Throughout his poems, Blake expresses his strong disapproving views on the church, the monarchy and society as many of his poems suggest he was a nonconformist. He was an accomplished poet, painter, and engraver. He created his own symbolic poems and paintings to reflect his social concerns of that time. He was a true original in thought and expression and this caused concern in many of the public and higher classes in his time. Blake lived during a time of intense social change; these changes gave Blake a chance to see one of the most dramatic stages in the transformation of the Western world from a somewhat simple agricultural society to a busy and rich industrial society. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution all happened during his lifetime.
One example of Blake’s disapproval of changes that happened in his time comes in his poem “London”. For instance, the narrator in “London” describes both the Thames and the city streets as “chartered,” or controlled by people only interested in making money. He also refers to “mind-forged manacles” whereby he comments on how the authorities try to stop pioneers in such thoughts like Blake. He relates that every man’s face contains “Marks of weakness, marks of woe”; and he discusses the “every cry of every Man” and “every Infant’s cry of fear.” This could be due to the fact that everywhere they go they are under pressure from people for money, with money becoming even more important with the introduction of the industrial revolution. He shows his disapproval for marriage in the church by connecting marriage and death together by referring to a “marriage hearse” and describes it as “blighted with plague.”
He also talks about “the hapless Soldier’s sigh” and the “youthful Harlot’s curse” and describes “blackening Churches” and palaces running with blood. London depicts the atmosphere of the city of London In the poem ‘ London’ Blake describes it as an extremely depressing, doomed city reflected in the faces of the people who show ‘marks of weakness, marks of woe’. Blake gives his very negative view of London, focusing on the gap between the classes and the poverty that results. Yet Blake never writes this he makes it clear with all the poor young women having to sell their bodies “”How the youthful harlots curse” and the children working from birth “How the chimney sweepers cry”. London is one of Blake’s only poems where he reflects upon his views from his own perspective yet in many other poems he expresses his views “out the mouth of babes”.
Children have always been able to say just what’s they want when an adults radical views would quickly be frowned upon. In doing this Blake hopes for his poems to be taken more seriously yet not get locked up for his “madness”. This is real worry to William Blake, as the general public would quickly frown upon anything new or radical in his time. This technique is used in “The Little Vagabond” where he declares some very critical comments on the church yet makes up for it by voicing them from a “Little vagabond” or a cheeky young lad. This child manages to produce some very outrageous yet serious views and all seem to have some truth behind them; this way people can only attack Blake if they agree with his views. Otherwise Blake can just say that they are not serious views, just that of a silly child. Blake’s disapproval for the church is made apparent in “The Little Vagabond”, whereby he contrasts the “cold” quite subdued church to a happy alehouse where they would be “healthy and happy and warm”.
By using this technique of comparing the church to an alehouse, something that a church would clearly not agree with, is frankly quite insulting. Not only this yet unfortunately the church pails in comparison to a cold miserable church, whilst in the alehouse they would “sing and pray all the live-long day”. The way Blake launches this attack on the church is very clever as it is shown as a silly Childs comparison, yet when an adult reads them it soon becomes apparent that these views are perfectly valid and well founded. Blake is continually connecting things together that would cause offence to a certain social group, often the church. In this poem he connects the devil and the barrel, by this he means the church’s “arch enemies” the devil and alcohol something the church clearly would not be happy being connected with.
However “and god would have no more quarrel with the devil or the barrel; but kiss him, and kiss him both drink and apparel” suggests in this poem god ends up kissing them and having a drink of alcohol with the devil. This attempts to suggest that god will give up his morals and take part in what he is ethically against. In the poems “The chimney sweepers” Blake attempts to tackle the issue of the exploitation of children being made to work at such a young age. This is also done from a perspective of children as the industrial revolution completely changed their lives. Both these poems are challenging and can be interpreted in many different ways.
The first chimney sweep poem is expressed from a very naive perspective and tells a simple tale of a chimney sweeps dream. “And so he was quiet, & that very night, as Tom was sleeping he had such a sight” from here the poem continues to explain poor Tom Darcy’s dream. And in this wishful dream are thoughts of him leading what should be a normal child’s life “Then down a green plain leaping, laughing they run” rather than the harsh reality of their own lives. Yet cleverly worked into the poem are references to the church and its beliefs, this way Blake can blatantly attack the church but hide behind the naive child. He comments on the appalling way the children are treated “so your chimney I sweep, & in soot I sleep” and the degrading standards they are put through each day at work.
In his second version Blake writes the poem still from a Childs perspective but from one that can see the faults of his upbringing, and also his parents foolishness at following the churches beliefs. In this poem Blake seems to be more blatant in the way he assaults the church and monarchy. He comments on how the church and monarchy get between him a young poor defenceless child and his simple mother, proving this fact is very clever as it is something the church is vulnerable on. This is due to the fact that splitting up parents and their child is a very cowardly act and something that neither the church nor monarchy would be proud of. Yet even today this is still happening as the church promises that if you follow Christianity and devote many hours of your life to it you will go to heaven.