Dr. Jamie Marchant
June 5, 2019
The Not So Organized Church
The era of Romanticism differs in many ways form the Enlightenment. Emotion is now seen as more reliable way of seeking truth. Imagination, originality and the individual are now seen with extreme importance. Nature is now seen as the best way to connect to God rather than with a church. Most Romanticist see the government and institutionalized religion as organizations that can’t be trusted. William Blake is one of the best-known Romantic poets and was not afraid to speak his mind on the social issues during this time period. In Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience William Blake conveys his belief that the organized church is corrupt and repressive.
In the Songs of Innocence version of “The Chimney Sweeper,” a young child who has been sold into the business of chimney sweeping is narrating the poem. The child details the terrible life they live as their parents and the church lead them to believe that there is nothing wrong with what is being done. The children are released by an Angel who told Tom “if he’d be a good boy / He’d have God for his father & never want joy.” (ll. 15-16). I believe the Angel is acting as false hope for the chimney sweeping children. The Angel is telling them that as long as they do their horrific job they will be rewarded by having God as their father and will never long for anything. Here, Blake is using the Angel to represent the organized church who is misleading children to believe that this life is what God wants them to do.
In the Experience version of “The Chimney Sweeper,” the child describes himself as “a little black thing among the snow” (l. 1) yet he sings in happiness while his parents are off to church. This shows how the children are outcast and mistreated by their parents who have sold them into the chimney sweeping business. In the Bible there are many times where the importance of caring for children is expressed. Blake believes this is another way that the church is corrupting society by not obeying God’s commands. In the last stanza the child says:
And because I am happy. & dance & sing.
They think they have done me no injury:
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King
Who make up a heaven of our misery. (ll. 9-12)
Here, the narrator is saying how just because they act happy, much of society is accepting of what is being done to children. The Priest, who represents the organized church, and the King, who represents the government, try to make it seem like a good thing when it is indeed a terrible one.
Another set of poems with deep religious criticism is titled “Holy Thursday.” In the Innocence version children are cleaned up by the church in order for them to go out in public to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The narrator paints a picture of what is going on in the last stanza by saying:
Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven...