English essays

niedziela, 18 lipca 2010

How does human nature differ in The Songs of Innocence and The Songs of Experience? 

William Blake was an amazing man - an English poet, a painter and an engraver, an artist and a mystic, also named the "heretic", the dissident and the antimonarchist. He was simply the man drifting against his epoch to escape the measurements of time.

He was born in the Enlightenment period, when the rational mind was over taking all aspects of human activities and materialism was becoming almost the common religion. Then at the age of three or four, he saw the God looking through his window. This event and others similar, convinced his parents to keep him out of school. His mother taught him to read and write, later he learned Latin and Greek. Blake said: "I thank God that I never went to school where they would throw me on the path of fools.”

He started as an engraver's assistant, after he had his own shop where he was working as an engraver to the rest of his life. However, he wasn’t reconciled and impressed by polite and an average existence. Avoiding the reflection on the grayness of life, he chose to rise above the everyday humdrum, toward super-sensual experience. His work became a hymn to the spirit and an unfettered with doctrines freedom of the Imagination (written with a capital letter).

Blake worked continuously. He was writing and painting all day long, from morning to evening. But no one was reading his poetry, and no one treated seriously his paintings, too. But Blake was stubborn, he had his visions and believed in their reality. Ignored by his contemporaries, he created one of the greatest art-works of the eighteenth century. He was the creator of a new type of art - connecting images, writing and - illumination. At one of his paintings there is an inscription: "I work towards the future”, because he was the one that had visions and dreams...[1]

Incontrovertibly, we can feel it in his remarkable collection of poems known as Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. He illustrates there and investigates in depth the nature and condition of human beings. Yet, at the same time he is asking what kind of part takes in it God and the artist-creator.

William Blake printed his both series of Songs in one volume in 1794, adding the descriptive subtitle "Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul." He wanted to indicate that they should be read in corresponding pairs. Following my task I will bring up probably the most famous pair of his poems, still one of the most distinctive: “The Lamb” (Songs of Innocence) and “The Tyger” (Songs of Experience).

"The Lamb" is a very symbolic poem. Blake creates a childlike atmosphere here by writing it in very simple language. The first stanza is rural and descriptive. It begins with the question, “Little Lamb, who made thee?” So, the main question looks as a simple one, but in fact goes into deep and timeless questions that all human beings have, about their own origins and the nature of creation. The second stanza focuses on abstract spiritual matters and contains explanation and analogy. Here the speaker attempts a riddling answer to his own question: the lamb was made by one who “calls himself a Lamb,” one who resembles in his gentleness both the child and the lamb. The poem ends with the child bestowing a blessing on the lamb. The lamb of course symbolizes Jesus and underlines the Christian values of gentleness, meekness, and peace. The image of the child is also associated with Jesus who displays a special solicitude for children. The Bible’s depiction of his childhood shows him as guileless and vulnerable. These are also the characteristics from which the child-speaker approaches the ideas of nature and of God. We see the child’ confidence in his simple Christian faith and his innocent acceptance of its teachings. Blake uses childhood and joy as symbols of a bright aspect of humanity. The God’s creation is natural and pure here. I could say "The Lamb" brings up an earthly paradise in which animals and humans live in love and harmony under the protection of a benevolent God. This poem, like many of the Songs of Innocence, accepts what Blake saw as the more positive aspects of conventional Christian belief. But it does not provide a completely adequate doctrine, because it fails to account for the presence of suffering and evil in the world.

This dark side of human nature Blake investigates in his complementary poem “The Tyger”. Here the whole perception is changed around and it appears as a strikingly sensuous image. Its begins again with a question “What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame they fearful symmetry?” and continues, in all subsequent stanzas, with further, more detailed, open, rhetorical questions. The author uses words of vivid imagery such as, "fire", "hammer", "furnace", "chain", "anvil", adding austere action words such as, "burnt", "seize", "twist", "beat", "grasp", "clasp", and "threw" to build up specific relentless connotations. As the poem progresses, it takes on a symbolic character, and comes to embody the spiritual and moral problem into the presence of destruction in human life. We can sense that Blake is trying to ask who – what kind of God, or maybe the artist-creator, whose he compares to a blacksmith, or maybe personified egoism of human in itself, could create such a strong, outstanding beautiful, yet horrified beast. Another hidden deeper and unrevealed question is about the origin of evil, yet it purpose and responsibility of it. Of course, it is this timeless, the most essential, philosophical, question of human kind. But, so wisely, Blake is living that all open, as in most of his poems, because he wants to encourage and force the reader to find his own answers. 

