Revision Notes on Divine Image from the Songs of Innocence...
Songs of Innocence THE DIVINE IMAGE
The poem has five stanzas and it follows an ABCB rhyming pattern and an iambic rhythm, which gives it an easy flow and a sense of naturalness (which is often found in songs and hymns). The simple vocabulary and short lines, as well as the lilting rhythm give the poem a hymn-like quality, which echoes the spiritual content of the piece. Blake is saying in this poem that we pray in times of distress and thank ‘God our father dear’ for his blessings. However, it seems in this poem that Blake is contemplating the form of God as well as his existence. He describes ‘Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love’ as ‘virtues of delight’ because they form the ‘divine image’ or God. In this interpretation, and the more orthodox Christian view, that God is the holder of these qualities. However, what Blake seems to be saying within the third stanza is that, although unorthodox, these qualities are equivalent to a man’s by personifying them and relating them to the characteristics of a human. By doing this, Blake is trying to show that these aren’t just God’s qualities but his actual substance (his being). These virtues are what we think of God to be, and therefore, is God himself. However looking more deeply into the poem, perhaps Blake has personified these characteristics because he is trying to say God is modelled on the ideal human (for we all aspire to be merciful, peaceful, loving and sympathetic). Blake says on line 15, ‘we pray to the human form divine’, this seems to suggest that when we pray, we pray to the ideal ‘human’ which means God is an image of man, rather than what the Bible promotes: that we are an image of God (Genesis). Perhaps Blake is trying to say that God is, in fact, a mental image. However, this interpretation does seem to differ from Blake’s religious beliefs, thinking on a deeper level, it doesn’t seem that Blake would have intended such an agnostic interpretation in his ‘innocence’ collection. Perhaps Blake is trying to express the idea of Jesus. Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love are all virtues of Jesus’s preaching. Furthermore, by showing that God can be found in human characteristics (Stanza three), he is trying to express Jesus as the mediator between God and Man. Yet, though there are references to Jesus being in human form (line 13 and 17), the rest of the poem remains quite abstract showing that it is difficult to distinguish between mortality and the divine. The final stanza seems upbeat and pleasant - making the poem appropriate to innocence by saying that we ‘all must love the human form’ because we are all an image of God, no matter our background or ethnicity (which is the traditional Christian view). Although the second from last line, ‘Where mercy, love and pity dwell, There God is dwelling too’ seems to contradict this view by saying that instead of us being a form of God, God can actually be found in us through these virtues. Blake reference to ‘the human dress’ suggests the outward appearance of humanity implying this is unimportant compared to the intangible virtues of mankind. By saying
we must love all ‘in heathen Turk or Jew’ Blake wishes us to ignore racial prejudices and love all as we are all made in the vision of God. The emotion, tension, or conflict in this poem is about the writer arguing against restrictive organised religions and for spirituality, without mocking and without a sceptical tone. He may be criticising the church of the time, but it is only his opinion he is trying to put across. The preaching throughout the poem is to be aware of the senses as an argument commenting that man and God cannot be separated. Blake puts forward his solution for humanity in order for us to seek the ‘human form divine’ (to be like our creator.) This poem is about ‘Mercy’ and ‘Love’ to be necessary for the human form. Blake believed that if God made us in his image, we should then pursue are surroundings and regard are belonging’s into our human form. Blake illustrates how these elements can be found in both the human form and the divine (God.) A full understanding can be achieved when the poem is read along with its companion, ‘The Human Abstract’. We can find the same thing as stated above, but with more meaning. Special attention should be paid to the word ‘Peace’. Additional Notes ♦ ♦
Much of the vocabulary and diction used is abstract The idea that the qualities God possesses can be found in humans, and that He is merely a mental image, would have shocked the Church and people during Blake’s time. He is questioning the very existence of God. Irony is presented as we contrast the words ‘Mercy’, ‘Pity’ and ‘Love’ against the cruelty humanity is capable of – remember Blake’s time consisted of child labour (chimney sweeping), London becoming further industrialised etc. If we can possess these qualities of love, mercy and pity, then the poem also suggests that maybe God can also be capable of cruelty. This can be further developed if we study ‘The Tiger’. Romantics were about liberalisation. Therefore, it was unusual to hear the use of imperative verbs such as ‘must’ from Blake. It suggests the lack of choice. The poem is very atypical of Blake’s usual work/style. The thing that makes him charismatic is that he has the ability to bring up modern issues. It is startling modern, it was preaching the bases of society and includes notions of innocence and makes us think about our society today in terms of morals and religion.
This poem is influenced by the teachings of Swedenborg, and it explores the relationship between God and humans. Blake begins with a list of admirable abstract qualities. ‘Mercy, Pit, Peace and Love’ have been referred to repeatedly in the course of the Songs so far, though rarely in an unchallenged or untainted form. Blake refers to them as ‘virtues of delight’, emphasising their godly value. He goes on to locate these qualities within both God and mankind. And in stanza three, he applies them to the human body. Blake’s apparently simple equation is questionable, however, given the repeated failure of humans to display such characteristics.
Blake explores Swedenborg’s idea of Christ as a divine human, suggesting that God is found in every person. This is implied by the repetition of the word ‘every’ in stanza four, the use of ‘all’ in stanza five, and the universally of ‘In heathen, Turk or Jew’. The insistence that whoever ‘prays in his distress,/Prays to the human form of divine’ and the ensuing demand that therefore ‘all must love the human form’ cements the message. Any act of cruelty and disrespect, or failure to demonstrate care and love, is an act of sin committed not only against a human being, but also against God himself. The end of the poem recalls ‘The Little Black Boy’, as Blake appeals for racial and religious tolerance. Humans must respect the image of God in each other, regardless of apparent differences and division.