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.

Advertisements

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.

What are students’ favourite Blake poems on first reading?


 
 

My students finished reading ‘The Songs of Innocence and Experience’ today and then read out their favourite poems. It was interesting to see their diverse responses.

The first group chose: ‘The Fly’, ‘The Chimney Sweeper — Experience’, and ‘The Lilly’.

Harry says: “I like this poem because It uses the fly as a symbol of day to day life: it could be metaphoric in the sense that the fly represents different daily troubles.”

Millie: “I like the Chimney Sweeper I thought it showed the hypocrisy of the people living in Blake’s time who would go to church and then at same time neglect their children.”

Sophie: “I like London because it gives an insight into the context of the time; it shows how children were chimney sweepers, families were really struggling and everyone was unhappy.”

Nahum: “I liked the Lilly because it is saying that everything else has its opposite side; the Lilly stands out against the rest, she’s just there being beautiful. It can’t be touched by all this other stuff, the thorns, the roses can’t touch it or her. She’s on another level to everything else.”

Group 2:
The Chimney Sweeper: Innocence
The Ecchoing Green
The School Boy
The Clod and the Pebble

I was interested in the comment about ‘The Clod and the Pebble’ from a pupil who felt that the poem represented the problems we encounter in everyday life. ‘The Ecchoing Green’ was chosen because of the way it travelled through the different phases of the day. Interestingly, The Chimney Sweeper from the Songs of Innocence was chosen for its representation of the horrors of child slave labour and the terrible treatment of children generally.

I was fascinated to notice that some students were already beginning to sing and do drum beats to the poems.

Group 3:
Chimney Sweeper – Experience
The School Boy
Introduction to Innocence

This group liked the Introduction because of its happy atmosphere and its last line that invited every child to hear the poems.

Here are some more detailed, written responses from the students:

G writes:

The School Boy

I really liked this poem because it shows Blake’s anger and his protest against the destruction of innocence and youthful joy. The powerful animalistic imagery of the bird symbolizes freedom and innocence which is juxtaposed with the Cage which represents the education system 200 years ago. Blake’s self education influenced his views on education which we can still relate to today.

The Chimney Sweeper (experience)

The first line in this poem shows strong imagery of contrast between the black boy (covered in soot) and the snow which connotes innocence and heaven. This poem has a lot of anger in it.  I like the fact that Blake is attacking authority and blames parents for  inflicting cruelty on innocent children.

Introduction (innocence)

I like the way Blake sets the scene for his songs showing innocence throughout the introduction. He uses symbolism for religious purposes to show innocence such as the lamb and also children which is a main theme in his poems. The last line for me shows that the children are his audience, this could be why his songs of innocence seem very sweet and short?