William Blake’s poems in Songs of Innocence are accompanied by vivid imagery and critically important color choices. Despite the importance of imagery and color, Blake uses certain images throughout his poems in a very subtle manner. One subtle yet pervasive image is the overhanging tree found throughout Blake’s poems. The overhanging tree’s prominence throughout Blake’s poems signals its importance along with its consistent role in the English poet’s work.
The tree’s importance to Blake is emphasized beginning at the title page. On the Songs of Innocence title page a family is pictured beneath a tree that snakes its way through the sky, blossoming at the top of the page into great, long. sweeping leaves. The tree begins at the ground and encompasses the entire page similar to God’s reign over the universe. This all-encompassing tree exists purposefully as it points to the tree’s true Godly meaning; the tree of life (Hollis and Simpson). Thus, in the religious context of Blake’s poems the overhanging tree is not only the genesis of life as it is, but the continued presence of God.
The first poetic example of the overhanging tree’s use is in Blake’s poem “The Ecchoing Green.” The tree is mentioned in passing, “sitting under the oak,” (Blake, location 211). This would seem to indicate the tree is merely an indication of setting, but when viewed in the broader context of the entire work, with consideration given to the religious overtones present in Blake’s work, the tree takes on a much greater role. Given such consideration, the tree represents the ever-present watch of God. Notice, that the entire scene takes place under the tree, much like all actions of man. The tree provides shelter; it is a bastion of life. In this context, the tree’s similarity to God and symbolism of God is undeniable.
The tree is utilized in a similar manner in an earlier poem entitled “The Shepherd.” The short poem is crammed with religious meaning, and once again, a tree is prominently featured in Blake’s illustration. The poem deals with the daily life of a shepherd (a common religious figure), and his watchfulness over his flock (another common religious feature). In the illustration, the shepherd and his flock are positioned next to a tall overhanging tree, which similar to God, “is watchful while they are in peace,” (location 208). In this way, the tree watches over the shepherd and his flock, just as God watches over his “flock” (human kind).
Another poem exhibiting Blake’s Godly tree is “The Little Boy Found” (location 262). The poem describes the boy’s rescue through God’s appearance and, “by the hand, and to his mother brought,” (262). The imagery of the poem ties into the Godly tree idea. The boy is depicted with his mother with one hand held by his mother and the other on a nearby tree. Thus, the tree being god took the boy “by the hand, and to his mother brought,” (262). This idea is further supported by the earlier poem “The Little Boy Lost,” in which the boy is lost and the image shows the child moving away from an overhanging tree; he is moving away from God and therefore is lost.
Throughout Songs of Innocence, William Blake utilized a variety of images and colors to imply and emphasize various ideas. An often overlooked image being that of the overhanging tree, the “Godly tree.” Given the overall religious context of Blake’s poems, and the tree’s prominence in religious texts and imagery, Blake’s use of the tree as a symbol of God is evident. The poems cited above elucidate this idea in brief, as the idea exists beyond those poems, and stretches throughout Blake’s poetic works. The idea of the “Godly tree,” when understood, brings deeper meaning to Blake’s work.
Blake, William, and Geoffrey Keynes. Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul; 1789 - 1794. Kindle ed. London: Oxford U, 1977.
Hollis, Mary, and Lauren Simpson. "The Tree of Life." The Tree of Life. Yale University, 2006. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.