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The Garden of Love" by William Blake
Transcript of The Garden of Love" by William Blake
by William Blake
A happy poem, right?
How about not?
What was Blake's meaning in "The Garden of Love?
Clearly, Blake denounces the Christian church in his poem; however, he doesn't denounce Christianity as a religion. Rather, the speaker longs for the days when religion was a joyous experience and laments the fact that the Church effectively limits the joys one can experience in life.
Blake conveys this meaning through the prevalent use of symbolism, Biblical allusion, irregular meter, and a use of anaphora.
"The Garden of Love"
I went to the Garden of Love
And saw what I never had seen
A Chapel was built in the midst
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut.
And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
"Thou shalt not" directly alludes to the 10 Commandments in the Bible as every commandment begins with these three words.
Blake's primary literary device in "The Garden of Love" is symbolism.
The Garden of Love itself possibly represents the purity of the Garden of Eden.
The Chapel indicates the Christian Church as a whole.
The phrase, "Thou shalt not," serves as both a biblical illusion to the Ten Commandments and also a symbol for the rules and restrictions of the Church.
The "sweet flowers" in the second stanza represent what man naturally enjoys in life.
Both the "graves" and the "tomb-stones" may stand for the same "sweet flowers" that the Church has forbidden.
"Priests in black gowns" enforce the rules of the Church with strict attention as insinuated by the phrase, "And binding with briars my joys and desires."
Blake uses a different meter in every stanza of his poem, presumably to emphasize certain areas of the text. The first stanza is written in trochaic tetrameter, the second in dactylic trimeter; however, the third stanza isn't entirely in a single meter. The first two lines are trochaic tetrameter, but the last two lines are in an unrecognizable, perhaps nonexistent, meter. Clearly, Blake attempts to set these statements apart from the rest of the poem.
The last stanza uses anaphora to emphasize each line with the repetion of the word "and." Here Blake attempts to accentuate this stanza once more.
Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757 to James and Catherine Blake. Throughout his childhood, he claimed to see fantastic things such as God at his window or angels in a tree. His parents strongly discouraged this "lying," but they understood that Blake was significantly different than other children his age. For this reason, they taught him to read and write at home rather than in a conventional school. At the age of ten he wanted to be an artist, yet he began writing poetry two years later. At the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to an engraver because of the high cost of art school. Following the seven years he spent as an apprentice, he went to the Royal Academy to study art.
Blake married one Catherine Boucher, an illiterate woman, in 1782. After he taught her to read and write, she aided him in printing his illuminated poetry. He made a rather meager living by engraving illustrating for books and magazines for the rest of his life. In 1800, Blake moved to Felpham and under the while working there he taught himself Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian. During this time, he learned what would prepare him for his mature work. Overall, Blake was underrecognized as both a poet and artist during his time. Because of this situation, he lived the remainder of his life in poverty until his death in 1827.
In the beginning stanza, Blake speaks of the speaker's surprise as he visits to the Garden of Love. The Garden of Love represents an idyllic setting of human happiness and freedom; however, the imposition of the Christian Church in the form of the Chapel ruins the setting entirely. The Chapel has taken the place of the speaker's old playground.
The second stanza describes how the Chapel ruins the speaker's freedoms and joys. The speaker attempts to enter the Chapel, but the rules and restrictions of the Christian Church deter him from doing so. As he turns back to his haven of secular joys, he encounters another surprise. A field of graves and tomb-stones take over the area where "sweet flowers bore." Blake is merely stating that even though he cannot truly be part of the Church, they still crush many of the joys in life with their rules. Because of the Church, the speaker no longer has any escape. To make matters worse, the restrictive rules are enforced by "Priests in black gowns," or the clergy. The clergymen of the time enjoyed gluttony, mistresses, and many other things while preaching against them to the masses. Understandably, the speaker is indignant of the discrepancy between deed and word because while the clergy "bind with briars [his] joys and desires" they enjoy the same "joys and desires." Though Blake despises the Christian Church he doesn't attempt to defame Christianity as a religion. Rather, "Blake’s prophetic poetry... contributes to the renewal of Christian ethics by a process of subversion and negation of Christian moral, ecclesiastical, and theological traditions" (Altizer 33)
Altizer, Thomas J. J. "The Revolutionary Vision of William Blake." Journal of Religious Ethics 37.1 (2009): 33-38. Advanced Placement Source. Web. 27 Feb. 2012.