Tag Archive: Religion


Chained by the Giant

Blake’s disagreements with the system of the Royal Academy was greatly influenced by his mother, who was before influenced by Zinzendorf, bishop of the Moravian Church. Zinzendorf strongly advocated a healthy mother-child relationship and Blake later incorporates themes of a mother-child relationship in many of his works. Zinzendorf’s childhood of being sent away to boarding school and instructed by puritanical pedants took part in this concept that “mother was the best teacher for a young child” (Schuchard 89).

The obsession with women dealt with their anatomical features, specifically, the breasts, which is symbolic of not only nursing a child, but also the passing of knowledge to child. The “Moravians advocated maternal breast feeding rather than farming infants out to wet nurses” because “the mother’s “school” for her infant took on a spiritualerotic connotation, which was vividly expressed in hymns for the embryo and suckling choirs” (89). This is the supposedly more natural form of education.

Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell describes his experience in a printing house in Hell. He witnesses and describes the process of book printing through images of creatures molding rubble together. He says, “There they were reciev’d by Men who occupied the sixth chamber and took the forms of books & were arranged in libraries” (Blake 76). Both Blake and Zinzendorf saw institutional training as artificial and evil. There is no definitive answers to Blake’s Christianity because priesthood and the church are their own forms of institution. Blake, as a Moravian, sees the contradictions within Moravian itself. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell points to Zinzendorf and calls him out for this reason. Institutions such as the Royal Academy are:

The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains, are in truth, the causes of its life & the sources of all activity, but the chains are the cunning of the weak and tame minds, which have the power to resist energy, according to the proverb, the weak in courage is strong in cunning” (76).

Is the priest, the church, and/or religion members of these Giants that Blake has mentioned above?

-Van Vang

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In two poems, William Blake shows how God creates Hope, but religion creates despair.

In William Blake’s The Songs of Innocence and Experience, I believe there are two poems that are linked by a loose thread. To find the link, one must employ equal parts close reading skill, knowledge of the historical cultural moment, and mental gymnastics. The link is so fine, so ephemeral and fleeting, that it is difficult to place the works into conversation, let alone open a discourse on their intertextuality. I speak of course of The Chimney Sweeper from The Songs of Innocence and The Chimney Sweeper from The Songs of ExperienceThe casual reader will invariably look at the titles of these two works and fail to see how they can possibly be placed in conversation with one another when their subject matter is so far removed. To this I cry “Folly!” I then put away my sarcasm, and begin my analysis of these two poems in earnest.

To contextualize: chimney sweeps’ apprentices, as they were formally called, were young children, often in single digit age brackets. These boys were unpaid laborers who were fed by their masters, and tasked with climbing into chimneys. The work conditions were such that they often perished.

The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence) looks at this profession with interesting optimism. The poem appears to tell the story of a boy named Tom who is visited by an Angel and is shown the coffins of thousands of dead children. This is, of course, a good thing. Consider the following truncated version:

As Tom was sleeping he had such a sight.
That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned & Jack
Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black,
And by came an Angel who had a bright key
And he open’d the coffins & set them all free
And the Angel told Tom if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.
Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.  (Blake 18)

This truncated version exemplifies the idea that there is joy and hope to be found in God. It is an optimistic text that reminds the reader that thanks to God, even the barbarism of child slavery that results in death can have a happy ending. Thus, The Chimney Sweeper of Innocence equates God with Hope.

The idea that God creates Hope is complicated by The Chimney Sweeper of Experience. The second poem creates, in lieu of the optimism and hope of God, the dread and despair of religion. The poem is markedly darker, and there is less focus on God and more focus on religion. The church has created the monsters, by preaching the ideal that “If all do their duty, they need not fear harm” (18). The adults that should be caring for and protecting this young boy “are gone to praise God & his Priest & King Who make up a heaven of our misery” (35). For symmetry, gaze upon the truncated version.

Where are thy father & mother? say?
They are both gone up to church to pray.
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
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).

It is, therefore, God who creates hope, but Religion that allows despair.

 

Ross Koppel

In William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, “Holy Thursday”, partaking in the religious is a communal affair, one that the youth is a part of; the children are in a way facilitating the religious. The last stanza is indicative of this:

“Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song

Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among

The youth is shown here to be the fore bringers of the religious: without them, there is no “mighty wind”, and furthermore, without the youth there is no religion to pass on. The lines following these show the contrast between the youth and the elders more:

Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor

Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door

This lines appear to show that while the youth are the future of the church in their innocence, the elders champion them. This is buttressed by the fact the elders, sit “beneath them” (11), and must act as “guardians of the poor” (11), which may or may not be some of the youth. The final message of the poem is to “cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door” (12), alluding to the fact that the youth could in fact grow up to be the future of the church, and to shut your doors to them is to be denying them of that future.

The “contrasting” piece, therefore, (of the same name, “Holy Thursday”) works to further instill and drive this meaning home. “Holy Thursday” in Songs of Innocence and Experience, takes a less hopeful approach. Instead of arguing in an optimistic light, the speaker of the poem is much more pessimistic and dark: “Babes reducd to misery / Fed with cold and usurious hand?” (2-3). Blake uses the imagery of children suffering to show in a much more realistic light what was actually going on in England. While the previous poem focused on the potential power of the child, this one shows the reality of children’s future. Without the protection of the elders, and without charity, “their sun does never shine…their ways are fill’d with thorns / It is eternal winter there” (9-12). This offers an important commentary on Blake’s philosophy of thought: if we are cruel and uncharitable to children, we stifle their potential and prevent them coming to Christianity. Christianity is the place where a “babe can never hunger there, / Nor poverty the mind appall” (15-16).

