Opposition and Romanticism

Essay by alperselUniversity, Master'sA+, April 2005

download word file, 10 pages 0.0

Downloaded 63 times

My project's purpose is to make interpretations upon one of Blake's sayings which is

''Opposition is true friendship.''As we will see,this saying of his obviously catches the

dominant trend of the Romantic society.''Opposition'' meant a lot to Blake and other

romantic writers who made rejection and rebellion a central thing to their lives.We will

see that the vein which fed most of Blake's poetry is the vein of radicalism and opposition.

But,if our aim is to examine Blake's writings within the context of the particular outstanding

features of the romatic period,it seems that it will be to our benefit to dwell on some general

characteristics of the romantic period.If we are to make sense of the things that he writes,this

can not be done without making references to the interestingly energetic intellectual and

political atmosphere of the period.

The Romantic period is rather complex and intricate in itself,the reason being that different

Sorts of ideas and perspectives were present amongst the intellectuals who came afore in the

Period.Every student of literature is sufficiently informed that the romantic poets were mostly

Mad-like,odd people who had ideas and imaginations working in different ways than the other

Writers of the preceding period of enlightenment period.The Romantic period possesed a

Huge array of distinct values and beliefs on which the society stood firm.In the Augustan

Age,if we look back,we see a very conservative and introvert society into which rather

Conservative and normal principles of thought were imbued.A certain stable society,based on

single,particular moral codes not deviating from known traditions,had been set up and people

usually had a scornful look upon radical ideas which did not fit their own social codes and

they regarded such ideas as out of context.On the other hand,the romantic period saw the

assortment of different,clashing sorts of thoughts being tolerated and put into discussion

which resulted in conflict between people belonging to different social groups.

Their radical sides mostly showed themselves on issues of religion and politics.To exemplify

this,a political work called ''Anarchy'' had been published by a writer and Blake wrote ''

Marriage of Heaven and Hell''in which he makes an incredible inversion of Christian

Virtues and moral codes which would have been unacceptable to the conservative minds

Of the period.So,the romantic period was a period which witnessed the huge collection of

Distinct,original ideas which shaped the society.It is never to be thought that such ideas like

Anarchism and also the restoration of individual liberties found their ways smoothly into the

Core conscience of the society because the conservatism of the previous period had still kept

Ä°ts strong effect on the minds of the people.

We very well know from history that The English ny their very own nature do not like

Authority and give much importance to their personal liberties.The soul of rebellion,found

Strongly in Blake,is peculiar to the English.For example,in the period of the coomonwealth,

When the puritans were reigning over the country and were doning their best to curb the

Personal liberties of people,like their being forbidden to go to theatres or having special

Anniversary days when they could have fun and drink,people were miserable and unhappy.

Just following the fall of Cromwell,people were so hungry for liberty that they used it to the

End,in the form of widespread immoral activities and a life which they led to have fun to its

Full end.

So,taking into account this politcal aspect,we should say a few things upon the politcs of the

Period which had its considerable contribution to the character of the literary works of the

Period.We will see that covered political ideas are included in the context of the poems of

Blake,whose political aspirations were mostly radical and outstanding.

If we speak about the general properties of the romatic literature,we see a big break-up with

the literary principles which dominated the Augustan arena.If we compare them both,the

picture will be more clear.The literature of the Augustans was succint and concise.They did

not like expressing themselves writing poetry or other things which was full of far-fetched

imagination or fancy.Their foremost element was calm reason.In the light of reason which

limited fanciful imaginations or exaggrated sensitivity to life or which avoided from putting

too much emotional expression,they tended their works with scholarly attention.Maybe we

can say that they followed the principles of Horace who defended the view that poetry had to

be based upon serious learning and knowledge,not feeding itself from personal inspiration

but from personal ability and a high amount of personal intellect.So it is not suprising to see

poems in the period very clear in meaning and sense.And the poems were more concerned

with issues relating to the genaral progress of the society,in other words,focused on major

social and political events which affected the main course of history.

Whereas,we see that romantic literature is indeed personal and private.The poet has his own

World of ideas and emotions and conveys to the reader his own personal feelings about things

He sees around.For example,Wordsworth would frequently observe the nature and upon these

Observances,he would write poetry.

