‘Auguries of Innocence’ can be seen as a one-poem example of Blake’s longer poetic volumes, “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” It uses the same tenets used in “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” – that is, the construction of both an innocent, child-like narrative, and a mature, adult narrative – but puts them together in one poem to show the hypocrisy and the chaos of Blake’s contemporary life.
Explore Auguries of Innocence
The poet argues that the natural world is in a state of a constant cycle; the world, which is reborn and remade throughout nature, symbolizes the innocence of man that is forgotten and pushed aside as man advances closer to adulthood. It explores the value and limitations of the human perspective as opposed to the cycle of nature, which grows ever older and more experienced, and yet also, in some cases, remains untouched and unblemished. Throughout the poem, Blake’s anger at the corruption within his country, and humanity, is almost palpable; this is a trait indicative of Blake’s style, which, while heavily symbolic, is also heavily critical and powerful.
‘Auguries of Innocence’ is a poem containing a hundred and thirty-two lines written in one long stanza. The rough rhyme scheme and uneven length of the poem add to its sense of passion and fury, as it reads much like a plea from the poet to the reader. Blake uses both the alternative rhyming lines and rhyming couplets. For instance, the first four lines contain the ABAB rhyme scheme. The lines followed by the first four lines, form rhyming couplets. Apart from that, the overall poem does not follow a specific metrical scheme. However, the poet mostly uses the iambic meter along with a few variations, such as anapest, trochee, and spondee in this poem.
“Auguries” are signs or omens and by giving this poem the title of ‘Auguries of Innocence’ Blake is alerting his readers that this poem will discuss the very indistinct concept of innocence and what he believes are signs for this innocence. Moreover, the ultimate goal of Blake’s poetry is unity with the divine. It also stands as a testimony and a character witness to Blake’s intelligence and forward-thinking; although these concepts are not new, to put them in poetry shows the true genius of Blake. He wanted to use his poetry to express his mythology: that mythology which was partly political, partly mythical, and partly divine, and to express his complicated worldview and feelings about the society that he was a part of.
Being a poem of such a length, ‘Auguries of Innocence’ showcases a variety of literary devices that are not limited to the most popular ones. The most prominent literary device of this poem is a paradox. Along with that, the poet presents several epigrams in this poem. As an example, the first line is a paradox. Here, the poet talks about visualizing the world in a mere “Grain of Sand.” The following line also contains this device. The poet uses alliteration in this poem. As an example, “Robin Red” contains a repetition of the “R” sound. In the line, “Puts all Heaven in Rage,” the poet uses metonymy. Thereafter, the poet uses a symbol in the “Rising Sun.” The poet also uses metaphors and similes here. As an example, the “Realm of day” in the last line is a metaphor.
In ‘Auguries of Innocence’, Blake uses his passions for animals and his views on their rights to a peaceful life as a bridge to the themes of religion and identity. Blake does a great job linking animals to innocence and identity to God and aiding his readers to develop an understanding of why a person needs to be responsible for being transparent with themselves so they can develop into an innocent version of the imperfect self.
One of the important themes of his poem is this: the manipulation of religion for the means of the Catholic church; the misconstruing of religious values such as mercy, piety, love, and faith by the money-hungry bishops and nuns of the Church of England. Moreover, some other themes present in this poem are the destruction of innocence by the journey into adulthood; the power of human creativity and freedom; and the spiritual unity with the divine, which he thought of like this: “mercy has a human heart, while pity is revealed in the human face.”
Analysis of Auguries of Innocence
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
The first four lines of the poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’ are the ones that are most often quoted and remembered by literary scholars, leaving the rest of the poem to wither away in complete anonymity, and they are an important four lines. Moreover, these lines of this poem introduce powerful imagery (which is quite prominent throughout the poem) as Blake discusses the topic of perception. The reader will notice that all of the topics discussed in this poem have a considerable amount of ambiguity, and in one way or another will relate to the topic of signs of innocence.
