‘Holy Thursday’ is a follow-up to one of Blake’s earlier poems in the “Songs of Innocence”, ‘The Chimney Sweeper’, which explores the lives of orphans living in London Town who live in desolate conditions and are forced to work in slave-like conditions as chimneysweepers. The difference between the two is that ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ depicts the reality of everyday life for the orphans whereas ‘Holy Thursday’ gives a picture of one special day in their calendar year where they appear to be regular children, gaudily dressed, as they head to church for Holy Thursday mass.
While the orphans of ‘Holy Thursday’ are similar to and are no better off than those in the ‘The Chimney Sweeper’, the orphans going to church are totally cleaned up and dressed very vibrantly in bright, outstanding colours. These clothes could otherwise be called costumes because the act of taking these orphans to church was merely a faï¿½ade and the children made to act out a role.
Blake strongly expresses his disapproval of this because otherwise, these same children would be forced into enslaved positions working as chimneysweepers. Their caretakers are mainly trying to gain some public approval over an otherwise unacceptable act.
Blake uses the colours of red, blue and green to dress the children because these colours represent their vitality. It also sets the apart from the rest of the scenery. The dismal grey or dull yellow of the London fog and buildings seem dead compared to their vivacity. They also project more than their caretakers, the “grey headed beadles”.
Again, the colour grey represents a less than pleasant atmosphere. Their colour showcases their age and their experience of the world showing physically upon their bodies. The wands they carry as a form of discipline, or protection, are white. Contrary to the typical image of white meaning purity or cleanliness, Blake uses this white to represent barrenness. Therefore in its entirety, the picture painted by Blake is much like one of a flower growing in the middle of a desert.
A second important description of the children is that of their mass abundance. Blake’s iambic feet, gives a military feel to the whole poem and conjures up the image of soldiers walking “two and two” and they head into the church. Their great numbers makes them a mighty force to be reckoned with, thus they are compared to that of the Thames River.
By comparing them to the power of the Thames, Blake makes the reader aware of how easy it would be for these children to simply overthrow their leaders, much in the same way, while it is the job of the bank to contain the river, it can still be easily over flown, becoming free from confinement. However, with all the attempts to control and conform these youths, there is no indication that they are unhappy in any way.
As with any poem by Blake, there is a religious element, which must be explored. Blake uses certain Biblical terms and references to describe both the magnitude of the current situation and to express his continuing theory of divinity in man: That God and man are one in the same.
Various lines within the poem express this point. Blake describes while the children the seated, they have a “radiance all their own”. In terms of a depiction of the scene, radiance depicts a certain glow that extends from their personalities and childish innocence; and in terms of divinity, radiant is a term used to describe Jesus. When Blake uses the word multitudes, it very literally refers to the large number of children, but in its Biblical comparison, ‘multitudes’ was the word used to describe the people who came to Jesus to be healed. Thirdly, the term ‘mighty wind’ used the children’s voices as they sing, conotates the ‘mighty wind’, which was used to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost.
It would be impossible to overlook the final line of the poem (‘Then cherish pity; lest you drive an angel from your door’) without giving it a proper analysis. Pity, as Blake describes in “The Divine Image” is one of the divine forms of humans.
Blake believes that no one person should be able to decide who or what should or should not be pitied. Therefore, everything should be pitied in order to retain the God-like qualities with we all already possess within us. Blake also uses certain Bible references again when he says ‘lest you drive an angel from your door.’ It was said that angels would visit people’s doorsteps disguised as paupers trying to see who would scorn or who would help them.
Upon further examination, it can also be said that Blake is trying say that when people scorn these innocent children, they are giving up the chance to get to really know them for the ‘angels’ that they are.
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