Their poems are full of expressions of extreme emotions and feelings,embellished with

Weird appearances of imaginary worlds and characters.Blake had his own mythology because

He believed that only by creating one's own original universe and figures couşd you write

Serious poetry,instead of depending upon ancient Greek mythology which reflected their own


Blake was the leading of the period whose perception of poetry was to be highly influential in

the coming era.Blake is a central figure in the period.He has got some personal features which

are worthwhile talking about.He was against the traditional literal tradition of the augustan

age,he had his own mythology,he delved deep into the obscure areas of human consciousness.

He was displeased with the clergy class and against the presentation of the church as an

Authoritarian institution which had rights to intrude upon people's rights.In his work

Marriage of Heaven and Hell,he gives an imaginary account of his visit to a church which

Ä°s divided into several sections.And at the core of the church there is a mill which symbolises

Mechanical rationalism of Locke and other philosophers whose ideas he harshly opposed.So,

We could say that to him,authority worked in a detrimental way to people,which was that it

Destroyed people's imaginative and instinctive powers.Without imagination,one is nothing.

Blake's objective as a poet was to make people move beyond the bounds of this world of

Five senses and reach the ideal place wherein there was the ideal life.In the poem we will

Study,we will witness his disappointment with the world he lives in.

Blake also had different ideas on the nature of the man.He believed that man was nothing

Without his instincts or passions.Man had energy in his body and by going to the extremes

Using this energy of his,he could well see what is wrong or right.For him Hell was a place

Not so dreadful as it is presented in the teachings of the church.Hell was the abode of passion,

Lust and sex without which you can not be a complete person.

Shocking though it may seem to conservative minds,the thing which he does when he writes

The proverbs of Hell fits in perfectly with his view that opposition is true friendship.It comes

To mean that you should not judge things by looking from one perspective but from many

Different views which will better help you reach the actual truth.

A reference to what Blake and another writer said on the same subject could bring to light the

Radical aspect of his mind.This is what Johnson says on the moral effect on the reader of

Descriptions of behaviour:

''When an Adventurer is levelled with the rest of the world,and acts in such scenes of the

of the universal drama,as may be the lot of any other man;young spectators fix their eyes on them with closer attention and hope by observing his Behaviour and Success to regulate their own practices,when they shall be engaged in like a part...If the power of Example is so great,as to take possession of the Memory by a kind of violence,and produce effects almost without the intervention of the will,Care ought to be taken...''

Blake says:''None can doubt the impression which he receives from a book of Examples.If he is good he will abhor wickedness in David or Abraham;if he is wicked he will make their wickedness an excuse for his;so he would do by any other book.''

What Blake says shows that the effect of literature on an individual depends on the tendencies

And the qualities of the mind which reads it.

Before going on to study the poems,we should mention the political standing of Blake as was

Promised in the preceding page.We mentioned his politically radical ideas.''Radical''has the

Tendecy to be conceived as dangerous and undoing.People usually seem to think that,when

One gives voice to radical ideas,out of line with the conventional laws of the society,he means

To create instability and restlessness.Blake was thinking the other way round.His

Dissatisfaction with the lacking qualities in the society which are vital to making it

A perfect one was the driving force behind his isolation and his efforts to come up with

New values and views which would perhaps heal the the many problems of the society.

Thus,it makes sense to say that apart from the indomitable individuality in his poems,which

Make it harder for us to understand what he says,he never considered it a waste of time to

Sit down and ponder on solutions to the corruptions covering the society.The ideal society

Which he wants people to live in is depicted in ''Jerusalem'' which resembles the society

We see in the book of Revelations but is different in that each person has his own identity

And is liberated from thr restrictive bounds which hamper his progress.

The first poem I will do is the ''sunflower''in the songs of experience.My reason for choosing

this one is it explicitly shows the opposition which we talked about.The poem starts with the

image of a sun-flower. It is central to the poem.To one critic,Blake's choice of a sunlfower is

in place because ''the flower which turns its head to follow the sun's course and is yet rooted

in the earth is Blake's symbol for all men and women whose lives are dominated and spoiled by a longing which they can never hope to satisfy,and who are held down to earth despite their desire for release into some brighter,freer sphere.''In the poem,after also the appearance

Of the young man and the woman,there is the juxtaposition of the real world we are living in

And the ideal,perfect place which many aspire to reach but fail to do so.

