Provide a summary and critical analysis of the poem "The Divine Image" by William Blake.

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Blake's "The Divine Image", one of the Songs of Innocence and Experience is a hymn to the attributes humanity shares with God. The poem is divided into five quatrains with the rhyme scheme and metre typical of a English ballad or song. This, coupled with its spiritual subject matter, gives "The Divine Image" a hymn-like quality.

In the first quatrain the poet identifies the personified "virtues of delight" -"Mercy Pity Peace and Love" - as the divine attributes human beings invoke both in suffering and in gratitude. But, states the second quatrain, these virtues are also the traits of the human being: Mercy of the human heart; pity of the face; and peace clothing the form of love, the body. Thus, prayers directed to God identified in these virtues are equally addressed to the "human form divine", and is the raison d'etre for benevolence to all mankind. 

In "The Divine Image" Blake reverses the biblical understanding of the relationship of God and man. In the Book of Genesis, it is God who creates man in his own "image and likeness", whereas the poem constructs God in the image of man. Blake's purpose for doing so is twofold. First, it reflects his belief that our concept of God is a mental creation thrown up on the screen of humanity. In other words, when human beings think of God's mercy, pity, peace, and love, they are actually deifying the highest and best qualities of humanity. Second, in Blake's reference to God indwelling "heathen, turk or jew" in the fifth quatrain of the poem, he believes he is providing an escape from  the divisions produced in humankind by creed and confession. In other words, if human beings are actually worshipping the "human form divine", then it doesn't matter who or where they are and what God they say they believe in.