Line one discusses the ability to see something grand within something of no particular significance. This is a quality of the innocent, innocence allows you to look at every small thing in life and be able to see great things coming from it; whereas others would ignore the potential that is present in the small things. Innocence is to look at a “Wild Flower” and see “a heaven” of happiness whilst others would simply walk by without noticing it.
There is also the idea that Blake’s opening paradox is to give the world that he was writing about the appropriate level of mystery and stunning wonder that nowadays is forgotten. Note also that the first two lines specifically reference sight – more to the point, it references a sight so common that most people would skim over it, however, this is Blake’s aim – beauty, his idea is, is found in common places. The very articles that we have witnessed a thousand times before can still be transcendently beautiful, and allow us to connect to God.
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Lines three and four of ‘Auguries of Innocence’ express the notion that a person has more control over time if they stop to see the bigger picture in everyday things, as this allows them to live life in a more wholesome manner instead of always worrying about time slipping through their fingers.
The lines open with the paradox of holding infinity in ‘the palm of your hand’, that is holding something immeasurably big in a space that is almost immeasurably small. The concept of infinity itself, mathematically, is an abstract idea too large to be withheld by the mind, and therefore it cannot be held in the palm – this is how scholars argue the opening of the poem. Should one look at it mathematically, Blake’s opening paradoxes – ‘infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour’ – become understandable if only logically as something that is technically achievable. Infinity is a period, an hour is also a period, therefore the two can somehow corroborate together.
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
In the following lines dive into strong imagery once again to help the reader connect with the message. Lines five to eight mention the situation of two birds: the red robin and the dove, and their situations. Before diving into what Blake is saying about these birds, it is important to note that birds, in general, are also looked upon as symbols of innocence and freedom again relating to the title which informs the reader to expect many signs of innocence throughout the poem.
The first of the birds to be mentioned is the red robin and it is described to be in a cage creating “a rage” in hell. The reader would expect that a bird losing its freedom would cause some disturbance in heaven as it is an act of brutality but Blake describes hell as a rage. It is important to notice that the bird is red which is a common color used to depict the devil or evil, having a devilish bird so to speak, being caged would make more sense in terms of causing an uproar in hell.
Apart from that, several ideas are conflicting here: the image of a robin redbreast – a bird commonly associated with Christmas and with a Christian holiday at that – in a cage ‘puts all Heaven in a Rage’, writes Blake; is man, therefore, attempting to enslave nature? Or is it a symbol of the caged humanity of man, which Rousseau famously put as ‘man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains’. Given the events that were happening around Blake at the time – the French Revolution, the American Revolution – it is far more likely to be a protest against slavery.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
The dove which is a common symbol of purity, innocence, and love is described to send hell shuddering. The reader can easily pick out the notion of innocence and piety being a defense against hardships or hell that Blake has expressed in these lines. The dove is quite obviously used by Blake as another sign of innocence.
Notice as well that the lines of ‘Auguries of Innocence’, “A Dove house fill’d with Doves & Pigeons / Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions,” also reference slavery. If one were to also apply Blake’s idea of philosophy and religion to this poem, one could take the idea as humanity enslaving humanity, an act so diabolical, that even the Devil finds it overwhelmingly evil.
One can also take into account that the doves and pigeons referenced are meant to stand for children – those who are born into a world that they do not rightly understand, and are taken advantage of by the very people who are supposed to help them, such as the Church, and the master of the mill, or wherever they worked. Using two Christian birds – the robin redbreast, and the dove – also reminds the reader of Blake’s opinion on religion; he could very well be drawing an allusion between Christianity and its oppressive nature through the symbols of the cage and the dove house.
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
This section of ‘Auguries of Innocence’ gets quite dark as Blake discusses animal abuse. Line nine introduces a dog that is starved “at his master’s gate”, meaning that the dog does have a home but the master of this dog is refusing to care for his basic need by denying him any food. Line ten sheds a little more light on what Blake is trying to say as he mentions that the condition of this dog is a clear prediction that the state will be ruined. This statement clues the reader into the fact that Blake is probably talking about his state and government and their inability to care for their people which only leaves the people to assume the worst for their future.
