William Blake

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Imagine yourself as a child during the Industrial Revolution. You wake up before dawn but instead of going downstairs to eat a hot breakfast and head off to school, you don’t eat breakfast at all. You head off to a factory with deadly fumes and work long, grueling hours until late in the night. When you leave, you barely get paid at all. You go home to a slice of stale bread, only to wake up the next morning to do the same thing. This was the type of corruption that William Blake fought against so passionately. He devoted his life to fighting not only for children, but gave a voice to those who weren’t heard. William Blake used his poems to address the unrest and injustice in English society during the Industrial Revolution.

During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, England went through a time of great social and political change, which directly influenced William Blake and his views of society and government, not to mention his writing. William Blake grew up in a home of moderate means, and when he showed artistic talent at an early age, was enrolled in Pars’ drawing school. When he turned fourteen, he was apprenticed to an engraver. After the end of his apprenticeship, he enrolled in the Royal Academy and trained to become a journeyman engraver. This became his profession, and was hired by booksellers to illustrate publications varying greatly, from popular novels to everyday magazines. In 1782, at the age of twenty five, Blake fell in love with a young woman named Catherine Boucher, and they got married and moved to a home in the overcrowded metropolis of London. During this time, Blake really focused on his writing and using his talents to fight for the mistreated people of London. Blake lived in the middle of a time period known as the Industrial Revolution, a time where the ancient world was shifting into a new and modern world full of new technology and abundant resources, for some.

Because of the new efficiency in farming and lack of need for employees in the country, many people migrated to the city, which led to the overcrowded atmosphere of London. The families who had previously lived in the country and held good jobs and enjoyed healthy living conditions were now crammed into filthy apartments, paid minimum to no wages, and because of their lack of income were forced to send their young children to either work in factories, as chimney sweeps, or sell newspapers, to only name a few. These people were forced to work in factories, where they were faced with health hazards, safety hazards, and extremely cruel and unfair treatment. They were secluded in the poorest section of London, which was obscenely dirty because the run-down apartments that these families had to live in usually didn’t have indoor plumbing, which meant the streets were covered with human excrement. This contributed to the continual outbreaks of disease and sickness in the city. Blake fought for the people of his city by trying to bring attention this extreme exploitation through his writings. For example, in his poem “London” it reads: I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe. In every cry of every Man, In every Infants cry of fear, In every voice: in every ban, The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

In short, Blake is describing what he sees as he walks through the streets of London, anguish and weakness is apparent on everyone’s face, everyone’s voice, even the cry of an infant, reveals the pain and sense of imprisonment that the people of London feel. The atmosphere of confinement is more mental than physical, however, which in the end is even more devastating because it prevents people from rising up against the aristocrats that oppressed them. At age ten, Blake expressed a wish to become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake began writing poetry. When he turned fourteen, he apprenticed with an engraver because art school proved too costly. One of Blake’s assignments as apprentice was to sketch the tombs at Westminster Abbey, exposing him to a variety of Gothic styles from which he would draw inspiration throughout his career. After his seven-year term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy.

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FAQ about William Blake

With reference to a range of poems in innocence and experience, show how Blake presents attitudes to authority
...Blake questions why God does not forgive the Devil when the bible preaches forgiveness. Although Blake was rejected by his contemporaries, after his death his work has become extremely popular and well known. It interprets life in a way not known bef...
Compare the ways in which Wordsworth and Blake present their ideas about the city of London
...Wordsworth, a visitor to the city, sees London as a place of beauty and magnificence, whereas Blake, a citizen of London, sees it as a place of depression and suffering in which the government and monarchy are to blame. Another difference in the two ...