Blake's Use of Poetry as an Attack on the Hypocrisy of Church and the Wider Establishment That Maintains Poverty

Topics: William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Romanticism Pages: 6 (2229 words) Published: December 16, 2010
Romanticism was an early and artistic way of looking at things which ended with the Victorian age. Romantic’s supported freedom of thought, movement and life style and were against oppression of any kind. They saw children as the future and were against child labor and the snatching up of childhood. They also felt that all people should have rights and should be respected. William Blake was no exception to this ideology. Being born in a time of expanding industrial revolution, Blake viewed industrialization as a curse for enslaving people, and allowing their masters to treat them badly. He also had strong views on seeing children as innocent. This caused him to hate child labor and show disgust to the world he was living in. It is no wonder then, that Blake preached his romantic views in his poetry and paintings. In 1789, William Blake had his first book, Songs of Innocence, published. Five years later, he added Songs of Experience to be included in publishing the two books as one whole piece of literature. Each book is a collection of poems that conveys Blake’s theory about innocence which states that, when one is born into the world, he or she is free from sin; but after the corruption of the world taints one’s soul, he or she becomes a sinner. Blake was also a devout Christian and stressed The Old Testament over The New Testament. Blake recognized the great inequalities of society and wanted to expose them. He saw the inappropriateness of the Church and lack of moral standing, this is in relation to mistreatment of the vulnerable in society, such as chimney sweepers and orphans. William Blake, jaded as he was, was a genius and used his poetry to portray his philosophy on life. The use of children is a prominent theme in a number of Blake’s poems. In his two “Chimney Sweeper” poems, one from Songs of Innocence and one from Songs of Experience, Blake show how the 18th Century church called upon children to passively accept their lot and pray to God. From a careful reading of these two “Chimney Sweeper” poems, it is apparent that Blake sees the world through the eyes of a child, and embraces the innocence of the young. Particularly awful, in Blake’s eyes, is the way the church gets the children to accept their victimization. It is especially important to note that, in Blake’s society and in Blake’s time, there was no separation between the church and state. The church provided the religious justification for state and corporate exploitation of the poor. Thus, one can clearly see that these two “Chimney Sweeper” poems addresses the hardships that children faced which made them destined to the life of a chimney sweeper during the 18th century in London. The poems also refer to the sufferings of ALL child laborers, and can be considered as an attack on the Establishment that maintained poverty. Further, the poems reflect Blake’s political stance; he is actually attacking what he considers injustice, evil, and suffering in the world. In “The Chimney Sweeper” poem from Songs of Innocence, we are introduced to a little boy who is being sold into hardship by his father after his mother died. He was poor, uneducated, and could not even speak when he was forced to sweep chimneys and sleep in soot. Similarly, in “The Chimney Sweeper” poem from Songs of Experience, we are introduced to a boy who is facing hardship because his parents are unable to see his pain, since they are busy praying for themselves in church. The similarities shared between these two poems are ingenious when combined with the differences. For example, Blake uses the word “weep” in each of the poems to illustrate immaturity. The speaker in each poem is very young; but the speaker in the Songs of Innocence version is too young to pronounce the word “sweep” (hence “’weep”), and in the Songs of Experience version, the speaker is...

Cited: Blake, William. “The Chimney Sweeper.” English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1967. 54. Print.
Blake, William. “The Chimney Sweeper.” English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1967. 65. Print.
Ellis, John Edwin and Yeats, W. B. eds., The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical, 3 vols. (London: B. Quaritch, 1893)
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