The industrial revolution. The term conjures up images of unstoppable progress, the advancement of mankind, economic expansion, and technological achievement. At the same time, it also drags up such sights as the oppression of the common man, dehumanizing working conditions, and dreary and hopeless cities decaying under clouds of thick, black smoke. Simultaneously, society is driving headlong into an Age of Reason in which religion and faith were rejected in favor of reason and logic. Against such a backdrop, William Blake seems at best almost anachronistic (Cox). But in spite of its mystical and seemingly irrational verses, Blake's poetry is a vivid portrait of a humanity shackled by materialism and tied to the ground by cold logic and greed, a world that he rejects in the resounding call to arms that is Jerusalem.
[...] ”Jerusalem”, a part of the larger work Milton: A Poem in Two Books, To Justify The Ways of God to Men, is William Blake's charge that, yes, the world can indeed be changed and that, yes, we should work towards this idealized Jerusalem” whole-heartedly. Blake plays upon the emotions of his readers, juxtaposing the sight of a green and gorgeous English landscape alongside the “dark Satanic mills” of industrialized England. These darks forms seem like a blight upon the land, a presence that is sucking the life out of the countryside. [...]
[...] Christ meanwhile stands as a figure of forgiveness and mercy- virtues the humane Blake held dear. With this, Christ's journey to England steps out of the pages of legend and becomes a symbol for the coming of hope for mankind, a beacon to guide us out of the gloom of and the shackled and bound “Garden of Love”. With this, “Jerusalem” becomes more than just a call to arms- it is mankind's last hope, a simple prayer, a solemn oath to never cease the fight to better the world. [...]
[...] All things regarded, the best possible answer to explain the dark tone that overshadows most of William Blake's later poetry is, simply put, ignorance, ignorance towards cries for change, ignorance towards the human condition, ignorance towards the slow and steady collapse of society that he so desperately was trying to show through his work. So, where does one go from here? Blake's world is almost completely without beauty, without hope, without any possibility of the people rising above their conditions to a better life that they themselves can control. [...]
[...] But as for Blake's own time, William Wordsworth was one of the few to find enough in the man's soul to give this verdict of Blake's life: “There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man that interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott” (“William Blake”). A first and rather poignant example of Blake's work is found in the poem “Holy Thursday”, from his early volume Songs of Innocence. [...]
[...] Outspoken and proud of his radical beliefs, Blake even donned the clothing of the revolutionaries- the bonnet rougein and continuously spoke and acted against the British government. Such actions landed him in court in 1803, charged with uttering such seditious statements as the king, d-n all his sibjects (“William Blake”). Blake was eventually acquitted, however. While the turn of the French Revolution into the Reign of Terror disgusted Blake with its inhumanity, he nonetheless continued writing revolutionary work, publishing Milton: A Poem in Two Books, To Justify The Ways of God to Men. [...]
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