''where the youth pined away with desire,and the pale virgin shrouded in snow arise from their graves,and aspire where my sun-flower wishes to go.''

The young man's pining away with desire refers to the unfulfillment of his natural sexual

desires by the society which prevents him all the way.Also,the virgin may be suffering from

the same thing as she is described as pale lacking any symptoms of youthful blossom.Their

being stuck up in the snow is also important.Snow,as general wisdom goes,stands for

barrenness and infertility.The moral social codes do not see it fit that they should come

together and satisfy their appetite for sex.And there is an ironic point.In the case of the

Sun-flower the irony is that while it strongly wishes to reach the sun and be with it,that

sun which it desires a lot is going to be its own destruction in the end.The sun rays will wither

the plant and cause its death.And in the case of the young characters,though it is said that

they arise from their graves and come back to life,it is not given whether they have reached

the ideal place they want to be in.Some critics liken the young man to the mythological

figure Narcissus.Just like he burned with desire to find his own image and in the end

committed suicide in desperation,so does the young man stands expecting that he will

find the world ideal and reach perfection.

''the sweet golden clime'' represents symbolically the ideal place where all things are

possible.The sexual suppression which you witness in this fallen world are resolved and

transcended.Yet,in the world of experience,both of them remain isolated and helpless

waiting for a resolve.Their helpless situation is emphasied by the repetition of the word

''sunflower''at the end of the poem which comes as evidence to the fact that they are in

no better position than the sunflower is.

The poem resembles in some ways to the Book of Thel and the Vision of the Daughters of

Albion in that in those poems Blake also touches on the issues of sexual repression upon

the youth and their isolation from the world.Thel was also a virgin in a white veil who is

trapped in the fallen world but who anyway finds a way to see the other world.In the other

poem sexual satisfaction and liberation is also central.In the poem Oothon sings a lament

which very much resembles the second line of the sun-flower poem.

''The moment of desire!the moment of desire!The virgin that pines for man shall awaken

to enormous joys ın the secret shadows of her chamber:the youth shut up from the lustful joy shall forget to generate-create an amorous image ın the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow.''

What is mentioned is the female and male masturbation the two have to get on with as the

society does not allow for more to take place.And this deprivation of sexuality ends up in


So,the point we can emphasize with confidence is the inadequacy of the world of experience

in appealing to the needs of the human body and Blake thought that,as we said before,

deprivation of energy and lust and passion and sex is something which is not good.

Christianity saw the body as the resource of all sorts of evil and only when you could get

over your earthly desires,could you gain the virtuous life.Blake seems to think the other way

round.Prevention of natural desires and instincts is like death to a person.

The next poem is ''Holy Thursday''in the songs of Innocence.It is about a group of poor

children,staying in an orphanage,marching to ST PAUL Cathedral church under the

observation of their masters to say their prayers of thanks-giving to God.There are seemingly

two different points of view in the poem.First is the one which we see through the innocence

of poor kids who pay their service to God out of pure intentions and the second is that of their

hypocritical masters who arrange the event for the purpose of showing off.

''Grey-headed beadles walked before,with wands as white as snow''

The reference to the wand symbolizes the authority which the masters have upon the children.

In the innocent world,we would be more likely to imagine kids free from any authoritarian

power,acting in their own spontaneous way.As yet,we understand from the poem that they are

sort of subject to a strict discipline,and regimented.The beadles come as a power which limits

the innocent freedom of the kids.In the poem,when the children are singing and praying,they

reach their pure innocent forms as ''or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among;beneath them sit the aged men,wise guardians of the poor''

the beadles are away from them and presented as being lower in condition than the kids are.

The old beadles from the world of experience are advertising their charity works through

exposing kids to public view and there is nothing the innocent souls could do to keep it from

happening.But,in the ceremonial singing scene which they perform,they arise above the rotten

baseness of the chracters of the world of experience and prove that they still preserve the

purity of their souls.

To conclude,Blake as the leader of the Romantic movement,employs the element of

contradiction as a course of action that illuminates our minds as to the true nature of things

of the world.Blake believed that readers of his poems had to put some additional effort into

understating what he really means and his use of contradictions help to attract the attention

of the reader.Opposition is a type of rebellion both against the principle of classical thought

and the structure of his society.