Tag Archive: politics


Religion and Politics

Blake engages with the French revolutionary debates in his “A Song of Liberty.” Thomas Paine, who also engages in those same debates, believes that “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possess of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time’, or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it” (24). Both thinkers understand the connection between religion and government, or religion as political and politics as religious. Blake, through his work, acknowledges the unbreakable link between religion and the political, “20. Spurning through the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to dust, loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night, crying ‘Empire is no more! And now the loin & wolf shall cease’” (plate 27).

Both thinkers, while talking about the French Revolution have something to say about religion. Paine alludes to an “end of time” and a “commanding.” Similarly Blake alludes to “stony law.” The Ten Commandments are a reoccurring image in both thinkers’ work, alongside a celebration of moving away from a system that valorizes based on faith.

-Israel Alonso

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Though William Blake is not anti-religious as Thomas Paine is, they both share a similar distaste for the church and state and how they operate (rule) society.

In Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man Part 1”, he argues against the fallacy of his government: “what is government more than the management of the affairs of a nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family…” (3). Evidently, Paine’s views on his government are that no one particular being ought to run the government, but perhaps the society should influence government’s tactics and affairs. A radical thinker, especially for his own time. Though not so estranged from Paine’s beliefs, Blake also sees the fallacies in his own government, as he reflects in his songs, “The Chimney Sweeper” from experience to be exact.

As mentioned before, Blake was not against religious faith, but merely disgusted by the foul practice of formed religions. He expresses his thoughts about churchgoers throughout the poem, especially in lines 3-4: “where are they father & mother? say?/They are both gone up to the church to pray.” (35). The fact that these god-loving parents can abandon their child and leave them to die in the business of sweeping chimneys, buried in soot, is appalling; and Blake offers who is at fault: the church and state. The closing lines 9-12 suggest rulers of society are allowing children to be killed in a disillusion, rather than offering help: “And because I am happy, & dance & sing,/ They think they have done me no injury:/ and are gone to praise God & his Priest & King/ Who make up a heaven of our misery.” (35). Blake places the church and state at fault for the sufferings of the children, as Paine definitely would, while still being a faithful god believer; he does not question the power or will of god, but those who serve him and use his name to rule.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

Prophets against Empire

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers Thomas Paine’s secular enlightenment assault on revealed religion to be the work of “either a Devil or an Inspired Man” (456).  He also notes that “Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop” (460).  For next Wednesday (2/28), write a post that reflects on Blake’s engagement with the French revolutionary debates of the turbulent 1790s.  How do any of the Blake works we’ve read thus far realign the radical ideals proposed by Paine with the poet-artist’s Swedenborgian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.

Please categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.

“As none by travelling over known lands can find out the unknown, So

from already acquired knowledge Man could not acquire more. Therefore an universal Poetic Genius already exists.” -Blake

Blake’s perspective on Genius and of art seems to be a very natural one -one that does not require higher forms of schooling.  Perhaps is own personal experience in having a acquired a natural craft for art, as well as having been sent to a local art school has a lot to do with his perspective.  I believe that his upbringing with parents whom supported Blake’s endeavors with a humble hand, also had much to do with Blake’s modest ways.  His thoughts, noted in the passage above, are that no individual need to seek much more than what is already innately within them to be considered a genius.  Conversely, Reynolds speaks of different levels of artistic steps one must take to attain a true genius eye: “I recommend the diligent study of the works of our great predecessors: but I at the same time endeavored to guard them against an implicit submission to the authority of any one master however excellent.”  While, Reynolds does want art students to be careful of over-studying the predecessors, his point still remains that they must go through a rite of passage, so to speak, in order to reach true genius.

In Blake’s encryption, “Israel deliverd from Egypt is Art deliverd from Nature & Imitation” is reminiscent of his perspective on what it means to be a true artist, a genius.  In other words,  Egypt, assuming it was a beautifully constructed land, was ironically constructed by the hands of slaves, the Israelites.  Henceforth, they were the artists, and Blake uses that deplorable historical experience to point out that while the construction was a beautiful sight, it was done so through imitation -imitation, being what the slaves were forced to come up with by means of their aggressor.  This encryption does two things: it goes against Reynold’s Utopian perception of the genius, and it brings up a political and religious injustice. I feel as though he is also exposing the hypocrisy in that of art.  When a piece of art gets in the hands of the elite, they consume it and greed begins to take over.  The art becomes something it was not intended to be in the first place.

-Maricela Martinez (Marcy)

Blake’s inscription, “Israel delivered from Egypt is Art delivered from Nature & Imitation,” is just one of many nonsensical phrases scrawled onto “The Laocoon.” When examined in the context of Reynolds’ Discourse of Art, it becomes clear that Blake is using “The Laocoon” to satirize Reynolds. In Discourse of Art, Reynolds claims “a mere copier of nature can never produce any thing great,” a sentiment clearly reflected in Blake’s graffiti upon “The Laocoon” (Reynolds, 41). This graffiti is accompanied by phrases such as “A Poet a Painter a Musician an Architect: the Man Or Woman who is not one of these is not a Christian” (Blake, 352). Since this statement cannot be considered true, it is safe to assume that none of the statements scribbled on “The Laocoon” should be taken seriously, once again hinting at a satirical message. Blake’s metaphorical comparison of art to religion hints that he is condemning more than just Reynolds’ message about art and artists, however. He is also hinting at art’s relationship to religion. In his reaction to Discourses on Art, Blake writes, “the Enquirey in England is not whether a Man has Talents & Genius? But whether is he Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass: & obedient to Noblemens Opinions in Art & Science” (463). From this statement, we can conclude that Blake believes that the link between religion/politics and art is not a natural one, but a forced one. His comparison of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to art’s deliverance from nature and imitation makes sense—he is mocking Reynolds, but on a deeper level, he is mocking artists who are “obedient to Noblemens Opinions,” whether that is in regards to art, politics, or religion.

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.

I felt like this might help our understanding of the poem “And did those feet in ancient time…”. The references made in the poem to particular instruments of war (the bow, arrows, spear, and chariot) were reminiscent of Ephesians 6:10-18, and I can’t help but believe this was the allusion Blake was trying to make in the poem. It’s interesting that the tenets of Christianity are laid out in such a militant fashion when there’s so much talk of the violent aspects of other religions (read: Islam) by politically-minded Christians these days. I wonder how Blake would feel about the religious and political rhetoric in America concerning religions other than Christianity, especially after having read “All Religions are One”. In his own time, Blake was a radical. With the current political discourse in mind, I’d say he’d still be considered one, even centuries later. Blake seems to occupy an ostensibly incomprehensible middle-ground between religious zealot, broad-minded philosopher, and prophetic artist. Can we ever allow such contradictory attributes exist simultaneously in a single individual? Our own prejudices tend to subconsciously categorize both subjects and objects to help ourselves understand the world around us. Blake offers one of those glorious exceptions that, in his defiance of categorization, teaches us a lesson about our own propensity towards judgment.