Many Blake’s interpreters suggest that an evil side of an "experienced” existence is created by God, the same one who have created the lamb, and that proves his double nature. But searching for the truth meaning I think we should go much deeper, trough others Blake’s works, especially as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Infernal Bible (1790-1792), The Book of Los (1795) Four Zoas (1797) and Milton (approximately1804-1811). We will find there that his story of creation differs from the Genesis account. Blake recalls Gnosticism, a multi-faceted religious movement that has run parallel to mainstream Christianity, in believing that creation followed a cosmic catastrophe and a fall of spiritual beings into matter. The central idea that appears in his later books is The Fall of the  Primeval Man. So, it isn’t the God who created the world that lies in bad, but the violation, an inside break, of the harmony between the four elements of the fallen man’s psyche.


According to Blake four mythic characters form a specific family inside a human and their conflict led to disaster. It is: Tharmas – body (sense – touch, art – painting), Urthona, a creative imagination of the individual human (sense – hearing, art – poetry), Luvah -emotionality (love and hate, place - the heart, art – music) and finally, Urizen – reason (logical mind, sense – sight, art – architecture). Perhaps Tharmas, Luvah and Urthona can be seen as an image of the Holy Trinity in man and in that case the Urizen would be the fallen aspect of the deity, or Satan. For Blake he is a Constructor of the universe - named as Elohim in The Book of Genesis. He introduced negation and delimited the dividing line where it shouldn’t be. The fall of man wasn’t a result of any prohibition, and simplifying, one can say that, it was the victory of the ego. The Urizen - Reason, fell because of its excessive pride and arrogance and than separated from Tharmas, Luvah, Urthona. It is associated with having no feelings, and most importantly – subconscious - the source of all activities of the Imagination isn’t-available to Urizen. It is equipped with features that for centuries attributed Satan - loneliness and coldness, the power of the mind and the unilateral ability to use of abstraction, despair and envy of being able to unite the four warring elements - the man. Destroyed order in the man means destroyed order in the Universe but reading Blake we didn’t quite know whether the collapse occurred before or after the act of creation, what Blake perhaps would commented that both versions are equivalent.

The fullness of the falsity of his time consisted in the fact that Urizen was worshiped as the true God - by the Christians, and by philosophers. In Blake’s opinion science and philosophy were inspired by names of three villains: Bacon, Locke and Newton. Between them and the false Christian theologians, however, there was no difference: they all knelt before Urizen - the God of this world. Indeed, Urizen is the deity of reduction and it all brings down to quantitative relations.

Blake believed in spiritual evolution of fallen human kind – called by him also as the phases of humanity – and that history of our world will go trough three distinguished by him stages of: The Fall, The Redemption, The New Earth - described in his later books.

In that he see the role of an evil as the tool which can be used to teach and point the right path in this development on the way to the restored universe. For Blake the purpose of creation is to create a place for our own growth, in preparation for the beginning of our new, real lives. No one, even God, can decide of all, so in his endless love he gave human free will and that powerful, creative energy – that can be used both – for good and progress or for evil and destruction.

The man went out of his homeland and is striving to return to: the homeland of Eden, everlasting Paradise, eternal Golden Age. The role of the poet-prophet should be showing this returning way. When "The Divine Human Form" will revive there won’t be any divisions of: the man and woman, good and evil, heaven and hell, body and soul or mixed languages (Tower of Babel) – all these will become One. And only The Urthona - Imagination can be a guide in this return journey. Imagination allows the man to rise above the status of the Fall, in which human species are living. Blake sees Imagination as the power of the Cosmic Man (The Divine Human Form), life-giving and redeeming, the illumination of the Holy Spirit.[2]


