’Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean The children walking two & two in red & blue & green Grey headed beadles walk’d before with wands as white as snow Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow
“Holy Thursday,” from Songs of Innocence, opens with a parade of orphan children walking toward a traditional annual church service. At first reading, Blake’s voice seems to be that of a sentimentally compassionate adult, observing with pleasure the clean children approaching a godly place. A closer reading, however, reveals the observations to be barbed, perhaps even ironic. For example, the image of children marching two by two behind their leaders suggests that the children are following strict rules and do not enter the church of their own free will.
For Mercy Pity Peace and Love, Is God our father dear: And Mercy Pity Peace and Love, Is Man his child and care. For Mercy has a human heart Pity, a human face: And Love, the human form divine, And Peace, the human dress.
With its formal tone, abstract language, regular meter, and rhyme pattern, “The Divine Image” resembles a hymn. This poem could be sung to many hymn tunes, such as “Amazing Grace.” As in that familiar hymn, Blake personifies the attributes of God—mercy, pity, peace, and love. Blake twists this convention of personification by suggesting that divinity resides in actual persons. Humans experience God through their interactions with humans who share divine attributes. The phrase “the human form divine” succinctly expresses Blake’s values, which are both visionary and Romantic.
When the voices of children are heard on the green And laughing is heard on the hill, My heart is at rest within my breast And every thing else is still
Like most poems in Innocence, “The Nurse’s Song” exemplifies pastoral poetry. In the opening stanza, Blake uses rich sensory details to establish the rural setting. In just four lines, using very simple words, Blake captures and immortalizes a moment of pure peace, security, and happiness—humanity at its best, rejoicing in being alive and communing with nature. Like Wordsworth and other Romantic poets, Blake views children as closer to a natural, divine state than adults.
Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor: And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we; And mutual fear brings peace; Till the selfish loves increase.
In the opening lines of “The Human Abstract,” the bard personifies the attributes of pity and mercy but then points out how selfish pity and mercy really are. In the rest of the poem, the speaker similarly personifies or allegorizes cruelty, humility, mystery, and deceit before declaring their origin to be in the human brain. The poem functions as a counterpoint to “The Divine Image,” but the two poems differ in meter, rhyme pattern, and tone. In “The Human Abstract,” Blake speaks in the voice of a bard or prophet, exposing the evils of human society.
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