William Blake’s Criticism of Society in his Poems
William Blake, as a critic of his time, took an active role in exposing the corruption taking place in his society. He also describes the woes and injustices of civilized society. According to Blake, men are short sighted and blind and they are ignorant of the spiritual nature of life. In this role Blake appears as a critic of the age and of contemporary condition.
William Blake wrote about 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.
Blake hated the exploitation of children's labor in the 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)
We can see 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).
The picture drawn by Blake is disturbing and heartbreaking at the same time. Blake is here pointing out that man is responsible for evils of society.
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."
“London” 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.
Prostitution is one of the worse effects of Industrial revolution. 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.
He also criticizes the institutions that remained silent in the faces of injustice. ‘Holy Thursday’ is an indictment of a society which allows children to depend upon charity.
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 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 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 oppressionists.
In the poem “A divine Image’ the poet says that cruelty, jealousy, terror and secrecy are human qualities. Cruelty may be seen in the heart of man, jealousy may be seen in the face of man. Terror is visible in the human shape which we cal divine. Secrecy is the dress or the garment which human beings wear.
In conclusion, it can be easily seen how Blake stood against the suffering of human kind and used his poems to expose the corruption of the world that surrounded him. He clearly criticized the society and hoped that people would take action to change things for the better. The problems in Blake's society aren't very different than the ones in today's world. People should take a good look around them and take action to better their surroundings.