Blake Being a Man of His Time

Blake Being a Man of His Time

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Blake Being a Man of His Time

William Blake was born in 1757, the third son of a London tradesman
who sold knitwear (hosier). Blake lived in London which dominated much
of his work. He was a British poet, painter, and engraver, who
illustrated and printed his own books. He spent most of his life in
relative poverty. He was very influenced by his brother’s death which
he claimed he saw "ascend heavenward clapping its hands for joy" who
died of consumption at the age of 20. He uses the illustrations and
engravings in his work to express his visual, spiritual and psychic
views about the society he lived in.

Blake was tuned to the huge social and political forces of the late 18th
century. This can be seen in Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’ as he uses two
symbols of revolution; French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution
which both happened in the 18th century! The title ‘The Tyger’ is a
symbol which was used in 18th century newspapers, similar to Blake’s
symbolic description of the French Reign of Terror. The ‘Times’
newspaper talked about the Reign of Terror as a Tyger: “a tiger
stalking the streets of Paris”. This ‘Tyger’ was used to symbolize the
power, machinery, evil, violence and energy of the revolutions going
on at this time. The description ‘Tyger Tyger burning bright’ is a pun
because ‘burning’ could be seen to represent destructiveness whilst
‘bright’ is a deep, powerful word for revolution. In the third line
‘What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ which
has a questioning tone, means that Blake is awestruck on what kind of
God would want or allow the French Revolution. In the second verse
which talks about Satan’s energy, it starts with a questioning tone
about heaven or hell ’deeps or skies’. The question ‘Burnt the fire of
thine eyes’ is addressed towards Lucifer (the Devil). Verse two and
three shows the imagery of the industrial revolution ‘In what furnace
was thy brain’. Blake says God is a blacksmith who wrestles with power
and energy which is beneficial and at the same time destructive.

In the fifth verse:

‘When the stars threw down their spears

And water’d heaven with their tears:

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?’

This is saying that if there were only good and no evil, there would
be no good because there would be no comparison to what is good and
what’s not. He basically says man needs a bit of ‘lamb’ (goodness,
kindness, peace) and a bit of ‘Tyger’ (power, strength).

Blake’s poems don’t just speak about his current times but can apply

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to nowadays. ‘The Tyger’ is a time symbol of revolution because it can
relate to modern society: huge powerful machines such as the nuclear
power station. It can relate to the revolution in his time; such as
the French Revolution (1789) and the Industrial Revolution but can
also relate to more modern revolution; such as the Russian Revolution
(1917).

Blake did not just dislike the church and revolution but also
criticizes and explores the effects of a culture governed by
commerce. This can be seen in the poem ‘London’. This poem talks about
a London which is overpowered by commerce, government and religion.
One of the main places where he enforces this in this poem is on line
four ‘Marks of Weakness, marks of woe’ which means the people (London)
allow themselves to be controlled by commerce. The word ‘marks’ is
also repeated in this sentence twice and once earlier on; this is a
politician’s method to repeat the same word three times to enforce his
subject. The phrase ‘charter’d street’ in the first line suggests that
every street is filled with commerce and instead of a list of
freedoms; there is a list of restrictions. This word is also repeated
on the second line; ‘Near where the charter’d Thames does flow’ which
is saying that every street and river is devoted to making money and
even though the river is symbol of peace and freedom, it is a type of
harnessed freedom.

Blake doesn’t just see London governed by commerce but a corrupt
government and monarchy. In the second verse Blake says ‘The
mind-forg’d manacles’ which is a metaphor meaning that people’s minds
are in chains and people mindlessly accept a monarchy, a corrupt
government and the misery of every day existence because the church
brain-washes people into not rebelling and to put up with their
terrible lives.

However, I think Blake’s attacks of the church seem to be of the late
18th century because of his poems such as ‘Chimney Sweeper’, ‘Little
Black Boy’ and ‘Sick Rose’. In the chimney sweeper the children are
made to think that no matter how dreadful the church is, in the after
life you will be with god, and the children will be celebrating this.
They are also brain washed from the church and the society of that
time to make the children accept their lives as slaves.

In the poem ‘Little Black Boy’, black people are indoctrinated from
the church and the society to think that white is superior and that
black is horrible thing to be and they should look up at the white
people. A mother gets told this from the church and so therefore it is
passed down the family. These are told to them because they believe
the church and think the church is good so they put up with a bad
life.

This can also be shown in the poem ’The Sick Rose’. The name Rose is a
metaphor for a flower, a name, love, passion, joy and England. It is
saying that England is diseased and it’s people are turning unhealthy.
This can be shown because it is saying that the priest can’t have sex
so they try to stop others.

On the other hand it is wrong in saying that attacks of the church
seem to be of the late 18th century because there is still racism and
social injustice. We are still indoctrinated but in many different
ways by adverts, media, technology and government etc.

Blake’s poems in the Songs of innocence and Experience can relate to
his time but also modern society. His psychic and emotional views
about the society he describes are relevant to the 18th century, but
they are also relevant today.
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