The existence in the hands of adult

The Image of the Child as a Gate to Blake’s and
Wordsworth Poems

Symbols were
always a great part of the Romantic poetry and William Blake was one of the
symbolic poets. His poems include numerous symbols and allusions. Parallelly,
in the compile of Songs of Innocence
and in the Songs of Experience poems,
he uses the image of the child to express his ideas. His ideas are reflected
his poems with the child figure and the child is used to express Blake’s view
of innocence and soul’s perfect existence in the Songs of Innocence. On the other hand, Blake saw modern society as
a cause for the destruction of innocence and loss of vision. In Blake’s
perspective, these create possibilities for us to see the traces of God and they
give us a capacity for imagination. He mentioned about how children lost their
pure existence in the hands of adult world (by criticizing the church and
parents in this aspect) by referring problems of the era that he lived. In
order to express his ideas, Blake used the image of the child in his poems. The
other symbolic poet William Wordsworth mentions about life on earth as a dim
shadow of initial and purer existence, he believes this can only be remembered
in childhood and then forgotten in the process of growing up. Like Blake, Wordsworth
also adopted the image of the child to call back for a genuine existence. I
believe, examining Blake’s poems and Wordsworth’s The Immortality Ode are useful to comprehend soul’s perfect
existence with the child image and how the modern world’s brutal side forces us
to forget our innocence and also our creative imagination that comes naturally
when we born. In this essay, I will examine the image of the child through some
of the William Blake’s poems from Songs
of Innocence and the Songs of Experience,
and with the Wordsworth’s The Immortality Ode by touching upon the
similarities and differences.

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             In the Songs
of Innocence, we can see how Blake used the image of the child to express
his views on both the subjects of innocence and the soul’s perfect existence. Blake
used the child image as treated in the romantic concept. As Benziman stated “There
was a two major and rival conceptions of childhood in the late eighteenth
century”(167), one is “the earlier approach which based on the belief in the
original sin and tended to regard children as morally inferior; the second more
innovative approach to children, largely shaped by the sensibilities of romantic
writers, was liberating and emphatic, it upheld the idea that children were
morally innocent and treated the child’s subjectivity as valuable, fascinating
and profound” (167). Blake, as a romantic poet believed in children’s moral
superiority and its power of creative imagination. In the poem The Lamb, Blake gives an explanation of
the origins of man with an image of the child questioning the lamb: “Little
Lamb who made thee?” (1). And the child gives us an explanation of this
question. This power is so great that it gives us a ‘tender voice’ (7),
‘clothing of delight’ (5), ‘life’ (3) and most importantly ‘rejoice’ (8). The
child answers this with: “He calls himself a Lamb” (14). The Lamb is similar to
lamb and also a child: “He is meek & he is mild, / He became a little
child: /I a child & thou a lamb” (15-17). According to these lines
referring to the child, s/he is carrying belongings of this greater power and
this power can be understood as God. These lines reveal that Blake tried to
convey his idea about our origins with the child image as he believes that the
child has a shared characteristic with the god and the child can see the divine
power because of his innocence. Thus, the child image symbolizes soul’s perfect
existence. This power is also the source of the creative imagination. As a child
can see the world different because of his innocence, he has the capacity to interpret
the things differently. As Benziman suggested: “Blake and Wordsworth’s poems
suggest that the child’s stance is both morally superior and artistically
productive” (168). In the poem Infant
Joy, one can see why Blake related the child image with creative
imagination. “I happy am /Joy is my name” (4-5) from these lines, it can
be seen that the child has a potential for joy. 
“Thou dost smile. /I sing the while /Sweet joy befall thee” (10-12). We
can see the child’s potential for joy. This poem emphasizes Blake’s idea of
‘natural child’. Blake thinks the natural child as a core of man’s spirit and
this potential of playing and being joyful is where the roots of imagination
come from.

