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Songs of Experience


In ‘The Garden of Love’, Blake shows that from day one of any person’s life, nothing
remains uniform. That life is always in a state of change, disarray, and inconsistency.
Blake demonstrates this by bringing you to a state of realisation and shock of the
sentimental meaning behind the church and nature surroundings. He accomplishes
this task thoroughly by using many different poetic forms such as symbolism
allusions and imagery.

Blake’s main objective is to show how lives inevitable changes. That life no matter
how one may remember it, whether it be as a child, adult, or elder, it will not remain
constant. This is shown by telling of a life experience. He speaks of a garden that is
beautiful and pure, ‘that so many sweet flowers bore’. We understand how it was a
place of sanctuary for him in his youth. This allusion of his ‘Garden of Love’ is that
of Eden imagery.

‘And binding with briars my joys and desires’, creates the allusion to Christ on the
cross. It suggests that the actions of people in which they believe to be virtuous and
moral, may indeed be an act of devastation and destruction. Whatever the case may
be, the narrator has lost something or someone of great and dear importance to him,
and no one is there for him, not even the church. The joy the narrator used to find can
now only be found through the compassion of his own God, nature. A garden is a
place of peace, where nature, God, and him, are one; such as the Garden of Eden. It is
the symbolic meaning of loosing a loved one, or loved ones. In addition, the organised
church did not help people of all types. As a result, the Garden of Eden and the
Garden of Love became extinct and untouchable for all.

Blake states, ‘And the gates of this Chapel were shut’, insinuating that the church had
not helped or comforted him, but destroyed this equilibrium of peace that used to be
present in this environment. This visual and internal image helps to, very straight
forwardly, represent death.

By using this imagery, he shows that even from day one of human existence that
things evolve and mutate. A retrospection of the way life used to be; a taboo feeling
that used to breathe freely through their veins.

SOURCE: Phillip Allan Updates – As/A level student guide, Songs of Innocence and
Experience by William Blake

An interesting interpretation:

Titles of poems are often derived from actual content of the passage, though the title
itself may not reflect the poem’s tone and meaning. That deems quite true with Blake’
poem ‘The Garden of Love,’ as the symbolic name of the poem does not describe
what one expects to read after addressing the title. Instead, ‘The Garden of Love’ is a
figurative designation to a man’s past of promiscuity and guiltless pleasure.

Blake ventures back to a place he has obviously been before and attempts to return to
his past of immoral behaviour after having gone through some sort of transition. The
imagery created around the religious symbols reveals Blake’s transition was the
commitment to marriage before his return to the playground and the graves are
metaphors for the loss of previous lovers. With the images of a cemetery and the
binding actions of the priests that symbolise the action of marriage, Blake suggests
that he regret of making it.

Instead, the reader is revealed a metaphorical description of the regrets of the poet’s
pledge to matrimony. Where he was once allowed to play liberally now stands an
inalterable symbol of his commitment to monogamy. This poem proves Blake’s idea
of love to be incongruous to the conventional analysis of love. The only change so far
is the chapel in the midst, a perceptible demonstration of marriage.

Though Blake has already expressed that he favours his life of free love over marriage
in the first stanza, he still approaches the Chapel that represents his lamented promise
to his spouse within the second stanza. He uses strong expression in describing the
actions of the priests, as they make it impossible for him to experience his ‘joys and
desires’. The ‘flowers’ he refers to are the sex objects he found refuge in on his
playing green.

The garden itself and playing green represent Blake’s belief that the freedom and lack
of responsibility before matrimony are much more inviting than the commitment he
has made to his wife. The priests are dressed in black, which embodies Blake’s
opinion of the rules of his marriage laid out by the church. Blake found the gates
closed because he conceives marriage as a shutting down if independence and
freedom. The tombstones represent his overall inability to return to a life of innocent
sexual pleasure and the death of his excitement to do so. The symbolism and tone
prove Blake’s concept of love and marriage quite contradictory to the commonly
accepted view of love.

This poem is Blake’s individual relation of a venture into a past of promiscuity and
adulterous sex. The script upon the shut door read, ‘Thou shalt not’ and immediately
reminds both the reader of God’s commandment to never commit adultery.

Another interpretation:

You come across a young man walking by the garden and he becomes fascinated. As
you read on, you notice some things about the ‘garden.’ You notice there is a Chapel
built on a field where he used to play on as a child. Where the flowers were originally
supposed to be, he found tombstones instead and priests in their black gowns engaged
in their services.

