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The Romantic Era, of which Blake was an essential part, was defined by fashionable excesses of sensibility (Duncan, H. & Boreham, J. (2005). Introducing Romanticism) and an aesthetic appreciation of the arts that promoted free expression of imagination. Like art, poetry is a reflection of life, mirroring reality in all its beauty and detail. Poets represent the fundamental elements of life, love, beauty and death differently, yet each will in some way reflect like a mirror the beliefs of his/her society on these universal topics. Blake’s unique metaphysical philosophies on nature and humanity help to define both him and his artistic legacy. Nowhere are they better expressed than in his poetic masterpiece “Auguries of Innocence”.

Compelling and prophetic, Blake’s poem connects the decline of man’s affairs to the depreciation of his surroundings. The metaphysical discourse of the piece is ingrained into the opening four lines:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
This opening arrangement demonstrates paradoxically the metaphorical character of the work that continues throughout the long, flowing ballad. It employs a simple a,b,a,b rhyme scheme that aids in illustrating the connectivity, the intertwining of man and nature, as it was in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth (World English Bible (2004). Rainbow Missions).

An extremely spiritual yet unorthodox Christian, in “Auguries of Innocence”, Blake describes a society that has become disconnected with the natural world from which it came, and the spiritual being that it claims to worship. For the remainder of the piece the rhyme scheme follows an a,a,b,b pattern, thus signifying mankind’s separation from God and his estrangement from the organic world. This directly opposes Blake’s strong relationship with the birds and beasts of England:

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill'd with doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro' all its regions.
Natural phenomena are capitalised throughout the entire ballad, representing visually the significance of God’s creation to the people of the Romantic Era.

Individual and inventive, Blake sustained an extremely personal relationship with God and the spiritual force that he believed flowed through all of God’s creation. He also subscribed heavily to the Romantic ideal that imagination, not reason, is man’s defining power, and his gift from his creator – the divine element in man is now held to be neither power nor free will nor reason, but self consciousness (Auden, W. (1943). Poets of the English Language, Volume IV - Blake to Poe). This state of self-consciousness allows man to see and imagine all possibilities, it is his source of redemption and his access to Paradise regained on Earth. Blake himself once said – I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body and mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination (Duncan, H. & Boreham, J. (2005). Introducing Romanticism).

The powers of human thought and intellect, being in Blake’s opinion the true Light of Knowledge, were highly valued in Romantic thought, yet nothing compared to the power of God. The poet encourages mankind to become one with nature, suggesting that all of humanity’s difficulties can be solved by recalling the totality of its existence. If the Sun & Moon should doubt / They’d immediately Go out. Blake implies that God’s universe is perfect by definition, and that Man, as a part of the macrocosm of creation, must reconnect with his divine image or be doomed for eternity.

By constructing his reality from this ‘religion of nature’, Blake’s work epitomises the Romantic style of writing that drew inspiration from a divine, universal force, and used intense imagery relying on the natural world. Powerfully, Blake juxtaposes the ruin of man with the power of the divine: Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly, / For the Last Judgement draweth nigh. So closely is man linked to nature that the state of man’s affairs is directly related to the state of his environment: He who shall train the Horse to War / Shall never pass the Polar Bar. Here Blake proclaims that those who upset the balance of the universe will ultimately never reach the light of Milton’s Lost Paradise. Man is the cause of his own demise, and can be equally responsible for his absolution and salvation:

The Whore & Gambler, by the State
Licenc'd, build that Nation's Fate...
The Winner's Shout, the Loser's Curse,
Dance before dead England's Hearse.
Humanity’s distraction and preoccupation with material things has separated it from its divine image. Through the powers of self-consciousness and imagination, mankind can still be redeemed.

Blake’s mystical spirituality and unique artistic vision went largely unappreciated during the majority of his lifetime, his revolutionary ideas took significant time to begin influencing Romantic thought. These certain unique qualities have delighted and enthralled his fans ever since his death. Poet Laureate of the Era, William Wordsworth, even said of Blake that there is something in the madness of the man that interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron (Duncan, H. & Boreham, J. (2005). Introducing Romanticism). The individuality of Blake’s philosophies contributed to his incredibly aesthetic artwork.

This rejection of order and reason was certainly representative of an era of literature that opposed the ideas of contemporary Isaac Newton, whose work implied that the nature of God and man were completely predictable. Blake believed that man could not be predicted nor analysed, that the human soul must be free to soar towards the light. I must Create a System, he said, or be enslav’d by another Man’s. I will not Reason and Compare, my business is to Create (Duncan, H. & Boreham, J. (2005). Introducing Romanticism).

Creation relishes in rebirth, a renaissance of humanity. The blights of war, famine and social injustice and inequity are, for Blake, problems which must be solved for humanity to reach its full potential and magnificence.

The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesar's Laurel Crown.
Nought can deform the Human Race
Like the Armour's iron brace.
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.
Peaceful arts of music, painting, engraving and poetry, all foregrounded and emphasised in the Renaissance Era and fused by Blake into an aesthetic embodiment of his metaphysical philosophy.

What will become of the innocence of man? Can mankind reconnect with the spiritual force that drives all of creation? The only way to build Blake’s Jerusalem here on Earth is to step back into the light, to make a conscious decision to not just exist but to live in the glorious way our creator intended. For, in the words of modern poet Jewel: innocence can’t be lost, / it just needs to be maintained. Through divine inspiration and the powers of the imagination, mankind can take its true place in the heavens:

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.
To resurrect the light of humanity through the spirit of the divine, to reconnect the soul of man with the celestial forces of nature – this is the desire that lies in the heart of every Romantic.

Sources:

  1. Auden, W. (1943 ). Poets of the English Language, Volume IV - Blake to Poe, Heron Books, Packard and Co.
  2. Duncan, H. & Boreham, J. (2005). Introducing Romanticism, Icon Books, UK.
  3. Rainbow Missions (2004). World English Bible.
  4. http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/368.html, (Author Unknown).

My chosen poem from the Romantic Era, this poem struck a chord not only because of its inherent message, but its sense of incredible beauty.

Brought to you by the seemingly endless parade of high school English Assignments.

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