The loyalty of the dog “at his Masters Gate” can mean a variety of things – here, it is referencing the people that the state or the country has left down; the homeless, the soldiers, the poor, the hungry, those without a job that have turned to crime to support their families. Given the high rate of crime, again, remember that Blake was a contemporary of the French Revolution and the American Revolution, two Revolutions born out of a disagreement with the dominating country.
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Lines eleven and twelve continue with the dark mood as Blake mentions that misused horses ask for “human blood” implying revenge. Mentioning these circumstances of the animals signifies the struggles that are faced in the world and it is usually the innocent that are the most abused. Blake displays in these lines that a sign of innocence is being the subject of abuse from the cruel world when you do not deserve it; just as the dog and the horse do not deserve to be mistreated but they are innocent and so taken advantage of.
The reference to the “Horse misusd” can also be towards the mistreatment of the working man by the oppressive mill owner or employer; both are working animals which, if treated fairly, respond with loyalty. However, in Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’ there is no fair treatment.
Blake’s opinion here is that if the very few people who are within the country are not taken care of, then the entire country is on the road to ruin – if there is a high population of starving, poor, homeless, jobless, then there is something wrong with the country itself. This idea is not new, however, to put it blatantly into a poem would have been a shocking thing at the time, as there was still that idea of social class and social status in England. If one was born poor, then he or she would be poor until death; in the case of a rich child, the case was also the same.
The French Revolution disavowed these tenets and the poor rebelled against the rich. However, this did not happen in England, a thing which was reportedly one of Blake’s biggest regrets.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
The next two lines of Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’ continue the dark imagery as Blake goes on to include the description of more animals and their struggles. Lines thirteen and fourteen describe the “outcry” of a Hare that is being hunted and emphasizes how hunting desensitizes people causing them not to hear these cries; these lines maintain the notion that the innocent always become prey to abuse.
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
Line fifteen speaks of a bird with a wounded wing, not clarifying the cause of the wound, but based on previous lines it is implied that it was hunted as well. The next line underlines Blake’s idea of the heavens not agreeing with animal abuse, or the abuse of the innocent because he mentions the “Cherubim” stops singing. A “cherubim” is an angel and suggesting that it stops its signing at the wound of a bird also highlights the importance of animal rights by relating it to heavenly behavior. It is quite easy to see that Blake thinks quite negatively towards harming innocent animals, he uses this idea to emphasize the fact a sign of true innocence is when harm is inflicted upon you with no fault of your own.
Birds were considered signs of freedom, and thus to wound them – and to wound them is what gives them their freedom – shows the chained nature of man. The next few lines go deeply into the idea of terror: here all the animals are frightened, showing the confused and terrified nature of man, and the world at large. It can be taken as an expression of the world howling in confusion at the unbalanced nature of the events – mainly, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution.
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Lines seventeen through twenty are continuing the reference of animals to emphasize the cruelty they face at the hands of humans. Line seventeen discusses the practices of rooster fights and the fact that these animals are prepared for physically attacking each other for the amusement of people; the next line helps expresses Blake’s feelings about the issue as he declares that even the sunrise is “affright” due to this cruel practice. It is also important to note that just as animals are forced into playing self-harm games by people, some people are forced into self-harm by others and that is usually due to their innocent natures allowing them to fall into such a mess.
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The following two lines of ‘Auguries of Innocence’, mention that the lions and wolves howl causing human souls to be raised from hell. These lines are a powerful image of the cries of vicious animals calling out humans from hell, implying that these people enjoyed cruelty to animals. It is interesting to see how Blake talks about animal cruelty and then parallels that with the furious cries of the animals following people even after their death. It is evident that Blake believes that such actions from humans are completely unforgivable; he also relates animal cruelty to belonging in hell which implies that hurting the innocent is an act that is considered worthy of hate or devilish.
