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.


One student’s top four Blake poems

Introduction – Songs Of Innocence
What drew me to this poem in particular was the story it told. The child he sees could be interpreted in two ways, in a literal way or a figurative way. If it is thought of in a literal way the poem could be about how Blake told a child a poem of his, and the child very much enjoyed it and encouraged Blake to write more poems so “every child may joy to hear” them. If it is thought of in a figurative way then it could be interpreted that Blake had a dream where he saw a child in a cloud and that he had an epiphany that he should write his poems down and take it more seriously then he possibly did before. For me it was an interesting insight into Blake’s poetry as it was the first poem of his I read, and in my opinion it was a very fitting poem to start on.
The Schoolboy
What interested me about this poem is how relevant it is, even after hundreds of years when this was first written. The message in it is something that I also believe in. The fact that children are put in such a suppressive environment every week for hours on end does not make sense to Blake, and to me. I felt a connection to this poem as soon as I had finished reading it for the first time. The imagery of the bird stuck in the cage was very poignant for me; it really went well with the idea of a child being confined into school and still being expected to have “fun” and to “enjoy” it.
The Chimney Sweeper
This poem was very confusing for me at first as I initially thought that the chimney sweeps had died. But upon reading it again it had become one of my favourite of Blake’s poems. The idea of the chimneys sweeps thinking about death and going to heaven every night in their dreams is haunting; it leaves the reader in an inquisitive state of how bad life must be for the boys. The fact that death and going to heaven keeps them warm and happy when they wake up is very bittersweet. It’s something that would be depressing for me if I thought of death every night, but it is a motivation for them, and this is something that completely fascinates me.
Nurse’s song
This poem is in my top 4 of Blake’s poetry because of the fact that it is, in my mind, such a lovely story. It is simple short and sweet and it leaves a warm image in my mind after I have read it. I also enjoy the way in which it ends. The whole poem rhymes until the last line when Blake rights “And all the hills echoed”. This helps the last line to stand out from the rest and leaves imagery of children’s laughter echoing round green hills. A generally calming and warm image.

Blake’s ‘The School Boy’: “How can the bird that is born for joy, Sit in a cage and sing.”


I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour,
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro’ with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father & mother, if buds are nip’d,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip’d
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and cares dismay,

How shall the summer arise in joy
Or the summer fruits appear.
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear.

You can compare different pictorial 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?