Visionary Elements of Songs of Innocence and Experience

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Introduction :

      Blake imagined himself under spiritual influences. He saw various forms and heard the voices of angels, fairies, kings of the past and even God the past and future were before him and he heard in imagination, even the awful voice which called on Adam amongst the trees of the garden. In this Kind of dreaming abstraction, he lived much of his life; all his works are stamped with it. Though this visionary aspect explains much of the mysticism and obscurity of his work, it is also the element that makes his poems singular in loveliness and beauty. It is amazing that he could thus, month after month, and year after year, lay down his engraver after it had earned him his daily wages, and retire from the battle, to his imagination where he could experience scenes of more than - earthly splendour and creatures pure as unfallen dew. Like Swedenborg Blake narrates things unheard and unseen; more purely a mystic than Swedenborg, he does not condescend to dialectics and scholastic divinity. Those who fancy that a dozen stony syllogisms seal up the perennial fountain of our deepest questions, will affirm that Blake's belief was an illusion. But an illusion, constant and self-consistent and harmonious with the world throughout the whole of a man's life, cannot differ much from reality. However, it is also important to note that he was unlike common atheists. In the clash of creeds, it is always a comfort to remember that sects with their sectaries, orthodox or otherwise, could not intersect all, if they were not in the same plane.

In his very childhood Blake had visions of angels and supernatural beings. Once when he was about seven years old, he told his parents that he had seen a tree full of angels. On another occasion he said that he met the prophet Ezekiel under a tree in the fields. According to another story, he saw angelic figures walking in and out among the human haymakers in a hayfield. Once he saw God, "put His head to the window." Much of Blake's imagery stemmed from his visions and dreams.
William Blake

Visions of Childhood :

      In his very childhood Blake had visions of angels and supernatural beings. Once when he was about seven years old, he told his parents that he had seen a tree full of angels. On another occasion he said that he met the prophet Ezekiel under a tree in the fields. According to another story, he saw angelic figures walking in and out among the human haymakers in a hayfield. Once he saw God, "put His head to the window." Much of Blake's imagery stemmed from his visions and dreams.

Blake's Mysticism in His Poetry :

      Blake's mysticism is exemplified in Songs of Innocence, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Vision of the Daughters of Albion and so on. Even Songs of Experience, which signifies the ugliness of life and its grim aspects and harsher experiences, is not devoid of visionary elements. At this period Blake seems to have concentrated in adorning his visions, illustrating them with the help of powerful symbols and allegories. Blake claimed that the spirit of his dead brother used to frequent him in visions and inspire his poetic or artistic career. Blake believed exclusively in the imaginative faculty of a poet; he says, for instance: One power alone makes a poet: imagination, the Divine Vision." For Blake, God and the Imagination ar one; God is the constructive power in man and apart from man the idea of God is meaningless.

      Blake has left his own individual imprint on the arts of painting and literature because of his visionary nature. He was always seeking the roots of things lying deep below the surface, for the glories and horrors of the spiritual and visionary world, with the eyes of a confirmed visionary. Often the visionary in him so over-powers the artist that a wild confusion of imagery ensues and renders his works obscure. But sometimes this obscurity gives his works a phantom touch of exquisite beauty and subtlety.

Mystic and Visionary Elements in Songs of Innocence :

      In Songs of Innocence Blake projects a Garden of Eden which is foreign to the fallen man. The Introduction to these songs describes a vision. The poet meets a child on a cloud, who talks to him, weeps out of joy and inspires him to write down his songs for children. The child is divine and has associations with infant Jesus speaking from heaven. The child can also be associated with the spirit of pastoral poetry or it can be the representative of innocence. What ever be the suggestion, the mystical note in the poem is unmistakable.

      In 'The Little Black Boy' Blake's introduction of the vision of God in Heaven is of mystical nature. In 'A Cradle Songs' the mother watching over her sleeping child secs a vision of God manifesting Himself as Infant Jesus who wept for all mankind. There she speaks

Sweet babe, once like thee.
Thy maker lay and wept for me
Wept for me, for thee, for all.
When he was an infant small.

