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Blake's Cry for a Voice

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Franklin Garcia

Professor Castillo

English 1302.013

November 4, 2002

Blake's cry for a voice

William Blake had a vision. It was a thought that changed the way poetry and writing would be viewed from here to eternity. Blake's point of views and associations with the characters represents a change in the way the reader dictates who the victim is really and who is not. In Blake's "The Chimney Sweeper" from the Songs of Innocence and Experience, both aspects of heaven and hell can be examined just the same as a good versus evil aspect of the two different styles of the poem. One poem, two totally different views on manners, morals, customs, and what is right and wrong.

To understand what William Blake was thinking and trying to say the reader must first know about how Blake's mind worked. Forgotten by his contemporaries but venerated by modern society, British poet, prophet, publisher, and artist William Blake was the earliest of a long line of reformist romantic poets. Regarded widely as a mad man, Blake was above all else a rebel whose anti-authoritarian spirit, and belief in freedom and individuality formed the basis of his revolutionary poetry. With his own unique style and form, Blake's poetry outlived its critics, and William Blake is now widely identified as one of the greatest lyric poets of all time.

From humble beginnings as the son of a hosier, Blake was essentially self taught, drawing inspiration and influence from German mystic Jakob Bohemia and the pivotal works of Emanuel Swedenborg. After his preliminary education, he briefly attended the Royal Academy before being requested to leave after challenging the school's president. Later on Blake managed to establish friendships with renowned academicians such as John Flaxman and Henery Fuseli, whose works may or may not have influenced his later poetry. Blake is usually referred to as a pre-romantic as result of the manner in which he would reject the traditional neoclassical style and modes of thought.

A significant part of Blake's writing is the presentation of his own dominant ideologies and beliefs. He once stated: "I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man's." this truly defines the rebellious spirit of Blake. Similar to the notions examined at great length within the Songs of Innocence, Blake is strongly in favor of intuition, spontaneity, energy and imagination; characteristics he later equates to being man's path to divinity. Meanwhile he was strongly opposed to the melancholic notions that are found riddled throughout his later work. Highly critical poems on rationality, normality and societal parameters are not uncommon and a trademark of Blake's later, far more bitter poetry. As a social commentator, a number of issues relevant at the time were the inspiration behind gloomy works such as "The Chimney Sweeper" regarding industrialization and, from the Songs of Experience.

Blake was society's unwillingness to accept and recognize new ideas and opportunities for change. Stating at one point that these reservations were "an enemy to social progression". To be condemned in a society that is much Blake's as well as anyone else's is a torment that would be felt on all of his art.

"The Chimney Sweeper" from William Blake's Songs of Innocence comprises

"songs of happy cheer" about field and flower, hill and stream, and the innocence of child and lamb, as seen through the eyes of a child (World Book vol.2 pg 314).

In one excerpt, "The Chimney Sweeper," Blake, through religious symbolism, gives the image of an innocence child living a life of hardship and grief that gains comfort from the knowledge that God will deliver him to a better life in heaven. The image of this child "who cried when his head, that curled like a lamb's back, was shaved" gives the impression of the sacrificial lamb, sacrificed into a life of hardship, poverty, and early death. The child dreams of an

"Angel who had a bright key and he opened the coffins and set them all free," an angel who carried the word of God and of eternal life. The "river" that they wash in is symbolic of the baptism that cleanses away their sins, and "shine in the Sun" represents shining in God's light. "The Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy," live by the word of God, "he'd have God for his father and never want joy," he will be at peace. When the child awakens from his dream, although "the morning was cold," he is "happy and warm" carrying the love of God within him; comforted by the knowledge that God will protect him from harm as long as he believes. Blake's poetry emphasizes the "spiritual rather than physical reality" of life (New Standard Encyclopedia B-281).

Although the poems in Songs Of Innocence

"are charmingly lyrical, written with almost childlike simplicity," they carry a powerful, spiritual message of God (B-281).

In this particular poem the speaker is "a little black thing among the snow". One reason this poem is not an "all may read" poem is because if the reader is not familiar with Blake's work he or she may not understand why this boy is being called "a little black thing"; this is not to construe the thought of a racial slur or anything of the nature. The little boy is black because he is covered in soot from the chimney, but how are we to know unless we are familiar with "Innocence".

For those who still are familiar with his work it is difficult to understand his perspective because he goes from fiction to realistic and then back to fiction without missing a beat. Later in this poem of "Experience" the little boy talks about smiling "among the winter's snow" giving the impression of some white, snow-capped environment when at that particular time there was very little snow in London the whole winter. So Blake expects the reader to be able to envision this oasis of "social forces that have reduced him (the boy) to misery". Which brings us to the setting Blake has described in this poem.

Setting includes several aspects of a work of fiction including the sensuous world of the work, the time in which the action of the work takes place, and the social environment of the character.



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