Religious repression - Sample Essay
Blake is as clear in his views on the damaging effects of political and economic repression as he is on religious repression. A key feature of Blake’s poems is that rather than identifying the symptoms of a problem, he attempts to find the cause (so, for example, charity is an evil in ‘Holy Thursday’ from Experience, but the cause of the evil is inequality). In much of the same vein as ‘Garden of Love’, Blake outlines his view on economic and political repression in one poem and then expands them in further poems.
‘Earth’s Answer’ is a vital poem in understanding Blake’s view on how repressive morals can alienate people from their natural selves. In the poem, Earth is clouded in ‘grey despair’, an abstract rather than concrete barrier, though Earth perceives her despair as a ‘heavy chain’, demonstrating a common technique of Blake’s in which he makes the abstract become concrete. This can be further seen in the ‘mind-forged manacles’ of ‘London’.
Earth’s despair is caused by the God of Genesis, the ‘father of men’, whose ‘cruel, selfish, jealous fear’ has created unnatural laws which have bound Earth. Blake’s so-called Urizenic God has enslaved society (Earth) with his ‘Eternal bane’ that has with ‘bondage bound’ ‘free love’. So Blake has identified the reason for the alienation of people from themselves, the ‘Holy Word’ has constrained and bound people from their natural selves since the Fall.
In ‘London’, Blake presents a world wholly under the constraints of economic and political repression. The poem exposes the bitter indignation with which Blake regards society. While walking through the streets of ‘London’ the speaker of the poem views a completely unnatural state; the people are under the influence of ‘mind-forged manacles’, much the same as Earth’s ‘grey despair’, the streets themselves have become ‘charter’d’ and in a symbol of the most unnatural blending of nature and economic and political forces even the Thames is ‘charter’d’.
Blake utilises an expert use of language to convey the darkness and despair with which he views ‘London’, in the ‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe’, the ‘midnight streets’, the ‘black’ning Church’ and the ‘blasts’, ‘plagues’ and ‘curse’. Blake creates the image of a world buckling under the weight of oppressive political and economic forces.
The oppression of the people is shown again and again in the poem, the ‘black’ning Church’ is blamed for the ‘Chimney-sweepers cry’ and for ‘every’ repressive ‘ban’, the King is attacked for using the ‘blood’ of ‘hapless Soldiers’ to support his lifestyle in his ‘palace’ and how the unnatural institution of marriage has created the ‘Harlot’ with her damaging ‘curse’. Therefore, in ‘London’, Blake has presented an image of society in which repressive political and economic forces have alienated people from their natural selves, forcing them to become harlots, slave-like chimney sweeps and expendable soldiers.
‘The Chimney Sweeper’ of Experience is another poem in which Blake blames political and economic forces for the unnatural alienation of the sweep from his natural self. The poem’s speaker is outraged to find an impoverished young sweep and seeks someone to blame for his condition. The poem itself is a pitiful tale of oppression, the child has been sold into slavery as a sweep by his parents who have had their guilt absolved by the ‘church’.
This poem is a scathing attack on the organised ‘Church’ and the apparatus in society which are designed to maintain the status quo of oppression, ‘God and His priest and king’. The sweep is certain that the various institutions of society have colluded in a hypocritical lie, they ‘make up’ a heaven where there is only ‘misery’. However, the sweep himself is seen as an apparatus in his alienation from his natural self, he is seen to be ‘happy and dance and sing’ by his parents who see that he is happy and are therefore not guilty.
As in ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ of Innocence the sweep is completely ignorant of another choice, his choice to not be a sweep, it is simply accepted as his life. The social institutions complicit in his slavery have such a repressive grip on society that their thoughts are constrained in ‘mind-forged manacles’, unable to consider a radically different system. Therefore, the sweep is completely alienated from his natural self, his life is constrained and so is his mind by repressive political and economic forces.