“Holy Thursday” by William Blake: From Songs of Innocence

HolyThur-SOI

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green
Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door

I confess that when I read this, I was lost as to the meaning of the poem, mainly because I had absolutely no idea what Holy Thursday was. So I did a quick search and discovered that Holy Thursday, in Catholic tradition, is the Thursday before Easter when Jesus held the last supper. At that point, the poem began to make sense to me.

The scene that Blake describes seems innocent enough, but as is the case with most poems in The Songs of Innocence, there is a sense that below the surface, something is wrong. In this case, it is the hypocrisy of the church. The children are paraded into St. Paul’s cathedral in a display of charity and kindness, but it is really just a show and does not appear to be genuine. The children are poor and probably homeless, which can be determined by the fact that Blake points out in the first line that their faces are clean, implying that this is not how they normally appear. I got the impression that to show how charitable the church is, they cleaned and fed a group of homeless children just to show them off.

At the end of the poem, Blake entreats the church elders to practice what they preach, to have pity on the poor, hungry children who crowded London’s streets and to not drive them from their door, but instead offer them comfort and food. Just as Christ fed the poor and starving, so should the church.

Once I was in a car with a co-worker going out for dinner, which was being paid for by the company we worked for. On the corner was a homeless person with a sign begging money for food. The person I was with callously yelled out, “Get a job!” I lost all respect for that person. I understand that you cannot give to every starving person, but you can at least have sympathy for those who are less fortunate. And that is the message in this poem: cherish pity. You may not be able to help everyone who needs help, but at least have compassion for another human who is suffering.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to ““Holy Thursday” by William Blake: From Songs of Innocence

  1. Blake seems to say the children are “above” the aged guardians of the poor-more exalted by virtue of their innocence. Their harmonious voices place them among the seats of heaven where the dogmatists cannot ascend. Thanks for the reminder of Blake’s most quintessential work-the songs of innocence.

  2. Pingback: “Holy Thursday” by William Blake: From Songs of Experience | Stuff Jeff Reads

  3. I enjoyed reading both this one and the one from Songs of Experience, as well as your insights into their meaning. I’ve been deeply impressed by your blog posts and the rich and varied reading experiences you share with us. I don’t always comment, but I always come away feeling enriched.

    • Hi Deborah. Thank you SO much!! Comments such as this are why I blog. I’m both humbled and grateful. I hope you have a wonderful day and than you again for taking the time to read my posts and share your thoughts.

      Jeff

  4. ishita

    Bronowski’s words,”…simply and completely Blake was a rebel,” has been proved true by Blake himself. His Songs Of Innocence is a direct attack on the corrupt ways of the church. Unlike Samuel Johnson’s “London” there is no mourning for old or pastoral life in Blake’s “London.” His simple vocabulary is deceptive. It rather caters to deep and difficult meanings.

    Your blog was a good read. Loved the way you linked it with a your own experience.

    • Hi Ishita. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and your kind words. I love the quote about Blake as a rebel. I am in complete agreement. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and for sharing your thoughts. Have a wonderful day!

  5. Hello Jeff and everyone, my name is Abdul from Libya, and I would like first to thank you so much for blogging this piece of art(as I call it) as well as the great comments plus thoughts. Well, in Islam we have to treat everyone as we love to be treated especially towards poor people and as you said if we cannot help just say something nice with true beautiful smile and believe it has a great impact and simply works. Thanks again.

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