William Blake was very different to other men, he grew up to hate the church although he was very religious. His family and himself were Dissenters, a breakaway denomination against the rulings of the church of England. From an early age Blake was different, he refused to go to school and was taught by his mother and spent a lot of his time reading the Bible as the dissenters took a very literal grasp on the teachings of the bible.
As Blake grew older he considered cruelty to children one of the worst things imaginable as to him childhood was sacred and should be treasured as it is a state of innocence as far as he thought. Blake was a firm believer in opposing forces, good and evil, innocent and guilty and he believed there were two contrary states to the human soul two sides.
Blake believed childhood to be the most precious thing, to be so innocent and to see children sold to people to become chimney sweeps just made him very angry. Blake was living around the time of the industrial revolution and witnessed the London he loved turn into a commercial city.
Blake used to walk miles across London each day and many images and words in his poetry came from the industrial revolution as in some metaphors he uses tools to explain what he sees is going on as you see in The Tyger “What the hammer? What the chain?â€¦.What the anvil”.
Blake also disliked authority like the monarchy and the army as he doesn’t like the fact that a small percentage of the country decide whether or not the country goes to war which he is also against. This was at the same time as the French revolution which he wanted to
happen in this country.
Blake loved small villages and hates large towns and cities as just through his time in London the population grew massively. Blake was very artistic from an early age and when he was fourteen he was put to work as an apprentice of the engraver James Basire.
Blake had a very vivid imagination and he saw visions, for instance when he was four he saw god and when he was eight he saw angels in a tree.
In 1782, Blake married Catherine Boucher, who proved a devoted wife. In 1784 they set up a print-sellers’ shop with another engraver and Blake’s brother, Robert, who died in 1787.
Here are two poems from Blake’s most famous books, The first poem is from “Songs of Innocence” and is called “The Nurses Song” and the second poem is from Blake’s other book “Songs of
Experience” and is also called “The Nurses Song”.
When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.
“Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down
“And the dews of night arise,
“Come, come, leave off play, and let us away
“Till the morning appears in the skies.”
“No, no, let us play, for it is yet day
“And we cannot go to sleep;
“Besides in the sky the little birds fly
“And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.”
“Well, well, go & play till the light fades away
“And then go home to bed.”
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills echoed.
The Songs of Innocence book is one of Blake’s books of poetry based on childhood and the innocence of childhood as shown in the above poem. The Songs of Experience is another poetry book written by Blake. Songs of Experience uses the same lyric style, and often uses the same titles and themes as in Songs of Innocence, but perverting the sing-song rhythms so that they seem sinister and resonant with a darker meaning. Here is the “Nurse’s Song” from Songs of experience-
When the voices of children are heard on the green
And whisp’rings are in the dale,
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.
Then come home my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of the night arise;
Your spring & your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.
This poem is based on the same thing but different through a pessimists point of view.
The poems we are analyzing by Blake are “The Chimney sweeper” and “London”. Both of these poems are based on childhood.
“The Chimney sweeper” is a poem about a young chimney sweeper through that child’s eyes. He says that when he could barely talk, after his mother died he was sold to be a chimney sweeper and now he sleeps in soot and sweeps chimneys.
He says he has a friend with lovely hair like from a lambs back Blake sees a lamb as a very innocent creature which was shaved off and the boy said to that boy at least the soot can not spoil your hair if you have no hair. I think this was a small attempt at humour to lighten up this dark poem.
His friend had a dream that all of his friends “Dick, Joe, Ned and Jack were all lock’d up in coffins of black” which means he saw a vision of all of his friends dead in the chimneys. Then came along an angel with a key and set them free and they went running down a green field leaping and laughing and then they wash in a river and shine in the sun.
“Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind.” These are all
visions of innocence.
“Then the angel told Tom if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have god for his father and never want joy” This means that as long as you are good you will still go to heaven no matter how bad your life may be. “And so Tom awoke and rose in the dark and got with our bags and our brushes to work,
Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm,
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.”
This means that Toms dream made him feel warm inside and as long as they do their work they need not fear harm and will go to heaven.
Blake’s poetry is not what you would expect from a professional poet as the themes and rhyming are like that of a child although the messages go far deeper than the words. The Chimney Sweeper means that a child is innocent and incapable of impurity and it is not their fault if their childhood is ruined, it is a waste at the fault of adults.
The other William Blake poem I am going to analyse is called “London” and the funny thing about this poem is it is as relevant today as it was back in Blake’s day. Blake loved London and he hated to see it destroyed during the industrial revolution.
