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Year 10 English Protest Poetry William Blake and Romanticism Frank Daly 2014


Contents 3-Romantisism and William Blake 2-William Blake Continued 3– Garden of Love Analysis 4-School Boy Analysis 5-Poem-”Misunderstood Fire” 6-Bibliography


Romanticism was the largest artistic movement throughout the late 1700’s and had major influence across multiple continents through a variety of artistic disciplines. Many of the values and styles of romantic poetry continued into the 19th century and can still be seen in modern and contemporary poetry. Although it’s difficult to pin-point when and where romantic poetry started, we can still trace its beginnings to many events through time. Romanticism was a large scale, international artistic and philosophical movement that completely changed the way in which Western Cultures thought about themselves and their place in the world. The main strong holds of the romantic era were the English and German poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1978 that wrote the first edition of ’Lyrical Ballads’, the composition of ’Hymns in the Night’ by Novalis in 1832 and finally the poetry of William Blake and Percy Shelley. The romantic era had a chronological spectrum of about 1770-1870 which means that that the Romantic era coincides with the ’Age of Revolutions’ meaning that much of the early writings were about the American (1776) and French (1789) revolutions– An age of major political, economic and social upheaval. The romantic period also saw the beginning of the Industrial revolution. These events meant that there was a revolutionary energy present that would completely transform not only the theory or practise of poetry and art but how we perceive the world around us. Themes such as Imagination, nature, Symbolism, Neoclassism and individuality came to be reshaped, enlarged, focussed upon, valued and intertwined to change how we see the world around us. In essence the Romantic movement was one in which change was not only embraced but expressed in new confounding ways.


William Blake (1757-1827) was without a doubt, one of the greatest figures in literature as he pioneered poetry that was specifically crafted into ideological weapons against establishment. He believed that poetry could be read and understood by common people, and thus made them his audience. He was a major social critic of the Industrial revolution and was considered a radical and wanted to change people’s political and religious views through poetry. In many ways Blake could be the most prophetic of major western poets as he changed the way that children were treated through famous poems such as the ‘Chimney Sweep’ in his handmade collection of protest poems called ‘Songs of Innocence’ and later in ‘Songs of Experience’. He was also a major social critic of the Church of England and he was one of the first and more visionary and unique poets. He arrived at just the right moment to become tremendously influential changing what people thought about the Church of England because during his lifetime more an more people were beginning to question the "infallibility" of the Bible. If one verse could be rendered null, that it was up to people to choose what to believe. William Blake was born in London, November 28, 1757. His childhood was shadowed by the early death of two of his siblings who died in infancy. Even from early childhood, he recalled visions of God and angelic figures. At age four he saw God put his head through his window and at age 9, while walking through the country side he saw a tree filled with angles. Due to these reverent visions, his parents thought it best that he was home-schooled. When he left art school to be an apprentice to an engraver he was exposed to a variety of gothic styles present in Westminster Abbey that would later shape his work. In 1782 he married Catherine Boucher, who helped him with his books and artworks and he taught her how to read. It’s clear that his experience in life greatly reflect his poetic career. His upbringing and visions was probably the reason behind him being a leading nonconformist, defiant of 18th century

neoclassical conventions. He believed that imagination should be privileged over reason and that ideals should be constructed not from observations from nature but from inner visions. Hs ideals greatly reflect his upbringing and his experiences. Different poems that reflect his upbringing and ideals could be the ‘Songs of Innocence’ and the ‘Songs of Experience’ children’s books as well as the different poems reflecting his religious views such as ‘The Book of Urizen’ the ’Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.


William Blake was a very radical thinker and his protest poetry was associated with defiance of neoclassical conventions. He wrote many poems on a variety of topics through the French Revolution in the ’French Revolution’ as well as the American revolution and the stability of Europe on ’America, a Prophecy’ and ’Europe, a Prophecy’. His strongest or most radical views were against the Church. His poem ’The Garden of Love’ received major criticism because it suggests that the Church of England usurped a once peaceful land and is denying people of their earthly pleasures. Because his was such a visionary, his views were ahead of his time. For much of his life Blake was largely un-recognised much like other famous painters and musicians. In the last twenty years of his life Blake struggled financially. Now, in modern times he is recognised as being the 2nd best British poet throughout

history (after Shakespeare) and receives worldwide praise and acclaim. Alexander Gilchrist, Blake’s first biographer, called him a “Man of absolute genius” and an “extraordinary man”. William Wordsworth said that the “madness” of Blake and his writing interested him more than the relative calm of Lord Byron and even Walter Scott. In his poetry and writing style, Blake was very much influenced by Milton, another English poet. Blake tended to use long words and would very rarely use a ‘blank Verse’. The four of his prophecies (e.g. Jerusalem) mostly went un-rhymed but had small rhyming fragments. For most of his poetry, particularly his poetry that is well known, he uses a more dry and actually a subtly sarcastic voice whose rhythm mostly derives from counting accented syllables per line. Blake also commonly wrote very traditional and beautiful poetry.


