Blake’s Songs of Experience was published in 1794 against the backdrop of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror and England’s war with France. Blake, an English Jacobin who, as his biographer Gilchrist writes, “courageously donned the famous symbol of liberty and equality—thebonnet-rouge—in open day; and philosophically walked the streets with the same on his head” (93), was by this date becoming increasingly disenchanted in his hopes for sweeping political reform in England. One does not often speak of Romantic poets as political activists. (1) The image of the Romantic poet most common is the one put forth by Stanley Applebaum, who writes, “Even today the word poet conjures up the Romantic notion: an individualistic, inspired seer revealing his inmost thoughts in a spontaneous upwelling of emotion” (“Introduction” iii). This essay will endeavor to show that the Romantic emphasis placed on the individual’s creative power is a direct response to the gradual dissolution of feudal ties and class distinctions into the two great classes of bourgeoisie and proletariat. Further, Blake’s poetry will be considered as an exception to the image of the Romantic poet in social isolation drawing his inspiration from Nature. This exception is due in large part to Blake’s nearly lifelong residence in the heart of London.
For many, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are the archetypical English Romantic poets. Wordsworth especially conforms, in large part, to the stereotype discussed above. Applebaum informs his reader that Wordsworth’s “‘religion’ of nature provided the Romantics and their successors with one of their major abiding themes. The poet’s boyhood in the rugged and picturesque Lake District of northwestern England instilled th...
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...-democratic revolution can be dated to 1776. The American Revolution—the first successful revolution to established a system of government which broke with feudalism—is arguably the turning point in the bourgeoisie’s struggle for economic supremacy.
“Appal.” AskOxford. 6 Dec 2007 < http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/appal?view=uk>.
Applebaum, Stanley, ed. English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1996.
Gilchrist, Alexander. Life of William Blake. 1880. Vol. 1. New York: Phaeton P, 1969.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. 1848. New York: Signet, 1998.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. On the Social Contract. Trans. and ed. Donald A. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.
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