Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of interpreting William Blake’s work is the application of his precepts and ideals to the real world we inhabit. Frequently his abstract, allegorical visions seem impossible to work out in reality and can therefore appear irrelevant. For example, his calls for political, economic, religious, and societal revolution were so radical that they could not be openly advocated in Blake’s allegorical work or realized in his own life. In Songs of Innocence, Blake’s poem “The Chimney Sweeper,” with its complement of the same title in Songs of Experience, indicts the exploitation of children at the hands of supposedly moral adults. These two poems emerge as distinct from their fellows because they hone in on particular subjects and make clear that the depicted children’s suffering is at the hands of those the children personally trusted, rather than impersonal institutions. What is not as easy to discern, however, is what sort of solution Blake proposes. Clearly Blake is advocating a social revolution of some sort, one that preserves the innocence of the victimized children he depicts. But what does the execution of that vision practically look like, for his contemporary readers and for us? The overarching message of the Songs emphasizes the importance of instruction of children by adults, particularly their parents. But rather than the strict codes of morality that lead to the corruption Blake describes, Blake advocates an individual revolution of the mind to bring about local change and the passing-on of the ideals his art represents.

Advertisements