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
Lines twenty-one to twenty-two call out what Blake believes to be well-accepted hypocrisy when it comes to animal cruelty. These two lines of the poem, ‘Auguries of Innocence’ illustrate the beautiful freedom that we expect and appreciate when it comes to grass-fed animals like deer. We as humans welcome the idea of freedom for animals in general and claim to find it cruel to slaughter them, and so they don’t seem to bother people living free and content. However, lines twenty-three and twenty-four expose the twisted understanding of humans when it comes to animal rights.
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
In this section of ‘Auguries of Innocence,’ the poet says that if a lamb were to be “misused” or abused it would cause an uproar or even just an upsetting environment for the public; everyone would feel sad and hurt for that lamb. However, if that same lamb was at a butcher’s shop under the butcher’s knife, no public uproar would take place, the community would not gather in sadness or grief for that lamb.
The symbol of the lamb is also a Christian image; however, here, it is subverted. The image of the land is historically used as an image of rebellion; however here, the lamb stands for the subservient and brutal methods of organized religion. It is the people, who are easily terrified into submission by organized religion.
Here, Blake is making a very strong statement about human logic, why is it not okay to hurt them but ok to kill them to eat them? Do animals lose all rights to basic sympathy and the right to live simply because we want to eat them? The reason Blake put this out there under the topic of signs of innocence because usually mankind is not innocent when it comes to abuse, and unfortunately when it comes to animals humans, in general, need to be more sympathetic and compassionate for their lives as they would their own. A basic sign of innocence is the lack of discrimination in the basic rights of life, whether human or animal.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
These next few lines of the poem are discussing just how blinded the human race can be in the things that we consider logical. Lines twenty-five and twenty-six introduces a bat that flies “close to eve” and is said to have left the “brain that wont believe”, this can be seen as Blake identifying a blind bat to the idea of reason and logic leaving the brain because of how blindly people follow an omnivorous diet whilst “fighting” for animal rights.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
Line twenty-seven introduces an owl that is frightening because it delivers the truth. Owls are generally known for their symbolic reference to wisdom and the fact that it is frightening because it is speaking the truth only emphasizes Blake’s message that animals deserve basic rights especially because they are intelligent living beings much like humans. The symbolism behind the wisdom of the owl being presented at night is that wisdom is rarely seen as a common trait in public opinions, usually, it is found when there are few to notice its presence. The reason that wisdom is frightening to the “unbelievers” (or those who refuse to see the animal abuse in consuming animals) is that it would drastically change the fundamentals of the food industry, diet, and health in general.
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
Here, in lines twenty-nine to thirty of ‘Auguries of Innocence’, Blake describes that cruelty to animals is not even seen as a commendable trait according to social standards anyways. Hurting a little defenseless bird does not make a man more manly in society’s eyes, rather shouldn’t it seem cowardly to hunt little birds, they aren’t a threat to anyone.
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
Furthermore, how can a man expect to win the affection of a woman by the practice of enraging an ox? Why are these things even allowed to happen, how can a woman find a man who purposely irritates an innocent animal to be worthy of her sincere attention when she would find the same action quite disturbing had she seen him purposefully picking on another person for no reason but entertainment.
These lines are essential because Blake uses them to portray how absurd it is that animals although living beings do not hold the same right to respect and compassion, that we as people would expect for other living beings such as ourselves. Something as obviously wrong as abuse seems to be tolerated if it can be turned into a sport for human entertainment, social norms play a significant role in defining exactly what counts as abuse, especially for animals.
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
These next four lines express just how irritated Blake is at the thought of people taking the topic of cruelty to animals or animal abuse so lightly that they do not think before they disturb other living beings. Lines thirty-three and thirty-four depict a careless little boy who kills a fly, for no reason or benefit at all and so he earns the “Spiders enmity”. The enmity of the spider could be because he killed a potential meal for the spider, causing more harm than he intended.