      In 'Holy Thursday' the poet gives us the picture of grassland boys sitting with a radiance all their own and raising to Heaven their song like harmonious thundering' among the seats of heaven. In "The Chimney-Sweeper" Tom is said to have the vision of an angel with a bright key coming to liberate him and his friends from the black coffins. Blake's mysticism in this poem has the colour of reality, for it grows from an observation and symbolic use of actual facts of life. 'A Dream' is another visionary poem. In this poem the speaker tells us how an ant loses her way and weeps to think that her children must be crying for her. The speaker sheds sympathetic tears. But soon there comes a glow-worm - The watchman of night - who sheds light for the ant to see her way. And there is the beetle whose humming will guide the ant home-wards. The mystical elements of the poem lies in its symbolic significance according to which God comes in one form or the other to rescue the afflicted ones. The Divine Spirit is seen working in this poem in a veiled allegorical form. The poet beautifully weaves together facts and fantasy.

      In 'The Divine Image' the poet substantiates the divine attributes in human beings. Irrespective of land and race Blake treats man as a single species and points out that virtues such as peace, love, mercy and pity can be seen in man. Since these are divine qualities, he establishes that man is as divine as God when he cultivates these virtues. Thus, Blake's theory of brotherhood and religion is based upon his mysticism. God is a comfort to all beings. He offers solace to all those who are in trouble. This is what Blake establishes through his poem 'On Another's Sorrow' where he says:

He gives His joy to all
He becomes an infant small.

      'Night' is perhaps the best example one can quote to show the poet at his best as a mystic. In 'Night' angels set out to shower blessings on the sheep and lambs that are resting at night. These angels bring happiness not only to the sheep but also to the blossom, bud, bird and all other creatures. The angels lull to sleep any weeping creature. When the ferocious animals such as wolves and tigers rush to pounce upon the prey these angels stand pitying and weeping, endeavouring to prevent them from killing the innocent animals. If they fail to check the killing, they take the spirit of each dead sheep with kindness and restore it to a new World of higher innocence - a world which transforms even the most ferocious creature into one which is as innocent as a lamb. There, even the lion sheds his earthly skin of cruelty and dreadfulness and is engaged in looking alter the fold of lambs. and he says.

And now beside thee, bleating lamb
I can lie down and sleep.

      The lion becomes not merely kind and sympathetic, it even turns vegetarian! This is an exquisite picture of that visionary world. the Golden Age, at which the poet as an idealist looks. Metamorphosis is possible only in a state of innocence. The characteristic feature of Blake's mysticism is that it takes into account not only the idealistic aspect but also the practical side of life with its manifold problems and complex ways. Even more forcefully is this quality of the poet established in Songs of Experience.

Mysticism in Songs of Experience :

      Both the poems at the beginning of Songs of Experience, 'Introduction' and 'Earth's Answer' are written in the form of visions. 'Introduction' is more evidently mystical because of its references to the 'Holy Word' and Jesus Christ or God walking among the trees of Eden. In Introduction the poet is described as one whose vision embraces Past, Present and Future. He persuades Earth to rise up and follow the divine path of salvation. In 'Earth's Answer the poet vividly describes the nature of tallen Earth. She is benumbed, paralysed with dread, her locks turned grey and her beauty lost. Earth's Answer is a request to the Bard to help her break the chains of slavery thrown around her by the mighty tyrant, presumably Urizen. The poem The Angel of this section describes how the 'Maiden Queen' protects herself from the advances of her angel lover and is later doomed to lead a life of loneliness and barrenness. Undoubtedly, the angel denotes the mystical element of the poem.

      The two poems 'The Little Girl Lost' and 'The Little Girl Found' are highly visionary. The lion in this poem sheds its form of lion and reappears as an angel before Lyca's parents. It convinces them that Lyca, their daughter, has not been led astray but is safe under the protection of love. If The Tyger is considered a superb piece, it is greatly due to the fusion of vivid realism and a strong visionary element. The poem describes the effect of the figure on the beholder and the process of its construction by its maker. These ideas throb with a visionary energy that gives the poem its strength.

Conclusion :

      From the above evaluation of Blake as a poet of mystical as well as visionary attributes, it is quite explicit that Blake does not deal with things which exclusively belong to dreams and illusion. His poems have a touch of gross realism and fact and it is this feature of his poems that puts him among those whom the world will not 'willingly let die.'

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