The turn against nature doesn’t mean that Blake is longing for the ideal land or the idea of heaven. But he says: "The nature weakens and destroys my Imagination." This reluctance also applies to contemporary admiration for the nature as a "wonderful mechanism" and a "system of natural law." Blake is not interested in natural as it is - he is interested in its transfiguration through substantial transformation of the fallen man. Only that way the man will find his condition, but most of all, real infinity and true eternity - the Eternal Now. He will discover that the Garden of Eden, like the Salvation is here and now, and not somewhere tomorrow, somewhere behind the sun setting of life. The heavenly delight and bliss can be only reached by five transformed human senses. And after, the transformed man can even save nature from suffering. But if he won’t make such a change of himself and nature he will remain in gloomy and sinister land (Blake gives its name Ulro), in homeland of spiritually maimed people - mainly philosophers, and above all, advocates of Newton's philosophy - in the land of living death. The hell is for Blake only the state of human soul, not a specific place. And he repeats after St. Jerome: "What is hell to one, can be haven to other" So, the world and human existence can be just as bad as wonderful – it all lies in ability to twist our perception.


William Blake from his early years felt a very strong bound with God and often had visions in which he was speaking with angels. He would never consider God as bad in his origin and intentions – because God to him was the highest intelligence and goodness that stands above all human definitions derived from common religions. The illumination coming from the Holy Spirit was his pure inspiration in work. The act of his own creation – as the poet and painter, he raised into deep mystery - the very special stage of mind in which he experienced the contact with Universum. For the mystic, who was Blake, all of the events and divine revelations have a mystical place in soul. They are timeless and over-spatial. The mystic feels that the cosmos is filled with consciousness and that he, the mystic, is a part of this superior, conscious existence. Everything he look at, appears to him as part of one great entirety, literally everything is interlinked in the One and thus remains in the mystic union with all elements of the universe. Space and time is an illusion, good and evil – sham and can be interpreted in many ways.

So, it is, therefore, a completely different world of metaphysics, based on feeling and imagination, and not enclosed in quasi-mystical, heavy volumes of official metaphysics that comes from erudite minds and is reasoning and abstract, yet is providing any practical philosophy of life. Blake-mystic is dissolving completely in trans-personal reality, accompanied by such feelings as: humbleness for the mystery, peace and inner calmness, gentleness and compassion, delight and nobility, as well as a strong sense of its own existence and presence.

The end of part 1, look at part 2



Blake rebelled against the God and dogmas of the Christian Church. Against God, who was used in order to separate people from their humanity. He believed that the institutional church uses God to proclaim and spread inconsistent with the human nature dogmas, to suppress spontaneity and natural human freedom, joy and sexuality. Blake rebelled against the idea of the transcendent God, unimaginably distant - this was for him just as unfounded as repulsive, because any human activity was familiar to God. And this is why sensual art of Blake is art derived and leading to an individual illumination. It is the opposite to art created under dictation of the conceptual dogmas of the Church that is assigning itself an exclusive right of the Bible’s interpretation.

Institutional Christianity thoughtlessly destroyed the pre-Christian order in which people quite well understood the nature of their gods, the nature of the world, its history, depths of their souls and rhythms of nature. The so-called religion of Christ unleashed a veritable hell: myths were dismantled, ancient libraries were burned, and above all the soul, morality, and the joy of life have been shackled by dogmas and violence (eg. the Inquisition). At a healthy mystery’s body first appeared stain and then rust. This centuries-old policy of the dogmatic, religious expansion (so-called missions and "converting"), the conquest of new territories and the destruction of existing cultures, and replacing them with materialist, linear, and the "clock" Western culture with its salutary vision, has made an enormous devastation. Many of them will remain unfortunately, irreversible.

Blake was born in a period of flourishing materialism and industrialism when visions and illuminations were pushed to the margins of human consciousness. But Blake's legacy is continually coming back with a new meaning, and despite the passage of centuries, gives people a mystical knowledge and a consolation. And as for the perception, well, it is true that "every eye sees differently" and that "a fool sees different tree than a wise man." So it is that existence and its quality depends on perception - this tree will be more realistic for a wise man than for an idiot. We also won’t regain our primeval innocence, if we will go with it through "hell fire" of life experience to reach the bottom. The fullness of our lives we can only achieve in the harmonic reunification of the opposing states of our soul. Such a fulfillment eulogizes Blake in his art work, persuades us to live in unrestrained with the dogmas freedom, and yet with dignity.

