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What effect did the Industrial Revolution have on the poetry of Blake and Wordsworth?

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Blake and Wordsworth both saw the Industrial Revolution as detrimental to human development because it led to an environment that was not conducive to humans being in touch with nature or, in Blake's case, an environment that was very dangerous for the young to work in.

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Both Blake and Wordsworth are seen as Romantic poets, in that their poetry focuses on the power of the imagination and in particular the healing influence that nature can have on humans. This literary movement was set against a backdrop of widespread industrialisation that caused many to move from the...

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countryside to vast, polluted cities where they worked long hours for very little money and faced very dangerous conditions. This is something that the Romantics found very troubling and protested against greatly in their writing, and especially the poverty that was created through the Industrial Revolution, that made the lives of so many worse off. Note how Blake alludes to this in his poem "London":

How the chimney-sweeper's cry

Every black'ning church appalls,

Adn the hapless soldier's sigh

Runs in blood down palace walls.

The chimneysweep is a symbol of innocence that is taken advantage of in the poetry of Blake, as chimneysweeps were small boys who were forced to work in terrible conditions, climbing up chimneys to clean them. Mortality rates were high amongst children at this time as they had to work long hours. In this poem, therefore, the Industrial Revolution is protested against through reference to the conditions that it created for those who lived through it, and reference to the "black'ning church" also identifies how pollution literally caused buildings to blacken just as, arguably, the greed for money caused people's character's to blacken.  

In "The Tables Turned," Wordsworth argues that the Industrial Revolution, caused as it was through rationalism and science and the development of machinery and engineering advances that allowed more to be done more quickly and efficiently, actually produces a very sterile environment for human growth and development:

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.

"Science" and "Art," in Wordsworth's view, can only be considered as "barren leaves." The speaker invites his audience to go out into nature with a heart that is open to observing and learning and, above all, receiving from nature. Both poets therefore argued that the Industrial Revolution was on balance bad for humans, contributing as it did to the worsening of conditions for many and also an attitude that prevented humans from being open to nature and what it had to teach them.

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Discuss the effect of the Industrial Revoluton on the poetry of William Blake. Give at least one example.

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William Blake was a Romantic poet, and his writing was a reflection of his reactions to the world around him. Because of a mystical "encounter" Blake experienced as a very young man, his work often exhibits an "other-worldliness." As a Romantic poet, among other things, he had a strong respect for nature, and so, too, experienced a powerful personal reaction to the Industrial Revolution, looking forward to a land that was not poisoned by industry:

Blake hated the effects of the Industrial Revolution in England and looked forward to the establishment of a New Jerusalem 'in England's green and pleasant land.'

An example of a poem by Blake that reflects this is "Jerusalem." In this piece of writing, Blake reflects upon ancient days where feet traveled on England's "mountains green" and "pleasant pastures," showing Blake's regard for nature.

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England's pleasant pastures seen?

Next, God is referred to as "the Countenance Divine." The "satanic mills" refer in general to the Industrial Revolution, and the clouds are the outpouring of smoke hovering over the mills. "Jerusalem" symbolizes Blake's vision of humanities freedom from "commerce, British imperialism and war."

And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic mills?

The third stanza finds Blake preparing for a symbolic war: calling for his "weapons," including a "bow of burning gold." (Gold was not only valuable, but perhaps seen as the purest—maybe the "holiest"—of all metals.) And Blake gathers other figurative tools of battle: arrows of desire (raging intent), a chariot of fire, and a spear, and then he commands the clouds to "unfold."

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!

Lastly, Blake promises that he will not cease his mental fight. "Blake's "mental fight" is directed against [the] chains"...mentioned above (commerce, British imperialism and war). Neither will his sword "sleep in my hand:" he will not stop "engaging the enemy" till Jerusalem is built: the "new Jerusalem" here envisioned, and humanity's release from industry: its ugliness and its destruction of nature.

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land

Additional Sources:

http://www.progressiveliving.org/william_blake_poetry_jerusalem.htm

http://faculty.grandview.edu/ssnyder/121/121%20great%20chain.htm

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