Comparison of Poems by William Blake and Christina Rossetti
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is among the prophetic books of William Blake. These have been written by imitating biblical books of prophecy however they express the personal romantic and revolutionary beliefs of the poet. This book describes the visit of the poet to hell, a device that had been adopted from Paradise Lost of Milton and Dante’s Divine Comedy by Blake. However as compared to Milton or Dante, the conception of Hell of Blake does not start as a place of punishment. Instead it is a source of unrepressed energy, as compared to the regulated and authoritarian perception of heaven. The purpose of Blake is to create, what he mentions as a ‘memorable fancy’ so that the repressive nature of conventional morality as well as the institutional religion can be revealed. In this regard, Blake writes that, “the ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations and whatever their enlarged and numerous senses could perceive. And particularly they studied the genius of the city and country, placing it under its mental deity” (Kaplan,2000).
In this way, the theory of contraries propounded by Blake was not his belief in opposites but instead it was the belief according to which the contrary nature of God is reflected by each person. It was also believed that moderation in life cannot be achieved without contraries. In the same way, Blake also explored the contrary nature of energy and reason. In this regard, he believed that there are two types of persons, the rational organizers and the energetic creators of what he calls as the angels and devils in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In this way, Blake believes that both these types of people are necessary for life. This text of Blake has been interpreted in several different ways.
“The Garden of Love” is a romantic poem written by William Blake. The poem has been written with a view to express the belief of Blake regarding the neutrality of sexuality and also the way in which they organized religion, especially Orthodox Christian Church during the times of Blake, have resulted in repressing the natural desires of human beings with their rules and preaching. At this point, it needs to be noted that for those times, it was really a great statement to be made (Griffin, 1994).
The reason was that by advocating the natural desires of human beings, Blake had made a direct attack on the orthodox Anglican Church. He had even mentioned ‘priests’ and ‘Chapel’. The indignation of Blake can also be seen in the second line when he talks about seeing “what I had never seen”. Therefore it is interesting to note that Blake claims to have never seen it when he had literally spent all his life knowing the attitude of the church towards sexuality. Perhaps it means that Blake was speaking from the point of view of innocence that has only entered the world of experience and as a result, suffers a shock to see that the freedoms enjoyed by it in the past have been curtailed by the Church (Cronin, 2000).
In the same way, a clear dislike can also be seen in the point regarding the changes that have taken place in the Garden of Love. At this point, Blake is referring to the church and also expressing its dislike. In these lines, there is a clear critique of the church and also the practices of the Church related with religious beliefs. Moreover, the poet has also made an accusation that the Church is not allowing them to be happy and instead it is putting pressure on the lyrical.
Seen in the context of realities present in the 18th century England, in view of the practices and doctrines that have been adopted by the Church of England, these lines also express the feelings of the persons who did not follow the Church of England at the time and also did not agree with the interpretation of the Bible by the Church. In this way, although the poem is provocative but at the same time, it also reflects comedies some of the realities present in the 18th century (Bentley, Jr., 2004).
In this way, it has been expressed in the point that while walking in the ‘Garden of Love’ a lot of changes have been made in the garden. While earlier, there were flowers in the garden but all that has changed and instead there is a Chapel in the garden. Moreover, it is also seen that now the Garden of Love has tombstones, graves and priests. As a result, these changes have resulted in fading the beauty of the ‘Garden of Love’. As a result, the feelings of anger and dismay have been expressed in the point regarding the changes that have been made in the ‘Garden of Love’. The author is dismayed because as a result of these changes, the desires and wishes will not be fulfilled. As a result, the priests and the Chapel are considered as being responsible for the unfulfilled desires (Griffin, 1994).
On the other hand, in case of “Promises like Piecrust” the focus is mainly on the fact that in reality, it is easy to break promises, perhaps they are so flaky that they have been compared to a pie crust. However, an attempt has not been made by Rossetti to emphasize that it is a negative thing but on the other hand, according to her, she accepts it as a fact of life which cannot be escaped however, it does change the quality of relationships that a person has with others. In this poem, the focus is on to friends or lovers who do not make any promises to each other so that they may be “free to come as free to go”.