The Garden of Love is a short, beautiful poem that conveys a meaningful and powerful protest through a very traditional style of poetry and emotional language. William Blake’s main audience for the poem, much like his other poetry, was the common people of England. In this poem he writes with heartfelt concerns regarding the Church of England and its problems. In this poem from the ‘Songs of Innocence’ collection, you find that Blake utilizes some techniques to the Romantic period such as nature, Neoclassism and emotion.

I went to the Garden of Love, And saw what I never had seen: A Chapel was built in the midst, Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut, And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door; So I turned to the Garden of Love, That so many sweet flowers bore;

And I saw it was filled with graves, And tombstones where flowers should be;

In the first of three stanzas there is strong personification in the voice of the reader e.g. ‘I went’, ‘I saw’ and ‘where I’), there is also clever use of language such as ‘Garden’ and ‘love’ which are both words in which we associate a place that is sweet, fresh, quiet, and beautiful and the word love is deeply imbedded in our society. ‘Garden of love’ is a phrase that represents protection and care, and it’s also very clear that the garden is a very special place to the speaker from the last line ‘where I used to play’. The phrase ‘used to’ and ‘play’ are incredibly important to the meaning of the stanza as you can only assume that the speaker was a child (from the word play) and the phrase ‘used to’ meaning that he doesn’t play anymore. This adds power to the poem as we associate a child’s playtime with the joy and innocence of youth and this is contrasted with the maturity of the speaker (connotations of knowledge and experience). In the second verse, the chapel is obviously a simile for religion as a whole and most likely the Church of England as that was what influenced Blake the most throughout his life. (A chapel has strong religious connotations, house of god and prayer). The speaker has come back to a place that he dearly loved as a child and found a chapel erected in the middle of it, possibly ruining his beloved paradise. The garden of love could be an internal state, where the garden only exists ‘inside’ the reader, as a state of mind when he was a child. The garden could symbolically represent the joy and wonder of his childhood where the chapel/religion on the other hand, is what he finds in his adult life as his primary source of wonder and love. The best part of the stanza is Blake’s use of short and long sounds to create a prancing rhythm. In the first two lines the stanza sets up a two short sounds (I-went | to-the) and then a longer phrase/sound finishing with a short sound (Gar-den of | love). This creates a sweet, joyous prancing rhythm to match the happy tone of the words.

And Priests in black gowns were Blake also sets up his typical rhyming scheme of ABCB that continues into walking their rounds, And binding with briers my joys and desires.

the second stanza. As the speaker approaches the chapel he finds the doors shut and the words “Thou shalt not” written on the door, this is where Blake’s protest against the Church of England comes to light. The shut doors and the deeply religious phrase ‘Thou shalt not’ represents how Blake feels that the Church is intentionally forbidding people from enjoying their natural desires and pleasures. An alternate interpretation of the 1st line could be that the doors represent the barring of access between the speaker and the wonder or religion and god


I went to the Garden of Love, And saw what I never had seen: A Chapel was built in the midst, Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut, And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door; So I turned to the Garden of Love, That so many sweet flowers bore;

And I saw it was filled with graves, And tombstones where flowers should be; And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds, And binding with briers my joys and desires.

“Thou shalt no is an incredibly powerful phrase as it has connotative meaning to the 10 commandments and is linked to Jesus and his preaching’s, the phrase is also a staccato in the poem as it breaks the prancing, happy rhythm set out in previous lines. It also slows the reader down as the mouth reforms every symbol. This is to emphasize the gravity of the statement. Blake returns to the same pattern of short and long sounds in the third line and repeats the powerful phrase ‘garden of love’ for effect and contrast against the horror painted vividly through powerful language in the third and final stanza. The speaker then turns to find consolation in the place that he cherished deeply as a youth only to find dark morbid horror. Blake’s typical rhyming scheme is continued in the 2 nd stanza before being completely abandoned in the third stanza for emphasis on the vivid horror that the speaker feels against the Church of England reflecting William Blake’s on views towards religion. Suddenly the speakers childhood rose-coloured paradise is transformed into a macabre place of death, as a result of the presence of the chapel and the influence of the Church. There is powerful imagery and language used to create a resounding emotional response with the reader e.g. “Priests with black gowns running their rounds and “Binding with briers by joys and desires’’. “Priests with black gowns running their rounds “-Is a clever phrase as it suggests that that this nightmarish event is not infrequent but rather routine and “Binding with Briers my joys and desires” reinforces the message of the Church conveyed earlier in the line “Thou shalt not”. The last stanza is powerful as it uses rhyming, alliteration and rhythm incredibly well to nail home the message of the poem, that the church of England is usurping a once joyous world and filling it with nightmarish horror and death. William Blake felt that the church of England is forbidding people from their natural joys and desires . The ‘prancing’ rhythm set out in the 1st and 2nd stanza is completely abandoned along with the ABCB rything scheme, to emphasize the power of the language and the meaning of the words. In conclusion, the garden of love is a sweet-turning bitter poem that showcases the brilliant craftsmanship of William Blake. By carefully analysing the poem we found a possible double meaning/ interpretation to the poem, a wonderful use of rhythm and most importantly, powerful use of language.


