Explain one of Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Relate your explanation to larger themes in Blake's poetry.

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

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One of Blake's provers from "Proverbs of Hell" speaks to the universal condition of freedom that Blake saw within the human experience.  Blake writes that "No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings."   This Proverb articulates how human impulses are inclined towards freedom and autonomy.  Blake is quite passionate about the nature of human freedom.  Representative of the Romanticism movement, Blake affirms the role of human subjectivity in consciousness.  It is within the individual realm where decisions are made and choices are accepted.  Blake was not an advocate of external structures making decisions for human beings.  This comes in the form of institutions such as political orders, realms of social conformity, or domains of spirituality. For Blake, the individual should be able to act without external influence of control. Evident in his life and work, Blake supported the rights of individuals over forces of social and individual control.  His embrace of freedom's tenets is evident in how Blake viewed the role of spirituality and Christianity. Blake said about Jesus Christ that "He is the only God ... and so am I, and so are you." For Blake, infallible design in the form of the divine is not meant to supplant individual action.

It is in this light where Blake's Proverb about the soaring heights of the bird and human freedom is consistent with the larger themes in Blake's poetry. Blake's understanding of Romanticism is one that affirms the role of human freedom.  Human freedom and the "song of experience" within consciousness is a critical element in Blake's poetry.  The proverb speaks to this in how it articulates a condition of being in the world where human freedom is seen as its own intrinsic good.  Given Blake's disdain of oppression that he saw in the social and spiritual world in the form of institutionalized religion, the proverb embodies the theme of freedom and its possibilities in the modern setting.

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