Blake’s Songs of Experience, especially Holy Thursday and The Human Abstract, shares a same spirit with one of China’s oldest philosophical work, Laotse’s Tao Te Ching. They both advocate that the society should follow nature. Furthermore, they both condemn the process of categorization, and the proposers of it, the institutions and industrialization in Blake’s version and the society and the ruler in Laotse’s version.
As we discussed in class today, Blake views charity and all forms of institutions to be hypocritical and the existence of poverty as sins, not matter what they do to relieve poverty. This inclination becomes more obvious in The Human Abstract: “Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor: And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we” (42). In these sentences, Blake challenges the common categorization of noble and inferiority. To him, pity would be unnecessary if we don’t invent the concept of poverty. And the present of mercy is a hypocritical means because it grows on the misfortune of other.
Blake’s theory reminds me of Laotse immediately. Laotse, who views nature as only proper way, dislikes the categorization of good and bad at his time either. In his Tao Te Ching, he expresses similar opinions: “When knowledge and cleverness appeared, Great hypocrisy followed in its wake. When the six relationships no longer lived at peace, [T]here was (praise of) “kind parents” and “filial sons.”” He believes that all good features, which are praised by the society at his time, exist because the gap and inequality makes contrary possible.
Though both of them are viewed as geniuses who speak to the later generations, their theories appeared in time of change. Blake’s resentment towards all forms of institutions was accelerated and magnified by the outstanding effect of Britain’s industrialization. The coming to power of capitalism and industrialization caused a huge income gap. Similarly, Laotse’s time, around 5th to 4th century BCE, was characterized by the emerging centralized state power and social hierarchy, first time in Chinese history. However, the future developments of these two theories are quite different. Blake’s poetry, though has the characteristics of religion, is studied more in English class. On the contrary, developing from Tao Te Ching, Laotse’s theory transforms into one of China’s major religions, Taoism.
The translation of Tao Te Ching is from Yutang Lin’s The Wisdom of Laotse. Most of the theories of Laotse are from my high school History and Chinese class.