Tag Archives: poverty

“Infant Sorrow” by William Blake

InfantSorrow

My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt.
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father’s hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands;
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mother’s breast.

For a short poem of only eight lines, there is a lot going on here and there are multiple ways that this poem can be interpreted. First, we can take the poem at face value. During the Industrial Revolution at a time when poverty was rampant, having another mouth to feed would have certainly been a hardship for two parents. In addition, I can only suspect that the infant mortality rate was quite high, which would add another level of sorrow for a child.

There are some images that lead me to consider another interpretation of this poem. In the first stanza, the baby is described as “a fiend hid in a cloud.” And in the second stanza, we have images of bondage and struggling against the father. This leads me to wonder if the infant in this poem is a symbol for Lucifer, an angel who struggled against god, was cast down into this “dangerous world,” and is ultimately bound here. If one considers Lucifer to be another manifestation of the Prometheus myth, then the images of bondage definitely work to support this idea.

Finally, there is one other possible interpretation; that the man and the woman are Adam and Eve, and the infant is their first-born son, Cain. Being the first human born into the world according to Judeo-Christian belief, he would have been born into a world infinitely more dangerous than Eden. Cain would ultimately murder his brother, Abel, and spend the rest of his days in sorrow. It is also worth noting that Adam and Eve are depicted as weeping and mourning the death of Abel, so the imagery of the groaning mother and weeping father can be tied into this interpretation.

Blake’s poems are so rich and fascinating; I am always in awe at how he managed to include so much in so few words. Hope you enjoyed this post. Have a great and inspired day!!

2 Comments

Filed under Literature, Spiritual

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

HolyThur-SOE

Blake wrote two versions of “Holy Thursday,” one for the Songs of Innocence and this one for the Songs of Experience. (Click here to read my thoughts on “Holy Thursday” from the Songs of Innocence.) Both poems deal with the issue of poverty and how it affects children, and while both provide social criticism, they do so from very different perspectives.

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

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill’d with thorns
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

In Catholic tradition, Holy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter when Jesus held the last supper. Since the last supper was Jesus’ observance of the Passover Seder, which recounts the Hebrews’ release from the bondage of slavery, there is a dark irony here as Blake incorporates imagery of hunger and subjugation. The church, an institution that is supposed to carry on the traditions and teachings of Christ, instead grudgingly offers meager charity to the poor and starving children with “cold and usurious hand,” all the while viewing themselves as holy and charitable.

For me, the stark difference between this poem and the one from Songs of Innocence is the tone. This is an angry poem, seething with indignation. The poet’s view, no longer tainted by innocence, only sees the bare suffering that poverty inflicts upon poor children. He questions why in a land of abundance we allow those who are less fortunate to suffer, and I personally feel that this question is relevant today. How can we, as a society, tolerate children going without food when we have the resources to alleviate their suffering? It is a question we need to ask ourselves, because there are a lot of children who go to sleep hungry every night.

Blake states strongly: “It is a land of poverty!” This is a powerful statement. It is not material or economic wealth that makes a society prosperous; It is how a society cares for its people that determines whether that society is prosperous or not. A society, just like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link, and allowing poverty to exist only weakens the social fabric.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Night” by William Blake

NightBlake1This poem is fairly long, so for those who need, here is a link to read it online:

PoemHunter.com

Overall, this poem gave me the impression that it was inspired by the classic children’s bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

But in addition to echoing the theme from the children’s prayer, Blake adds his own symbolism, building on the foundation and creating something that is uniquely his own.

In the first two stanzas, there are references to flowers and blossoms, which are symbolic of young girls’ virginity in most of Blake’s poems. Blake describes the angels pouring blessings and joy “On each bud and blossom, / And each sleeping bosom.” I get the impression that the angels are not only blessing the young virgins, but also protecting them from the abuse and assault that may occur at night.

In the third stanza, we see the angels comforting the birds in their nests and the beasts in their caves. It appears that sorrow and unrest haunt the animals, which leads me to interpret them as symbolic of the poor and homeless children of London, seeking shelter wherever they can.

The fourth stanza turns dark, as the wolves and tygers of the night begin to prey upon the unsuspecting innocents as they sleep. The angels try to protect them, but are often unable to do so. Instead, they “receive each mild spirit” and guide them to Heaven.

NightBlake2In the final two stanzas, Christ accepts the souls of the children. Here, Christ is symbolized by the lion whose eyes “flow with tears of gold” as a display of deep, holy sorrow at the loss of the innocent children. The poem concludes with the image of the lion lying down with the sheep, protecting the flock, which is comprised of the souls of the children who were taken from the world too, too early.

This is a perfect example of Blake’s poetic genius. He beautifully weaves his words together in a way that evokes conflicting emotions: joy and sadness; comfort and unease; love and anger; hope and despair. Right now, my feelings are so confused by this poem that it’s hard for me to nail down exactly how I feel. But that’s the goal of poetry, to stir emotion.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“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.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

ChristmasCarolI figured that since it is the holiday season I should read something appropriate and write about it. This made me realize that I had never read A Christmas Carol before. I’ve seen plenty of film versions, seen stage productions, I even played Scrooge in a school play when I was a kid. That, combined with the fact that the story and its references are such a part of our culture, meant I knew the tale on a deep level. Still, I felt I should actually read the words that Dickens wrote, and I am very glad I did.

I’m not going to spend time talking about the story–you all know it. I do want to talk a bit about the writing. It is amazing. The level of description and the way he crafts the story is flawless. To change a single word would be blasphemous. There is one scene where Scrooge is with the Spirit of Christmas Present and they are traveling out to sea. The passage incorporates some great symbolism, where the sea represents things like life, consciousness, and unbridled greed, and the caverns worn into the rocks represent the ravages wreaked upon one’s memories and society as a whole. But what elevates the passage to even higher levels of art is the use of alliteration, where the repetitive “r” sound creates a sense of the roaring and crashing of the waves.

To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth. (p. 49)

Another passage that stood out for me deals with the issue of individuals using religion to justify hatred and bigotry. These people claim to know the will of the divine, but in actuality, they are just projecting their own ideas onto their image of God and using it to validate themselves.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us, and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.” (p. 37)

There is one line that truly sums up the greed and selfishness that is the Scrooge archetype: “I can’t afford to make idle people merry” (p. 7). It saddens me that this mentality has experienced such a resurgence. I witnessed it on an almost daily basis during the past election season, where people screamed and ranted about not wanting to support the lazy welfare recipients who were living off of the hard work of others. I for one believe that it is important for society to care for those who are less fortunate. I have been blessed with enough to support myself and my family, and I have no problem sharing with those who are less fortunate. I understand that I am just one disaster away from being in a dire situation. It would be wise for all of us to remember that.

I want to conclude by wishing you a blessed holiday, whichever one you observe, and a happy New Year. I hope 2013 brings lots of great books your way!!

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature