Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake is among his most famous and renowned pieces of literature. Blake was a Romantic Poet, and in doing so he shared the ideals of his fellow Romantics, such as Wordsworth and Shelley. These ideals, such as getting away from civilization and anti-capitalism, shaped every aspect of the Romantic lifestyle, including Blake’s opinion towards the Slavery still in effect during this period. This is an aspect I had never realized prior to reading the article “Blake’s Antislavery Designs for Songs of Innocence and of Experience” by Christine Gallant of Georgia State University. I’ve learned so much about the abolitionist movement in History class and the effect it had on society, but I never realized how widespread the movement became. In the article, Gallant explains just how strongly Blake was against Slavery and how much he actually contributed to the abolitionist movement. In Songs of Innocence, the plant Blake chooses to draw is the sugar cane. Sugar cane was an extremely labor intensive plant for slaves to gather and harvest, a fact that the reader must realize in order to really understand the intended impact. The Sugar canes Blake drew had sharp edged pointed leaves that somewhat resembled knives, and Blake also included fire in Songs which was the first indication of slave revolt throughout the West Indies. It was also the method used to punish slave revolt leaders in an attempt to serve as a message to other slaves who were forced to watch. “Blake emphasizes the Biblical point that man was created “in the image of God”, a sly reminder to those of a missionary bent that the “divine image” comes in many colors” (Gallant 127). This passage is definitely a key point in her article. Blake emphasizes that if God created Blacks too, it was obviously for a reason, and that reason is not so they can be enslaved by white men. It is quite common for grape vines and sugar canes to be entwined in Blake’s work. It is emphasized in the article that grape vines symbolize liberation and sugar canes imply slavery. Liberation and slavery lead to abolitionism, Blake’s key point. “The Little Black Boy” is the most abruptly abolitionist poem among the Songs collection. The art along with the poetry show the black boy kneeling, while in another picture he is beneath a willow tree, which symbolizes dreams, life and healing. Blake is saying that even though the fate of this boy is inevitable, there is still hope for abolitionism. The author provides these examples in order to open the eyes of the reader.
My interpretation of the article has definitely opened my eyes to how Blake felt toward slavery. It never occurred to me how significantly the Romantic world connected to more than just art and poetry. There is no denying that Blake left several subtle hints in his work, while other times there was no mistaking that he was antislavery (such as in “The Little Black Boy”). After reading the article, I found myself finding more and more clues among Blake’s work that highlight his view on the slavery topic. The United States fought in the Civil War in order to put an end to Slavery plantations for good, but it took a lot of work and support towards abolitionism in order to get to that point, and obviously the work of the Romantics contributed a lot to this along with antislavery support from around the world. Blake’s work contributed not only to abolitionism being successful in the United States, but in the British Empire as well. The way Blake was able to leave the reader with a lasting effect, especially with “The Little Black Boy”, made his work to end slavery that much more powerful and clear. Blake’s work was very persuasive and tastefully done. In my mind, I think about how Blake turned people against slavery through his writing and art in the same way Stephenie Meyer has glorified vampires and created a crazy mass fan base because of her “Twilight” series, especially the effect her writing leaves on the female readers. Slavery was seen as the villain in the same way that vampires are glorified in today’s society. Blake’s most dangerous and significant weapon in his fight to end slavery was his pen and his palette, and the effects of his work have remained widespread in the years to follow.