What is a critical analysis of the poem "Garden of Love" by Blake?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The structure of the poem consists of three stanzas.  The rhyme scheme in the first two stanzas features the second and fourth lines with a direct rhyme (“seen” and “green” and in the second stanza, “door” and “bore,”) and in the last stanza, the closing couplet rhymes (“rounds” and “desires.”)  The surface meaning of the poem concerns the speaker’s view of formal religion versus informal spiritual worship.  The speaker approaches a formal house of worship, presumably a church.  The speaker is taken a back with such a vision as “the gates of this Chapel were shut” and “’Thou shalt not write over the door.”  When confronted with this, the speaker turned to a non- Institutionalized form of worship and was happy with the preponderance of “sweet flowers.”  Yet, this vision was disturbed when this non- Institutionalized version turned out to be a graveyard, where the formal rites of death were being administered.  This changed the speaker’s views, as it bound “with briars my joys and desires.”  The symbolic meaning of this poem is its analysis of established religion against spiritual and personalized forms of worship.  Is “the garden of love” something that can be preordained, or something established, or is it free to be anything and worshipped by anyone?  Such a question lies at the heart of the symbolic meaning.  The speaker seems to be suggesting that established and traditional religious worship has not moved any closer to “the answer,” and that there can be just as much meaning found in the “sweet flowers” that lies outside of the church, or could lie in a child’s ability to “play on the green.”  The speaker uses imagery to convey this.  Specifically, the imagery of a locked church filled with edicts such as “Thou shalt not” or “priests in black gowns walking their rounds” or “tombstones where flowers should be.”  Each of these mental pictures renders the vision of seeing traditionalized and ritualized structure and routine where joy and spontaneous worship should be.  At the same time, the imagery of a non-institutionalized setting is replete with “sweet flowers” and a vision of a child “playing on the green.”  The tone of this poem is both reverie and scorn.  There is a recollection present when the speaker looks at the church built at where he used to play (lines 1-4) and there is scorn at the rules and order of this “house of worship” (lines 5 and 6.)  The tone of the last stanza captures this joy of freely expressing one’s spirituality with the reality of structured and established religion (Closing couplet.)  The theme of the poem asks the reader to examine what constitutes and defines spirituality:  Is it something established by society and others or something that lies inside of the mind of the individual?  Such a question asks what do we do when both conflict with one another?  The answer to both questions leads one to their appreciation of the poem, for within it, such a discussion is initiated.

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