Initial thoughts on Blake’s poems by a student

After reading some of Blake’s poems, I have found that I really enjoy his work. I feel that Blake is very insightful and observant, using his poems to communicate various views in imaginative ways. In result, it causes the reader to consider his views and investigate the meanings of the imagery that he uses in some cases. Poems such as ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ and ‘The Schoolboy’ in particular, are extremely evocative, and caused me to consider the reality of issues both in the time of Blake, and also those that are apparent in today’s society.
In result, I already feel that I prefer Blake to many poets that I have previously studied. This is largely because the issues he raises are much easier to relate to, than that of someone like Carol Ann Duffy who often reflects of personal experiences or memories. Further still; I value the way in which Blake maintains a clear message through and alongside carefully considered imagery. For me this is preferable to some poems in which the message is almost disguised by flamboyant symbolism, which I often find confusing.

This is another student’s response to London in a Word document here.

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A Student’s First Thoughts on reading the Songs of Innocence and Experience

The echoing green – I particularly enjoyed this piece because of it’s use of pathetic fallacy to represent god, and all of the heavenly joys that one experiences when religious and innocent.
The fly – The fly attracted me as it uses what is perceived as an ‘ugly’ animal to show the troubles that are faced by many different people or races in their every day life, the ‘ugly’ nature of the animal connotes the ‘ugly’ nature of the problems many face.
The chimney sweeper – I like this poem especially because of it’s contrasting imagery, the chimney sweeper is black with soot, In contrast to the heavenly, innocent connotations of the snow around him, which could also be seen as pathetic fallacy, also shows deprivation and the exploitation of child labour.
More in-depth analysis
Holy Thursday (experience)
The poem opens with bold rhetoric devices, linking the divine purity of heaven and god, with ‘misery’ and poverty, this juxtaposition instantly casts us into the harsh, unforgiving world of experience, possibly like the one that Blake witnessed in his childhood. The use of irony in the negative descriptions of the land add to the intensity of the poverty and suffering as the land is branded as “rich and fruitful”. The ironic rhetoric question, “can it be a song of joy?” Adds to the negativity of this piece, coupled with the exclamatory use of the issue directly, “poverty!”. I feel the children are used as a catalyst in this poem to create guilt and sorrow from the reader, the use of child-like innocence gives them similar heavenly qualities. The imagery used in conjunction with this world gives it a painful, empty feel – “thorns” , “bare” – which is uncannily illustrative of the emotions of the people, the time scale of this seemingly post-apocalyptic situation is described as an ‘eternity’ acting as an intensifier to the aim of this piece; to raise awareness. I feel that in this poem, God and prosperity are represented by the sun, and it’s rays, never to shine upon this derelict, futile land. This extended metaphor continues to explain wherever the sun does shine, poverty shall be absent and again, the use of children to show this improvement, intensifies the effect.

Holy Thursday (innocence)
The opening of this piece also contains heavenly connotations, much like it’s experience related counterpart, however, this version brings together all the joys religion and god can bring, linked with words such as ‘clean’ rather than ‘misery’. The use of colour connotation with children creates a feel of happiness as bright, vibrant colours are used, “red, blue and green”. I also believe the fact that the children are paired, never alone, portrays a very positive, unifying view of innocence, unlike experience in which we all stand alone and aware. Winter is also seen in a different light for the innocence poem, it is directly connoted to heaven and purity unlike the ‘eternal’ ‘misery’ it supposedly causes in the experience version of the poem. Similarly, animal imagery also represents innocence whilst denoting some religious beliefs, such as Muslims who feel the ‘lamb’ is holy. As the ‘thousands of little boys and girls’ join in unification, the power of their action is described as “mighty” implicating that innocence is a strong attribute, only to be lost when exposed to the many taboo situations throughout life.

Blake’s ‘The Chimney Sweeper’: “A little black thing among the snow: Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!”

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A little black thing among the snow:
Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!
Where are thy father & mother? say?
They are both gone up to the church to pray.

Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smil’d among the winters snow:
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

And because I am happy, & dance & sing,
They think they have done me no injury:
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King
Who make up a heaven of our misery.

You can compare different versions of the poem here.

Questions to answer on the poem

What effects are created when the poem is read aloud or sung?

What interests you most about the poem? Why?

What questions might you ask about the poem?

What is the poem about?

What effects does the language create?

What is the effect of the poem’s structure and form?

What are the similarities and differences between other texts?

How do other people interpret this poem? Find sources/links…

What might make a good creative response to the poem?

How might you teach this poem?