I know I went quite far with my task but I thought that only by adding components of the author later books, his philosophy and life I will be able to present it form a meaningful perspective. In his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience he illustrates and he contrasts two sides of human nature. At first he concentrates on element of goodness, kindness and innocence, second on evil, destruction and egotism. So, on the beginning we see ourselves the way we were born – pure as the lamb, uncover with dust of egoism, envy, and an aggressive desire. In this stage we are full of joy, laughing and playing like a boy from "The Chimney Sweeper", but after the parents and society tells us – it is not correct, we better cry and fear the death instead. We are becoming the blind followers of culture, doctrines, religions and others false opinions. We are becoming “the experienced” man. But it is more as our second, enclosed in our soul feature comes out. As the fallen beings we consist both – good and evil. But having our inner wisdom and free will we can decide witch path we will choose on the way to our Land of Promise. Looking for an acceptance and an understanding outside we are losing the inner judgment, pure and only truth that is the source of real fulfillment. And the author, gives us light and hope, encourages and shows how to do it – not only in his remarkable art but also trough example of his brave life.

Blake, unfairly criticized and condemned by the contemporary fools, devoid of even the smallest recognition, he still managed to keep his amazing cheerfulness and died with the song on his lips!


Ault Donald, Visionary Physics – Blake's Response to Newton, 1974.

Frye Northrop, Fearful Symmetry, 1947

Grimes Ronald L., The Divine Imagination: William Blake's Major Prophetic Visions, 1972

Miłosz Czesław, Ziemia Urlo, Wydawnictwo Znak, Kraków 2000

Eugeniusz Obarski, William Blake, artysta i heretyk, 2004

[1] Eugeniusz Obarski, William Blake, artysta i heretyk, 2004

[2] Czesław Miłosz, Ziemia Urlo, Wydawnictwo Znak, Kraków 2000, str. 70-87 i 182-207.

The end of part 2, and last.

A Woman on a Roof by Doris Lessing


The short story A Woman on the Roof by Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize winning author, demonstrates that there is a definite inequality in power among men and women. To illustrate it she bring us to a less complex time, to the early 1960s in London, when the roles of men and women were more transparent, before the sexual revolution and feminism, to the time ruled by bourgeois morality and patriarchy. In that time we would not mention the words as woman and power in the same sentence. Yet, she skillfully surfaces some elemental questions about male aggression and female sexuality under the minimalist plot of her story. After all she also puts an insight on class prejudice.

Doris Lessing consistently uses symbolism to show the power’s struggles that woman went through to gain freedom from an unequal, sexist, and male dominated society. She places three workmen - Harry, Stanley and Tom - replacing gutters on a roof “during the week of hot sun, that June” in London. They see a woman sunbathing on a neighboring roof, and try to attract her attention. They whistle and yell. The more she ignores them, the angrier they become. They transfer all their frustrations or fantasies onto her until the insufferable tension is broken by cooling rain, which also drives away the sunbather-woman.

The workmen are physically dazed by the summer heat, as well as by symbolic "hot" of their sexual tension. The woman is on a neighboring roof, "a few feet off, with a gap that plunged to the street between them". A literal "gap" separates men from women as well as the "gap" in understanding. The men perceive the situation one way; the woman, as is revealed at the climax of the story, sees it quite differently. The writer of the story uses the physical boundary of the roof to demarcate basic differences in points of view between the sexes, as if she is delineating the opposite camps on a battlefield. The fact that the woman is sunbathing, that is relaxing, is in contrast to the men, who are on the job. The fact that the woman is lying prone symbolizes her vulnerability, in opposition to the men, who are moving actively about, free to do as they please. When she turns on her back, it makes them think of sex, possibly even that she may "want it”. As they realize that she is ignoring them, they become infuriated. Because, when they pay attention to a woman, they expect that she will be flattered and pleased. They have been conditioned that way by social roles, so when it is withheld, they feel confused, frustrated, and angry.

The beauty of the story lies in Doris Lessing's apparent ability to discern and relate the men's thoughts and feelings. The characters of the three men in the story each represents
a different point of view, enabling the writer to develop her theme of gender inequities and misconceptions from a variety of angles.


