English Composition Clara Favre Essay
Deprivation through Christian Religion in William Blake “The Garden of Love”
In “The Garden of Love”, William Blake claims the fall of human being from innocence to experience. In William Blake’s poetry, innocence (Song’s of innocence) is synonymous with purity, childhood and nature whereas experience (Song’s of experience) is synonymous with adulthood, mankind’s work and the notion of good and evil. Indeed, childhood is the time of innocence while adulthood is strongly connoted by a dualistic system such as religion. In Blake’s poetry, Christian religion is Manichean as there is a constant struggle between good and evil. In “The Garden of Love”, the poetic persona is nostalgic of his childhood when he was connected to an infinite nature and where everything seemed possible. Nevertheless, this place has changed and has been replaced by an austere “chapel”. The joyful and light milieu becomes enclosed, claustrophobic and morbid. This implicates a tension between past and present, desires and restrictions. Consequently, in “the Garden of Love” religion is negatively connoted. Blake uses the image of the edenic fall from innocence to knowledge in order to demonstrate the actual fall of Religion into austerity. Christian religion emphasizes life after death. Thence, Blake criticises Christian religion as an order that curbs innocence and desire by intending to replace them with rules and restrictions. In contrast to Christian religion, Blake ennobles life before death.
“The Garden of Love” (I, 1) can be understood as a symbol of the fall of a child from innocence into the restrictions’ reality of Christianity. “The Garden of Love” is a place “where ïthe poetic personaï used to played on the green”. The word “playï ï” represents childhood. This open broad space can be seen as a metaphor of hope and happiness. The “green” suggests that the child is connected to nature. However when the speaker says: “And I saw what I never seen: A Chapel was built in the midst”, he asserts that his “Garden of Love” has been replaced by something else. A chapel is an enclosed and mankind built space while nature is open and broad. Therefore, “The Garden of Love” has changed; the child has lost his innocence. However, the line “ And I saw what I never seen” (I, 3) reveals that the child has newly become conscious of the reality. The child’s growth could explain the loss of innocence. When the I-speaker states: “A Chapel was built in the midst”, the child realises that religion is central. In addition, the poetic persona uses only past tense such as “went”, “saw”, “had seen” (I). This argues that there is a tension between past and present. Therefore, there is a tension between the past innocence of the I-speaker and the present’s reality of religion. The poetic personal has to choose between his desire and the religious morality. The I-speaker has become newly conscious about religion ethics therefore he does not know how to deal with this dilemma.
The enclosed language can be seen as a metaphor of Blake’s critic of Christian religion’s close-minded morality that denies sexual desires. The words “gates”, “shut”, and “door” exemplify closure. Therefore, the author might infer that Christian religion is close-minded. On the contrary, nature, the “green” is an open space that suggests freedom and open-minded prospects. Therefore, there is a tension between restriction and freedom. The poetic persona has grown and realises the reality of religion’s restrictions. Nonetheless, when the I-speaker says: “ So I turn’d to the Garden of Love” (II, 7), he might be nostalgic of his childhood. This explicates that there is an attempt to come back to the past as he wants to be free. In the Garden of Love, there are flowers. He is trying to go back to the Garden “that so many sweet flowers bore” (II, 8). The “flowers” can be seen as a metaphor of sexual desires. The loss of innocence and childhood occurs with the consciousness of desires. The word “deflower” is implied. This idea of innocence’s loss appears in the Genesis; Adam and Eve realise that they are man and woman. Indeed, the genesis is about acknowledgment. The fall from innocence to consciousness appear throughout desires and the notion of good and evil. Thus, William Blake uses the image of the fall from innocence into experience in order to criticise the attempt of Christian religion to castrate desires. However, this attempt should fail because sexual desires are part of life as the flowers are part of “The Garden of love”.
Although religion might pursue a noble goal by giving human being a certain ethic and preparing them for paradise, in William Blake’s “The Garden of Love”, religion is seen as a prison that fetters freedom, joy and desire. On the contrary, Blake emphasizes life before death. The line “And I saw it was filled with graves” (III, 9) and “And tomb-stones where flowers should be:” (III, 10) qualify that “The Garden of love where “many sweet flowers bore” (II, 8) became like a cemetery. The words “graves”, “tomb-stones” implies darkness. Furthermore, these might implicate a going down to death. Therefore, there is a struggle between the ascendant move to paradise and the descendant move to darkness and death. On the one hand, in the first stanza the child’s connexion with nature and universe evokes the idea of a raise to paradise. On another hand, in the last stanza.
The “graves” and “tomb-stones” implies a going down to death. When the poetic persona describes, “Priest in black grown, ï…ï walking their rounds” (III, 11), “blinding briars” (III, 12), the language used captures that there is a feeling of deprivation. The “briars” can be assimilated to prison. In addition, priests are “walking their rounds” like the guardians in prison. The change of rhythm with the priests “walking their round” from four feet (1-10) to six feet suggests slowness, like a last breath before death. Priests can be assimilated to zombies, walking toward an endless cycle. The last line “And binding briars, my joys & desire.” illustrate Blake’s critics of Christianity. Christianity derivates human being of joy and desire and tries to replaces them by strict rules and monotone routines. Nevertheless, William Blake does not accept austere religion’s ethics. He accuses religion to empty life from his sensible substance. Life is in nature and in desire; hence, they cannot be replaced by unsubstantial rules. In fact, Blake highlights life before death.
In conclusion, William Blake’s “The Garden of Love” is a critic of Christianity that curtails freedom and prohibits desire. He uses the metaphor of the edenic fall from innocence to experience to highlight the fall of religion into austerity. The child’s fall from innocence to reality implicates a struggle between past and present. Religion is close-minded while the poetic persona is open to life and happiness. The I-speaker admires the beauty and lightness of the flowers; however, religion transfers them into darkness and sin. Sexual desires, nature and the world of the sense are drawn sins. Therefore, there is a tension between personal feelings and religion’s morals. The darkness of the last stanza captures William Blake’s idea of religion as an institution that deprives human being from freedom. Indeed, he states that happiness is not life after death but life before death. “The Garden of Love” acknowledges that Blake might have an animist conception of religion.