Monday, September 15, 2014

Blake and Power of Trees

            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.

Work’s Cited

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.


  1. Hi Kyle:
    I like your argument that the image of trees signifies godly present in Blake. It is valid and well conversed. A few of things I'd like to point out:
    1. The first sentence has very little to do with this essay. You are talking about the importance of the imagery of trees, not colors so I suggest you rewrite the introduction and get rid of any reference to color.
    2. In the second paragraph, you proved the tree being the continued presence of god, but made unsubstantiated claim that it is also the "genesis of life as it is". You might want to elaborate on that.
    3. In the fourth paragraph, you assumed people being referred to as flock in the bible is public domain knowledge. It is the bible, not facts, so I recommend you to cite the bible.
    I hope this helps.


  2. Your intro is already more focused than most. It would be still more focused, and better, if you began not simply by pointing out that Blake insistently uses the overhanging trees, but by going ahead and saying what that means!

    The second paragraph is good, although anytime within Christian thought that trees become important, you need to think of both trees in paradise: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. Blake's poetry clearly has a relationship with both...

    You don't make any use of details of either the image or the text when you discuss "The Echoing Green." You are making a claim basically without evidence here - moving from a generalization to a specific instead of the other way around. Your reading of "The Shepherd" is a little more specific and a little better, but still not terribly interesting - how do we read the poem differently because of the overhanging tree, for instance?

    Your analysis of "The Little Boy Lost" ignores the text of the poem (which specifically says that God finds him) as well as the image (the halo!). Does that matter? While I don't think it's totally crazy to suggest that boy could hold God's hand while touching a tree which is symbolic of God, I think the more obvious reading is the tree here is maybe more complex (remember the two trees in Eden that I referenced?).

    Overall: I would have liked a little more complexity and attention to detail here. In particular, you seem to assume that Blake's trees always reference "The Tree of Life" as you understand it (which seems very different from what that tree means in the book of Genesis), rather than working through the poems & images themselves.