The character of Stanley demonstrates the dominant, often brutal stance taken by men who feel a need to control women. He is a newly married, angry person, with very strong opinions about how women should act and what their role in life should be. His aggression is established early in the story. "Christ”, said Stanley furiously, “if my wife lay about like that, on our roof, for everyone to see, I'd soon stop her". Anyone familiar with the case of
a battered woman will recognize in a description of her abuser some variation of Stanley’s character. He is frustrated as being married, eager to show his independence, yet keeping his rage’s bubbles frighteningly near the surface. "Bitch!". With this expletive, Stanley gives
vent to his frustration. Even with the fact that the woman has done nothing to him. Why is he so angry with her? How, by simply ignoring him, could she incite such fury? Here Doris Lessing shows us the men who, for whatever reason, seem to resent and hate women not just personally, but in general. Millions of women fear for their safety walking alone at night. Why? Because they are afraid of being harmed by someone whom they don’t know, who will subdue, humiliate, rape or perhaps even kill them, simply because they happen to be female. Who are the men they fear? Maybe a man abused by his mother or a female teacher in his childhood that made him feel stupid and worthless. It could be any of a thousand reasons pointing to the origin of this anger. But none of them can ever validate it. Stanley is potentially a violent and dangerous person, and one can only fear for the women who come in contact with him.

Harry, the second character, is the oldest man, married with grown up children. He is "indulgent," implying that he is sympathetic to the situation, perhaps recognizing himself at
a younger age. "Stanley, Tom, and old Harry let out whistles and yells. Harry was doing it in parody of the younger men, but he was also angry". To some extent, he shares the feelings of the younger men, but he has been married long enough to realize the complexities inherent in the relationship. He learns that the best way to avoid trouble is to step off. His point of view represents a certain resignation seen in older men trundling along dutifully behind their wives; he just goes along with the status quo. His response to the conflict is avoidance.

The character of Tom allows the writer to illustrate the shallowness of man’s fantasies about women. It is with his voice and through his perspective, that the story is told. Why does Lessing choose Tom instead of Harry or Stanley? Because through his naïve fantasies she can best exemplify her theme: the society forms perception of a young man, from an early age onwards, to view women as objects of desire and self-gratification. At seventeen, he is the youngest of the three men, yet he already regards women as sexual objects, not people. "Tom said nothing, but his mind was full of the nearly naked woman". Although outwardly he joins Stanley in hooting and whistling at her, inwardly he reacts very differently. The woman enters his imagination: "Last night he had thought of the unknown woman, and she had been tender with him"... "By now he loved her". The woman on the roof, with whom he has never exchanged a word, simply by virtue of her bikini and long legs, has become the woman of his sexual dreams. He has created a dream woman bearing no resemblance to the real one. The point Lessing is making, of course, is that men create fantasies about women based solely on sex, with no connection at all to who they are as humans. We all know that the porn industry is big business and that women's bodies are used as sex symbols everywhere where sales appear because “sex sells”. Women seem to have no personalities, minds, ambitions,
or anything else. They become objects of desire whose sole function is to provide pleasure for men.


The writer purposely gives “the woman on a roof” no name and no personality, nothing in fact, but a body, so that there are no distractions from the way the men react to her. "She wore a red scarf tied around her breasts and brief red bikini pants... all they could see were two pink legs stretched on the blanket". She is simply a woman. The reader can have no bias, make no judgment about her behavior because she does nothing. Why does she lie so still and unresponsive? Why doesn't she get up and swear at the men to leave her alone? She only “looked at them gravely, then went to the part of the roof where she was hidden from them". Lessing chooses to make the woman fight but silently, for her right to her space, in terms of independence and freedom. She is passively aggressive. That is her way to repulse the men’s dictate. The writer makes here a very strong feminist statement by having the woman react that way. "She looked up at them, cool and remote, then went on reading". If she had been friendly, she would have reacted in accordance with societal expectations: men whistle - woman flirts back. She rejects that, but she is also afraid to say aloud what she really thinks and feels. And it is not difficult to guess why – at that time woman had no right to do so.

