Blake’s period witnessed an eventful time in the history of England. The changing economic set up emerging from the industrial growth brought about an entire and fast revolution in the life of the people. But quite paradoxically these changes triggered some unfavorable offshoot of new plights and hardship hurling a large section of people, most of them laborers, into poverty. Consequently, the custodians of human rights came with a renovated seal to educate the poor to improve their wretched condition and to highlight their miseries. This essay focuses on Blake’s criticism of the societies of his time.
Therefore, these reformers worked up for a parliamentary reform thinking they ought to fight against the opposing rich class. But the reform was to be brought into effect so late that by that time there was wide spread misery, exploitation, corrupting and so forth. Blake strongly reacts against and criticizes the society of his time. Actually, we observe loving care and care-free jollity in the poetic world of “Innocence”, whereas in “Experience” repression is the theme, repression of human instincts, human rights and ultimately freedom. Blake’s concept of society puts emphasis on human liberty and freedom.
The poet himself was brought up in the centre of English social resistance. Being a successful artist, Blake’s ways of fighting against the social vices was through the media of art. And in his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience the poet depicts and criticizes the corrupted and ill shaped English society of his period.
‘London’ is one of the most famous poems of Blake’s volume in which the poet criticizes the contemporary society. We find a horrifying picture of London society. Every line of the poem contains a satiric tone. Here the poet decries the three great evils of society: callousness of society, the adversity of war and lust. According to the poet, the cries of London are cries of misery, and its roads and rinses are chartered by the tyranny that rules over the people.
The poet, as he was wandering through the street, Observes the various aspects of London. He observes the mark of weakness and woe in every face he meets. Even children are depicted as helpless in London. The poet says:
“In every cry of every man
In every infant’s cry of fear
…The mind forged manacles I hear”
The poet also describes the wretched condition of the chimney sweeper, Chimney sweeper’s cry seems to have blackened every church and made it through ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ in Songs of Experience, the poet brings before us the sad hazards of the Chimney Sweepers of his time. The poet highlights the cruelty and hostility of parents and their society. He satirizes the religion of that society at whose alter humanity and human values are sacrificed. Thus Blake holds the society as the main cause for the misery of the poor:
They think they have done me no injury
And are gone to praise God and His priest and King
Who make up a Heaven of our misery?
In ‘Holy Thursday’ Blake hurts his defiance at the unjustifiable attitude of society towards the poor children of the charity schools. The poet is infuriated at the negligence they suffer at the hands of the philanthropists of society who are cold blooded and insincere. According to the poet, charity is unnecessary because England is fairly prosperous and she can easily provide as much food as the children require. But in this rich and fruitful land children live in misery.
Even the institution of education does not get to escape from Blake’s criticism. The poem ‘The School Boy’ represents the English society of Blake’s time as a place in which the educational institutions thwarted the children’s natural impulses and binds him to rigid unimaginative discipline. The school with its restriction and hard discipline was appalling. Blake wondered how it had been if blood of the dying soldiers flown down the walls of the royal palace as they fought to protect their king and his palace and died for him. Obviously the child chimney sweeper and soldiers were the oppressed victims of system. Blake has represented the picture of midnight London all the more effectively. In the midnight, Blake could hear the youthful harlots curse and the new born infants cry in the streets of London. It convinced the poet of the derangement it causes in the married life of the people. But harlot is made by man himself. The dead institution of a loveless marriage, which causes man to seek physical pleasure elsewhere in effect brings the harlot into being.
Through ‘The chimney-sweeper’ in songs of Innocence, Blake puts forward a clear picture of the most painful after-effects of Britain’s industrialization. The laborers are poor and without work due to ill health. This poverty compels many a father to sell his children to master sweeplers who employ these children of poor payment, and exploit them to a great extent. Stifles the natural joy of children and forever damages their creativity and sensibility.
“Ah! Then at times I drooping sit
And spend many an anxious hour”
Thus, Blake is successful in employing his quill to write against the malpractices of the society as well as the church and state.
Actually, the society in which we live, and its institutions are not exactly what we are traditionally taught or compelled to believe in or accept. The poet through his songs containing diverse symbols images and so on demonstrates the same phenomena prevailing in his society.