How does William Blake use symbolism to comment on society in Songs of Experience?
William Blake was a revolutionary philosopher and a poet who felt compelled to write about the injustice of the eighteenth century. Blake was a social critic of the Romantic Period, yet his criticism is still relevant to today’s society. Blake encountered many hardships in his life, including an arrest for making slanderous statements about the king and country. All of the events that Blake endured in his life had a great influence on his writing. When Blake wrote the Songs of Innocence, his vision of his audience might have been a little blurred.
The audience that Blake’s writings were influenced by what were wealthy “soul murderers”, who bought young children from their poor parents for the purpose of enslaving them. They forced young children to perform jobs that were inapt and dangerous for humans to implement.
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An audience, therefore, have to take into consideration the mental state of the speaker created by Blake. In William Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Experience. The story is told by a little boy. In this particular poem, the speaker is “a little black thing among the snow”.
The little boy is black because he is covered in soot from the chimney that he is forced to clean, but how are readers to know this unless we are familiar with the term “Innocence”? Later in this poem of “Experience” the little boy talks about smiling “among the winter’s snow”, giving the reader the impression of a white, snow-capped environment. The image we get from reading “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Experience is that of a small, lost and abandoned, maybe an African-American child lying in the snow crying because his parents went to the church to pray for what they want, which is not him.
This image does is not precise to the thoughts of William Blake and what he is trying to put across, but this poem is in ‘Songs of Experience’, so Blake expects the reader to have read some of the poems in ‘Songs of Innocence’, and to understand that when he says a “little black thing”, he is not referring to the racial background of the child. And when he talks about “thy father and mother”, Blake is not referring to a happily married couple. He is implying that society, religion, and the government share responsibility in the persecution and destruction of children.
The ironic thing about this, however, is that a reader who does not understand Blake’s intentions can still enjoy this poem. There are many types of irony that Blake uses in his writing. In “The Chimney Sweeper”, for example, the little boy cries, “And because I am happy, & dance and sing”. It is somewhat obvious that Blake’s speaker is being cynical and says the opposite of what he actually wants us to believe. By reading the rest of the poem, it is easy to perceive that the senses of joy and happiness do not subsist in the boy’s life.
The main themes of Blake’s poem “The Chimney Sweeper” deal with four general areas of human existence: the nature of humanity, the nature of society, the nature of human-kind’s relationship with the world, and the nature of our ethical responsibilities. Blake wrote “The Chimney Sweeper”, with the intentions to proclaim his belief that everybody had a particular role in the community. The family one was born into determined what he or she would do for the rest of his/her life, no matter what aspirations or dreams he/she might have. This is the category the speaker of the poem falls into.
He is a “Chimney Sweeper”. He was forced into this job without a choice, and so he says, “They think they have done me no injury”. Many people wonder, who are “they”? “They” are the same people who influenced Blake’s writing in the first place. In The Songs of Innocence, there is another poem called “The Chimney Sweeper” which is a complete anonym to the poem analysed previously. Although the two poems are different, they are both constructed from the same viewpoints. One is presentable to immature readers because it has more characterization.
Characterization is the author’s presentation and development of characters. To understand the characterization in The Songs of Experience, one has to be able to understand “The Chimney Sweeper” in The Songs of Innocence. The only characterization is that of the little boy and his disapproval of his life and his unhappiness. Though the poem is short, it would still do the speaker an injustice to say that his character is simple, especially when it is extremely prevalent that Blake’s attitude toward his speaker is supportive.
When considering a particular idea, event, or even a setting of William Blake’s poems, it is imperative to notice his choice of words when he describes the little boy. He gives the reader the impression that maybe he himself was somewhat of a deprived child. Blake is not straightforward in expressing his stance, but it is clear what he implies from the emphasized manifestations that he creates when he talks about the little boy “Crying ” ‘weep,’weep,” in notes of woe! ” In the examination of this poem, innocence, faith, and lack of self-worth are the predominant themes of the poem.
By studying these themes, a very accurate picture of the speaker and learning about innocence and experience is gained. Unlike other poems, which illustrate innocence as something to be treasured, this poem illustrates a sad innocence that is better grown out of. In William Blake’s songs of Innocence and Experience, the gentle Lamb and the fierce Tiger contrasts between the innocence of youth and the experience of age. Blake makes it clear that the poem ‘The Lamb’ point of view is from that of a child, when he says “I a child and thou a lamb.
Whereas the poem ‘The Tyger’ was written from the perspective of a more experienced person who had seen all of the evil in the world. Blake questions the creator of the lamb and he compares the lambs’ characteristics to its creator. In ‘The Lamb,’ William Blake explains that God can be like a child, meek and innocent, “He is meek, and he is mild/ He became a little child. ” When one thinks of a child they see someone who is meek, pure, and unclear of the world. So a child is like a lamb someone who stands for purity.
