William Blake is a lyric poet. He was born in the neo- classical age, but the things that distinguish him from other poets of his age are the lyrical qualities of his poetry. By the lyrical qualities we understand such poetic features as subjectivity, melodiousness, imagination, description and meditation. Moreover a lyric poem is usually short and may fall into such genres as elegy, ode, ballad, sonnet etc. A lyric poem expresses a poet’s private thoughts and emotions rather than telling a story. From all these perspectives the poems of Blake in Songs of Innocence and Experience are lyrics.
The first quality that makes his poems lyrics is subjectivity. The neo-classical approach to poetry was objective. Blake on the other hand took a subjective approach. Blake was a disturbing prophet who desired social change. He was personally against all kinds of repressions, materialism, institutional corruption, racism, worship of money and hypocrisy.
Blake voiced against repression and constrains. He did not follow the neo-classical restrains of writing poem. He also expressed his hatred towards institutional and personal repressions in such poems as- The Holy Thursday, The Nurse’s Songs (Experience),
In Blake’s time many children had to depend upon charity. In his poem ‘Holy Thursday’, Blake raises his voice against such repression.
And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their as are filled with thorns
It is eternal winter there.
Blake means here that all children are angles, not scapegoats to be the butchered on the altar of the society. How can England call herself rich and fruitful land if she has hunger children waiting for food from the so-called benefactors of society?
Blake believes that children should be free and their life should be colorful. But the guardians always try to restrict them. Blake opposes such kind of restriction. In Nurse’s Song, the nurse keeps a constant watch over the children and her instincts reflect her disposition. From her angle of view, life is aimless, a useless waste of time in childhood and in old age, a shame. It has no purpose as she says:
Our spring and our day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.
She sets all her views in a depressing background such as winter, night, and dew darkness and so on. She looks back with frustration on her childhood, and instead of feeling merry she grows pale. Her ‘spring’ and “day” seem to express the agony of growing up to a regretful maturity. She is hostile and insensitive to innocence. She takes the children back home, leaving them unable to protest, to play and enjoy.
William Blake dislikes Industrial Revolution and in his poems he focuses how the Industrial Revolution represents the devil and that it must be purged. Blake focused on child labor and prostitution-the two adverse effects of Industrialization Revolution in his poems The Chimney Sweeper and London.
Blake hated the exploitation of children's labor because of Industrial Revolution. Blake believed in the innocence of childhood pleasures. The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake expressed the difficult lives of working children. As the title reveals it, the children are cleaning chimneys all day long in unimaginable conditions. Blake gives his readers a clear understanding of the harsh conditions of these young chimney sweepers. He says:
“There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curl’d like a lamb’s back,” ( lines 5-6)
Blake focuses how badly these children are left powerless and with no escape. On another instance, the poem relates the misery felt by these children when it says:
“A little black thing among the snow/
Crying “ ‘weep, ‘weep,” in notes of woe!” (lines 1-2).
Blake is here pointing out that man is responsible for evils of society. The picture drawn by Blake is disturbing and heartbreaking at the same time.
In his poem "London," from his work Songs of Experience, Blake describes the woes of the Industrial Revolution. He describes the Thames River and the city streets as "chartered," or controlled by commercial interest. He refers to "mind-forged manacles"; he relates that every man's face contains "Marks of weakness, marks of woe"; and he discusses the "every cry of every Man" and "every Infant's cry of fear."
In “London” Blake describes a world during and after the industrial revolution in which there have been many ill-fated side effects as people move away from the traditional farming families and their beliefs.
Blake vividly portrays another worse effect of Industrial revolution, “prostitution”, in his poem “London”. A prostitute or an unwed mother is unable to rejoice in her child’s birth. It tells of a married couple looking down upon her for what she does in order to make a living. This is ironic because the business of prostitution is caused in part by the restrictions placed upon the married man. It is also ironic because the married man is what has created the need for, and use of prostitutes. The harlot curses the respectable and polite society because it is they who have created the demand for her, and then look down upon what she does. “Blights with plagues” implies that perhaps she also infects them with some sort of venereal disease. The final words of the poem, “Marriage hearse” compares marriage to death. The narrator sees marriage as another type of restriction placed upon man by society, marriage is a sort of death in man’s ability to be free to do as he wishes.
