Auguries of Innocence "The Harlot's Cry From Street To Street"

William Blake

"The Harlot's Cry From Street To Street"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In the first half of Auguries of Innocence Blake attacks man's cruelty to the various creatures with which he shares the earth–wild and domestic animals and birds, even insects. The poem, a series of couplets never polished by Blake and remaining in manuscript at his death, contains many comments of aphoristic nature; those concerning human relationships are often telling. For example, "A truth that's told with bad intent/ Beats all the Lies you can invent;" or "Tools were made & Born were hands." Blake's attention, in the last half of the poem, is directed to man's cruelty to his own species. He lists certain unsavory human characteristics and habits–slander, envy, jealousy, avarice, and lies. He speaks of the beauty of holiness and of the innocence of little children. He turns from this subject, however, to his basic purpose of depicting human cruelty, and castigates those who beat children. Horrified at the existence of such people as beggars and soldiers, he considers both an insult to the heavens. The meager belongings of the poor and labor's small reward are more to be valued than the wealth of nations. Blake then devotes a number of lines to what he seems to consider the worst crime of all: sowing doubt in the minds of the young. Doubt is evil enough in itself, but to mock the beliefs of children is unspeakable. Throughout the poem he implies that if men could only see what is holy and reverence it, many of the sorrows they are born to would cease. Although Auguries of Innocence is the outcry of a devout and compassionate man, there is a sort of grim humor in the following excerpt:

A Riddle or the Cricket's Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
The Emmet's Inch & Eagle's Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile.
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe, do what you Please.
If the Sun & Moon should doubt
They'd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may do
But no Good if a Passion is in you.
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nation's Fate
The Harlot's cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet. . . .