William Wordsworth’s writing style and William Blake’s individual perspective are vastly different, even though scholars label both as “romantic poetry”. Wordsworth isn’t blind to the struggles of everyday life but he prefers to focus more on the positive. He chooses an existence in which silver-lined cloud floats gently over pansy-blanketed field. Blake is a more realistic poet. He concentrates on the injustices that industrialisation has caused to humankind and the malignancy in society.
William Blake’s poem “The Tyger”, a jaded look at society, is evident in the text. The Tyger is a lamentation of the civilisation that began in the 18th-century. The speaker is not against industrialisation, but he does see the negative effects of new technology. Blake’s drawing of a tiger near the end of the poem shows a tiger in awe. He has the capacity to cause chaos, but at this point in time he does not seem to want to. This beautiful creature needs to be in the right environment to act in this way.
Blake equates technology with the tiger. Amazing inventions like machines, engines, and technological advances can kill, maim, or destroy. Technology is a powerful tool that can be used to accomplish these destructive ends. Capitalist factory owners often exploit children to make money, even if it means their deaths. Meanwhile, others are starving to death in the streets. The rapid advancement of weaponry allows governments to achieve their goals without sacrificing soldier’s lives. The speaker claims that the celestials, “watered Heaven with their Tears” (5.18), foresaw all the atrocities that would be brought about by the Industrial Revolution. He wonders out loud if those responsible for the inventions were aware of the consequences. If so, was this pleasing to them? The speaker of line 19 is horrified by the existence of such depraved people. “Did you smile your work to see him?” Then, he asks “Did that who made the Lamb, make thee?” (line 5.20). He can’t believe that the same God who created something as gentle as a lamb, would allow a technology that was as hard and fierce as the tiger. A loving God will not allow society to go so far in its development that it loses all sense of human dignity. Blake, in “The Tyger”, demonstrates his understanding of the destructive aspects of human civilisation and society.
Blake’s poem “London” continues to comment on society. The speaker is free to wander through London and yet, he notices the order of the city. Even people cannot escape their predetermined lives: “In Every Cry Of Every Man,/In Each Infant’s Crying of Fear,/In All Voices, In All Bans,/The Mind Forged Manacles That I Hear” (2.5-8). According to society, a child born into poverty is bound to remain there throughout their lives. Who says that even if it is true, material wealth is the only thing that determines happiness? The speaker from “London” is challenging the social tradition and society that creates these imposing restraints.
Blake begins his day with youthful exuberance and a happy heart. Wordsworth says that society destroys only those who have become jaded. In “Resolution and Independence”, our speaker starts off the day with youthful enthusiasm: “The Pleasant Season did my Heart Employ:/My Old Remembrances Gone from Me Wholly;/And All the Ways of Men, So Vain and Melancholy.” (3.19-21). Nevertheless, this is not the only time that has happened. He says that he has lived his life in a pleasant mood, as if the business of life were an idyllic summer day. “As if everything I needed would be given to me without effort/With genial faith, rich in genial good.” In the present, however, his doubts and despair have been sparked by exposure to society.
The artificiality with which we communicate in our daily lives is also a feature of the society the speaker exposes. Though he is feeling depressed he goes to the leech-gatherer saying, “This day promises us a glorious one.” (12.84). His intention could be to give this leech-gatherer hope, or he himself, for a nice afternoon. It is likely that he wants to show how society dictates when and what people can say. The same thing happens today when someone asks a colleague “How’re you?” and they get the expected answer: “Fine.” Is it really the asker who cares about how their co-worker feels? Will they still react the same if that person is suicidal? Wordsworth knew that people seldom speak their true feelings, and he brought this out in his ridiculous comment to the leech-gatherer.
Wordsworth likens the old man’s appearance to a large stone on a cliff (9.57-60). This view makes the leech collector not only a member of the society, but also a marvel connected to the entire universe. He seems to be content with his life even though he has no apparent reason to celebrate. He refuses to let the hopelessness and despair of others influence him. Blake, no doubt, would look at the elderly man in despair and lament over the cruel society which allowed such an elderly man to become so depressed. Wordsworth, on the other hand, sees in this leech-gatherer an opportunity. The speaker does not despair at the sight of the old man, but rather tries to learn as much as he can. Wordsworth recognizes something few would: hope and wisdom in an elderly man who is searching for leeches. Only those who let themselves be tainted are affected by the social evils.
Blake and Wordsworth are both in agreement that society is destructive. They differ, however, on the extent to which society can deplete vitality, hope, and sharpness in the mind. Blake would want to replace the current social system with a more harmonious one, as he sees no redeeming qualities in it. Wordsworth acknowledges the injustices in society, but believes life is a choice. There is no way to avoid sorrow. But it is possible to live a full life, filled with joy and wisdom. Wordsworth thought that every person, including children, has a choice to make based on his conscience.
Blake, William. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, “London” Ed. M.H.
Abrams et al. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. published a book in New York City in 2000. 56-57.
Blake, William. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H.
Abrams et al. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. published a book in New York City in 2000. 54.
Wordsworth, William. The Norton Anthology of English. “Resolution & Independence”.
Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. published in New York City in the year 2000. 280-284.