William Blake Essay, Research Paper
Innocence & Experience in Blake’s Poetry
William Blake focused on biblical images in the majority of his poetry and prose. Much of his well-known work comes from the two compilations Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The poems in these compilations reflect Blake’s metamorphosis in thought as he grew from innocent to experienced. An example of this metamorphosis is the two poems The Divine Image and A Divine Image. The former preceded the latter by one year.
Blake’s poems of innocence and experience are a reflection of Heaven and Hell. The innocence in Blake’s earlier poems represents the people who will get into Heaven. They do not feel the emotions of anger and jealousy Satan wants humans to feel to lure them to Hell. The poems of experience reflect those feelings. This is illustrated by comparing and contrasting A Divine Image to a portion of The Divine Image.
A Divine Image gives human characteristics to the feelings of cruelty, jealousy, terror, and secrecy. The poem begins, “Cruelty has a human heart.” This implies cruelty is an innate part of humans. It resides deep in everyone, just waiting for the right moment to emerge. The poem continues, “And Jealousy a Human Face.” Cruelty can be a product of jealousy. Jealousy is the driving force behind acts of violence in countless poetry and prose prior to and beyond Blake’s writings. A good example comes from Pope’s The Rape of the Lock. The Baron cut Belinda’s hair out of desire for her, but Clarissa helped him complete the cruel task by providing the scissors. She did so out of jealousy because she was in love with the Baron.
The third line, “Terror, the Human Form Divine,” represents the purest feeling of humanity. People want to believe in God, but no matter how much they want to believe the terror resides in their soul they are wrong. Satan feeds off of this terror to make people doubt Heaven and come towards Hell. Line four, “And Secrecy, the Human Dress,” represents how well humans hide these feelings of doubt and terror.
Blake wrote these same lines in his poem The Divine Image. In his innocence, “…Mercy has a human heart,/ Pity a human face:/ And love the human form divine,/ And Peace the human dress.” This represents the acts and feelings associated with Heaven. To be with God and obtain peace, humans must show mercy, pity, and love for others. That is the direct opposite of the secrecy of cruelty, jealousy, and terror humans begin to feel.
The concluding lines of A Divine Image describe how humans mask these feelings. “The Human Dress is forged Iron,” suggests humans protect themselves with their class and status. It is their weapon against the world to keep others from knowing of their terror. “The Human Form, a Fiery Forge,” suggests Hell begins within. ‘Forge’ also means to falsify which suggests an internal struggle because of the false appearances of the human dress.
“The Human Face, a Furnace seal’d,” supports this argument. The face is a mask that keeps the truth of the struggle from emerging. It hides the cruelty, jealousy, and terror. The concluding line, “The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge,” suggests Blake feels humans crave these negative feelings. It means the struggle between Heaven and Hell will exist in everyone because it is innate in the human heart. That is a sad conclusion to reach because it means no one can truly be at peace.
Blake was an expressive and complex writer. The metamorphosis of his writing from Songs of Innocence to Songs of Experience suggests he dealt with personal turmoil in his life revolving around religion. It appears he believes he cannot keep himself from Satan’s lure any longer.
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