William Blake’S Relevance To The Modern WorldWilliam Blake’s Relevance to the Modern World
William Blake, who lived in the latter half of the eighteenth century and the early part of the nineteenth, was a profoundly stirring poet who was, in large part, responsible for bringing about the Romantic movement in poetry; was able to achieve remarkable results with the simplest means; and was one of several poets of the time who restored rich musicality to the language (Appelbaum v). His research and introspection into the human mind and soul has resulted in his being called the Columbus of the psyche, and because no language existed at the time to describe what he discovered on his voyages, he created his own mythology to describe what he found there (Damon ix). He was an accomplished poet, painter, and engraver.
Blake scholars disagree on whether or not Blake was a mystic. In the Norton Anthology, he is described as an acknowledged mystic, [who] saw visions from the age of four (Mack 783). Frye, however, who seems to be one of the most influential Blake scholars, disagrees, saying that Blake was a visionary rather than a mystic. ‘Mysticism’ . . . means a certain kind of religious techniques difficult to reconcile with anyone’s poetry, says Frye (Frye 8). He next says that visionary is a word that Blake uses, and uses constantly and cites the example of Plotinus, the mystic, who experienced a direct apprehension of God four times in his life, and then only with great effort and relentless discipline. He finally cites Blake’s poem I rose up at the dawn of day, in which Blake states,
I am in God’s presence night ; day,
And he never turns his face away (Frye 9).
Besides all of these achievements, Blake was a social critic of his own time and considered himself a prophet of times to come. Frye says that all his poetry was written as though it were about to have the immediate social impact of a new play (Frye 4). His social criticism is not only representative of his own country and era, but strikes profound chords in our own time as well. As Appelbaum said in the introduction to his anthology English Romantic Poetry, [Blake] was not fully rediscovered and rehabilitated until a full century after his death (Appelbaum v). For Blake was not truly appreciated during his life, except by small cliques of individuals, and was not well-known during the rest of the nineteenth century (Appelbaum v).
Blake lived during a time of intense social change. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution all happened during his lifetime. These changes gave Blake a chance to see one of the most dramatic stages in the transformation of the Western world from a somewhat feudal, agricultural society to an industrial society where philosophers and political thinkers such as Locke, Franklin, and Paine championed the rights of the individual. Some of these changes had Blake’s approval; others did not.
One example of Blake’s disapproval of changes that happened in his time comes in his poem London, from his work Songs of Experience. In London, which has been described as summing up many implications of Songs of Experience, Blake describes the woes that the Industrial Revolution and the breaking of the common man’s ties to the land have brought upon him (Mack 785). For instance, the narrator in London describes both the Thames and the city streets as chartered, or controlled by commercial interests; he refers to mind-forged manacles; he relates that every man’s face contains Marks of weakness, marks of woe; and he discusses the every cry of every Man and every Infant’s cry of fear. He connects marriage and death by referring to a marriage hearse and describes it as blighted with plague. He also talks about the hapless Soldier’s sigh and the youthful Harlot’s curse and describes blackening Churches and palaces running with blood (London).
London and many of Blake’s other works dealing with a similar theme, particularly those from the Songs of Experience, strike a particular nerve for those who are living in a society where the cost of living compared with income is steadily increasing, where AIDS, Ebola, and other new and frightening diseases are becoming increasingly common, and where the public is becoming increasingly disillusioned about the reliability and trustworthiness of politicians. These works resonate for a generation which has to deal with exponentially increasing population problems and with rapidly increasing demands on our immigration facilities and