“The Human Abstract” is a short poem of twenty-four lines divided into six quatrains. The title refers to the human capacity to create false structures of belief through excessive use of the rational part of the mind.
In the first quatrain, the speaker offers his opinions on moral and social issues in a way that justifies the existing order. He says that without poverty, there would be no way for people to exercise pity or compassion, and that if everyone were happy, there would be no opportunity to relieve the suffering of others.
The same speaker, who obviously includes himself among the compassionate and merciful, continues in the first two lines of the second quatrain. He gives his explanation of how order is preserved in a society. When there is “mutual fear” among people, the result is peace; fear keeps everyone from breaking the rules of society. Although self-love (what the speaker here calls “selfish loves”) always predominates, it is in everyone’s interest to accept the social order and the restrictions it imposes. If every individual were allowed to gratify every personal desire, everyone would feel threatened and insecure.
In line 7, another speaker takes over, and the poem is given over to his attack on the views of the first speaker. This is clearly William Blake’s own voice. He states that when people accept the views of the first speaker, the result is a cruel society. A false philosophy spreads its...
(The entire section is 489 words.)