Saturday, September 20, 2014

Darkness and a Hopeful Image

After reading Songs of Experience by William Blake, the poems have a collective darker tone in contrast to Songs of Innocence. Specifically the Poem London on page 46 creates a tone of imprisonment and victimization through the content and language throughout the poem. The combination of the language, repetition of words emphasizing and dramatizing the pain is evident throughout London, however the actual image and what is represented in the image contrast the point the poem is trying to make. In addition the warm browns, orange and red throughout the painting contrast the darkness of the poem.
             The poem has four stanzas but the shift of imprisonment and victimizing of the people happens halfway through the poem.  In the second stanza there are three lines where there is a repetition in the language emphasizing these tones the poem creates.  
“In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,”
Blake makes this sense of suffocation universal by making it broad and impersonal by showing there is a sense of low morale throughout the entire people of London. In addition he uses the words “man” and “infants” showing this darkness effects everyone.
            In the last two stanzas Blake personalizes the sufferings showing how the people in London are victimized. In stanza three both lines are said,
“How the Chimney-sweepers cry”
“And the hapless Soldiers sigh.”
Although the reader cannot easily vision these people, Blake emphasizes their emotions. He does the same in the fourth and final stanza as well articulating,
“Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse”
While many celebrate a newborn child and are overjoyed, this is a stark contrast of what one would expect. The use of the word “tear” shows the unhappiness that this child was brought into this world, the misery the mother has will soon be shared by the child. The word “plague” is associated with death, and here it is as if the child has entered or been introduced to their death. There is no hope for the child in this world he or she was brought into and Blake depicts this through the small selection of words he has used.
            The text confidently shows the darkness and endless  misery of the people of London; however what the reader sees in the image contrasts these accusations. First, looking at the top of the image one sees an elderly man walking through the night with a small child. Initially it does not look like an uplifting image; however the body language of the two interacting seems gentle and friendly. Also there is a shining in on them, bringing lightness during what the poem would say are dark times. In addition there are browns and oranges that make up the color of the background and prominent in the image. It is more warm and hopeful rather than the colors being black and gray.
            In addition the image to the right of the poem is not a dark and negative one. The person is kneeling and is painted a gold color. Although one could argue the kneeling could be a negative sign as surrendering to the darkness around them, I don’t think this is the case. They are facing the light, which has warm reds, oranges and blues. The strokes look soft and full of body, contrasting something that could be hard and rigid like the dark times the poem was referring to.

            While the poem London reveals hardships and misery the people encountered the image does not support this; it counteracts everything the poem says. The image is warm and full of hope. The people portrayed in the images show kindness and towards each other and look towards the light.  Overall the image presented does not support the poem it is paired with.


  1. I think you picked an interesting topic for your essay, your argument being that the image does not support the text at all. While you definitely gave supporting evidence for this argument, looking at the other side might be helpful as well because Blake did pair this image with this text. He must have used these images for a reason. You are right, the text is dark and shows that the people are almost prisoners of their own city (“mind-forg’d manacles”). There must be a reason why he painted what you interpreted as uplifting images to go with this idea.
    Rather than looking at each separately and spending as much time arguing that they are opposite, you should consider why they were put together. Could it be depicting people trying to overcome the harsh living conditions of industrialized London? I also saw the lower image as a boy warming himself by a fire, which you never explicitly said. This could show his struggle for warmth and protection rather than being a symbol of happiness and light.

  2. Ellen's second paragraph is perfect, in particular the first half of it. It's not that I disagree with her alternative reading in the second half - I want to emphasize what she says int eh first half of her second paragraph. You do a perfectly good job of laying out the apparent disjunction between language and image (although consider the alternatives she raises, too). But that's properly only a beginning to the prompt, and really to any essay on this subject. What does it mean that Blake goes both one way and the other? Why the despairing voice and the (at least arguably) much more upbeat image? Maybe consider if the particulars of either the text or the image (the pairing of age and youth seems significant, for instance!) can offer a clue or a key to the apparent disjunction.

    I'm not saying that you'll come to an easy or simple conclusion - I'm simply saying that you belabored some of the easy material and stopped right where it was getting really interesting. A good revision would trim down a little on the first few paragraphs especially, and really engage with the question of *why* things are disjoined in this way.