The next two lines discuss the “tormenting” of a Chafer which is a beetle; the sprite mention is just referring to the soul of the beetle. Blake seems to be trying to get his readers to realize that even insects have more purpose in life than given credit to and that harming them can cause you to be lost is a lonely “endless night” (probably referring to hell).
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh
Lines thirty-four to forty discuss caterpillars and butterflies in this poem. It is essential to this poem, ‘Auguries of Innocence’ that Blake covers the topic of even the smallest “animal” because he is focusing so heavily on their innocence and basic right to live life without cruelty. The caterpillar is depicted on a leaf repeating our “mother’s grief”; our mother could be a reference to Mother Nature or in a biblical context, Eve. In the context of Mother Nature, the caterpillar could be telling the story of how Mother Nature is undervalued and not appreciated enough by the beings that use it the most. Whereas in the context of Eve the caterpillar could be speaking of the grief that she suffered by losing her innocence. Both points convey the message that there is a loss when things are not given their due right.
Lines thirty-nine and forty are an awakening reminder by Blake that every life matters and even killing a butterfly or moth counts as murder in God’s eyes. Darkness comes to those who harm nature – here. It constantly shifts with the ideas of a revolution against oppression; the figures who are harming nature stand as the same figures who would harm humanity, the mill owner who beats his children, the father who drinks away his money and leaves his family starving, the Church who takes and takes and never gives back.
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat
These four lines directly reference that a person’s actions have consequences especially when they target animals. The first two lines speak of taking an innocent animal, specifically a horse, and training it for violence (war) causes people to miss out in the spiritual world. Blake is saying those who create violence and hardship for the innocent in their lifetime will not be able to enjoy any form of peace after they have passed away.
The next two lines show that there is benefit in showing mercy to animals as he illustrates that if hungry animals that don’t even belong to you are fed by you it will only bring more wealth back to you. Blake is pointing out the basic rules of karma, you get good if you do good, he is showing people and encouraging them that love for others only in turn fills your own life with love. When you feed the hungry God feeds you so never feel like you don’t have enough to share.
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot
These lines shift to a summery mood and so discuss insects that one meets during their summer months. The smallest sins can upset the delicate balance of nature; the “gnat that sings his Summer’s song”, interrupted by slander, ends up biting someone; “the poison of the Snake & Newts” is indicative of a larger issue, that of envy. All of these small things have ripples and ripples of dire consequences. However, the gnat is the first to be introduced and is portrayed in the happy summer days, singing its songs that it naturally sings without getting in anyone’s way when it is poisoned by slander.
Blake is drawing on a new subject here, in ‘Auguries of Innocence’, nature and its animals are innocent from slandering each other which is a bad habit in humans. People will ruin a perfect natural moment that is pure from any harm or planned deceit and turn it into a chance to use their sharp tongues to find reasons to think poorly of others.
Blake then mentions the poison that a snake and newt carry and how it is a great parallel to the results of envy, another vice found in humans. It is also significantly important how Blake relates the poison of slander to the poison of jealousy because they are related and can be the same poison.
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
When speaking in the past stanzas Blake focused on the innocence of the animals that suffer our cruelty and now he seems to be focusing on displaying how we are creatures that seem more dangerous than the animals we abuse. The topic of poison continues as the honey bee is introduced and portrayed as the artists’ jealousy because it is unique and cannot be recreated.
Lines fifty-one and fifty-two switch the topic directly to humans again by exposing yet another vice: miserliness. It does not matter who has what if you are in the company of a miser as he will make sure that he is not expected to help those around him no matter who they are. The different classes of wealth in society also cause division which is not something to be proud of, why don’t humans have the innocence to help those who have very little by expecting those who have a lot to share.
