Blake's Voice of Freedom

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Blake's Voice of Freedom

Essay Question: “Blake’s voice is the voice of freedom.” Do you
agree with this claim? Support your answer by reference to both
Innocence and Experience.

I strongly believe that ‘Blake’s voice is the voice of freedom’. As
you read the poems in Songs of Innocence & Experience you get a strong
sense of latitude. His poems really show the reader who William Blake
was as a person. He expresses his dislike for authority, the monarchy
and the church, but in a subtle way. He gives two versions of each
poem, so that we can see it from a different point of view which, in
my opinion, is a really clever thing to do. It shows how we, as
humans, progress through our life from an innocent state of childhood
into a more experienced adulthood. Normally, both versions of Blake’s
poems subtly attack some form of organization. In his work, Blake
develops a sort of philosophy and, central to this, is his belief in
freedom. The Proverbs of Heaven and Hell really emphasise Blake’s
outlook on life. These proverbs are often thought of as a more drastic
version of the Ten Commandments, in the Bible. In these proverbs,
Blake tries to show people the best way to live. One example of the
proverbs is;

“Sooner murder an infant in its cradle

Than nurse unacted desires.”

I don’t believe that in writing this proverb, Blake actually though
murder was right, especially not murdering a baby. I think that he was
just trying to express how much he believed in freedom, and free
speech. He is basically saying that you should do what you want, when
you want, or you will later regret not doing it.

One of Blake’s most important poems, in my eyes, is ‘The Chimney
Sweeper’. Both versions give us a real insight into Victorian London.
It has a lot of historical background because, in those days, there
really were young boys who were sold into a world where they had to
fend for themselves, and clean dark chimneys for little or no money.
To imagine that happening in London today is a truly horrifying
thought. To think that families were so poor that they had no choice
but to sell their sons is awful. Many of these boys died at a very
young age and none of them had a bright future ahead of them. In ‘The
Chimney Sweeper’, (in ‘Songs of Innocence’), we read about a small boy
who has been forced into life as a sweep. Blake wrote;

“And my father sold me while yet my tongue

Could scarcely cry “’weep! ’weep! ’weep! ’weep!”

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So your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep”

How any father could sell their child into such a horrific job is
unbelievable. But in Victorian times there was no choice. The fact
that the boy was being forced to sleep in soot is terrible by itself,
but when it is teamed with all the other aspects of a sweep’s life, it
makes you think that you would rather end it all than have to live
that life. This same boy speaks about another young sweep, called Tom
Dacre, who is just dreaming of that one day when he will be released
from his life as a sweep into Heaven. That boy should have been
looking forward to the rest of his life, not counting the days until
his death. Blake wrote;

“And the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy

He’d have God for his father and never want joy”

This is a discreet attack on the church. The fact that these children
are being made to do something so terrible, for absolutely nothing in
return, is so sad. A pass to Heaven shouldn’t be something you have to
fight for; it should be available to you, unless you do something bad.
It seems like the young sweeps have been told, either by a master
sweep, or at church, that doing their job would get them into Heaven.
But if Christians really believed that forcing young boys up chimneys
was right, then what kind of place would Heaven be? Another important
quote from this poem is;

“That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Ned, Joe and Jack,

Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black”

There are several different things that this could mean. For example,
it might be that they have been trapped up in the chimneys and being
in such a small space makes them feel claustrophobic, as if you were
locked in a coffin. It could also mean that the boys have died from
inhaling too much soot, so they have been placed in coffins and the
black represents the soot. Personally, though, I think that it
signifies them being trapped in their life as a sweep. There is no way
out for them. The ‘black’ shows how dark and miserable their lives
must be.

In Songs of Experience the sweep has a very different view than that
of the sweep in Songs of Innocence. He now knows how awful it is that
he is being made to do his job and thinks he is being punished for his
happiness before becoming a sweep, Blake wrote;

“Because I was happy upon the heath,

And smil’d among the winter’s snow,

They clothed me in the clothes of death,

And taught me to sing the notes of woe”

This sweep is being taught that being happy deserves a punishment,
when in reality it is completely the opposite. This sweep believes
that it is his won fault that he has to be a sweep, when really it is
the fault of Victorian society. The boy also realizes that the church
are profiting from his life of misery, Blake wrote;

“And are gone to praise God, & his Priest & King,

Who make up a heaven on our misery”

This shows that the boy now doubts religion. He sees now that all the
money he should be receiving from sweeping is going elsewhere- towards
the monarchy and government, and that the people running these
organizations are living the high life without having to do any work.

