An Analysis of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence (Part II)
In this post I take a look at lines 5 to 12 of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. For Part I go here: http://johanistan.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/william-blake-auguries-of-innocence-an-analysis-part-i/#more-549
In the previous post I talked about the first four lines of the poem and a mathematical approach that one could take to understand them.
The poem continues:
“A robin redbreast in a cage
puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regiens.”
At its surface the redbreast in a cage situation can be interpreted as man attempting to enslave nature for its own amusement. However, when one takes into consideration the entirety of Blake’s mythology, his liberation theology, and his ideals against the oppression of humankind, the cage can be read as a universal sign of slavery – perhaps not slavery in its literal definition, but slavery into a system that oppresses the poor and does not allow them any possibility of becoming free. In Blake’s poem God created man with freedom and the robin redbreast in a cage is a sign of those freedoms being taken away in an act that angers the Creator that Blake acknowledges in his poetry. When one considers the dual nature of humanity present in many of Blake’s poetry, best exemplified in his Songs of Innocence and Experience, one could read the doves as children and other “innocent” individuals, while pigeons can be read as those who know experience. When both innocent and experienced join into the dove house, which can be considered as the “house of innocence”, or the house of god. Although some could argue that this house of God is church, we should remember that to Blake institutionalized religion was an oppressive force, so this house of God is, literally, heaven – or hell, depending on what you want to call the source of all creative impulses which Blake perceived as God.
Blake then continues by remarking on oppression, loyalty, and the state of a nation. He writes:
“A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human Blood.”
During the 19th century the symbol of the dog had two major interpretations varying on context. The stray dog represented was a symbol for the beggar, while the dog with a master was a symbol for a servant. When the next line is taken into consideration – “predicts the ruin of the state” – and the entire couplet is put into context, the starving dog represents an increasingly poor and hungry population. This is a commentary against the kind of redistribution of wealth where all of a nation’s money is focused on a few individuals. Although the “ruin of the state” comment could be interpreted in many different ways, it might be worthwhile to consider the socio-political circumstances of the era and Blake’s attitudes towards them. As Bentley, Frye, and other commentators remind us, one of Blake’s greatest regrets is that spirit of the French Revolution never spread toEngland. As it is evident in his Songs, Blake was against institutions of power and favored an egalitarian society, and his Urzien texts suggest that he was in favor of revolution. When this is taken into consideration, it is all too likely that the “ruin of the state” as Blake saw it would come in some sort of violent situation or an uprising of the people. The lines about the horse misused and calling to the heavens for human blood follows the same principle. The horse – a symbol both of hard work and slavery – being misused is a reference to the same master who starved the dog who, in addition to starving servants, misuses his slaves. Granted, when the poem was first published in 1863 Slavery inEngland had been abolished thirty years previous (1833), but when Blake wrote the poem on 1803 slavery was still a societal issue. The kind of misuse that Blake talks about can only be speculated (although I would like to think that the misuse which he refers to is hinted at in his Songs, especially Holy Thursday and Chimney Sweeper), but it is obvious that this “misuse” should be, to Blake, a catalyst for violent revolution. Other interpretations of the horse couplet could involve spiritual slavery, economic slavery, or societal slavery and a timeless call-to-arms, or as Frye would likely suggest, a reference to the French Revolution. Regardless of what specific interpretation one chooses to make, the fact that it refers to some form of subservience and to bloody revolution is inescapable.
Next time I will make a comment about education, and then continue with Blake’s Omens.