It would have been very illegal for a woman to suggest this notion during the Victorian era. However it appears that Rossetti believes that one of the main reasons behind the tension in most of the relationships is that there are too many unrealistic ideas and constraints present in a relationship. These relationships have been called by Rossetti as “Promises like Piecrust” and these are the relationships in which no promises regarding future commitments are made and in the same way, the past lovers are not discussed (Kaplan, 2000). As a result, in this type of relationships, the possibility that any partner may be hurt as a result of broken comments is completely eliminated in such a case. Similarly, the partners are not worried that a promise may be broken by the other partner.
In this way, the poem suggests that promises are like unrealistic constraints. Essentially, restrictive barriers are imposed by these promises regarding dedication and commitment due to the reason that such promises can be broken easily and at the same time, not only these promises resulting obligation and pressure of the partners, they also have to make significant efforts for keeping such promises (Packer, 1963). This view regarding love has been explored by Christina Rossetti in this poem which is related with the negative perspective that the poet has towards the promises made by lovers. She believes that promises can be broken easily, and at the same time they do not provide liberty to the partners in a relationship and similarly, promises also blind towards the future (Hassett,2005). In this regard, the speaker had denied promises as a result of the distrust she has in promises. Rossetti had also shown are general belief in the beginning of the poem according to which, the metaphor of a pie crust has been used to describe the promises made by lovers.
As is the case with pie crusts, which can be broken easily, the poet illustrate the promises made by lovers in a relationship can also be broken easily (Fairchild, 1939). As a result, the poet states that “promises are like pie crust” and it had been used by hard to describe her belief that promises can be broken easily. Generally, in almost all cases, pie crust is the part of the pie that can be broken off easily and it is made in such a way so that it may be broken for protecting the more important ingredients of the pie (Harrison, 2004). In this way, Rossetti had used the metaphor of pie crust for referring to the promises made by lovers in a relationship because according to him, promises cannot stand forever. She believes that at one point or the other, a promise made by lovers will lose its validity. In this way, in the opinion of the poet, a never-ending validity of a promise cannot be guaranteed by the type of promise as is the case with a pie crust that breaks regardless of the kind of pie. Therefore, the short durability of the promises made by lovers has been illustrated by Rossette with the use of pie crust as both tend to break easily and also to show the fact that the promises made by lovers cannot be considered as trustworthy.
Therefore in the end, a comparison of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, “The Garden of Love” and the poem “Promises like Pie Crust” reveals that different issues related with love have been raised by the authors in these works. While Blake has discussed that moderation in life cannot be achieved without contraries. Therefore the “devils” and “angels” mentioned by him are in fact two types of people, one are the “energetic creators” and the others are the “rationale organizers”. On the other hand, in “The Garden of Love”, William Blake has discussed the restrictions that have been imposed by the Orthodox Church on Love. He believes that too many restrictions have been imposed by the Church and at the same time, the conditions in the “Garden of Love” have been changed by it. In her poem, “Promises like Pie Crust”, Rossette had discussed the fragile nature of promises that are made by the lovers in a relationship. As promises can be broken easily and they do not have a long validity, Rossetti believes that persons who are in a relationship should not be bound by promises. However a perusal of all these the works reveal that when it comes to love, all these three works have presented very radical ideas for their time.
- Antony H. Harrison (2004) The Letters of Christina Rossetti Volume 4, 1887–1894 University of Virginia Press
- Bentley, Jr, G. E.2004, Blake Records. Second edition. New Haven and London: YaleUniversity Press
- Cronin, Richard. 2000, The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth.London: Macmillan,
- Fairchild, Hoxie Neale (1939) Religious trends in English poetry, Volume 4 Columbia university press
- Griffin, Dustin H.1994, Satire: A Critical Introduction. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press
- Hassett, Constance W. (2005) Christina Rossetti: the patience of style University of Virginia Press p15
- Kaplan, Carter. 2000, Critical Synoptics: Menippean Satire and the Analysis of IntellectualMythology. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Press
- Packer, LonaMosk (1963) Christina Rossetti University of California Press pp13-17