In the Songs of Experience poems, we can see
the loss of this creative capacity and also child’s innocence in the hands of the
adult world in the maturity stage. Blake criticized the era and its
institutions that he lived because of the labour imposed upon beginning at the
early age. Thus many scholars saw Blake as a fiery advocate for the rights of
man against the religious and political constructs (Maksidi 3). In his poem Chimney Sweeper, one can see this. This
poem reflects children have no option but work; first because of his parents
“my father sold me while yet my tongue /Could scarcely cry” (1-2),
secondly church and lastly government “And are gone to praise God and his
Priest and King, /Who make up a heaven of our misery” (11-12).  Benziman suggest that “Blake’s poetry rebels
against what he sees as the chains of social institutions and prejudice binding
human spirit” (169). All these institutions and parents abuse the child. Blake indicates,
“And because I am happy and dance and sing, /They think they have done me
no injury” (9-10). Although the children participate in happy activities, they
are not genuinely happy unlike other intuitions and families think. Their
actions without a meaning create a wasting situation of the child’s abilities. The
energy and capacity that the child has and which are necessary for imagination are
wasted. The child is seen morally superior because unlike the church officials,
his sentences are innocent, instant and they present real feelings. (Benziman
172).  Because of the institutions’
misinterpretations of happiness, they made children think of as if, if only children
serve them, s/he can be happy. Thus, both the talent to be able to see the
reflection of the God and the capacity for imagination are being to disappear
in time.

As it is mentioned in the previous paragraph, Wordsworth
puts his focus into the child image like Blake as well. As Benziman stated: “The
centrality of childhood in Wordsworth’s poetry is unquestionable” (Benziman
177).  The central piece for both of the
poets was the image of the child. However, in certain aspects, Blake and Wordsworth
differed from one another. They might agree on the loss of innocence and the
loss of creative imagination yet they do not agree on who to blame. While Blake
clearly accuses the institutional and familial neglect; Wordsworth escapes from
reality takes shelter into an introspection of the child’s interiority. This
change is followed by hiding and denial of neglect (Benziman 168). Wordsworth
believed the pure existence of child contrary to the earlier approach which
stigmatizes child as morally lower with the original sin belief like Blake did.  In the Intimations
of Immortality Ode, he is
questioning how his pure existence is lost and shares his grief by creating
monologues of his past, remembering his childhood. In fact, the message that
the child has an intimate connection with God is given in the prologue with the
words: “The Child is Father of the Man; /And I could wish my days to be/ bound
each to each by natural piety”. It is important to know that because one can
feel intimated to God through nature which Wordsworth calls ‘visionary gleam’.
This ‘visionary gleam’ is the thing that we had in childhood. As we grow up, we
lost our affinity with nature, and also with God as a consequence of these; at
the end, we lost our visionary gleam and also our creative imagination. In the
first stanza, he tells that: “There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream” (1)
as this line refers to his past then he continues to describe how he felt: “The
earth, and every common sight,/ To me did seem/ Apparelled in celestial light,”
(2-4) these lines refer to his childhood and the time when every ordinary thing
seems eternal to him. Childhood sustains ‘celestial light’ and with its vision
child is able to interpret the ordinary things differently. To be able to see
the ordinary things differently requires a deep imagination and this proves
that childhood is a state that was we had a creative imagination.

