Consider William Blake As A Social Critic


William Blake was a pioneer of romantic revival in English literature who wrote lyrics and then prophetic poems. However, they were not to the taste of his time. He was the first to introduce the romantic note of mysticism in English poetry.

Blake was a man from the age of transition. The French revolution had a great impact on the lives of English men. Since then the society started to change. Blake became a product of that changing society.

William Blake Was An Unconventional Personality of His Time

The 18th-19th century English poet was a difficult man: odd and sensitive. He was a sort of rebel. He sometimes spoke of things no one ever thought before. Too real sounded his imaginations, like disturbing dreams, realistic maneuvers from an unreal world.

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He never tried to fit into the world. To Blake, conventional morality seemed almost entirely unrelated to true human nature. Blake, therefore, became the courageous prophet of a new morality. Different institutes like marriage, parentage, church, etc. appeared before him with new meaning. He looked at life with the eyes of experience, he found much to displease and hunt him.

“Songs of Innocence” And “Songs of Experience” by William Blake

Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” showed two contradictory states of the human mind. In the “Songs of Innocence,” Blake showed man’s prefall state. The human soul was in a world of innocence where pain, suffering, and agony did not touch them.

However, the world of experience was after Fall. Humans were tasting bitter experiences here. In the world of experience, God is even tyrannous (Tiger). His poems of “Songs of Experience” were born of deep anguish, from a storm in the poet’s soul. They were a product of violent emotions.

The poet pondered the social life facts and based on those facts, he wrote these essentially realistic poems. Some of these poems were “Earth’s Answer”, “The Sick Rose”, “The Angel”, “Garden of Love”, “London”, “The Human Abstract”, “A Divine Image,” etc. Blake attacked various institutes such as state, church, marriage, parentage, etc. in these poems.

Blake’s Realistic Picture of Human Life through “Earth’s Answer”

“Earth’s Answer” gave a realistic picture of the hindering influences which retarded and impoverished human life. “Starry Jealousy” and “Selfish Father of Men” meant God or in another way, the church. The religious doctrines symbolized both reasons and restraints of life. Earth pleaded for freedom, willing to be liberated from the “heavy chain,” which bound free love and hindered fertility.

The “Sick Rose” is a poem where the rose symbolized a young woman who is deprived of love and as a result, became sick. “That flies in the night” symbolized the priests as black robs. They destroyed the spontaneity of love and made people sick. This was a lot of a rose in the world of experience.

However, in the world of innocence, the blossom symbolized lover. Lovers were admired and the embrace took place beneath the green leaves. Thus Blake attacked the priests and the people who were fundamentalists. He treated the priests in the same manner in “The Angel,”

I dried my tears, and armed my fears

With ten thousand shields and spears

…………………………………………………….

For the time of youth was fled,

And grey hairs were on my head

William Blake, The Angel.

Blake Accused Religious Doctrines for Withholding Passion And Emotion

Blake showed that lovers were afraid to show their passion and emotion because the religious doctrines bound them to restrict the spontaneity of love. As a result, delight faded away and youth faced destruction.

Priests have been condemned in the Garden of Green. Also this garden according to Blake, was a peace like Echoing Green in the world of innocence. Old and youth, everybody used to enjoy the cerement there. But in the world of experience, a chapel was built in the middle of the garden, and instead of flower plants, there was a tombstone.

Natural pleasures had received a deadly blow. Religious people came up with laws and these laws forbade the natural play of human affections and turned joy into misery.

The human qualities we see in the world of innocence were not visible in the world of experience. In the world of innocence,

“For mercy has a human heart,

Pity, a human face

And love, the human form divine,

And peace, the human dress.

William Blake, Divine Image.

Blake’s “The Human Abstract” Depicted Man’s Cruelty Over Others

Love, one of the human qualities took the form of cruelty, jealousy, terror, and secrecy. The world of experience is a selfish world where the tiger killed the lambs. Man becomes immortal, hypocrisy and cruelty are everywhere. In the poem, “The Human Abstract”, Blake showed how man victimized others for his own satisfaction.

The man waited for a chance to prey on others. In the world of experience, man willingly made people poor and helpless, therefore, pity and mercy could be shown to them. Even so, in the world of innocence, the question of showing pity and mercy did not arise.

Blake Accused The State, Religion, Family, And Institutions for Child Cruelty

Blake bitterly dealt with the state, religion, family, and institutions in his poem, “London” and “Chimney Sweeper”. In the world of innocence, the child used to spend his time in a playful mood. But in the experienced world, society put the black suit on him and taught him the notes of woe.

The child could not even correctly pronounce the word ‘sweep’ and so it sounded ‘weep.’ It presented not hesitating to send the child to earn money for them and they went to the church for prayer. Blake here attacked state, religion, and family because they are depriving the child of its right. They were being cruel to the child.

In the poem“London,” the rebellious poet had the same treatment with the state, church, and marriage institution. The natural river Thames was called “the chartered Thames.” There was no happy face in London. The chimney sweepers and harlots cried on.

However, the king and church were deaf to these cries. What Blake wanted to say was that these institutes were not working for humanity. They were all selfish and they worked for themselves.

EndNote

Lastly, we can enumerate that Blake‘s poems were the poems of social protest, showing that Blake had done some hard thinking on the problems that society faced in his days.

Blake was something of a revolutionary in his outlook. He wanted to change the world of experience into an innocent one once again. It was hard for him to accept where he belonged.

A H M Ohidujjaman

I'm the Founder of Hamandista Academy. I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I studied English Literature and ELT. Now, I'm working as a Lecturer of English at a Dhaka-based Private University.

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