William Blake’s autobiographical framework, and an unfolding of his poem
William Blake’s autobiographical framework, and an unfolding of his poem
Antônio Domingos Araújo Cunha
“Blake, William, (1757-1827), English poet, painter, and engraver, who created a unique form of illustrated verse; whose poetry is inspired by mystical vision, is among the most original, lyric, and prophetic in the language. He was the son of a hosier, was born in November 28, 1757, in London, where he lived most of his life. Blake began writing poetry at the age of 12, and his first printed work, Poetical Sketches (1783), is a collection of youthful verses. Amid its traditional, derivative elements there are hints of his later innovative style and themes. As with all his poetry, this volume reached few contemporary readers.
Always stressing imagination over reason, he felt that ideal forms should be constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. His rhythmically patterned linear style is also a repudiation of the painterly academic style. Blake's attenuated, fantastic figures go back, instead, and to the medieval tomb statuary he copied as an apprentice and to Mannerist sources. A true original in thought and expression, he declared in one of these poems: [. . . ] I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's. Blake was
a nonconformist radical who numbered among his associates such freethinkers as Anglo-American political theorist Thomas Paine and the English writer Mary Wollstonecraft”. 1
Our next step should be a short interpretation of the poem, which reports specific aspects about his birthtown. By searching the book Literature, written by Dana Gioia, a wonderful interpretation of his assigned poem “London”, written by Heather Glen was found. In his article, “The Stance of Observation in William Blake’s “London”, written in 1983, Glen explains Blake’s attempt to describe London, [. . .] a place of bewildering diversity, changing and growing rapidly, in which a new kind of anonymity and alienation was becoming remarked-upon fact of life. As Bem Sedgly said in 1751: [. . .] No man can take survey of this opulent city, without meeting in his way, many melancholy instances resulting from this consumption of spirituous liquors: poverty, diseases, misery and wickedness, are the daily observations to be made in every part of this great metropolis: whoever passes along the streets, may find numbers of abandoned wretches stretched upon the cold pavement, motionless and insensible, removed only by the charity of passengers from the danger of being crushed by carriages, tramples by horses, or strangled with filth in the common sewers” (Gioia 2216). The tone in his poem is one of judicious moralizing. The imagery is that of the confusing eighteen century, London street, in which relations with one’s fellow beings involve attracting attention, deserving notice, glancing and turning, even, exciting sympathy. It was not, then, merely a place where suffering and distress could be seen on a hitherto unprecedented scale: it was also a place where that sense of the other as object – often as feeble and wretched object – which Blakes exposes in “The Human Abstract”, and in a sense which is an ironic point of reference in London. He also comments the fact that Blake wanted
to show the streets and the river are simply “charter’d”, providing a sense of freedom, and writing “Mark” and “mark” like a change. The first lines could be read as a description of the city, carrying ideological positions along the following lines, pointing out the commercial organization, the repeated words, mark and charter’d to reinforce the importance of meaning”(Gioia 2217).
Thames River is as important in London, like Amazon River is in Brazil. The difference is basically the behavior. Civilized people and Indians. Like a Brazilian citizen writing about British literature, an analogical comparison can be cited to illustrate that people always make the difference, no matter the place. Like Blake mentions in his poem: “faces with marks of weakness, marks of woes,” (3-4) in a big and well-developed town. This contrast provides the conviction that humans look for adaptation. No matter the place, nature always has something to give life a special meaning, like the comfort humans abstract from the imagination to be adapted to local conditions in the planet. And like a rite of passage, kids become adults, and all cry of fear. Contrastive ideas of power, represented by the soldier and the palace, the prostitute and the poor bride, the river and the channels, are given. “Channels are connected to Thames and streets follow the river. “Street and river are channeled, imprisoned, enslaved (lake inhabitant of London) (Gioia 821). If we consider the prostitutes (young girl turned harlot), the wedding, the carriage transformed into a hearse, used as symbols, to explain the risk of the plague of syphilis, which carried into marriage, can cause a baby to be born blind, like prostitution endangering every child (Gioia 822).
The contemporary of Blake’s could have read the two altered opening lines of his poem as an objective description of the trading organization of the city (Gioia 2218).
So far, the poem has portrayed a big town with all the evolvements of development, as well as the marginal circumstances of people like the labor of the infants - - typically observed during the Industrial Revolution - - and the prostitution, a social practice that compromises genetic tendencies of a certain ethnical group.
The interesting aspect of Blake’s poem is the fact that he comes out and directly states his theme. What good and bad aspects of life in a big town with a river like Thames can be pointed out? The question is clearly objective. The streets of any city is impregnated of stories, as far as characters transform the monotony of midnight fog, in forbidden and mysterious attitudes of people coming up and down Thames river.
“Blake’s account of his stroll through the city at night becomes an indictment of a whole social and religious order. The indictment could hardly be this effective if it was “mathematically plain”, its every word restricted to one denotation clearly spelled out” (Gioia 822).
In conclusion, we can say that we’ve met a poem where the genuine spirit of the city, demonstrates the roots, of castles and soldiers, the geographical importance of a river, and the commercial relations, the streets, as well as the preoccupation with the children, and their feelings as an essence of British Culture, a historical and memorable registration of progress, and changes, moved by social forces. Birth and Death. An allusion to a rite of passage. As Joseph Campbell reports in his book, “The Power of Myth”, Blake is the man who mentioned
that the eternity is in love for the production of time (Campbell 51). In the poem “London” we can see a city being transformed by the time, consumed by the hours. Eternal in his lyrics!
The reading of Blake’s poem “London”, makes me imagine the setting of such a big city and being full of curiosity about urban contextual setting, unrevealed because of circumstances and social conveniences, perhaps the main reason why Blake did not become popular at the beginning of his career as a poet. His “Prophetic Books” have had to wait until our century for compassionate readers (Gioia 1289).
Autor: ANTONIO DOMINGOS CUNHA
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