Another poem which contains religious references is The Garden of
Love, in Songs of Experience. It describes how someone is going back
to a place where they played in their childhood, but it has completely
changed. Blake writes;

“I went to the Garden of Love,

And saw what I never had seen:

A chapel was built in the midst,

Where I used to play on the green.”

This shows that the church is ruining some of this person’s childhood
memories. Instead of going back to where they grew up and seeing it as
he/she did as a child, they have gone back to see that a church has
been built over it. This poem is also a very good example to show that
Blake disliked the church, he wrote;

“And the gates of this Chapel were shut,

And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door”

This shows how, even though the church says it is open to anybody, it
is in fact closed. The fact that it has ‘thou shalt not’ written on
the door suggests that the church, and people who follow a religion,
have a very sheltered life. It seems as though that would be their
main rule to live by and, if this is true, how would they ever be able
to do anything? I don’t really believe that Blake has been to, or
knows of, a church where this is written on the door. In the Ten
Commandments, a lot of them begin with the words ‘thou shalt not’.
This portrays the Christian religion as being very limited in what
they are actually allowed to do. We can see why Blake, as a huge
believer in freedom, would oppose this view.

Blake strongly believed that children should be treated as well as
adults. In Holy Thursday, in Songs of Innocence, we see the streets of
London. Walking around the streets are school children, who are being
placed with people who are ready to strike them if they do anything
wrong, Blake writes;

“Grey-headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow”

Of course, these people were not actually carrying wands; they were
holding canes, to beat the children with. The fact that people
actually beat children for a living is really sad. These people were
probably quite religious and, again, it does make you question God,
and what kind of being He must be if he has people doing such terrible
things to children, in return for money. In another part of the poem,
Blake writes;

“Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor”

These children are sat in higher seats than the men; does this mean
that children are more important than men? If so, then why were they
so ill- treated in Victorian times? This could also mean that they are
higher to God, perhaps because their lives will be short, maybe due to
chimney sweeping, and so they will get to Heaven sooner than the men.
This is wrong because children should at least live to be adults.
Nobody should have to die as a child. In Holy Thursday, in Songs of
Experience, we see Blake questioning why children were put through
such terrible ordeals, he wrote;

“Is this a holy thing to see

In a rich and fruitful land

Babes reduc’d to misery,

Fed with cold and usurous hand?”

In Victorian times, Britain was one of the richest countries in the
world, so there was no excuse for children to have to be working. This
is another example of Blake questioning who god is. What kind of
person would want the children to be living in such bad conditions?
For God to want this, he must be a really nasty being.

London is one of the most important poems that Blake has written. It
is all about the centre of our country and, therefore, gives us a very
detailed insight into what life was like in Victorian Britain. In it,
Blake wrote;

“The mind-forg’d manacles I hear”

Here, Blake is saying that, although the people of London are not
physically being restrained from doing as they wish, there is
something stopping them. Perhaps it is that the church is telling them
that they should not do something, or maybe it is illegal.

Whatever it is that is telling them not to do what they want to do,
Blake is against it. He also wrote;

“But most thro’ midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlot’s curse

Blasts the new born Infant’s tear

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse”

This is about a man who has had sex with a prostitute and caught a
sexually transmitted disease. He has then passed this disease on to
his wife. This is Blake criticizing the idea of marriage. I think he
believed that if you are going to get married then you should be
faithful. If you want to go around having sex with lots of different
people, then don’t get married. It is as simple as that. In those days
people would die from having an STD (hence the marriage hearse) and so
if he is going to sleep with his wife he should sleep with only her.
Although Blake believed in freedom, he also believed in honesty and
being faithful so, in his opinion, it is your choice. You can get
married and just be with your wife or you can remain single, and sleep
with who you want.

William Blake was very critical about the world around him and this
was mainly caused by his dislike for any form of authority. In The
Little Vagabond (in Songs of Experience) Blake wrote;

“But if at the Church they would give us some Ale

And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,

We’d sing and we’d pray all the live-long day

Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray”

This is basically Blake wishing that the Church was more like a pub. I
think he has a point though because, if the church was less formal and
more of a place where you could worship and then have a drink with
your friends, more people would be interested in going along. In this
sense I think Blake has a lot of the same views as people today.
Nowadays, not that many people attend church regularly, especially
youths. If church became a place where e could spend time with our
friends then, I for one would at least consider going. It doesn’t
matter why you go to church, as long as you are there. Of course, it
would be the social side that drew people in but, once you get there,
you might decide that you can actually learn something from going.
Blake had very strong opinions about most topics, and I think that, if
he was alive today, that he would be a very good ambassador for our
country, because of these views.


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