 

-Sara Nuila-Chae

I Was Lost, Then I Was Found

Before finding inner peace, I was lost.

Where can I venture to find peace within myself?

Along the path I see nothing but darkness,

My feet feel as if they are becoming one with the ground.

Never to move again.

 

Will I be forever trapped in this pit of darkness?

This realm of shadows filled with nothing but looming darkness,

The trees that hang o’er me seem to be closing in.

The little boy los

What is that light?

Do not leave me, allow me to wander with you.

I just want to follow you, let me see the light.

I do not want to be lost anymore.

s-inn.b.p1-2.100

Where am I now?

I can see more than I did before.

Are you the light I found?

Are you the one to guide me to the true light?

s-inn.z.p8-10.100

Please father, even with my sun burnt skin,

Allow me into your arms, allow me into your light.

Why is it impossible for you to accept me?

Why does the color of my skin matter?

 

Simply because his skin is fairer than mine,

He is allowed into your warm arms?

I thought you were all accepting?

It seems you are all accepting of fair skinned lambs,

For I am only a dark skinned lamb.

 

I decided to write a short poem/story about religion and acceptance because religion is supposed to be all around accepting. Though I began to think about cases where it might not be true. Like in slavery for instance, from the moment they were born, they were taught that they belong to people; people of fairer skin. We all share “one” God, but from the slave’s point of view, it probably seemed like the people who “owned” them, had life better than they did. They were able to roam free and enjoy the light, while the slaves continued living confined by chains and beaten by their “owners.” I incorporated mainly Eden and childhood in my short poem/story in the sense that the light the lost black lamb wanted to enter was his Eden. While with childhood, I chose to use lamb in the sense of a follower; a child of God, except in this case, he was rejected as a child of God.

-Anderson Tang

“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 Mythology- Is it in you?

This post responds to the first question, “Why does Blake deviate from the Biblical account in making Adam and Noah contemporaries?” In “The Song of Los,” Blake depicts several scenes of his mythological characters delivering gospel and religion to various important religious figures. This image of Blake’s characters as the root of all common religions reminds us of “All Religions are One,” in which Blake posits that all religions come from the same source, and therefore are no different at their core.

It is also important to note that “All Religions are One” claims that religion comes from the poetic genius, which resides within man. Since he depicts his mythological characters as delivering these religious principles to each of the creators of religion, Blake is saying that each of his mythological characters actually resides within these religious leaders, and it is the work of each character that influences each religious leader’s doctrine. For example, Theotormon—the representation of desire that becomes jealousy when repressed—delivers the gospel to Jesus. The decision to have Theotorman deliver Christianity was a conscious one, as Blake is making a comment on the sexual repression perpetuated by the Christian leaders of his time.

The decision to have Urizen deliver his “Laws” to both Noah and Adam together (as contemporaries) was also a conscious one (109). As Urizen delivers the laws to both men, we can assume that both men are crippled by mankind’s reason. Blake undermines the Bible by pointing out the utter uselessness of time—to Blake, Noah and Adam may as well be the same person, as they are crippled by the same thing—man’s logical reason, represented by Urizen’s laws.

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers 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 (10/2), 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 antinomian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.  Categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.

 

I’ve included below pictures of the idea map we created collaboratively in class today (the markings are color coded: yellow for Richard Price, blue for Edmund Burke, and red for Thomas Paine).  Use this map as a rough guide to help you position Blake’s political views in preparation for this week’s blog question prompt.

 

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The Decay of Innocence

A prominent sinister undertone runs through Blake’s “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Innocence as the reader sees the Sweep’s exploitation.  Though he is forced to work, Tom Dacre remains in a state of innocence, and his imagination allows him to find hope.  Without a known identity from his parents, the idea of a heavenly father easily diverts Tom’s eyes from the hardship before him to the alternative reality he longs.  Innocence is then a state of the mind when dreams hold more power than reality.

The Chimney Sweeper of Songs of Experience is not so easily distracted.  Experience has chipped away at his readiness to believe the religious rhetoric.  Instead, religion has become a cause of neglect and pain as his parents abandon him to go to prayers.  While his outward behavior corresponds with what is expected of a child, his experience as a Sweep has brought his imaginative innocence to a premature end.  He now sees religion and hope as hollow and cannot see past the immediate reality of his circumstances.  Experience exposes false hope.

By connecting the two stories of the Chimney Sweep, Blake creates a continuous narrative of the decay of innocence.  These accounts then present complementary attacks on religion as an institution exploiting the innocent and bringing suffering to the experienced.  While at first religion and imagination can distract the sweep, experience makes him aware of harsher reality.

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.

Blake’s new religion

By claiming All Religions Are One, Blake created a new religion himself, with utilizing Poetic Genius to present Prophecy and Art as its major practice. In this religion, he integrated all Gods, from whatever religions, as one. Therefore by assimilating all religions, he denied these religions’ original principles and recreated his own. True Men recorded their vision and imagination, through their own Poetic Genius, and delivered their understanding of this only and ultimate existence. All religions on this planet served as reflections of this highest existence. However, I would like to make no assumption about what this ultimate existence, the origin of all religion and the source of all Gods, exactly is. Unlike many other religions, Blake created a practice without a clear goal. His definition of divine and infinite, the highest goals of this religion, emphasize on the practice itself, not a practice of scientific analysis or logical deduction, but a practice of seeing vision. The practice of Poetic Genius in the form of Prophecy and Art enables one to see infinite. Nevertheless, as a Christian himself, where is the position of Christian religion in this interpretation when all religions are intrinsically the same? And what is the point to rebuild Jerusalem in the land of England if the goal is just to see the infinite?