            As we can observe in Blake’s poems,
we can also notice in the Wordsworth’s poems that how the child has lost his
vision. But the difference is Blake allows the child to speak on the first person.
Benziman asserts that Wordsworth differs from Blake in the aspect of allowing
the child to communicate in the first person (178). Blake applies the image of
the child to himself and he expresses his experiences with spots from his
childhood. In Wordsworth’s Ode, we cannot listen to the child himself, we can
only listen to narrator’s childhood experiences from his adult’s voice.
Wordsworth reflects his adult period as a period which his vision is in the
point of decay. The stage when the child grows up is nothing but to fall much deeper
into the prison house and becoming dwindle down divine (Lincoln 220). In the stanza seven, he says that life is nothing but an
imitation process: “Some
fragment from his dream of human life, /Shaped by himself with
newly-learn{e}d art” (91-92) Following these lines Wordsworth tries to emphasize the truth
about life one more time as he once again presents the life as an imitation: “As
if his whole vocation /Were endless imitation”(106-107). And then the following lines refer how
he lost his vision related to this: “The glory and the freshness of a dream. /
It is not now as it hath been of yore:” (5-6). 
He emphasizes that nature is still being there for him, in order to
provide an ability to see the earth. He reminds himself that there are still children
playing outside among the flowers, with the words in stanza two: “This sweet
May-morning,/ and the children are culling/ On every side” (44-47). But he
still does not see the earth like he saw in his childhood, he questions: “Whither
is fled the visionary gleam? /Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” (56-57).
He misses something. He understands that something has changed thus he blames
materialistic things on the earth which blindfolded our vision and caused the disappearance
of the glory of childhood. “Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
/Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind” (77-78). The earth is personified
here like a trapper who has her unique treasures. And in the following lines: “To
make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man, /Forget the glories he hath
known, /And that imperial palace whence he came” (82-84), we learn that
with these treasures she tries to make us forget the glories and where we came
from which is the ‘imperial palace’. So, Wordsworth uses metaphorical language
to express his ideas which he believes in “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: /The Soul
that rises with us, our life’s Star, /Hath had elsewhere it’s setting” (
58-59). According to Wordsworth before we were born, we had a life on the heaven
and only in the childhood we can recall these memories because as the time pass
earth makes us forget. Thus, he makes a connection with the ‘imperial palace’
which is where we came from, and the memories that we have in there can only be
remembered in the childhood. As a part of our childhood, ‘imperial palace’ is related
to pure existence.  Wordsworth accepts
childhood as a blessed condition like Blake. He calls childhood as ‘mighty
prophet’. He believes, his childhood memories will always guide him in the
journey of innocence and he sees them as a medium that may lead him to his lost
instincts.

            To conclude,
Blake’s several poems and Wordsworth’s The
Immortality Ode is examined in this essay. Blake’s The Lamb poem is used to give an answer to the origins of human
mind. The characteristics of the lamb in the poem show similarities with a
higher power. Their similar characteristics build a connection between two. Considering
the lamb as a child and the divine power as the God provides a better
understanding of the power of the child. To conclude from here, it is
understood that child can see and reflect the traces of God in life. Also, the
poem of Blake Infant Joy is used to
show how the child image is related to the capacity for creative imagination. This idea comes from Blake’s ‘natural child’ idea. He
believed that a child has a capacity for joy and play and these are core requirements
for the creative imagination. Besides, the Songs of Experience poems refer to how
child’s innocence and capacity for creative imagination is corrupted by
institutions. On the other hand, Wordsworth’s The Immortality Ode is examined. Wordsworth used the child image
for the same reasons like Blake. He advocated child’s superiority both morally
and imaginatively. However, the difference is Wordsworth brings child’s
interiority to the forefront and he did not put the child’s voice first-hand
unlike Blake did. Wordsworth saw a tendency to materialization in this world which
blinds our ‘visionary gleam’ that comes from the ‘imperial palace’ when we
born. While we can still remember where we come from in the childhood, in the maturity
we lose this vision and as a consequence this, we lose our creative
imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Benziman, G. “Two
Patterns of Child Neglect: Blake and Wordsworth.” Partial Answers:
Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, vol. 5 no. 2, 2007, pp.
167-197.         

Blake,
William. “Infant Joy.” The Norton Anthology
English Literature, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 9th
ed,
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, pp. 123.

Blake,
William. “The Chimney Sweeper.” The Norton
Anthology English Literature, edited by Stephen Greenblatt,  9th
ed,
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, pp. 128.

Blake,
William. “The Lamb.” The Norton Anthology
English Literature, edited by Stephen Greenblatt,  9th
ed,
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, pp. 120.

Lincoln, Kenneth R. “Wordsworth’s Mortality Ode.” The Journal of
English and Germanic Philology, vol. 71, no. 2, 1972,
pp. 211–225.

Makdisi,
Saree. William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s.
Chicago: Universtiy of Chicago Press, 2003. Print.

Wordsworth,
William. “Ode: Intimation of Immortality fro Recallections of Early Childhood.”
The Norton Anthology English Literature,
edited by Stephen Greenblatt,  9th
ed,
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, pp. 337-341.