he and his wife
engraved and printed them at home, and also produced The Book of Thel.
Both these early works display stylistic and ideological
characteristics that become more marked in Blake's later work.
Blake's main pre-occupations and themes in his poetry are of religion,
innocence, environment, and conformity. As one of the early Romantic
poets, Blake was writing in opposition to the eighteenth-century Age
of Reason and the so-called Enlightenment.
In most of poems in Songs of Innocence, there is a reversal of the
expected hierarchies. The effect is subversive: that is, the poems
reject the authority of the dominant culture over the individual and
the authority of the rational mind over the imaginative faculties. The
child is resurrected within the adult. Imagination, desire, and
creative energy are released and liberated.
Whereas in Songs of Experience, we encounter the dark underside of the
virtues upheld in traditional children's literature. Many poems reveal
the perversion of natural creative energy that results from repression
Holy Thursday is from Songs of Innocence and has a religious theme
which is shown from the start in its title. It is to do with children
attending church as they are seen as innocent and pure. It is a
religious hypocrisy as it talks of:
"these flowers of London town."
This is referring to the people in the church, he is saying they see
themselves as good religious folk who pride themselves in attending
church even though do nothing else to help others.
There is the imagery of the children seen as lambs. This suggests they
are innocent and trusting in their elders, however they are lambs to
the slaughter. They are being forced to conform by their elders. In
the first stanza, there is the binary opposition of the vibrant
colours of the clothes the children are wearing and muted tones of the
beadles grey hair and white wands. White usually connotes purity and
innocence. Here, however, it is used ironically. These "Wise
Guardians" are nothing of the sort and participate in charitable acts
for their own glorification.
When the children enter the church, Blake contrasts them to the river
"like Thames' water flow."
Blake does this as they are both large flowing masses, and the river
Thames is running alongside the children. Blake suggests that both the
vast number and the idea that they could have an effect if they worked
on a concurred fashion. Instead they merely follow innocently,
trustingly like lambs. A lamb of God is a lamb that is being
sacrificed to God. It is a sacrifice of innocence. These children are
like lambs of God being led to the slaughter. This poem is written in
rhyming couplets to give the effect of a children's rhyme, indicating
innocence. This gives it a rigid structure and an easy rhythm. Blake's
poems were often very lyrical as if they were intended as songs; this
poem is an example of that.
This poems contemporary relevance is mainly evident in the last two
lines of this poem. It is hidden in sarcasm; it talks of the old men
"wise guardians of the poor."
These men are the beadles. A beadle is a minor official of the church;
they have the power to punish minor offenders. These men punished the
poor greatly for minor offences. The line after they are described as
"Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door."
This is saying if these men are the guardians of the poor, then take
pity on the poor and these children in case you drive an angel from
The next two poems I will write about are two that contradict each
other; they are The Tyger, and The lamb. These two poems reveal the
two sides of Blake's literatural stance and reveal much about his
Published in 1794 as one of the Songs of Experience, Blake's The Tyger
is a poem about the nature of creation, much as is his earlier poem
from the Songs of Innocence, The Lamb. However, this poem takes on the
darker side of creation, when its benefits are less obvious than
simple joys. Blake's simplicity in language and construction
contradicts the complexity of his ideas. This poem is meant to be
interpreted in comparison and contrast to The Lamb, showing the "two
contrary states of the human soul" with respect to creation.
The imagery of the tiger is dangerous and exciting whereas the lambs
imagery is of innocence, joy and beauty. In describing the tiger, we
are transported into a highly metaphorical setting of a blacksmith's
forge, which Blake's imagination sees as the only possible source for
the creation of anything so awesome. And since we are talking about
the Creator of the World and the Universe, not just of the tiger, it
is fair to say that the 'Tyger' symbolises all that is awesome,
fearsome and predatory in the world we live in and beyond. The Tyger,
compared to The Lamb, uses more blunt, unsettling imagery:
"forests of the night"; "Burnt the fire of thine eyes; "dread
hand dread feet"; and the mention of the "hammer", "chain", and
With Blake using the hammer etc. in this poem, you could make the
point that The Lamb is a representative of the pastoral age, when
people kept sheep and lived mainly in the countryside, whereas The
Tyger reflects the rapidly expanding industrial age in which Blake
lived at the time of writing this poem. In contrast to the lamb, the
tiger is presented as a ferocious animal of:
This shows that a truly skilled, immortal, metaphorical blacksmith
must of forged this beast.
The Lamb is presented as meek and mild, a creature with
"Clothing of delight" and a "Tender voice".
It is a creature that reflects the qualities of Jesus Christ, the so
called Lamb of God, in Biblical text, just as we are meant to reflect
the image of Christ as a man.The Lamb contains very gentle language:
"By the stream and o'er the mead"; "Softest clothing, wooly, bright";
"He is meek and he is mild".
This builds the image of an innocent, helpless creature, in complete
contrast to that of the Tiger.
This poem has a singsong, nursery rhyme rhythm. Also the narrator
finally tells the lamb who and what he is. The imagery, rhythm, and
sound all point to unaware innocence. The poem is written in
simplistic language with few syllables, in an almost child-like
rhyming style, with a consistency of vowels and in rhyming couplets.
The whole poem gives the idea of life and existence, and more
importantly the beauty in which it was supposedly created by God. This
is a complete opposite to The Tyger, where Blake questions whether or
not the same creator, that created the lamb, could of created such a
monstrosity in the Tiger's form, which in fact relates to the
environment that is around him.
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