I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And “Thou shalt not” writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore;
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briers my joys and desires.
The Prrophetic Books are founded in the real world, as are Blake’s passions and anger, but they appear abstruse because they are ordered by a mythology devised by the poet, which draw from Swedenborg , Jacob Boehme , and other mystical sources. Despite this, and despite the fact that from childhood on Blake was a mystic who thought it quite natural to see and converse with angels and Old Testament prophets, he by no means forsook concrete reality for a mystical life of thhe spirit. On the contrary, reality, whose center was human life, was for Blake inseparable from imagination. The spiritual, indeed God himself, was an expression of the human.
The scientific and technological progress of the 20-th century has allowed people to ov
William Blake once said, “as the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys”. His poem “The Garden of Love” – written during the birth of the Industrial Revolution and the strengthening of the Church’s stranglehold over England – uses carefully-written, highly suggestive language to represent Blake’s views of the Church and its values in an intense and compressed waay. This language allows for a wide range of varied interpretations, all of which however revolve around a central theme of the Church’s assimilation into the lives of parishioners.
If we chart the mental path of the speaker through “The Garden of Love”, we can derive the central theme, from which we can extrapolate more precise meanings. From the poem, it can be seen that its speaker is not an innocent, happy-living child. They are portrayed as an adult, wandering ba
The sophistication or experience of the situation portrayed by the speaker gives the reader a sense of mental devastation and empathetical disbelief on behalf of the speaker. “So I turn’d to the Garden of Love, that so many sweet flowers bore, and I saw it was filled with graves” is a great outcry and reminiscence of the speaker’s childhood experiences. You can even sense the speaker changing their attitude to the places they are witnessing by the way the poem is structured. In “the Garden of Love” we enter with the same expectations as the Speaker, deceived by the title and relaxed with the positive images. But their horror becomes our horror; we are repulsed with them, and despair with them.
The first Stanza basically reveals what they see as they visit the Garden. All of the first stanza’s lines have 8 syllables; lines 2 and 4 Rhyme. The second stanza gives us
The central theme of an intruding Church (with a prerequisite capital C) is further developed through the images presented in the poem. In the first stanza, Blake writes that a Chapel had been erected in the Garden of Love “where [the speaker] used to play in the green”. This image is symbolic of the church imposing itself into Blake’s – or on a larger scale the individual’s – private life of joys and desires. Blake continues in the second stanza to describe how the Church imposed itself into the private lives and joys of people. He writes that the “gates of this Chapel were shut, and “Thou shalt not” writ over th
However, the Church made many rules that God had never intended in the Bible. That tendency of the Church brings Blake to the “Thou shalt not” written over the door. The Church was constantly telling people what they were not supposed to do and trying to dictate every aspect of their lives, which took joy out of many things in life. In the third stanza we discover that all the flowers that used to be in the speaker’s Garden of Love had been replaced by tombstones. The flowers are symbols representative of the joys of life, and the tombstones are representative of the fact that the Church was killing the pleasures and passions of life with its rules.
Blake more bluntly states this idea in the last two lines of the poem when his speaker says that they also found in the Garden of Love “Priests in black gowns. binding [their] joys and desires.” It is significant that Blake chose to stress the colour black – a colour with connotations of death and joylessness – as being associated with the priests. It is also interesting to note that the ministers of the joy-oppression the speaker is faced with are represented as priests. Also, in the poem as a whole it is significant that the joys and pleasures of life are represented by a garden and that the restrictions of the church are represented by a man-made structure. Clearly Blake sees the “garden” of love as the natural state created by God and the restrictions on joy as man-made artifice.
With images such as this, and due to its apparent simplicity, “The Garden of Love” presents itself as a trite image of the Church muscling in on the private lives of Englanders; an almost comically melodramatic scene of tombstones and Death-figure priests. It is thus perhaps too easy to dismiss this poem at once as nothing more than that. However, this simplicity allows the poem to become a teaching poem, with new levels of resonance rising from it with each reading. The level that first presents itself is explained above; the Church taking on itself the legislation and administration of morality.
