“The Divine Image” is a short lyric by the English Romantic poet William Blake (1757-1827). As its title implies, the poem suggests that the image of God is reflected in human beings—not simply in Christian human beings but rather in all of humankind.
The poem opens by stressing, in its first two lines, a major theme of the work: “All” people (2), when distressed, seek help from such divine qualities as “Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love” (1). When afflicted by sorrow of any kind, people tend to express their thanks for the positive qualities in their lives, which they tend to associate with God. The opening stanza implies a kind of harmonious reciprocity, in which God gives us the “Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love” we seek, while we, in turn, return our thanks for these gifts.
The opening stanza, like the rest of the poem, is written in the simple, clear, accessible style Blake often used in his lyrics, especially those contained in the Songs of Innocence and Experience. (His more “epic” poems, by contrast, are often highly arcane and confusing.) Poems such as “The Divine Image,” however, are often childlike in their phrasing. They implicitly remind us that we are all children in God’s eyes, and so the poems speak in lucid, uncomplicated ways that almost anyone can understand. In this poem, the lines are relatively short (consisting of alternating eight and six syllables), and the refrain also helps give the poem the effect of simplicity and accessibility.
The speaker addresses the reader without pomp or self-important pretension, and the poem’s rhythms are almost completely iambic: unaccented odd syllables are followed by accented even syllables (as in “To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love”). In addition, the stanzas are exactly the same length. In short, nothing in the poem creates any difficulty for most readers: the diction is simple, the syntax is simple, the structure and meter are simple, and the poem is as clear today as it was on the day it was written. In a poem celebrating the instincts all human beings supposedly share, all these stylistic traits are important.
The second stanza builds on the first by suggesting the essential unity between man and God: we are created in God’s image and thus, in our best qualities, we quite literally embody God, just as God himself is the personification, the very essence and source, of “Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love.” Even the words Blake associates with God are clear, simple, short, and straightforward, not long or elaborate. Imagine how different the poem would sound if the speaker had tried to define God as “Clemency, Benevolence,...
(The entire section is 1115 words.)