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent
It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Lines fifty-three to fifty-eight continue Blake’s streak of discussing and exposing human flaws, his point seems to be to expose the evils of the people to contrast the innocence of the animals. The first two lines dive into extremely wise words as Blake expresses that when people speak the truth and expose it only to make matters worse intentionally, it is worse than lying to cover up wrongdoing; mainly because the intent is conniving.
He goes on to proclaim that he does understand that man was made with the capability to do good and bad, to cause ease and hardship, and to do right and wrong. The moment you realize that you can do both and it is in your hands to choose, it helps you be a better person and be safer with your choices in the field of choice to be the abuser or the aid.
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
In ‘Auguries of Innocence’, lines fifty-nine onwards discuss the truth that there cannot be a joy if there is no woe and vice versa. Despite all the misery that exists, Blake does not want us to despair: every misery comes with a parallel joy, “woven fine” into the pattern of daily life. Both these intense emotions are basically what dress your soul as while you are alive you must suffer through the tribulations of life and celebrate the moments of joy that are what make us human. As we go through our days of hardships and loss and grieve for the joy and comfort that we had claimed eternal there will always be something that will pick us up again so we can move forward as that is the cycle of life.
Blake is highlighting for his readers all the things that make us humans, we were never meant to be perfect beings we have things that are good and bad in our very natures, nevertheless, it is our responsibility that we’d do what is just not only to other people but all living things as they are all creations of God.
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Lines sixty-three to sixty-six begin by discussing the obvious point that Humans are Humans, nothing more or less. Line sixty-three states that a baby is more than the blanket it is wrapped around, it is a human entering this world that will grow to be an independent individual, and that is understood by all people across the globe. Here, Blake wants to state that people are more than their positions in society – the “babe is more than swaddling Bands”, the child is more than the blankets that he is wrapped in. Society moves on, and everyone is important and becomes a part of the eternity that we strive towards in the end.
He continues to contemplate and have his readers join in as he discusses that as humans continue to grow so do their tools of survival. People are not just born with all their basic needs taken care of, they work hard to make sure they have the means of survival and they care for their young until they can stand for themselves much like every other living species alive on this planet. It is pointed out that a farmer understands because he has to grow his provisions and sees it first hand with the animals on his farm as well.
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight
Lines Sixty-seven onwards is when Blake starts to bring up sympathy and empathy again. Blake wants to state that ‘every tear from every eye’ becomes a good thing in turn. He states that when every person can connect with their emotions and allow themselves to feel what they are feeling instead of dismissing them it creates a person that can be seen as a whole individual in eternity (heaven perhaps).
The last two lines are confused as he mentions that it is caught by bright females and returned to its delight. When people connect with their emotions some angels or females have the job to make sure that those who feel the sympathy and shed tears for others receive joy in their lives in return.
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death
Turning back to the reference of animals, lines seventy-one to seventy-four describe the voices of animals reaching the doors or gates of heaven emphasizing that they have voices that count too. The lines then continue to touch the topic of child abuse as Blake mentions that when a child is abused or hit (specifically with a rod) and cries because of this cruelty, it is demanding justice which is the prosecution of the parents or adults involved in the abuse. The revenge for abusing a defenseless child would be the death of the perfectly aware adults who would commit such a heartless crime. These lines also hint at the fact that this should be the way everyone should treat abuse against any living thing, not only children.
Here, the noises of a distraught world continue, however, Blake wants to show that these sounds are not in vain: these sounds play out in history, they are an ocean of happening, and heaven exists to put them all to rights. This is not to say that there is no retaliation on the earthly plane – as the last two lines show, whoever does bad things on earth will be punished in the afterlife.
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
In ‘Auguries of Innocence’, Blake continues to say that poverty causes heaven to be in distress because people are suffering, which is a sign of innocence to feel the pain and hardships of others without any of it affecting you. The last two lines mention the fact that people display themselves as being strong – like soldiers but in reality, they usually can not do anything without the influence of social norms and pressures, just like the soldier who cannot move unless commanded or ordered to.
