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English Literature

William Blake: London

Context

The poet

William Blake was a poet and artist who specialised in illuminated texts, often of a religious nature. He rejected established religion for various reasons. One of the main ones was the failure of the established Church to help children in London who were forced to work. Blake lived and worked in the capital, so was arguably well placed to write clearly about the conditions people who lived there faced.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Published in 1794, this collection of poems, fully illustrated and originally hand-printed by Blake, aimed to show the "Two Contrary States of the Human Soul". The Songs of Innocence section contains poems which are positive in tone and celebrate love, childhood and nature. The Songs of Experience poems are obviously intended to provide a contrast, and illustrate the effects of modern life on people and nature. Dangerous industrial conditions, child labour, prostitution and poverty are just some of the topics Blake explores.

The French Revolution

In 1789, the French people revolted against the monarchy and aristocracy, using violence and murder to overthrow those in power. Many saw the French Revolution as inspirational - a model for how ordinary, disadvantaged people could seize power. Blake alludes to the revolution in London, arguably suggesting that the experience of living there could encourage a revolution on the streets of the capital.

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