William Blake was a precursor of the Romantic Revival in England. In his staunch glorification of the imagination, in his revolt against the bondage and restrictions that society and its institutions imposed on the individual man, in his mysticism and his symbolic interpretation of thought and feeling and his simplicity of expression, Blake indeed is a harbinger of romantic poetry in England.
Romanticism laid considerable stress on the elements of imagination, nature worship, humanitarianism, liberty, mysticism and symbolism. It differed from the outlook expounded by the preceding age of Neo-classicism which promoted the notion of reason, balance and logic with regard to prose and poetry. The Romantic creed of poetry rests on recording the simple emotions of humanity in a simple diction.
The poetic creed of William Blake is based on imagination. He says: “Mental things are alone real; what is called corporal, nobody knows its dwelling place; it is a fallacy, and its existence an imposture. Where is the existence out of mind or thought? Where is it, but in the mind of a fool?” Blake’s nature of work is imaginative or visionary and it is an endeavor to restore what the Ancients called the “Golden Age”. Blake’s imaginative faculty is evinced in his concept of God Explained in ‘The Devine image’ where he says that God is the creative and spiritual power in man:
“And all must love the human form.
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.”
Blake’s poems are not only visionary but they also brood over the spiritual freedom or spiritual salvation of mankind. Blake was greatly affected by the sight of the miseries of the chimney-sweepers and the children of the Sunday school. In ‘Holy Thursday’ Blake’s sympathetic and compassionate heart shares the agony of the children and his pent up feelings are let out through an ironical comment:
“Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor,
Then cherished pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.”
The most characteristic feature of Blake’s poems is that they are based on his ‘visions’. These visions are peopled with angels, gods and goddesses. Ultimately this implies that the poetic inspiration or poetry itself is divine and sacred. ‘The Garden of Love’ and ‘The Divine Image’ are the poems where the poet projects his philosophy of godliness and divinity.
In Blake’s poems nature is associated with rejuvenation stimulants such as the sound of the bell in the spring season and the merry voices of thrush and sparrow. In the ‘The Echoing Green’ it echoes the happiness of the children:
“The sun does arise
And make happy the skies.
The Merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring.”
Blake’s poetry is highly symbolic. In his poems he used such symbols which are to be found even in some of the juvenilia in ‘Poetic Sketches’ to express increasingly subtle and complex intellectual distinctions. Blake’s symbols are too large and complex to be given in brief. His symbols help to express his visions which may be obscure to a common reader. In his poems there are innocence symbols such as children, sheep, wild birds, wild flowers, green fields, dawn, dew, spring, and associated images, like shepherds, valley, and hills. Then there are energy symbols such as lions, tigers, wolves, eagles, noon, summer, sun, fire etc. He had also used sexual symbols, corruption symbol, and oppression symbols.