An Analysis of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence – Part III


Before I continue with the rest of Blake’s Auguries, it might be worthwhile to look at the couplets that reference religious texts. Due to the nature of the text, the Blakean ideology, and Blake’s own commentary on the nature of the human and supernatural, as evidenced especially in Songs and in Marriage of Heaven and Hell, it would be somewhat accurate to say that in Auguries Blake tried to say that nobody is completely innocent, not even God. Of course, to Blake the authoritarian Judeo-Christian God as interpreted by the church was an authoritarian devil, and the true God was the spirit of creation and inspiration whose mortal incarnation is Jesus. In this light, the poem could also be considered as Blake’s search for meaning in a life that could be considered as, at least, unjust. This is especially true in lines 13 to 34, all which refer to an animal and an effect resulting from the treatment of the animal. When looking at these lines it is prudent to remember not only that animals were often representative of emotions, but also that the spirit of the Romantic movement revolved around the observation of, and connection with, nature. Knowing this, it is no surprise that negative events happening to animals have negative repercussions on the world at large.

Blake writes

 

“Each outcry of the haunted hare

a fibre from the brain does tear.

A skylark wounded in the wing,

A cherubim does cease to sing.

 

Both of the animals in these lines stand for an ideal. For Romantics, and especially for Blake, birds were considered signs of freedom. The image of the hare is a bit more complex. With the hare standing for resourcefulness and alertness, for reproduction, and even for peace, it might be worthwhile to explain why I think the hare in this case stands for peace.

 

Blake was clearly against the injustices commited against the children of 19th century England, as he writes in his poems Holy Thursday; however, he was not against children. In all of his poems, and especially in those like Chimney Sweeper, Blake shows a high degree of empathy for children. However, these are topics that Blake tackles in his Songs. Likewise, issues of resourcefulness and alertness are better shown in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell when he converses with the angel, and more prominently in the prophetic figures in the Urzien books. Auguries, on the other hand, is largely about the state of the world as a whole. His lines can be applied not only to 19th century England, but to all the world. When one considers this, an interpretation of these lines with the hare as a stand-in for peace would be read as follows:

 

“Whenever peace screams out in pain

the human consciousness suffers.

Whenever freedom is wounded,

Angels cease to exist.”

 

In these four lines Blake is saying that freedom and peace are of utmost importance and should be preserved.

 

Further pontificating on the meaning of Blake’s poem on a line by line basis would likely take a gargantuan amount of time – certainly more than I am willing to devote right now – and would still be open to debate, as interpretation is subjective, and Blake has proven to be one of the most elusive poets ever to take pen to paper. Instead, I shall take the poem by chunks, instead of line by line, and offer interpretations of sections. This should make this text shorter and easier to digest.

 

Although some commentators have said on occasion that Blake’s couples appear to be random and have no relation to each other, the following couplets seem linked both in content and in form. They all involve an animal as symbol of a greater ideal or entity. Mention of all of these animal-symbols are followed by some sort of action, these all resulting in an unexpected outcome.

 

“The game-cock clipt and arm’d for flight

Does the rising sun affright.

Every wolf’s and lion’s howl

Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand’ring here and there

Keeps the human soul from care.

The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,

And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.

The bat that flits at close of eve

Has left the brain that won’t believe.

The owl that calls upon the night

Speaks the unbeliever’s fright.”

 

Imagery invoking fear is present in most of these lines. The frightened sun, the human soul from hell raised, the bat at the close of eve, and the fright evoked by the owl are all Blake’s reflections on nature and how it should be respected and feared. At the same time, they symbolize the struggles of humanity against itself. The most interesting couplet of this section is the one speaking of the lamb. Unlike the rest of the couplets in this section, this one can easily be linked to biblical symbolism and can be read as criticism against established religious institutions.

 

“The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,

And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.”

 

The lamb, symbolizing Blake’s Christ of spontaneous creation, being misused is a commentary on how established religion uses the Christ figure, which to Blake was a figure of liberation, rebellion, and creative energy, as an instrument of oppression to keep the general population docile with the hope of some eternal afterlife. To Blake, despite being misused, the Christ figure represented in the lamb forgives the organized religious institutions that butcher Christ’s message of creative expression, as the lamb forgives all.

 

The following four couplets all comment on how to respect nature.

 

“He who shall hurt the little wren

Shall never be belov’d by men.

He who the ox to wrath has mov’d

Shall never be by woman lov’d.

The wanton boy that kills the fly

Shall feel the spider’s enmity.”

He who torments the chafer’s sprite

Weaves a bower in endless night.”

 

These lines all fairly self-explanatory and show the repercussions of  harming nature. This section of the poem marks the start of a complex weaving of topics that constantly shifts back and forth between the ideas of revolution against oppression for which Blake is known, the reverence towards nature that earned Wordsworth the title of “Nature’s poet”, and a sense of egalitarianism like the one that Keats is known for. Indeed, the rest of Blake’s Auguries showcase a combination of all the sentiments that made romantic poetry romantic. But the rest of this poem shall be unlocked in a different text.

 

 

I have decided to include these posts and the rest of the analysis of this poem in a working title on Blake which will include a biography of Blake (certainly not one to compete with the Bentley, but one more accessible to students and researchers alike), thorough analyses of all of Blake’s early works (from his Sketches to the Marriage of Heaven and Hell), a brief analysis of Blake’s Urzien texts (Frye’s insightful and thorough analysis, I think, have unlocked most – if not all – the mysteries of the Urzien mythology), and, of course, and in-depth look at Blake’s most under-analyzed and most worthy poem: Auguries of Innocence.

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on June 27, 2011, in Literature Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. “The Game Cock clip’d & arm’ed for fight”

    *fight*, not ‘flight’.

    At any rate, great analysis! It’s been a treat so far.

  2. Brilliant analysis! Thank you so much 🙂

  1. Pingback: Design Practice 1 – Week 1 | Hardy Graphics Blog

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