In this poem Blake is explaining that God considered himself to be like a lamb, innocent and meek when he says, ” He is called by thy name, / For he calls himself a Lamb”. A person would never know that God has different faces until one really comes to understand by their own ideas on a personal level who God is and what he is capable of doing. In ‘The Tyger,’ William Blake explains that there is more that meets the eye when one examines the creator and his creation, the tiger. All throughout the poem Blake questions the creator of the tiger to determine if the creator is demonic or godlike.
Blake asks “Did he who made the Lamb make thee? ” Blake questions whether the same person that created the gentle lamb could be capable of making such a vicious beast, the tiger? Blake has no answer for this question; it is left up to the reader to decide. Blake relates the tiger’s environment to one during the Industrial Revolution when he says, “What the hammer? What the chain? / In what furnace was thy brain? “. This symbolizes what Blake’s childhood was like to him and how society treated different people.
It asks God why he made evil people as well as good people in the world, why make a society that could so easily go corrupt and sinful? This is one of Blake’s trains of thought between the poems ‘The Tyger’ and ‘The Lamb’ The one thing that makes Blake’s work slightly different and more original is that most of his poems are centered around his faith in God. Blake was a man of creativity, one that was widely misunderstood by society. To make poems about the faces of God is truly wonderful to people who share his beliefs. He demonstrates to the world that as a writer he personally understands some of the faces of the God he believes in.
In these faces of God, Blake made some fascinating revelations on what society was becoming to be. He related these revelations by subtly making comments, and remarking on the faults of society in most of his poems, mainly from ‘Songs of Experience. ‘ The foundation for a lot of Blake’s poems was society and the things he found appalling in it. For example, in his reflection of “London,” William Blake laments the poverty faced by the lower class of modern, industrialised London, and he can find no note of consolation or hope for their future.
Blake uses this theme to dramatically depict the conditions in which the oppressed lower class is forced to live; he develops the theme through the use of sounds, symbolism, and an ironic twist of words in the last line that expresses Blake’s ultimate belief in the hopelessness of the situation. The poem is dominated by a rigid meter that mirrors the rigidity and the helpless situation of the lives of the poor and the oppressive class system. The first stanza begins with Blake describing someone who sounds most likely to be himself walking through the “charter’d” streets of the city near the “charter’d” Thames.
Every aspect of the city has been sanctioned and organized by the ruling class for example, seeing expressions of weakness and woe on the faces of all the people he meets. The streets and the river make up a network that has been laid out and chartered by the wealthy class to control the poor. The poet walks among the poor, participating in the drudgery of their daily lives; he feels their misery as they endlessly struggle to survive as pawns of the class system of the harsh society. In the second stanza Blake describes how in every voice of every person he perceives their “mind-forg’d manacles. The people are trapped, prisoners of the rigid class system that has been “forg’d” in the minds of the elite class, whose members have taken measures to prevent their wealth from ever reaching the poverty-stricken horde. This and all later stanzas focus on the sounds that Blake hears, particularly the cries of the poor, as he walks through the city.
The third stanza marks a change in tone to a more abstract, symbolic depiction of a “black’ning Church” being “appalled” by the “Chimney-sweeper’s cry,” and the sigh of a “hapless Soldier” running in “blood down Palace walls. The Church is depicted as being allied with the insensitive elite class: the pleas of the chimney-sweeper, who is blackened with the soot of oppression and doomed to die young of lung disease, are spurned by the Church-the supposed source of pity and relief to the suffering-and in the process the Church “blackens” itself. The institution has become hypocritical because, while it still preaches pity, it fails to offer any remedy to the oppression of the poor.
The soldier, who should be a symbol of the strength and glory of England, is nothing more than another poverty-stricken human, and so the depiction of his sigh running in blood down palace walls symbolizes that the beauty and glory of England, the palace, is marred and made grotesque by the oppression of the soldier class. The fourth and final stanza returns to a slightly more concrete depiction of what “most thro’ midnight streets [he] hear[s]”: the “youthful Harlot’s curse” not only “blasts the new born infant’s tear,” but also “blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.
The unusual, poignant combination of “marriage” with “hearse” brings the mood of hopelessness to a peak; as a result of sexually transmitted diseases, marriage and sex are now connected with death, not life. In “London” Blake’s walk itself is chartered and deliberate, and the rhythm of the poem is as oppressive and inactive as the class system whose oppression it describes. Each stanza is further organized by a rigid rhyming structure-the rhyming words at the end of each line end in many r’s, w’s, and some that bend the sound of the vowels and give the words a heavy, plaintive, woeful, tone.
