The University of Toronto at Scarborough

ENGB02Y: English Literature: Historical Survey (SpringTerm)

Instructor: Melba Cuddy-Keane

William Blake, "The Garden of Love"

 

In William Blake's "The Garden of Love," the tensions between "Innocence" and "Experience" are expressed through the oppositional relation of two physical sites: the garden and a chapel. Each of these sites is associated with a distinctive "word cluster"; the cluster relating to Garden has been highlighted in pink and the cluster relating to Chapel is given in blue.

The Garden of Love

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 turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

-------------------------------William Blake, 1794

Study the word clusters and look for pairings of "like attributes" that convey contrasts:

1) colour
2) plants, vegetation
3) kinds of actions
4) human figures (Here you will notice that the figures associated with the Chapel are described directly but the nature of the speaker (who is associated with the Garden) is implied largely through the language and form of the poem.)

Look as well for contrasting attributes:

1) natural vs. constructed
2) open vs. closed
3) past vs. present
4) living vs. dead

Now think about the way the oppositions in this seemingly simple poem suggest a conflict that could be described as social, moral, philosophical:

Chapel: religion, law, civilization, rules, discipline
vs.
Garden: love, nature, freedom, simplicity, happiness

What then makes this poem subversive and revolutionary? How is it that adopting the voice of an innocent child turns out to be such a rebellious thing to do?

 These notes are intended for the use of students in a lecture course; for any other use, please acknowledge this site.


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