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell & buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
Here are more examples of men whose lives will be set to rights in Heaven: the beggar will become rich, the soldier will be free from the tyranny of the empire, the poor man will find money, and the man who “teach(es) the Child to Doubt” will die horribly.
Moreover, lines seventy-nine to eighty-eight mentions that even a poor man’s penny is worth more than all the wealth and gold in Africa because he truly values the sum that he owns, he understands its worth. Blake is shifting vision now to discuss those who do have more wealth to go around and are always found in the market looking for one thing or another, losing value for the wealth that they are carelessly spending.
He relates the spending of wealth quite interestingly to investing time in doing things that will not prepare you for life after death. He threatens by saying if you don’t encourage your children to develop habits that will help them come out better after death then you are not being honest about their purpose in life.
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out
This is parallel to the couplet that came before – the man who teaches children to believe will never die. In the mentioned lines, the speaker demands respect for the intellect of even children since they are too young to be sinful in any way and so have a better chance at paradise. As a person grows from child to man his toys change to tools, and he gains experiences and abilities that will help him form an identity for himself.
Blake also stresses that experience teaches man his wisdom and if one chooses to argue with things that are pointless and unsure then he is not giving his knowledge enough credit, what is the point of getting into debates on topics that don’t exist. This is important because as life gives you knowledge and wisdom sometimes pride causes you to lose some of it.
Blake writes here about the importance of thinking, of trying to understand the world around you, of making up your own philosophy rather than following the perceived status quo. This did not mean that understanding everything meant that you could destroy others’ beliefs.
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
In this section of ‘Auguries of Innocence’, Blake shows the horrors of war in this part of the poem – power is ‘the strongest poison ever known’, and ultimately ruins the people who get it. Arts, on the other hand, help to strengthen society; a society built on peace can never truly be destroyed.
Moreover, lines ninety-seven through one hundred and four discuss how easy it is to corrupt a person, all you need is power, strength, and wealth. These things are powerful enough to destroy the human race because they are the root of all vices found in humans and their natures. This is important because to be a good person you need to be able to control your vices and evils hidden within your natures.
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
Theyd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
These lines focus on religion and religious beliefs prompting the reader to understand that what you believe is visible to each individual, and if you deny what you feel intentional then you will never be able to be authentic in your identity and there is no point asking yourself any questions regarding personal beliefs.
Blake also claims that to invest yourself in a passion allows you to benefit yourself and others whereas if you keep your passions locked up it does no good for anyone including yourself. The reader is quite aware that Blake is invested not only in his religion but his values about animal cruelty.
Does doubting everything, do good? Blake does not believe so. One must have a system of belief; one cannot get through life without it, and he shows that everyone, from the philosopher to the layman, has a system of belief; even nature itself believes in greater things. This might be a dig at the scientific ideas of the French Revolution, where there was no greater thought than the destruction of religion.
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
As the reader finally comes close to the end of the poem, ‘Auguries of Innocence’, Blake starts to mention that there are people who don’t have good influences and they can heavily influence social trends and norms especially when no one stands up against their carefree attitudes. Blake wasn’t forgiving with all people – he despised prostitution and gambling and saw them as the downfall of the nation. Here, Blake thinks that the small corruptions will ultimately ruin England itself. By allowing prostitution and gambling, one is setting up the irreversible fate of England.
Blake also discusses fate and the fact that people will continue to be born into a world that is packed with both good and bad and others are born just to spread evil and are destined for the “endless night” from the very beginning. However, nothing is set in stone. Although one day you may be unhappy, the next you might be happy. Blake, therefore, does not want the reader to despair; there is a better life ahead.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day
William Blake concludes the poem, ‘Auguries of Innocence’ by saying that by being born on this planet we are born into a lie this life is not permanent it is not our only life, we have a life that is waiting for us beyond our physical bodies and those who can surpass the challenges of being in a life that forces you to suffer and to rejoice a person can reach a true form of innocence.