The poem, consisting of three stanzas, had an original rhyme scheme that was
apparent in all of poems before 1880 but it did not contain a sonnet. It is a literal
poem described what had become of his Church ground.
Falling out of love can be very depressing and this man has been hurt by a woman and
there is nothing left to do besides mourn his loss. We begin to notice how bad he is
hurting from his loss and how he is drawn to this ‘Garden of Love’ that is filled with
tombstones. He notices that not only have the tombstones replaced the flowers, but, it
has replaced the entire ‘garden’ and this can also be related to how his heart is filled
with sorrow from the loss. The Chapel that was built on the midst of green symbolises
the love of his life. The midst of green where he once used to play symbolises how
well he knew the person and how much it has changed. The tombstones where the
flowers should be represented the cold where the warmth used to be in his heart.

There was no dialogue in the poem and the diction was filled with imagery like, for
example, ‘the tombstones where the flowers should be’, ‘Priests with their black
gowns’, and ‘the Chapel on the midst of green’. He doesn’t want to move on, he
wants to stay with this person.

Since he can’t, he turns to the ‘Garden of Love’ which is filled with tombstones. The
Chapel was closed down with a sign on the door that said, ‘Thou shall not,’
explaining how he didn’t want his love to end but there was really nothing he can do
about it.

While walking through the ‘garden’ he feels like he is at home because 'the garden’
experienced pain and mistreatment, as well.

A comparison of ‘The Garden of Love’ and ‘The Echoing Green’

Both poems use a combination of iambic and anapaestic feet but to different effect.
‘The Echoing Green’ as a light and tripping double measure, but ‘The Garden of
Love’ adopts the heavier trimester, suiting the irony of the poem and the harshness of
its content.

The opening line is misleading, because the phrase ‘Garden of Love’ has joyful
connotations. However, Blake’s poems are rarely as simple as they seem. The
presence of the chapel (conventionally a positive image) is ambiguous. Its position in
the centre of the green suggests its dominance, and it acts as the antithesis of the
childhood ‘play’ depicted in ‘The Echoing Green’ and ‘Nurse’s Song’.

Indeed, Blake hated organised religion, and the poem explores some of the restrictions
he saw and detested in the church. The chapel is not therefore the welcoming and
open place that we might expect, but is imposing and forbidding. The gates are shut to
prevent approach (like the spears, thorns and horns of the preceding poems) and the
chapel announces itself with the prohibition ‘Thou shalt not’. The emphasis is on
restriction and the curtailment of (innocent) freedom.

Turning to the garden, the speaker finds that the Eden-like paradise of ‘The Echoing
Green’ has gone. Blake illustrates this by the lack of flowers – instead of containing
the blooming beauty of life. The land is filled with graves, symbolic of the death of
innocence, but also, perhaps, the graves of those who previously played on the green.

Blake saw organised religion as being profoundly at odds with the spirit of freedom
and life. The disturbing image of the ‘priests in black gowns…walking their rounds’
makes them seem more like policemen of morality than priests and the negative
internal thymes in the final two lines of the poem (‘gowns’ and ‘rounds’, ‘briars’ and
‘desires’). This has a deadening effect on the restrictive effect of the priests. It is clear
that ‘joy’ and ‘desires’ have no place in the priests’ perception of life.

NB: Look up library book – William Blake, the poems, analysing texts


SOURCE: York Notes

The opening stanza describes the poet’s return to an environment that he

always associated with happiness. There he discovered that a church had been built
where he used to play.
The church is forbidding. It has grave commands written over it door, and this,
in its turn, is closed against visitors. In the third stanza, we are told that where flowers
once grew there are now only the signs of death. The new gardeners are priests who
cultivate not joy, but misery.
There is little difficulty in making an interpretation of the image used by Blake
in this poem. He accuses the Church of interfering in a very negative manner with
morality. He suggests its emphasis on the negative letter of the law by the nature of
the commandments it has engraved on its entrance. The innocence of true love and
happiness has been vitiated by the imposition of negative experience.
Blake’s picture of the predatory priests is horrid enough, but in another
version of this poem, he is even more vituperative. In speaking of the chapel he
describes the entry of Satan:

Vomiting his passion out

On the bread and on the wine.

The grimness is thumped out in that last stanza with the ominous rhetoric
evidenced there in the repetition of ‘And’ and the explosive consonantal sounds that
are to be found in that stanza. The imagery is much more explicit in intention but it
does encourage us by that very act to look again at his intention in the images used in
the first three poems of this group.