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Discuss the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the poetry of William Blake and...

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naochill | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted December 18, 2012 at 1:10 AM via web

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Discuss the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the poetry of William Blake and William Wordsworth. Please give one example from each poet. 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 18, 2012 at 10:29 AM (Answer #1)

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Both Blake and Wordsworth are seen as Romantic poets, in that their poetry focuses on the power of the imagination and in particular the healing influence that nature can have on humans. This literary movement was set against a backdrop of widespread industrialisation that caused many to move from the countryside to vast, polluted cities where they worked long hours for very little money and faced very dangerous conditions. This is something that the Romantics found very troubling and protested against greatly in their writing, and especially the poverty that was created through the Industrial Revolution, that made the lives of so many worse off. Note how Blake alludes to this in his poem "London":

How the chimney-sweeper's cry

Every black'ning church appalls,

Adn the hapless soldier's sigh

Runs in blood down palace walls.

The chimneysweep is a symbol of innocence that is taken advantage of in the poetry of Blake, as chimneysweeps were small boys who were forced to work in terrible conditions, climbing up chimneys to clean them. Mortality rates were high amongst children at this time as they had to work long hours. In this poem, therefore, the Industrial Revolution is protested against through reference to the conditions that it created for those who lived through it, and reference to the "black'ning church" also identifies how pollution literally caused buildings to blacken just as, arguably, the greed for money caused people's character's to blacken.  

In "The Tables Turned," Wordsworth argues that the Industrial Revolution, caused as it was through rationalism and science and the development of machinery and engineering advances that allowed more to be done more quickly and efficiently, actually produces a very sterile environment for human growth and development:

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.

"Science" and "Art," in Wordsworth's view, can only be considered as "barren leaves." The speaker invites his audience to go out into nature with a heart that is open to observing and learning and, above all, receiving from nature. Both poets therefore argued that the Industrial Revolution was on balance bad for humans, contributing as it did to the worsening of conditions for many and also an attitude that prevented humans from being open to nature and what it had to teach them.

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