William Blake Essay, Research Paper
With detailed reference to at least two poems, discuss how a poet has used poetry as a powerful instrument for social comment.
Living in a world without modern technology and media. William Blake (1757 – 1827) used his poetry as a powerful instrument for social comment. This is particularly evident in Laughing Song and London taken from The Portable Blake. The two poems present conflicting views of creation and mankind. In his innocent years, Blake saw the world as a joyous meadow, natural and free. However as he grew with experience his naive ideology was tainted with images of war and devastation. Blake s purpose in writing these poems is to position his readers to see the world as it lies before them, unmasked and raw. He is inviting society to take a stand against the degradation of our land and our people, a timeless invitation. To do so Blake exploits the traditional poetic conventions of persona, form, language, tone and atmosphere.
The persona of both Laughing Song and London is Blake himself. However he is writing in two opposing states of mind. Laughing Song comes from the Songs of Innocence, a collection of celebratory poems, offering a view of the world with the voice of joy though perhaps through rose-coloured glasses. Blake is simply enjoying nature, and through this is therefore praising God. In London however, the glasses are removed and Blake s images of a once merry scene are lost, replaced by charter d streets . Coming from the Songs of Experience, Blake is presenting his perceptions of a changed world, moulded and suppressed by human hands.
To structurally support meaning, Blake has exploited the form of both poems. Laughing Song consists of three, simple, four-lined stanzas. Perhaps representing succinct periods in Blake s childhood. Beneath the apparently simple form however, lies an intricate web of complex meanings. Although ordered, Blake s use of rhyming couplets and longer lines stress the delight in nature and the harmony between nature and man. In London , all harmony is lost, and therefore so is the coupled rhyme pattern. Alternate lines rhyming in five quatrains replace it, emphasising the disjointed city, lacking in society love and unity.
Language, and in particular, imagery plays a vital role in Blake s poetry to convey meaning. Perhaps this is because Blake was also a talented artist and was therefore able to make images come alive on the page. In Laughing Song , Blake uses light and joyous terms to describe the world around him. The green woods provoke images of lush nature, spring and happy times. However at the same time Blake is commenting on society s attitudes by personifying the woods, stream and meadow. The woods and meadow laugh whilst the dimpling stream suggests a wide smile on the face of a child, enjoying God s creation. The children have sweet round mouths representing their innocence and purity, their voices singing the sweet chorus conjure an idyllic scene.
However in the third verse, perhaps representing the end of Blake s childhood he notes the painted birds . An image of a man made creature, seemingly apart of the natural world but not quite the same. This is linked with the table constructed by man, spread with cherries taken from nature for human purposes. Thus the final verse leads into London , where many man made structures have replaced God s own creation. In London Blake, through his use of language, exhibits a contradictory view of the world. In comparison to the green woods , in London lies charter d streets . Gone is the image of a dimpling stream , replaced by the charter d Thames . This implies a world that was once free and natural is now constricted and repressed. Also depicting an evil world is the paradox, marriage hearse in London . Blake has forced together two conflicting images of joy and sadness, relating this to the joy that has disappeared from the world replaced by sadness.
The people too, are changed and suffering. The children s singing in Laughing Song is a contrast to the infants cry of fear , coupled with the cry of every man against social conformity, marked with woe . The mind-forg d manacles , that is, chains made by the mind, bind and imprison humanity, restraining the marginalised groups in society.
Blake provides a voice for these marginalised groups in London society, those isolated on the bottom rung of the social ladder. In particular, the Chimney-sweepers , young children forced to work in slave labour conditions. In his poem The Chimney Sweeper in the songs of Experience, Blake explores the plight of these underprivileged youths. They have been robbed of their childhood dreams and clothed in clothes of death and taught to sing the notes of woe . Whilst the boys are sent out to sweep chimney s the girls are forced to work the streets under Harlots curse in order to survive. Ironically they are pushed out from society and then are mocked for not conforming to society morale.
Another marginalise group in society Blake foregrounds in London are the hapless soldiers . Those who fought for their country their blood (running) down Palace walls , perhaps a reference to the English colonial wars, are now looked down upon by the fellow countrymen they died to save. Blake is criticising war for the damage it does to society infrastructure.
The widely contrasting imagery and themes explored in Laughing Song and London create juxtaposed atmospheres. Laughing Song has a celebratory mood, Blake is celebrating nature and the beauty of creation. He is also praising God for enabling man and creation to live in harmony in this merry scene . This is evidence of Blake s value of Christianity and Christian beliefs. Through his poem, Blake places importance on the philosophy of love life while you can .
London , however, has a more sinister tone. Blake is critical of society, particularly the industrialists. The green woods and dimpling stream celebrated in Laughing Song have been bound and restricted by progress and onset of technology. Blake values the freedom of nature, writing at the time of the great industrial revolution. He is speaking out against the destruction of the meadows and abuse of precious natural resources, to make way for heavy industry and with that, capitalism. However it not just the environment or political system that Blake is critical of and fears is being conformed, but more importantly the people. The upper class and high figures of theocracy are have marginalised the lower class, in particular street children, and excluding them from society.
A Blake poem that has both a celebratory mood of children, nature and God and a critical tone of autocratic control is Holy Thursday . Foregrounded in this poem is Blakes celebration of children walking through the streets of London, singing and praising God. The children are portrayed as innocent and pure, white as snow . However they are merely puppets controlled by the beadles , the hierarchal figures of the church and the upper class, who refuse to help the needy and marginalised groups of society, driving an angel from your door .
In conclusion, it can be seen that Blake holds many strong values and attitudes that he conveys through his poetry, using his works as a powerful instrument for social comment. This is shown through his exploration of the destruction of both nature and society in the seemingly very different though in reality linked poems, Laughing Song and London .
Handley, Graham (ed); Brodie s Notes on William Blake s Songs of Innocence and Experience Pan Books Ltd, London, 1992.
Kazin, Alfred (ed); The Portable Blake Penguin Books, New York, 1976
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