BLAKE, Songs of innocence and Experience: From reading of the 'Songs', to what extent do you find Blake a man of his time?

Essay by jeromespitfireA, December 2005

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William Blake was born in 1757, the third son of a London tradesman who sold knitwear (hosier). Blake lived in London which dominated much of his work. He was a British poet, painter, and engraver, who illustrated and printed his own books. He spent most of his life in relative poverty. He was very influenced by his brother's death which he claimed he saw "ascend heavenward clapping its hands for joy" who died of consumption at the age of 20. He uses the illustrations and engravings in his work to express his visual, spiritual and psychic views about the society he lived in.

Blake was tuned to the huge social and political forces of the late 18th century. This can be seen in Blake's poem 'The Tyger' as he uses two symbols of revolution; French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution which both happened in the 18th century! The title 'The Tyger' is a symbol which was used in 18th century newspapers, similar to Blake's symbolic description of the French Reign of Terror.

The 'Times' newspaper talked about the Reign of Terror as a Tyger: "a tiger stalking the streets of Paris". This 'Tyger' was used to symbolize the power, machinery, evil, violence and energy of the revolutions going on at this time. The description 'Tyger Tyger burning bright' is a pun because 'burning' could be seen to represent destructiveness whilst 'bright' is a deep, powerful word for revolution. In the third line 'What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?' which has a questioning tone, means that Blake is awestruck on what kind of God would want or allow the French Revolution. In the second verse which talks about Satan's energy, it starts with a questioning tone about heaven or hell 'deeps or skies'. The question...