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Radical poetry: William Blake and the fight against oppression

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  1. William Blake - one man against the world.
    1. Early childhood visions.
    2. Blake and the French Revolution.
    3. People's perception of Blake.
  2. The question - 'Holy Thursday'.
    1. Description of initial attacks on capitalism and industrialization.
    2. Analysis.
  3. Caging the soul - 'The Garden of Love'.
    1. Introduction of poem.
    2. Opposition to the 'Age of Reason'.
  4. The bleak city - 'London'.
    1. 'Chartered' London - attack upon the power of capitalists over the masses.
    2. Further evidence of Blake's anger towards Church and State.
    3. The collapse of Blake's optimism.
  5. Call to arms - 'Jerusalem'.
    1. Reflecting upon previous poems.
    2. Blake's ideals and 'Jerusalem's' call to arms.
    3. Meaning of the Christ reference in 'Jerusalem'.
  6. Conclusion - the relevance of Blake in the modern world.

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. [...]


[...] The poem speaks clearly of this bitterness, crying out loudly and directly at the three-pronged attack of State, Capital, and Church against mankind. He opens his attack immediately: the very first lines attack the materialism of the elite. All of London has become a commodity to be bought and sold, even the river, the streets, the people themselves- the ?charter'd streets? and ?charter'd Thames? are treated in the same manner as a colonial territory sold freely to the highest bidder (Cox). [...]

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