A man, trapped underneath restrictive ropes, seems to be struggling to free himself; in “The Human Abstract,” a piece in the “Songs of Experience” collection from William Blake, we see a situation concerning the importance of religion and the threads that figuratively tie the world together. The poem, clear as it may seem in its message that there cannot be one thing without its inverse, is brought to life by the sense of stress in the image.
The man who resides on the bottom of the page is perplexed, or maybe angry, that he cannot free himself from the ropes holding him in place. When looked at within the context of the poem, this might be a reference to the stranglehold that mortality has over him. “Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor,” (SIC) it reads, “And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we.” The words show that, to feel one thing, we have to be able to feel the opposite. To know that we are “fortunate”, for example, we must be able to see what “unfortunate” is. The image at the bottom of the page is a testament to how this knowledge traps us.
At first glance, the image appears to be predominantly negative. Some further association with the text of the poem reveals, however, that this may not be the case. The man is on his knees, which might be a reference to the line that reads “He sits down with holy fears, And waters the ground with tears: Then Humility takes its root, Underneath his foot.” (SIC). He is afraid of what it means to be human, he is trapped by it, and yet he is on his knees because he respects the idea that he has no control over this fact.
There are rules that must be followed to be a functioning member of society. And as this man gets older, he struggles to see the purpose, yet he understands and abides. He tries to escape, but the ropes- possibly representing social order- keep him in what we can assume is his proper place in society. The last section of the poem reads, “The Gods of the earth and sea Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree, But their search was all in vain: There grows one in the Human brain”. (SIC) This tree could be a physical manifestation of “order”, and if it is, then these words serve to prove that this old man is struggling over the idea that social order is created within his head, and not by the outside world, hence his inner feelings of being conflicted.