‘Holy Thursday’ from Songs of Experience: A Critical Analysis

The poem “Holy Thursday” which belongs to Blake’s Songs of Innocence gives a picture of happy children of charity schools marching to St. Paul’s Cathedral and singing songs in praise of God on Holy Thursday Holy Thursday is very sacred to Christians as they believe that on that day Jesus Christ came out of His grave and ascended to heaven. This happened on the fortieth day after Resurrection. Innocence and simplicity of children are stressed in this рост Children are glorified and deified here. They are sumbolic of unmixed joy and happiness. Worldly cares have not touched and corrupted them. They possess the beauty of flowers, innocence and meekness of lambs and angelic virtues. The Poem like other poems of Songs of Innocence give spontaneous

expression to the unmixed happiness of children. The spontaneity of happiness is the spontaneity of art of imagination. The world of this poem is a child’s world, which is characterised by happiness, security, simplicity and innocence. It is free from fear, repression, guilt, anxiety, uncertainty and suffering. In this poem. the innocent faces of children, which are symbolic of this innocence are described as “these flowers of London town.” They are “multitudes of lambs” Children are compared to lambs because both are meek and innocent. Thus the poet lays special stress on children’s innocence, purity and meekness. The children in this poem assert and preserve their essential innocence, not by going to church, but by freely and spontaneously singing songs in praise of God. They are objects of love, pity and sympathy, because they have angelic beauty and essence. It is their angelic essence which raise them to a level far above their supposed benefactors, who are without vision, innocence and love: “Bencath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.”

William Blake’s “Holy Thursday” is a poem where the thematic development is both systematic and poignant. Through careful organization and vivid symbolism, Blake conveys a profound moral message about the purity and innocence of children and the societal responsibility to cherish and protect them.

The poem’s first stanza sets the stage by highlighting the order and discipline maintained among the children of charity schools as they march to St. Paul’s Cathedral. This procession symbolizes the strict control and decorum imposed on them. In the second and third stanzas, the themes of multitude, innocence, and dignity are intertwined with references to the heavenly hosts. Blake masterfully portrays the children as delicate “flowers,” their cleanliness and youthfulness radiating like a “radiance.” Their gestures, such as raising their hands, reflect both their helplessness and the grace of their movements. The poem’s systematic development captures the splendid beauty of these children.

At its core, “Holy Thursday” is didactic, imparting a moral lesson. Blake’s message is clear: because children possess angelic essences, they deserve our love and sympathy. To love them is to love God, for pushing them away from our doors is to reject angels. The poet earnestly calls upon all to empathize with children, as expressed in the memorable line: “Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.”

One of the defining features of Blake’s poetry is his adept use of symbols, and “Holy Thursday” is no exception. In this poem, the beadle wields the symbol of religious authority and institutionalized religion. The “white as snow” wand represents the frigidity of man-made moral purity and the clash between worldly notions of duty and Blake’s ideals of freedom and spontaneity. The “lambs” symbolize innocent beings, in this case, the children who are as meek and pure as lambs.

“Holy Thursday” (Innocence) paints a picture of joyous and innocent children from charity schools, untouched by the harshness of society. In contrast, “Holy Thursday” (Experience) bitterly criticizes the values of English society, highlighting the plight of poor and hungry children dependent on charity despite the country’s overall prosperity. The juxtaposition of these two poems underscores Blake’s condemnation of a society that neglects its most vulnerable members while outwardly appearing philanthropic.

In “Holy Thursday,” Blake’s thematic development, symbolic richness, and moral message come together to create a powerful commentary on the importance of cherishing the innocence and purity of children and the moral duty of society to protect and uplift them.
In “Holy Thursday” (Innocence), William Blake presents a seemingly idyllic scene of happy children from charity schools marching to St. Paul’s Cathedral to offer thanks to God. However, beneath this veneer of celebration lies a darker reality. It’s important to recognize that during the time in which Blake lived, children in charity schools often endured harsh treatment, including corporal punishment and insufficient nourishment. Blake’s poem offers a pointed commentary on this dissonance between appearance and reality.

The annual procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral, as depicted in the poem, was a public display of gratitude for the charity and kindness received throughout the year. Yet, Blake cynically mocks the concept of duty personified by the beadles. These figures symbolize authority, discipline, and the institutionalized duty that often led to the mistreatment of children. Blake’s portrayal highlights the hypocrisy of a system that paraded these children’s supposed blessings while subjecting them to suffering.

The poet’s ridicule extends to the very essence of charity schools, suggesting that they were not founded on genuine kindness, altruism, or Christian charity. Instead, they were driven by selfish motives and the desire for self-glorification. Blake’s critique cuts through the façade of benevolence, exposing the ulterior motives and the exploitation of children under the guise of charity.

Despite the underlying critique and social commentary, Blake conveys these complex ideas through a simple and lucid poetic style. His language is easy to understand, and the graceful flow of his words adds to the poem’s deceptive simplicity. This approach allows readers to readily grasp the stark contrast between the surface celebration and the underlying suffering.

In “Holy Thursday” (Innocence), Blake masterfully juxtaposes the apparent happiness of the children with the harsh reality of their circumstances. He uses this contrast to expose the hypocrisy and cruelty inherent in a system that exploits the innocence of youth for the sake of appearances and self-interest. Through his poetic clarity and incisive critique, Blake urges readers to look beyond the surface and confront the harsh truths that often lurk beneath society’s well-intentioned façades.

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