To contrast the “woman on a roof”, Doris Lessing provides another female character - Mrs. Pritchett, the woman from downstairs. Now the writer pictures a woman that is fulfilling societal gender expectations. "A smart blonde, of about thirty, she had an eye for the handsome smart-eyed Stanley; and the two teased each other". This is a kind of woman Stanley and the other men understand; she serves them tea, as they expect a woman should, and she "teases" them in a way they are accustomed to. The author implies here that men tend to see women either as mothers, who cater to a young boy's needs, or as lovers, gratifying
a man's sexual urges. Mrs. Pritchett moves ably between these two roles, making the men feel comfortable and at ease. Everyone is acting the way they are supposed to, following cultural "norms" which are prescribed patterns of behavior.

The crisis point in the story and its resolution allow the writer to demonstrate how little the woman's response corresponds to the men's expectations and desires. Realizing that the heat and sheer volatility of the situation with the woman have become more than they all are able to cope with, Harry calls the men to knock off work, and Harry and Stanley go home. But Tom is excited; finally he has a chance to go over and see her. He is a perfect example of men's total ignorance of reality regarding women. How could he possibly believe that after being disturbing and stalking on her day after day, the woman would somehow know that he didn't really mean it, that he had just been going along with the others, or that she will be as he imagines her in his dreams, "kind and friendly"? The writer delivers her message with clarity and force, leaving the reader with little doubt that Tom can hardly be received as he anticipates. "The boy stood grinning, foolish, claiming the tenderness he expected from her". The woman tells him to go away, and turns away, waiting for him to do so. Dreams die hard; Tom can't believe that the woman is not as he imagined. The resolution of the story is one of the countless that bartenders can attest to: "He got drunk then, in hatred of her". The author seems to imply here that Tom is on the way to become a man like Stanley, who has so much pent-up frustration and rage inside him that makes him hate women indiscriminately, simply because he sees them as the enemies of men's rightful pursuit of pleasure.

Doris Lessing has set her scene carefully and very smart. The men acting both - being attracted and repelled - can represent that peculiar English mixture of randiness and Puritanism. They are angered by the woman’s indifference. But how can we blame her? She has done nothing provocative…except for who she is and what she looks like. Her indifference hits at their male pride, leaving them feeling powerless. As this is England, there is also the class question: is she ignoring them because they are working men? Does her indifference suggest that they are so far below her on the social ladder that they no longer count as male in her eyes? It could be, we must remember that she was reading a book and smoking a cigarette and sunbathing in the middle of the day when the other women usually have so much to do. It can suggest that she is a well educated woman with a need of showing her independence (smoking woman at that time) and probably financially comfortable. And what is it about the 1960s, swimsuits and class envy? Lessing’s unnamed female protagonist wears the equivalent of a bikini. It that time the bikini seems to be another symbol - of the unattainable, upper-class, long-legged females who wear it simply because their money and privilege allows them to ignore the rules. Of course it challenges the working-class man, so the roofers in the story can’t leave the situation alone. They scramble across several rooftops to be able to move closer to the woman. They find her reading and smoking and that make them feel compelled to bother her again. At least Lessing allows her nameless character to have a voice, to say “go away,” to express some of her anger at being hassled, and this is probably as much as we can expect in England in 1963. At the end the men can feel diminished and they resent it.


In "A Woman on a Roof," Doris Lessing reveals both: the psychological and sociological aspects of misunderstandings between woman and man. Yet, she delivers a strong feminist statement on the inequities suffered by women being unfair and blindly close up in man’s fantasies and expectations. She illuminates us also how easily men can be threatened by female independence (especially in sexual matters) and how they can respond violently when their sense of control and mastery is challenged. Finally, she blames our culture being responsible for stereotyped gender roles which are as damaging to men as they are to women. Society forces us to respond in prescribed patterns from early childhood onwards. “Little girls are pretty; boys don't cry”. This stereotype is still carried on by the society, however,
a woman today can complain about harassment and generally expect courts to rule equitably. But this is a recent privilege. A woman's position might still be questioned, especially in fields such as professional work and career. Just because discrimination of any kind is politically incorrect does not mean it has ceased to exist. And this is exactly why this deep story of Doris Lessing holds up so well, even today.