William Blake

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How do any of William Blake's poems relate to the question of "Are humans creatures of light or darkness?"

Blake's poetry relates to the question of whether human beings are creatures of darkness or light because he deliberately deals with opposites as they exist in human nature and the world overall. His philosophy can be seen as an attempt to evaluate and reconcile contrary forces and to accept reality as encompassing both light and darkness, and good and evil.

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Throughout his work, Blake attempts to deal with human nature in such a way that traditional concepts of "good" and "evil" can somehow be brought together and accepted or embraced as inevitable realities. The titles of some of his works indicate this fusion, such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Perhaps the most obvious presentation of both the "light" and "darkness" of people can be seen in the pairings of poems in Songs of Innocence with those in Songs of Experience. The first set is a deliberately gentle and benign presentation of "life," though not without shadows. "The Chimney Sweeper" describes abandonment and child labor, but ends with the naive message,

So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.

It only becomes apparent when the corresponding Experience poems are read that much of the above is ironic, or at least is intended to show only half of the realistic picture of both humanity and God, if indeed Blake does embrace at least a somewhat traditional view of the Deity. In "The Chimney Sweeper" from the later set, the misery of the child is not resolved but is attributed to the hypocrisy of the adults, who go to church and pray, and

Make up a heaven of our misery.

In "On Another's Sorrow," a conventional emblem of human empathy is presented:

Can I see another's woe,

And not be in sorrow too?

The corresponding poem that displaces this innocent expression is "The Human Abstract," which on the surface appears to reveal an astonishing cynicism:

Pity would be no more

If we did not make somebody poor,

And mercy no more would be,

If all were as happy as we.

But Blake's intention is to show the entire range of human emotion. He debunks both the simplistic notions of man's purity and goodness that were the product of some aspects of the Enlightenment, and the religious view of man's "fallen" nature. Both light and darkness are seemingly incorporated into a novel (to say the least) worldview in which humanity can realistically accept its negative side as a necessary counterbalance to its innate goodness.

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