William Blake’s Treatment of Childhood in his Poems
William Blake’s Treatment of Childhood : The glorification of childhood is dominant romantic feature of Blake’s poetry. In his poems child is a figure symbolizing God or Christ. His world of innocence however is not entirely untouched by unpleasant elements.
William Blake’s Treatment of Childhood
In the opening poem of Songs of Innocence “Introduction” the child is shown to be a source of heavenly inspiration. In other words, he is a Christ- figure who brings divinity into the world.
In the poem “The Lamb” the same kind of divinity of children is portrayed. Here innocence of child connects him with innocent lamb as well as God.
I a child and thou a lamb
We are called by His name.
Thus, the child is treated as having divinity within his soul and the poet visualizes the holiness of the child and unifies him with the lamb and Jesus. According to Blake the innocence of a child disseminates from the simplicity of his heart and feelings which are not tempered by the elements of worldliness, customs and rule. Possessed with this nature the child is akin to God and he feels the presence of God in all the objects of God’s creation.
The childhood is marked by absolute freedom and excessive joviality. Happiness and joy are omnipresent in the world of children.
Songs of Innocence celebrates these natural raptures of the children and their sports, shouts ad play. In the poem “Laughing Song “the inanimate object such as the streams, the meadows, and the woods become the part of the joviality of such children as Mary, Susan and Emily.
When the medows laugh with lively green
And the grasshooper laughs in the merry
Scene/when Marry, and Susan and Emily
With their sweet round mouths sing Ha Ha Ha
To Blake childhood is a period of innocence since the sophistical social set up has not affected the children. Since they are free in their pursuit of joy, they are pretty aloof from the mannerism and divided aims of the world. They want to play and frisk in the greenery until they are tired and satisfied. This state of children is portrayed in “Nurses Song of Innocence.”
“No, no let us play, for it is yet day
And we cannot go to sleep
Besides in the sky he little birds fly
And the hills are all covered with sheep.”
The happiness of the children is overt and excessive and they don’t want to go to steep until the day ends. They are happy in playing, singing and dancing and they speak even to the inarticulate creature such as the lamb, bird and flower. Blake also uses some set symbols such as lamb and shepherd in his Songs of Innocence in order to symbolize the innocence of the children as well as the sense of security.
But Blake was not blind to the sufferings of the children. He showed that sometimes children become the pathetic victims of the unjust behavior of the adult. The suffering of the children is manifested in three poems-“the Chimney Sweeper,” “Holy Thursday” and “The Little Blake Boy.” Here he shows the victimization of children by society.
‘Holy Thursday’ is an indictment of a society which allows children to depend upon charity. The poet speaks of “babes reduced to misery” and ‘fed with old and usurous hand.’ There is “eternal winter” in the life of these children.
And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their as are filled with thorns
It is eternal winter there.
Blake means here that all children are angles, not scapegoats to be the butchered on the altar of the society. How can England call herself rich and fruitful land if she has hunger children waiting for food from the so-called benefactors of society? In this poem Blake sings a revolutionary message. The satire here is bitter and Blake shows the class-conscious hatred which a revolutionary feels. He experiences a sense of indignant shame at the state of things.
In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’,(songs of innocence) Blake throws light upon the miserable life of young children who are subject to inhuman treatment in the society of industrial England. A carefree child is a natural symbol of innocence. But the children are thrown in the eternal hell of suffering. The boys named Dick, Joe, Ned and Jack are sold to the master’s sweep when they are very young. They are treated like animals. They have to wake up in the night and go on sweeping the soot of chimneys even when fire is burning below in the fireplace. They put soot in the shooting bags and come out like little black spirits. At home they sleep on poor beds and are fed poorly. They are the victim to the inhuman atrocity of the society. Thus their radiant innocence is completely shattered.
In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’,(songs of experience)The child is telling society that his pain is being caused by those in whom he put his trust— his parents. They abandon him and go …to praise God & his Priest & King (Blake, 11). Perhaps they do this, because on the outside their child looks happy and they probably think that they are helping him more than anything:
‘ And because I am happy, & dance& sing
They think they have done me no injury,’
In the meantime, the church is also playing a part in his misery. How? Because it allows the parents to come inside its building to pray when they should be protecting their child from all harm:
‘They are both gone up to the church to pray
a heaven of our misery “
In “The Little Black Boy” Blake also points out the sober innocence of the black children in the hands of color conscious English society. The little Negro boy laments the dark color of his skin in contrast to the English child’s white skin. He is black and sun burnt while the English boys are angelic in the fair skin. The Negro boy is exposed to the scorching heat of the sun and patiently suffers everything.
In simple and yet golden diction, Blake expresses child’s first thoughts about life. For him all human beings are in some sense and sometime the children of a divine father but experience destroys their innocence.
Read it also: Existentialism in “Waiting for Godot”