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
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.
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
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
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
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 .
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 .
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 .
(ed); Brodie s Notes on William Blake s Songs of Innocence and
Experience Pan Books Ltd, London, 1992.
(ed); The Portable Blake Penguin Books, New York, 1976
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