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William Blake Essay, Research Paper

William Blake


William Blake wrote during the Romantic period which was a span between 1785 – 1830. Other great writers during this time were Mary Wollstonecraft, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and others. Some said that the Romantic period was the fairy tale way of writing through symbolism and allegory and also an age for individualism. A crucial point by Romantic theorist referred to the mind, emotions, and imagination of the poet (Abrams, et al 5). In comparison to Blake?s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience Northrop Fry?s distinction between the imagined states of innocence and experience is stated as thus:

world of innocence: unfallen world/ unified self/ integration with nature/ time in harmony with rhythm of human existence.

world of experience: fallen world/ fragmented divided self/ alienation from nature/ time as destructive, in opposition of human desire (Feldman).

This can be seen in ?The Lamb,? and ?The Chimney Sweeper;? from Songs of Innocence and in Songs of Experience ?The Tyger,? and ?The Chimney Sweeper,?.

Blake was little known as a poet during his lifetime. His reputation became established late in the 19th century. Blake?s first book of poems was Poetical Sketches. This book of poems showed his dissatisfaction with the reigning poetic tradition and his restless quest for new forms and techniques (Abrams, et al 19). Blake was said to write symbolist poetry in which things such as a cloud, a flower, or a mountain was presented as an object imbued with significance beyond itself (Abrams, et al 8). Blake along with other poets explored visionary states of consciousness that are common among children but violate the standard categories of adult judgement (Abrams, et al 10). This can be seen in Blake?s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. In Songs of Innocence the speaker is often a child and in Songs of Experience the speaker is often an adult (Mack, et al 184). This could be due to the fact that children thought to be of what innocent adults have already ?experienced.?

Blake experimented with partial rhymes and novel rhythms and employed bold figures of speech that at times approximate symbols. One of the strongest features in Blake?s philosophy was his belief in imagination as an active force. He attacked rationalism, authoritarianism, industrialization, and organized religion as destructive of creative and spiritual energies(Feldman). Blake said that the two group of poems Songs of Innocence and of Experience represent the world as it is envisioned by what he calls, ?two contrary states of the human soul,? (Abrams 19). In the Songs of Experience, such as ?London? and ?The Tyger,? Blake achieved his mature lyric techniques of metaphor and symbol which explode into a multiplicity of references (Abrams, et al 19). The Song of Innocence is almost full of brightness, cheer, and peace yet, the Songs of Experience is depicting a world worn and full of miserable human beings (Mack, et al 785).

Blake?s works range from simplicity and lyrical style as in the Songs of Innocence and Experience to more elaborate style such as in The Four Zoas. For some, Blake?s works can be difficult at times. One reason is that the reader is reading Blake?s visions in Blake?s own terms (Dover). Blake said that, ? The Nature of my Work is Visionary or Imaginative.? What he meant by this is often misinterpreted; on that note Blake said, ?that which can be made Explicit to the Idiots is not worth my care?(Abrams).

Even the introduction song to the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience is a good example of not only Blake?s views of the role of Innocence and Experience in regeneration, but also the complexity of the seemingly simple songs (Magill, et al 208). Some symbols in the poems are for instance the lamb in the Song of Innocence. The lamb is a symbol of Christ and his pureness and innocence. The poem, ?The Tyger,? has a few symbols also one of which is the lamb again and the tyger itself. In the poem Blake says, ?did he who made the lamb make thee?(line 20)? This represents the purity of the lamb and the beast in the tyger and Blake is wondering how something so vicious could be created by God. The poem ?The Lamb,? and the poem, ?The Tyger? depict the nature of perception in those states and the contradictions which abide in each state (Magill, et al 209). Other symbols in his poetry are in the ?Introduction,? the child on the cloud perhaps meaning pureness. Also in ?Earth?s Answer,? when he refers to Earth rasing her head up is very visionary and imaginative.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience illustrate two imaginative realms: the state of innocence and the state of experience. They represent two different ways of seeing, and this is seen is Northrop Fry?s distinction between the two in paragraph one. In the song ?The Lamb,? the child knows the lamb is innocent and pure. The speaker says, ?he is meek & he is mild? (line 15), this represents the unfallen world. Time in harmony with rhythm of human existence is represented in ?The Chimney Sweeper,?. The child knows of death but also of living after death and having hope. The speaker speaks of his mother dying, this is the death part, and then has a vision of an Angel taking chimney sweepers to heaven. The fallen world is represented in Songs of Experience in the song ?The Tyger?. The speaker knows that everything is not perfect including the tyger although he and the lamb were created by the same person, some sense of understanding is established. Time as destructive in opposition of human desire is represented by ?The Chimney Sweeper?. The speaker in the poem is older then in the one in Songs of Innocence. The speaker knows of death because both of his parents are already dead probably and he is just trying to make it in society by being a chimney sweeper.

Many critics have commented and explored Blake?s works. The poet Wordsworth commented that, ?there is no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in his madness which interests me more than the sanity of the Lord Byron and Walter Scott.? Another poet John Ruskin similarly felt that Blake?s work was ?diseased and wild? even if his mind was ?great and wise.? Carl Jung referred to Blake as a visionary poet who had achieved contact with the poetic well spring of the unconscious. Blake was said to see visions as early as age four. These visions included seeing trees filled with Angels, and God looking at him through the window. Many for this reason thought Blake mad.

Were the critics right, was Blake genuinely mad, or was he just a poet trying to make a name for himself? His works were somewhat unique, and he did use a lot of new techniques. I found his work to be rather interesting and unusual. I thought he used great metaphors and comparisons in his works. His works were full of symbols and symbolism. He did do a lot of fairy tale writing as the critics said took place during the Romantic period. He used his mind, emotions, and imagination to portray his thoughts and feelings in his work. Overall Blake?s works were different, although the public did not recognize them as good poetry during the period in which he wrote. Today Blake?s poetry, as well as his art, are greatly appreciated. Doing research on the internet I discovered this. There were many web sites dedicated to him and his works.

Abrams, M. H, et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 2. NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 1993.

Abrams, M. H. English Romantic Poets. London: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Dover, R. William Blake (1757-1827): Poet, Artist, and Engraver. Online. World wide web. Avaliable at http://io.newi.ac.uk/rdover/blake/welcome.htm.

Feldman, C. William Blake. Online. World wide web. Available at http://www.mindspring.com/~cfeldman/blake.html.

Johnson, Mary and John Grant. Blake?s Poetry and Designs. NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 1993.

Mack, Maynard, et al. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 1995.

Magill, Frank, et al. Critical Survey of Poetry. New Jersey: Salem Press Englewood Cliffs, 1982.

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