The Romantic Period’s cultural, social, and historical events were integrated into literature. Popular forms of styles and values found in The Romantic Period are: imagination, emotions, belief in children’s innocence, and nature as beauty and truth. William Blake expressed these in “The Songs of Innocence” and “The Songs of Experience” in 1789 and 1794. William portrayed oppression and loss of popular values during this time period through his publication of poems. The Romantic period was a literary movement in Europe, The United States, and Latin America from 1750-1870 (Schwartz).
The beginning of the French Revolution is what marked the start of the Romantic Period (Heath). “The Romantic Period started off with oppression which then led to a lot of suffering. The Romantic movement, which originated in Germany but quickly spread to England, France, and beyond, reached America around the year 1820, some 20 years after William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge had revolutionized English poetry by publishing Lyrical Ballads,” (IIP Digital | U. S. Department of State). William Blake incorporated current events during this time in his works of “The Songs of Innocence” and “The Songs of Experience. “Events initially external to England, such as the French Revolution, are internalized in Romantic literature as a part of the debates on more relevant, internal issues in English politics, such as the preceding American Revolution and the imminent Irish Uprising of 1798,” (Heath).
During the Industrial Revolution many people had to do deal with the harsh outcomes from the shift to machinery, factories; which resulted in an unpleasant employment environment that came with poor living conditions (History. com Staff). The Industrial Revolution being one of the urrent events of this time found its way into the poem “The Chimney Sweeper. ” “Children were part of the labor force and often worked long hours and were used for such highly hazardous tasks as cleaning the machinery. In the early 1860s, an estimated one-fifth of the workers in Britain’s textile industry were younger than 15,” (History. com Staff). In “The Chimney Sweeper,” we are introduced to about five chimneysweepers and many other nameless ones who are suffering while being a part of the harsh child labor during the Romantic period.
William Blake symbolizes the suffering that the children are going through by saying that the children are locked up in coffins, as if they will be in child labor until the day they die or the day that child labor is done away with. “And so he was quiet, & that very night, as Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight! That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack, Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;” (Blake).
In “The Chimney Sweeper,” imagination allowed the children to escape from the torturous life that they were living during this horrifying time, “And he opened the coffins & set them all free; Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run, And wash in a river and shine in the Sun,” (Blake). Blake uses “leaping, laughing they run,” to describe that the children are actually happy when they are no longer slaves and enjoying being a ‘kid’ for once. “At times, especially in his later works, Blake may seem to be using a language that has only one speaker.
But it is important to recognize that his imagination was fundamentally visual and that by learning to “read” the images that accompany his words, we can gain access to the heart of his vision,” (Damrosch). William Blake did not only have his characters in his poems use their imagination but had the reader use their imagination to have a vision of what Blake was meaning behind the words. “Blake invited spectators to “enter into … images in his imagination, approaching them on the fiery chariot of … contemplative thought” where she or he would “meet the Lord … and be happy,”” (Barush).
Tom from “The Chimney Sweeper,” was capable of escaping reality by him using his imagination. “The boy’s unpaternal human father is replaced by the loving fatherhood of God,” ( WordPress and BuddyPress). The children during this time use their imagination to offer them hopefulness and comfort through the oppressiveness from the current events going on. “Imagination is the primary faculty for creating all art. On a broader scale, it is also the faculty that helps humans to constitute reality, for (as Wordsworth suggested), we not only perceive the world around us, but also in part create it,” (Melani).
William Blake brought the importance of children’s innocence into his poems to show how malnourished, emotionally distraught, and how society corrupted their innocence at such a young age. Blake not only portrayed the loss of innocence but allowed society to read about it in his poems that later filled the minds of them as to how important innocence is for children. “… He helped change the world and in changing the world he saved many innocent children from lives of drudgery and misery terminated by premature deaths.
While he wrote many wonderful poems and was also a talented painter, printer and engraver, what makes Blake the most important of poets and artists is the change his work wrought in human hearts, minds and consciences,” (Burch). In “Nurses Song of Innocence,” Blake shows the importance of children’s innocence by saying, “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,” (Blake). The children are free in their pursuit of joy as they are running and playing through the greenery.
Blake showed that sometimes children became the pathetic victims of the unfair behavior of the adult. Adding to “The Chimney Sweeper,” William Blake showed children being victims through “Holy Thursday” and “The Little Black Boy. ” In “The Little Black Boy,” Blake uses biblical symbols to relate to the reader that’ll allow them to imagine the scene of the suffering boy.
“My mother taught me underneath a tree / And sitting down before the heat of day,” the tree representing the tree of knowledge, the boy learns his lesson about love and endurance under this tree (Blake). Lamb is the symbol of renewal, victory of life upon the death, gentleness, tenderness, innocence. It is a perfect victim which should be sacrificed to assure someones salvation,” adding to that, the lamb in “The Little Black Boy” implies innocence and the figure of Christ (WordPress). Blake included the lamb symbol in “The Chimney Sweeper” by saying “There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head / That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved,” he used the simile “like a lamb’s back” to describe the child’s loss of his youth (Blake).
William Blake addresses racism and the slave trade going on during the Romantic period through his works. During the Romantic Period, children were often viewed that they were an adult just younger and smaller, meaning not a child. The book, Innocence, Heterosexuality, and the Queerness of Children’s Literature expresses that children’s innocence during the Romantic Period had an influence on Blake to portray that into his poems. “…
Yet it is necessary to consider Romanticism’s influence on children’s literature and its development, especially in the frequent conflation of childhood and innocence during this period… Romanticism’s imprint on cultural conceptions of children and children’s literature is most apparent in the figure of the Romantic child, as evident in much masterworks as William Blake’s Songs of Innocence… ” (Pugh). During the Romantic Period, artists and writers use scenes from nature to trigger the imagination of their audience (McAtee and Everett).
Nature wasn’t only used as an environmental description, “While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole,” (Melani). In Blake’s “The Laughing Song” it begins immediately with different elements of nature, “… green woods… dimpling stream… green hill… meadows… ” (Blake).
Then the poem shifts to laughing grasshoppers and then three laughing girls are mentioned, “And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene, / When Mary and Susan and Emily / With their sweet round mouths sing “Ha, ha he! “” (Blake). The idea of the child as roaming, or wandering free in the countryside is an idea discovered in “Laughing Song. ” Blake brings nature and children together to enjoy a sublimely peaceful scene of rural happiness and peacefulness. Blake promotes the supremacy of rural life by the pure innocence and joy that children experience in their natural surroundings.
Blake uses a technique, where nature is personified and used to replicate human feeling through the use of pathetic fallacy (LiteraryDevices Editors). An example of pathetic fallacy in Blake’s poems is, ‘When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy… When the air does laugh with our merry wit… And the green hill laughs with the noise of it… ” (Blake). It is not only the nature “laughing”, but the children being jolly and rejoicing as well. Since cities became increasingly industrialized and larger, these causes lead to more people to appreciate nature more and more.
Reasons for the development of this strong connection between nature and romanticism include the Industrial Revolution, which led many people to leave rural areas and live in cities, separated from the natural world,” (McAtee and Everett). William Blake presented the loss of popular values and styles during the Romantic Period through his works of poetry. “The Songs of Innocence” and “The Songs of Experience” show current events finding their way into literature, imagination to escape reality, the belief in children’s innocence, and nature as truth and beauty.