William Blake : A Poet of Romantic Era

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Introduction :

      William Blake is considered a precursor of Romanticism is English Literature. Romantic era laid considerable stress on the elements of imagination, nature worship, humanitarianism, liberty, mysticism and symbolism. It differed from the outlook expounded by the preceding age of Neo-classicism which promoted the notion of reason, balance and logic with regard to prose and poetry. The Romantic creed of poetry rests on recording the simple emotions of humanity in a simple diction. Recollections of childhood (nostalgia) is also a common subject of Romanticism.

Blake the Romantic : The Romantic Era in England began with the smashing of the fetters of traditionalism. Blake believed that "poetry fettered fet ters the human race." in the period preceding Blake, poetry suffered from an excessive adherence to rules and monotony of heroic Couplets. All literature was confined to some established classical norms. Blake says: "We do not want either Greek or Roman models if we are but just and true to our own imaginations." He also brought about a drastic revolution in the sector of diction.
William Blake

Blake the Romantic :

      The Romantic Era in England began with the smashing of the fetters of traditionalism. Blake believed that "poetry fettered fet ters the human race." in the period preceding Blake, poetry suffered from an excessive adherence to rules and monotony of heroic Couplets. All literature was confined to some established classical norms. Blake says: "We do not want either Greek or Roman models if we are but just and true to our own imaginations." He also brought about a drastic revolution in the sector of diction.

Imagination and Intuition :

      If reason and correctness played salient roles in the poetry of Neo-classicism, imagination and intuition were the dominant features of Romanticism. The poetic creed of William Blake is based on imagination. He says: "Mental things are alone real; what is called corporeal, nobody knows its dwelling place it is a fallacy and its existence an imposture. Where is the existence out of mind or thought? Where is it, but in the mind of a fool? Blake's nature of work is visionary or imaginative and it is an endeavour to restore what the Ancients called the Golden Age." Blake held that it is the artist's business to attain this heightened or transfigured view of things and show us what kind of world is actually in front of us, with all its glowing splendour. "Man is all Imagination. God is Man and exists in us and we in him... Imagination is the Divine Body in Every Man." Blake's imaginative faculty is evinced in his concept of God explained in 'The Divine Image', where he says that God is the creative and spiritual power in man

And all must love the human form.
In heathen. Turk or jew:
Where Mercy. Love. and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

A Rebel against Bondage :

      Physical and Spiritual: Blake is not merely a revolutionary thinker on man's physical or corporeal freedom; he is also one who broods over the spiritual freedom or spiritual salvation of mankind. The former point, showing Blake as a humanitarian, can be well understood from poems such as The Chinmney-Sweeper, Holy Thursday and A Little Girl Lost. In all these cases Blake's fury makes him lash out at the hypocrisy of marand the society that enslaves children to utter lifelessness. In 'Holy Thursday' Blake's sympathetic and compassionate heart shares the agony of the children and his pent up feelings are let out through an ironical comment

Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

      But the flood of feelings gains more fury in the poem of the same title in Songs of Experience:

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land.
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand'?

      With vehemence Blake argues for the freedom of human energy too. He deplores any religion that denies sexual and emotional life of man. Virility and vigour are divine and its free play should never be hindered.

Blake the Prophet of Spiritual Liberation and His Mysticism :

      Blake was greatly affected by the sight of the miseries of the chimney-sweepers and the children of the Sunday school. Their physical bondage enrages him and he comes up with the slogan of human liberty.

      But the ultimate liberty is that of the human soul and Blake, the mystic, stands for this view point in poems such as 'The Divine Image' and 'To Tirzah'. The most characteristic feature of Blake's poems is that they are based on his 'visions. These visions are peopled with angels, gods and goddesses. Ultimately this implies that the poetic inspiration or poetry itself is divine and sacred. Human instincts and impulses play a significant role in man's spiritual progress and Blake always speaks against laying down codes of prohibition against them. The best examples to quote in support of Blake's mysticism lie in his The Garden of Love' and 'The Divine Image' where the poet projects his philosophy of godliness and divinity. In 'Night' the poet disclosed the state of soul after its communion with God. In the 'golden tents' of God the soul of even the ferocious lion acquires a new life of harmless simplicity and innocence. The core and kernel of his mysticism lies in the terms Innoccnce and 'Experience' themselves. These are the two supplementary as well as contrasting aspects of the human heart which constitute the whole of man's life and work for the salvation of his soul.

Nature in Blake Poetry :

      In Blake's poems nature is associated with rejuvenating stimulants such as the sound of the bell in the spring season and the merry voices of thrush and sparrow. In 'The Echoing Green.' it echoes the happiness of the children:

The Sun does arise
And make happy the skies.
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring.

      Unlike in Wordsworth, in Blake nature is a part of the human universe and sympathises with the human. The pastoral setting in Blake gives an added spiritual colour and conforms with the innocence of children. In portraying charming scenes of nature Blake is as skilful as Spenser. For example his 'Laughing Song' provides a vibrant scene. Nature in Songs of Innocence smell is of Eden where sin is absent in man's conscience. It is all enjoyment there. But this aspect of nature is not the only one with which the poet deals in his poem. It has symbolical undertones in 'The Garden of Love' in Songs of Experience. Its spiritual significance is asserted by the fact that is in a valley that the poet meets the child on a cloud who inspires his poetry at the beginning of Songs of Innocence. But particular objects of nature may carry meanings and implications hitherto unthought of. For example, the Oak (in 'The Echoing Green') epitomizes old age, green leaves stand for the flesh and birds that fly like arrow may suggest sex. Flowers often symbolizes beautiful women in Blake's poetry. But the Sun-flower of 'Ah, Sun Flower' may be suggesting the man who feels impatient of restrictions and restraints. In his pastoral setting it is the lamb (excepting the child) that enjoys supreme divinity.

Blake's Symbols :

      The good characters as well as the bad abstractions such as virtues and vices are framed up in symbols to elaborate their suggestiveness and implications. Blake's symbology is too large and complex to be given in brief. His symbols help to express his visions which may be obscure to a common reader. Blake says: "Allegory is addressed to the intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal. Understanding, is my definition of the Most Sublime Poetry." From this it is clear that in his view poetry is concerned with something else than the phenomenal world and that the only means of expressing it is through what he calls 'allegory' (extended symbolism or extended metaphor, in a sense). For Blake allegory is a system of symbols which presents events in a spiritual world.

Conclusion :

      We find in Blake's poetry many of the elements characterising Romantic poetry. "The world of imagination is the world of Eternity", says Blake. In his championship of liberty, his mysticism, naturalism, idealisation of childhood, and simplicity Blake could be called a precursor of Romantic poetry in nineteenth century England.

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