Blake was tuned to the huge social and political forces of the late 18th century. This can be seen in Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’ as he uses two symbols of revolution; French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution which both happened in the 18th century! The title ‘The Tyger’ is a symbol which was used in 18th century newspapers, similar to Blake’s symbolic description of the French Reign of Terror. The ‘Times’ newspaper talked about the Reign of Terror as a Tyger: “a tiger stalking the streets of Paris”. This ‘Tyger’ was used to symbolize the power, machinery, evil, violence and energy of the revolutions going on at this time.
The description ‘Tyger Tyger burning bright’ is a pun because ‘burning’ could be seen to represent destructiveness whilst ‘bright’ is a deep, powerful word for revolution. In the third line ‘What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ which has a questioning tone, means that Blake is awestruck on what kind of God would want or allow the French Revolution. In the second verse which talks about Satan’s energy, it starts with a questioning tone about heaven or hell ‘deeps or skies’.
The question ‘Burnt the fire of thine eyes’ is addressed towards Lucifer (the Devil). Verse two and three shows the imagery of the industrial revolution ‘In what furnace was thy brain’. Blake says God is a blacksmith who wrestles with power and energy which is beneficial and at the same time destructive.
In the fifth verse:
‘When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?’
This is saying that if there were only good and no evil, there would be no good because there would be no comparison to what is good and what’s not. He basically says man needs a bit of ‘lamb’ (goodness, kindness, peace) and a bit of ‘Tyger’ (power, strength).
Blake’s poems don’t just speak about his current times but can apply to nowadays. ‘The Tyger’ is a time symbol of revolution because it can relate to modern society: huge powerful machines such as the nuclear power station. It can relate to the revolution in his time; such as the French Revolution (1789) and the Industrial Revolution but can also relate to more modern revolution; such as the Russian Revolution (1917).
Blake did not just dislike the church and revolution but also criticizes and explores the effects of a culture governed by commerce. This can be seen in the poem ‘London’. This poem talks about a London which is overpowered by commerce, government and religion. One of the main places where he enforces this in this poem is on line four ‘Marks of Weakness, marks of woe’ which means the people (London) allow themselves to be controlled by commerce.
The word ‘marks’ is also repeated in this sentence twice and once earlier on; this is a politician’s method to repeat the same word three times to enforce his subject. The phrase ‘charter’d street’ in the first line suggests that every street is filled with commerce and instead of a list of freedoms; there is a list of restrictions. This word is also repeated on the second line; ‘Near where the charter’d Thames does flow’ which is saying that every street and river is devoted to making money and even though the river is symbol of peace and freedom, it is a type of harnessed freedom.
Blake doesn’t just see London governed by commerce but a corrupt government and monarchy. In the second verse Blake says ‘The mind-forg’d manacles’ which is a metaphor meaning that people’s minds are in chains and people mindlessly accept a monarchy, a corrupt government and the misery of every day existence because the church brain-washes people into not rebelling and to put up with their terrible lives.
However, I think Blake’s attacks of the church seem to be of the late 18th century because of his poems such as ‘Chimney Sweeper’, ‘Little Black Boy’ and ‘Sick Rose’. In the chimney sweeper the children are made to think that no matter how dreadful the church is, in the after life you will be with god, and the children will be celebrating this. They are also brain washed from the church and the society of that time to make the children accept their lives as slaves.
In the poem ‘Little Black Boy’, black people are indoctrinated from the church and the society to think that white is superior and that black is horrible thing to be and they should look up at the white people. A mother gets told this from the church and so therefore it is passed down the family. These are told to them because they believe the church and think the church is good so they put up with a bad life.
This can also be shown in the poem ‘The Sick Rose’. The name Rose is a metaphor for a flower, a name, love, passion, joy and England. It is saying that England is diseased and it’s people are turning unhealthy. This can be shown because it is saying that the priest can’t have sex so they try to stop others.
On the other hand it is wrong in saying that attacks of the church seem to be of the late 18th century because there is still racism and social injustice. We are still indoctrinated but in many different ways by adverts, media, technology and government etc.
Blake’s poems in the Songs of innocence and Experience can relate to his time but also modern society. His psychic and emotional views about the society he describes are relevant to the 18th century, but they are also relevant today.
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