However, if the poem is read with the idea that the speaker is a passionate Christian, full of pious love of Christ, well educated and schooled in the holy Scripture, we must imagine what they must think of the religious institution love such as theirs has spawned. We can see the Garden of Love as Blake’s personal deep love of his Savior Jesus Christ, and the Chapel continues to represent the Church, still with a prerequisite capitol C. The door locked in this scenario as a symbol for this pious speaker locked out of their spiritual communion with Christ. The Church strives to keep them away from religious ecstasy and replacing that fervor with bland “Thou shalt not”s, hollow rituals (the priests “walking their rounds”), and secular power. Blake’s Garden – Blake’s love for Christ – is now filled with corpses instead of flowers, as his religious life is strewn with damnation in the eyes of the oppressive Church he describes.
Another interpretation presents itself if we think of scripture itself as the Garden of Love. The word gospel means “good news” and that is what Christ told his disciples to spread. That good news by Blake’s day had been perverted from the joyous message of the rebirth of the Son of God (also called, interestingly, the Son of Man) and the salvation of humans into a message of suffering, denial, and repression. Of course Blake would see the Priests of this grim Institution as dressed in black, the color of mourning, and “binding with briars [the speaker’s] joys & desires.” Here the briars are the cold institutions of the organized Church whose message is no longer one of love and forgiveness but rather sharp thorns around anyone’s joy in the love of Christ and His message.
If we seek an interpretation through the rest of Blake’s oeuvre, we must note that “The Garden of Love” was published in the Songs of Experience, the companion volume to the Songs of Innocence, both of which together describe Blake’s ideas on the psychological passage from childhood to experience. The key to this interpretation lies in the richly suggestive language present in the second line. The speaker may be talking about the change in how they now see their surroundings, not a change in the garden itself. The poem is central to Blake’s design in the Songs of Experience, as it marks the psychological passage from childhood innocence to adult experience. The last two lines, with their aforementioned heightened metre and rhyme pattern, sum up what Blake saw as the threat of losing the ‘joys and desires’ of childhood innocence: unless we can develop our creative imagination to replace that lost innocence, we will lose the essence of life itself.
“The Garden of Love” can also be interpreted with the Garden itself as an internal place, a place that exists only “within” the speaker. It is the place where their childhood wonder lived, and played. It was the source of their joy and awe. If we make this assumption, then to find the chapel in the midst of it suggests that in adult life, the Church instead of God should a primary source of wonder – quite opposite to Blake’s ideals. This is resolved however, as instead of luscious fields of green still, we are faced with tombstones, graves and Death-like priests. Thus our internal source of joy is bastardized and destroyed.
In the second stanza, both the speaker and the reader are surprised to find that the chapel is not what it seems from a distance – “The gates of this chapel were shut,” – barring access to the speaker’s wonder and direct contact with God. The inscription over the door is even more disquieting; the negative statement summarizing and defining the Church as Blake saw it. The gravity of the message “Thou shalt not” is aided in that all three words are stressed, slowing us down while the mouth reforms for every syllable. Disappointed, the speaker turns to find consolation in the wonder of their youth, their internal Garden, only to face the horror described vividly for us in the third stanza. Suddenly their childhood Garden has been transformed into a hideous vision of death, symbolizing that the Church has usurped this once awe-stricken, rose-colored internal world, which has painted everything over with black morbidity. The final images nail the horror home in this interpretation as “Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds, And binding with briars [the speaker’s] joys and desires”, physically enacting the words “Thou shalt not” written over the door of the chapel. The long “o” sounds in the line “priests in black gowns were walking their rounds” give the impression that this is not an impassioned or infrequent occupation of the priests, but rather routine, methodical and bloody never-ending! The internal rhyme in each of the last two lines slow us down, emphasizing the oppression and again suggesting a cyclic, ongoing action. This cyclic action shows Blake’s views on the inevitability of the loss of innocence in the face of experience.
As can be seen from the numerous multitude of different interpretations of “the Garden of Love”, the carefully-written, highly suggestive language in it helps readers create a meaning akin to that presented as the central theme; the Church’s assimilation into the lives of parishioners: Blake wrote to show that just as the joys the speaker has lost are now resting with the corpses in the graves underlying the intrusive tombstones; the black priests of his world have “laid their curse on the fairest joys”.
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