Style and Techniques used in William Blake's Poetry

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Introduction :

      Blake's eminence as a great poet rests on the fact that his voice is so individual style of writing. It often happens that poets who succeed in evolving a distinctive style have something to say which only they can say. We think of Milton seeking to "justify the ways of God to men" and going on to do so in the noble style of Paradise Lost. Such a language would not have suited T.S. Eliot seeking to express the desolation of the nineteen-twenties for which he evolved the poetry of The Waste Land. Once a poet has discovered a new way of using words, others of less talent follow him. They may be merely imitative, having nothing original of their own to communicate, like so many of the eighteenth century Miltonisers, or they may make good use of their predecessors discoveries, modifying them to suit their own requirements, and produce good (though minon poetry. Of Blake it is true to say that he has no notable predecessors and no followers.

Blake's Poems - their Structure and Style : Between the ages of fourteen and twenty, as we see from Poetical Sketches that Blake wrote verses in emulation of various renowned poets such as Shakespeare and the Elizabethan song-writers, Spenser, Milto, Gray, and Collins, to learn the trade of poetry, as it were. After that period what he writes is unmistakably his own, and he never looks back or falls back. Apart from the lyrical style, he developed in his Prophetic books a free verse praiseworthy for its modernity.
William Blake

Blake's Poems - their Structure and Style :

      Between the ages of fourteen and twenty, as we see from Poetical Sketches that Blake wrote verses in emulation of various renowned poets such as Shakespeare and the Elizabethan song-writers, Spenser, Milto, Gray, and Collins, to learn the trade of poetry, as it were. After that period what he writes is unmistakably his own, and he never looks back or falls back. Apart from the lyrical style, he developed in his Prophetic books a free verse praiseworthy for its modernity.

      Blake's poems are "dictated by Spirits" - the result of inspiration but he was also aware of the share the conscious mind must play, "Every word is studied and put into its fit place", he says of one of his Prophetic books. This is true also of Songs of Innocence and Experience - with some qualification. The manuscripts show that he would revise certain words and phrases repeatedly but lines and stanzas which "came", as we say, which fell easily into verse he was often unwilling to alter, even when they contained, visible defects. Dr. F.R. Leavis, in commenting on some ambiguities in 'Introduction', says that Blake "disdains the virtues of prose", using his own poetic means to define his own peculiar intention of evil, disharmony and a general fall". In spite of the truth of his statement we cannot use it to acquit Blake completely. He had a strong streak of impatience in his nature; and there are, as a result, blemishes in his work which have neither the virtues of prose nor of intuition.

      Sources of Blake's Poems Such faults are, however, insignificant. Blake appears to have taken them over from the folk verse which impressed him. No poet, however original he may be, starts perfectly at the beginning; others have written before him and made experiments and discoveries about words and forms, upon which he may build. And although Blake denied the obvious 'literary' models, he made use of and brought to greatness the largely anonymous tradition of popular verse ballad, doggerel, jingle, nursery rhyme, folk song and hymn. In his poems there are reminiscences of another writer called Isaac Watts. Be that as it may, it is certainly to this tradition of 'easy language' whether for children or humble folk, that Blake is indebted, in part at least for the unaffected simplicity of his language.

Lyrical Style :

      The lyrical style which Blake chose is capable of great variety. Without losing its lyrical splendour it can suit song, hymn, fable, allegory, prophecy, or satire of the bitterest kind. There is no mean achievement, for there are certain obviously "right forms" in particular cases-blank verse for King Lear not the Spenserian stanza, for instance. We may take satire as an illustration. The great English satirists of the eighteenth century had used an appropriate style. the heroic couplet, which had the precision necessary for their swift thrust and which Blake's forms seem to lack. There is, however, more than one kind of satire. Blake's approaches to satire are with the innocent eye. In Blake satire lies in the contrast between what innocence expects and what experience shows. Here the lyrical form is absolutely essential to the success of the poem, suiting the innocence of the speaker. Blake gets full value for whatever he desires to say.

      The lyric simplicity of the 'Songs' does not deprive them of depth; their language is like that of the Bible at once simple and profound. And in fact, in the Songs of Innocence particularly, Biblical ideas are drawn upon, which add significance. Thus when Blake speaks of sheep and the shepherd we think of Christ as the Good shepherd and of his parables, and thus a poem such as 'The Shepherd' is enriched for us. Sometime this enrichment is done by the echoing of specific phrases in the Bible. Take for example, the lines:

I a child, and thou, a lamb
We are called by his name.

      Christ is the lamb of God; the child is often called "little lamb a term of affection used by parents even today. But Blake's reference is wider for it recalls Jeremiah: "Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name: leave us not." In other words, all of us are the Lord's chosen people : it is not merely the child and the lamb that are under divine protection. Blake was so deeply influenced by the Bible that such phrases came naturally and perhaps, unconsciously to him.

Symbols :

      Blake's poems are enriched by Biblical symbols and ideas. They also tinted by his own system of symbols. The 'Songs' are poetry and not riddles to be solved, and an acquaintance with his symbols is not a substitute for poetic appreciation - we may even appreciate Blake's works without being conscious of them. However, it is undeniable that they are a part of his communication with his readers and if we wish to understand him at a deeper level, to realise fully what he is saying, we should know something of the symbols he uses. Let us quote an actual example to illustrate the point. In the Songs of experience and the Songs af Innocence there is a 'Nurse's Songs'. In both occur the lines:

Then come home, my children the sun is gone,
and the dews of night arise,

      In Innocence there is nothing sinister about them and this is due to the innocent happy context. The nurse merely says that it is getting dark, and there will be a dew fall - this will be one of those calm summer nights in a period of fine weather: there will be another golden day tomorrow. But in the second poem the same lines are full foreboding, followed by:

Your spring and your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.

      The sun has gone down, and will not turn up again, the 'dew' here gives a sense of chill and damp. Innocence is faded, the night of experience has begun.

      The word 'dew' however, has yet another significance. The significant implications we have attached to it above have been determined by the associations the word has for us, and by the context in which it occurs. But in Experience it is also a symbol of materialism, the philosophy of experience, the indifference to spiritual truth. This we could not have known merely from the poem itself, but our appreciation is supplemented from our knowing it, suggesting as it does that man is responsible for his state; the darkness is really his own blindness. And further, such symbols as these, recurring in various poems, help to club the poems of Songs of Innocence and Experience into a unity. We may read and appreciate an individual poem plucked out of its accompanying ones just as we may read Shakespeare's speeches in an anthology; but reading them in their own context is all the more striking.

Links of External and Internal World :

      In fact Blake is a poet who is concerned with the world outside us, in so far as he can take advantage of the objects in it to symbolise the world 'inside' us. Thus by the Sunflower he represents the yearning of youth for love and freedom, by the Lily the purity of love; when he speaks of the Sick Rose he is really telling us how mysterious evils attack the human soul. The soul of man deserves Blake's especial consideration and interest, and his insight into its 'contrary states' is profound. He never lets his vision of what human nature might be blind him to what it is.

Conclusion :

      Acute is Blake's recognition and realization of the extent to which men live in a world of their own mind's creation: the joy and mirth which the child derives from the natural objects such as birds, woods, and streams is really within him, it is the miseries and hardships of mankind that darken the skies and bring 'eternal winter' : the manacles men bear are 'mind forged' Not least amongst Blake's claims to greatness is that he has increased out understanding of ourselves.

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