For example: “How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry/ Every black’ning Church appalls;/ And the hapless Soldier’s sigh/ Runs in blood down Palace walls. ” Intermixed with these plaintive sounds are words with sharp consonants and short syllables that seem to convey Blake’s spite for the horrible unjust system currently in society, for example, “Every black’ning Church appalls” and ” . . . blights with plagues the Marriage hearse. ” Not only is Blake saddened by the London scene, he is angry and spiteful that the elite class maintains it in an organised way designed to retain the wealth for the wealthy.
Therefore Blake’s ultimate purpose for the poem is to protest the organised, chartered system of keeping the poor in a hopeless struggle for survival. Blake wrote “London” two hundred years ago, to protest the oppressive class system of the city he lived in, and yet his message is very easy to understand today. The fact is that there are many places in the world today where the poor are treated in much the same way as the people of London two hundred years ago.
It is not a small-scale phenomenon-hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken people continue to struggle through the trials of daily survival, and their suffering weighs heavily on our consciences. This reveals that in this way society hasn’t changed a considerable amount compared to when Blake wrote ‘London’ although nowadays other issues of which Blake frowned upon have been improved. William Blake was a profoundly stirring poet, whose works were very much shaped by current events. He was, in large part, responsible for bringing about the Romantic Movement in poetry and was also able to achieve remarkable results with the simplest means.
Blake’s research and introspection into the human mind and soul has resulted in his being called the “Columbus of the psyche”, and because no language existed at the time to describe what he discovered on his voyages, he created his own mythology to describe what he found there. He was an accomplished poet, painter, and engraver. Many of the works written by Blake reflect his feelings and attitude to the world in which he lived. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794) is tales in the form of poems of the innocent, pastoral world of childhood against an adult world of corruption and repression.
Such poems as “The Lamb” represent a meek virtue, whereas poems like “The Tyger” exhibit opposing, darker forces. Thus the collection as a whole explores the value and limitations of two different perspectives on society in the world. Many of the poems fall into pairs, so that the same situation or problem is seen through the lens of innocence first and then experience. Blake does not identify himself wholly with either view; most of the poems are dramatic, meaning, in the voice of a speaker other than the poet himself.
Blake stands outside innocence and experience, in a distanced position from which he hopes to be able to recognize and correct the mythical untruths of both. In particular, he pits himself against dictatorial authority, restrictive morality, sexual repression, and institutionalised religion; his great insight is into the way these separate modes of control work together to smother what is most holy in human beings in society. The Songs of Innocence dramatize the naive hopes and fears that inform the lives of children and trace their transformation as the child grows into adulthood.
Some of the poems are written from the perspective of children, while others are about children as seen from an adult perspective. Many of the poems draw attention to the positive aspects of natural human understanding prior to the corruption and distortion of experience. Others take a more critical stance toward innocent purity: for example, while Blake draws, touching portraits of the emotional power of rudimentary Christian values, he also exposes over the heads as it were of the innocent, Christianity’s capacity for promoting injustice and cruelty.
The Songs of Experience works by parallels and contrasts to lament the ways in which the harsh experiences of adult life destroy what is good in innocence, while also articulating the weaknesses of the innocent perspective (“The Tyger,” for example, attempts to account for real, negative forces in the universe, which innocence such as in ‘The Lamb’ fails to confront). These latter poems treat sexual morality in terms of the repressive effects of jealousy, shame, and secrecy, all of which corrupt the ingenuousness of innocent love.
With regard to religion, they are less concerned with the character of individual faith than with the institution of the Church, its role in politics, and its effects on society and the individual mind. Experience thus adds a layer to innocence that darkens its hopeful vision while compensating for some of its ignorant blindness. The style of the Songs of Innocence and Experience is simple and direct, but the language and the rhythms are painstakingly crafted, and the ideas they explore are often deceptively complex.
Many of the poems are narrative in style; others, like “The Sick Rose” and “The Divine Image,” make their arguments through various types of symbolism or by means of abstract concepts. Some of Blake’s favourite rhetorical techniques are personification and the reworking of Biblical symbolism and language. Blake frequently employs the familiar meters of ballads, nursery rhymes, and hymns, applying them to his own, often unorthodox conceptions.
This combination of tradition and the unfamiliar, with Blake’s perpetual interest in reconsidering and reframing the assumptions of human thought and social behaviour depict that Blake’s philosophical thoughts have always questioned the ways of society of his time and the future, in many ways his thoughts extracted from his work were indeed correct and by using symbolism in words, metaphors, sounds, enjambments and narrators plus several other ways has commented on society through his personal point of view, he used religion, people’s classes, people’s occupations, other living beings and indications of emotions to get his ideas across, whether in agreement or not. Most of William Blake’s poems especially in ‘Songs of Experience’ are disagreeing with the ways of society and the rules.