One critic has suggested that Blake pits himself against despotic authority, restrictive morality, and institutionalized religion: "His great insight is into the way these separate modes of control work together to squelch what is most holy in human beings." In your opinion, does this comment apply to the poems you read? Explain.
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There is little doubt that William Blake explores the dichotomies of the worldly and the spiritual along with the paradoxes contained in innocence juxtaposed against experience. His poem "The Rose" may be considered a controlling metaphor for all that Blake expresses in many of his other works:
O Rose thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy love destroy
Indeed, there is allegorical meaning to this poem. As one critic writes, "The foundation of unadulterated beauty and love decays once a worm feeds upon it." That "worm" is the "despotic authority, restrictive morality, and institutionalized religion" which is mentioned above while the "unadulterated beauty and love" are facets of naïveté and innocence. The multivalent meaning of the rose in Blake's poem, which is itself an allusion to the "Multifoliate Rose" in The Divine Comedy, a rose that" symbolizes spiritual exultation and holy love, can apply allegorically to his other works:
- "The Little Boy Lost" - The "worm" here is the fundamentalism in religion that condemns the boy whose remarks in the first four lines rebut the commandment to "love thy neighbor" and metaphysical religion. This rebuttal is what the little boy in his innocence expresses since he cannot understand these concepts. But, the child is condemned by the "worm" of strict and literal fundamentalist (institutional) religion.
- "The Little Boy Found" - Ideal love, "God" in the poem, rescues the little boy and returns him to the genuine and spiritual love of the child's mother.
- "The Chimney Sweeper" - In the poem from Innocence the little chimney sweep is comforted by another boy who consoles him with the institutional moral lesson that he must accept his fate and look to his eternal reward when, as in his dream, death will bring him freedom from suffering, whereas the chimney sweep in the poem from Experience expresses the acceptance of society's rationalized morality as naive. For, the corrupt "worm" of this rose of naïveté is the "despotic authority" of a society that condones the exploitation of children. Thus, in this poem, society's failings are excused through the institutions of government and formalized religion:
And because I am happy and dance and sing,They think they have done me no injury,And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King,Who make up a heaven of our misery.
- "The Lamb" and "The Tyger" - According to Harold S. Pagliaro, Blake viewed the world as “death-laden, filled with intimidating foes, deadly Tygers, hypocritical smiles, and constricting social and religious systems that reduce life.” In "The Lamb" Blake characterizes the Creator as Goodness, Innocence, and also the Greatest Love, that of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for man. Another meaning is that Man, too, is a sacrificial lamb to the forces of the tyranny of government and formalized religion which ignore the humanity of man, the "multifoliate rose" of his innocence, love, and beauty that cannot be strictly regulated without loss and the ultimate consumption by the "Tyger" of their corruption.
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