Blake believed in equality for all men, and this is reflected in his poem. William Blake's The Little Black Boy revolves around the theme of slavery and the ideal slave's mentality. Blake wrote about a black African-American and his experience with slavery. Blake probably expressed his own feelings towards the whites' racism and suppression acts towards African-Americans through the black boy, which is the speaker of the poem.
The poem is about an African-American, who is the speaker of the poem, who remembers his childhood with his mother where she used to indoctrinate her child with the racist beliefs of slavers. The black boy has a dream, that all humans will be equal.
Blake stands against puritan hypocrisy. Two of his poems from Songs of Experience present his views on the matter: ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ and “The Garden of Love’.
In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’, the child (Blake) is telling society that his pain is being caused by those in whom he put his trust— his parents. They abandon him and go ...to praise God & his Priest & King (Blake, 11). Perhaps they do this, because on the outside their child looks happy and they probably think that they are helping him more than anything:
‘ And because I am happy, & dance& sing
They think they have done me no injury,’
In the meantime, the church is also playing a part in his misery. How? Because it allows the parents to come inside its building to pray when they should be protecting their child from all harm:
‘They are both gone up to the church to pray
a heaven of our misery “
In another of his poems, ‘The Garden of Love,’ Blake portrays religion as the oppressor of human kind. Blake sees the church as an obstacle between men and God. He attacks the Priests because, instead of offering God's comfort as they were meant to do, they become like judges or police officers telling men what they can or cannot do.
“And priests in lack gowns were walking their round
And binding with briars my joys and desires.”
Blake asks society to take a second look at the way the church treats them and to realize that God cannot found among oppressions.
All of Blake’s poem are short, some very short indeed. All are written in apparently simple style, and the most usual verse form in the rhymed quatrain. (stanza of four lines). A lyric poem is usually melodious. In many of Blake’s poem like “The Tyger” we find melodious tone.
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
For Blake “imagination” is that gift in man, which can hear the prompting’s of God, or “spiritual sensation”. ‘Introduction’ is a canonical poem of the romantic period. In it lies the key romantic element: imagination, emotion, idealism. In “Introduction” to Songs of Innocence Blake as a poet, playing his simple and innocent music attracts the attention of a muse or spirit that appears to him as a child on a cloud. The child encourages him to play a song about a “Lamb” and being impressed with the musician asks him to drop his pipe and write a book “that all may read”. In this way the spirit is asking Blake to share his inspiration with a wider audience, an audience that would not depend on his presence to experience the happiness his imagination can bring.
Sometimes Blake asks question about creation: how can we understand a God who is capable of creating the innocence of the lamb and the fury of the tiger? The Tyger (Songs of Experiece) is Blake’s famous meditative poem. The tiger is Blake’s symbol for the “abundant life”, and for regeneration. Centrally, it Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful smmetry?
Nature was not the central focus of Blake's poems, but it was a theme that did occur in many of his works, such as "Nurse's Song" "The Lamb", "Earth's Answer", "The Garden of Love", "To Spring" and "To the Evening Star".
In "Nurse's Song" (from Songs of Innocence), Blake describes children playing outside, enjoying nature and having the time of their lives. In this verse, time is marked by signs in the natural world. The nurse implores: "[t]hen come home, my children, the sun is gone down / And the dews of night arise. . ." (lines 5-6). Nature acts as a gentle guide for the children. Their only concept of time comes from the luminaries and the light they give. The children respond to the nurse, wanting to play until the last lights in the sky are gone. Again, scenes from nature appear.
"Besides, in the sky the little birds fly /
And the hills are all covered with sheep."
Each of his poems is a vehicle of expressing his personal emotion. It seems his art had been too adventurous and unconventional for the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and we may even say he was ahead of his time.