The poem starts with “I wander thro’ each charter’d street” which means every street he walks through is mapped to be something else and be changed to something sinister and evil and not what the spirit of London is about. “And marks in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.” This means everyone he sees shows the strain of life on their faces, it could mean they are sad and unhappy or it could mean that everyone has cuts and dirt on their face from having to work long hours to keep their families eating through these dark times.
Blake then proceeds to use very harsh words and imagery
“In every cry of every man,
In every infants cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind forged manacles I hear.”
This says that in every voice he hears mind forged manacles a form of handcuffs which means everyone feels like they’re tied down, in their minds they are not free to do what they wish
Then he says that every time a chimney sweeper cries the church is appalled by it. This shows his sympathy for children and shows his hatred for the church and then manages to say things about the other things he hates, the monarchy and the army.
“And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs blood down palace walls.” This means the soldiers sigh, maybe a last breath of a soldier runs blood down palace walls, which might mean it is the palace the monarchy’s fault because in these times the Monarch rules the country.
In the last paragraph he says
“But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlet’s
Blasts the newborn infants tear
And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.”
This means at midnight he hears a young prostitute screaming at her newborn child making it cry and that marriage brings about a plague that will kill you. This last statement I think is a bit hypocritical of Blake as he was happily married for years.
The next two poems are from around two hundred and fifty years on when there were things bought in to make children”s life better although both of the next poems prove otherwise. The systems bought in were the Welfare State which was supposed to provide money for children living in poverty and many other schemes to improve
children’s quality of life.
The first of these two poems is called Tich Miller written by Wendy Cope in the 1950’s. This poem is about a girl talking about a poor
under nourished girl who is unpopular and very unfit.
She wore cheap NHS glasses with cheap pink frames. She had clubfoot which was a common disease back then when one foot grew to be larger than the other. She was always picked last for games and sports with the girl who is talking who was picked before Tich because she was “the lesser dud” although there was usually an argument “Have Tubby!” “No, no, Have Tich”
When they were eleven they went to different schools and the girl who was telling the story “learned to get my own back sneering at hockey players who couldn’t spell.” The poem ends with a dramatic sentence- “Tich died when she was twelve”.
I considered this to be quite curt and cold and reminded me for some reason of the NHS smoking adverts which you are paying
attention during the whole thing but at the end when you hear the person you have just seen or read about dies it really makes you think, it must be so terrible.
This poem says in a sly way all of these systems and programs bought in only work in small ways to people, like Tich Millers glasses helped a little but she still went hungry and under nourished.
The next poem written in the 1950’s I am going to analyse is Timothy Winters by Charles Causley. This poem is a lot like Tich Miller in the way that a poor child goes to school who desperately needs help.
I starts by saying “Timothy Winters goes to school with eyes as wide as a football pool.” That is a simile suggesting he doesn’t get enough sleep, the rhyming is tight and simple like a nursery rhyme.
Timothy Winters had “Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters, A blitz of a boy was Timothy Winters” He uses war images to describe his
Timothy is a very filthy boy with bad hair, bad clothes and holes in his trousers. He doesn’t pay attention to the teacher as he is day dreaming “and shoots down the arithmetic bird”-he can’t add up.
“He licks the pattern off his plate” He eats every morsel on his plate as he is so hungry and starving. “He hasn’t even heard of the Welfare State” The Welfare State was supposed to help children like Timothy.
Timothy’s shoes had holes in which made his feet bleed.
He lives in a new council estate. He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor although there aren’t supposed to be boys like him any more.
Timothy’s father was an alcoholic and his mother ran off with a bombardier, His grandmother is probably an alcoholic too and they give Timothy an aspirin to shut him up.
The welfare worker lays awake feeling sorry for Timothy although she can’t do anything about it because “The laws as tricky as a ten foot snake.” At morning prayers the subject is unfortunate children and Timothy yells A men louder than anyone as if he wants god to hear him.
This is another depressing poem about children more unfortunate and the sad thing is it can still happen today. The suffering by those in William Blake’s days I am sure though was much worse than those in the 1950’s and today as there was no help or laws for the benefit of children.
The poems from Blake’s day were so different to those from the fifties though the message was very alike. The language, rhyming and punctuation was very different in Blake’s time to in the fifties when it is more or less the same today.
The one thing these poems have in common is that all of them are poems about unfortunate children and all of the poems are trying to get this suffering recognised and stopped.