“The Human Abstract” was written by William Blake in 1789 and published in Songs of Experience in 1794 as a pair to Songs of Innocence. Along with the other songs published in Experience, “The Human Abstract” delves into the duality of human nature with a mature and often despondent tone. First titled “The Human Image,” the poem is a pair to “The Divine Image,” which establishes four abstract virtues, Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love, but also hints to Blake’s religious belief that God is within the individual man. Featuring six quatrains with two rhyming couplets (except for the fourth stanza, which does not rhyme), the poem follows the AABB rhyme scheme. Blake’s “human abstract” is a universal portrayal of mankind, but also an assertion that religion is conceptual, leading to the necessity of an intrinsic faith versus an organized religion. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary abstract can mean “a summary of abridgement of a text or document” or “existing in thought or as an idea but not having physical or concrete existence; conceptual.” . William Blake’s “The Human Abstract” portrays the perversion of bureaucratic religion through an allegory of The Tree of Knowledge as the established Church.
William Blake introduces “The Human Abstract” with a set of contraries that indicates the Church as a bureaucratic institution founded by the opposing facets of the human soul. Blake capitalizes Pity and Mercy as a reference to virtues of “The Divine Image” but also establishes that man creates these concepts. The first line demonstrates man’s supremacy on virtue over God’s, “Pity would be no more / If we did not make somebody Poor” (1-2). Blake uses first person here to demonstrate the human abstract, using “we” to imply a universal action. Society creates the poor. Therefore Pity originates in thought, as a concept of man, not God, and is an abstract notion. Blake makes the same statements with Mercy, essentially degrading the virtues established by the...
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