By switching his poem from advocating for animal abuse to exposing the nature of humankind Blake is expecting readers to understand that in a world full of so much hardship no one will find true innocence unless he has accepted to stand up for what he feels is the truth and succeeds in recognizing God in his life.
Blake’s ultimate few lines are a reiteration of the belief in God, which saves us: we are born in a dark place, and we might die in that dark place, however at the end of our lives, we will come to terms with God, and things will be made better.
‘Auguries of Innocence’ is a collection of conflicting situations written as a kind of prophetic judgment. It pits the innocent against the mature, the rich against the poor, the elite against the underprivileged, and invites the audience to recognize the fragile beauty and balance found within nature. Blake wrote this poem around 1803. However, it remained unpublished for sixty years. The poem was finally published in 1863 in the companion volume to the biography of Blake by Alexander Gilchrist.
The French and American revolutions – which, at the time, were glorified and romanticized quite heavily – also served as an influence on Blake’s works. He was so enamored, in fact, by the idea of the American Revolution that he wrote what later became known as the ‘prophetic book’ – a series of interrelated poetic works that drew upon his mythology, which attempted to make sense of the current political and spiritual mire of the time. This particular book was called ‘America, a Prophecy’, and it was published in 1793 on eighteen different plates. Only fourteen copies are in circulation today.
About William Blake
William Blake was an unknown among his contemporaries. Considered at times a genius, and at times a complete madman, he is only seen as a great poet, and indeed a great artist, posthumously; in 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in a list of the 100 Greatest Britons, and today he is considered one of the most important figures of the Romantic movement.
Blake’s work was beyond comment: mythological, philosophical, and mystical, he eschewed and derided all forms of organized religion, but worshipped the Bible; in fact, one of his influences was Milton, and Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ and the discerning reader can find quite a few influences to Paradise Lost in more than one of Blake’s poetry.
If one follow Blake’s mind through the several stages of his poetic development it is impossible to regard him as a naïf, a wild man, a wild pet for the supercultivated. The strangeness is evaporated, the peculiarity is seen to be the peculiarity of all great poetry: something which is found (not everywhere) in Homer and Æschylus and Dante and Villon, and profound and concealed in the work of Shakespeare—and also in another form in Montaigne and in Spinoza. It is merely a peculiar honesty, which, in a world too frightened to be honest, is peculiarly terrifying. It is an honesty against which the whole world conspires, because it is unpleasant. Blake’s poetry has the unpleasantness of great poetry. Nothing that can be called morbid or abnormal or perverse, none of the things which exemplify the sickness of an epoch or a fashion, have this quality; only those things which, by some extraordinary labour of simplification, exhibit the essential sickness or strength of the human soul. And this honesty never exists without great technical accomplishment. The question about Blake the man is the question of the circumstances that concurred to permit this honesty in his work, and what circumstances define its limitations. The favouring conditions probably include these two: that, being early apprenticed to a manual occupation, he was not compelled to acquire any other education in literature than he wanted, or to acquire it for any other reason than that he wanted it; and that, being a humble engraver, he had no journalistic-social career open to him.
– T.S. Elliot on William Blake.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly deals with the themes present in William Blake’s poem, ‘Auguries of Innocence’.
- The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue by Geoffrey Chaucer – This medieval English poem is a satire on medieval society. The characters of the Canterbury Tale represent society as a whole and bring out the peculiarities of the age.
- England in 1819 by Percy Bysshe Shelley – It’s one of the best poems of Shelley. Like Blake, in this poem, Shelley talks about contemporary English society and corruption.
- God’s World by Edna St. Vincent Millay – This poem describes the wonders of nature and revolves around the theme of innocence. It’s one of the best poems about God.
- Introduction to the Songs of Innocence by William Blake – In this pastoral poem, the poet talks about the simplicity of rural life. Here, the poet talks about his inspiration behind writing poetry.