The School boy is a highly complex, provocative and sincere protest poem by William Blake that carefully explores his heartfelt concerns and worries regarding the English education system in the 17th century, a topic that he has personal experience as he was so opposed to the harsh disciplinary system that he was home-schooled.

The Schoolboy" I love to rise in a summer morn, When the birds sing on every tree; The distant huntsman winds his horn, And the skylark sings with me:

The language used throughout the poem is simple but powerful and the tone is rather melancholic. In the first stanza a multipart structure is established which continues as a kind of theme for the rest of the poem. The structure mainly involves laying out the beginning of two metaphors that are explored in subsequent stanzas. It’s clear that nature has major influence on William Blake’s writing as symbols such as plants and birds feature heavily throughout the poem. An example of this is in line 2 where the birds and the trees represent the need for a connection between children and nature. In line 4, this balance and connection is again evident, the skylark singing with the speaker in harmony

The primary goal that Blake wanted to achieve in the first stanza was to lay out an idyllic, almost utopian scene, to contrast with the darker more powerful imagery in the stanzas to come. This devise is powerful But to go to school in a summer morn, - to highlight further Blake’s protest against disciplinary education. The harmony and peace set up in the 1st stanza is shattered at the beginO it drives all joy away! ning of the 2nd stanza where the is an obvious shift in tone. On one levUnder a cruel eye outworn, el, the change is apparent through the use of the conjunction, ‘but’, The little ones spend the day however, in terms of meaning, there is a change in scene as the peaceful environment changes to the dark foreboding of the classroom. In the In sighing and dismay. 2nd stanza Blake also uses repetition of certain phrases to subtly encourage the readers to make comparisons between the first and 2nd Ah then at times I drooping sit, stanzas contextually e.g. “Summer Morn” and to a lesser extent “O” in And spend many an anxious hour; the 2nd line. By repeating the phrase “Summer Morn”, Blake ensures that the 2nd stanza will also have a Nor in my book can I take delight, similar rhyming scheme thus makNor sit in learning's bower, ing it sound similar but different Worn through with the dreary shower. in tone. This is definitely the case with “worn” in line 3 rhyming with the inverted term How can the bird that is born for joy “outworn”. Blake highlights the Sit in a cage and sing? difference in tone with powerful How can a child, when fears annoy, language and adjectives such as But droop his tender wing, ‘droopy’ and ‘anxious’. O what sweet company!

And forget his youthful spring!


O father and mother if buds are nipped, And blossoms blown away; And if the tender plants are stripped Of their joy in the springing day, By sorrow and care's dismay, How shall the summer arise in joy, Or the summer fruits appear?

Or how shall we gather what grief’s destroy, Or bless the mellowing year, When the blasts of winter appear?

Surely the most important part of the poem is Blake’s use of metaphor. In the third and fourth stanzas the bird and plant metaphors that were established in the 1st stanza come fully to life. Blake chooses to represent the child with symbols from nature rather than portraying him in a conventional figurative manor. One example of his use of metaphor is in the third stanza in line 1 where the word drooping evokes the image of a dying plant but it is more obvious in stanza 4 where the child is likened to a caged bird and how he can’t fully express itself in such an environment. In the last few stanzas Blake explores how the education system can be damaging to the child and He also explains that he isn’t against authority figures by appealing the child’s parents in stanza 5- ‘O father and mother if buds are nipped’. When read in its entirety, it’s clear that Blake isn’t against education as in the third stanza he mentions reading, but proposes a new kind of learning which is more focused on nature than the classroom.

In conclusion, ‘The Schoolboy’ is a great example of a branch of William Blake’s poetry that is more traditional. The six stanza poem is much more common in William Blake’s ’Songs of Innocence’ and the poem is also rather provocative in the way that it uses symbolism throughout the poem such as the bird trapped in the cage and the plant drooping at it’s seat.


"Misunderstood Fire" I went to my sweet quiet town, And saw what I never had seen: A riot was boiling in the street, Where poor Michael Brown had been.

But the people in protest were peaceful, And “Please don’t Shoot’ writ on their sign, So I turned to my sweet quiet town, Now filled with fire of cloud nine;

And I saw it explode with fury, And guns where flowers should be; And Police in armor were walking their rounds, And destroying the name of justice. The ‘Misunderstood Fire’ a protest poem in the style of William Blake’s three verse ‘Songs of Innocence’ poetry. The same layout for each verse has been incorporated as well as the rhyming scheme of ABCB. I my protest poem I wanted to take a topic completely different to Romanticism, such as Racism and police injustice in the US. Recently an African American teenager was shot dead by a police officer, in Ferguson Missouri, while surrendering according to eye witnesses. The killing and the relative lack of punishment to the police officer has sparked days of calm protests that turn violent during the night. Police in Ferguson responded to the protests with tear gas, rubber bullets and a 12am-5pm curfew. In my poem I tried to express the anger and emotion in the event by setting up a contrasting scene of a peaceful quiet town and a violent protest and justice system. I also tried to use powerful language and symbols such as cloud nine, ‘exploding with fury’ and destroying justice


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Year 10 English Protest Poetry Frank Daly 2014