William Blake, through his poetry, criticized any aspect of society that he felt did not take care of its citizens. From child labor to prostitution to the Church-- none were off limits to the cutting edge of Blake’s work.
“The Garden of Love” by Blake has a dream-like quality, almost nightmarish. Nothing is as it should be for the narrator. Everything that should be nonthreatening has a malignant evil quality.
Told in first person, the narrator returns to a green meadow where as a child he played and called it the Garden of Love. He turns and sees something that he has never seen before. He finds that a church has been built there. The gates are closed; and over the door, a warning is written:
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door…
Disappointed, the man turns back to the place where once lovely flowers grew. The vision of the man becomes chilling. Now the place is filled with graves and tombstones. Through the cemetery, walk black clad priests as if it is a routine practice. As he watches them, he senses that the priests are tying or binding up his own dreams and hopes with thorns.
The poem speaks to the Church’s authority in Blake’s time. He allows the reader to share his distaste for organized religion. To him, the church represents the departure of beauty and joy replaced by harsh rules and even death. Blake offers his emotions to the reader. When one enters the poem or The Garden of Love (the church) he expects to be welcomed with love and prayer.
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore;
This is not true for Blake. Suggesting that the church had become an institution which effectively named its clergy as closer to God than ordinary worshippers, Blake took offense. He felt that religion oppressed man and that it kept man from drawing closer to God. His criticism included the priests who performed as judges instead of loving comforters. Obviously, Blake was a brave man for standing up against the evils of society in 18th Century England.