Blake and Wordsworth: Partners in the Crime of Romanticism
Title: Houses Overlooking Tintern Abbey Geography
Date: March 20, 2014
William Wordsworth was one of the more well-known poets in the Romantic Era. William Blake, on the other hand, was one of the lesser known but still significant poets. They each had a style to their poetry, with William Blake being more a sing-songy voice with Wordsworth telling his poetry like a story. Both of these unique styles were more featured in Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience and Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey. As I said earlier, they each had a different style to their poetry, but there are some similarities too. For example, they are both poetic figures in the name of Romanticism. Romanticism is described as an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the eighteenth century. It was also partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution during that time.
Another example of their similarities is they both represent Romanticism’s return to nature. When that period happened, many works of literature portrayed nature as good and the city as bad. But while Blake and Wordsworth are both prominent figures in the Romantic Era, there is no denying that they each had difference as well. But the one main thing they have in common is that they had a vision.
Throughout his life, William Blake believed in the importance of visions (Green, “William Blake’s visions). Despite the fact that he grew up in an abusive home because of his visions, it did not stop his stories from being littered with accounts of visitations from spirits.
The poems in Songs of Innocence and of Experience, meanwhile, made frequent use of “allusions to and imitations of the wisdom literature and prophetic writings of the Old and New Testaments” (Green, “William Blake’s visions). For example, “The Little Girl Lost” opens with this: “In futurity/ I prophetic see.” Another poem, “A Little Girl Lost,” began similarly with this: “Children of the future age/ Reading this indignant page,”
Both of these poems have the concept of vision, but within a world without foresight. It can also be linked to social issues, albeit probably unintentionally. For example, in the opening of “A Little Girl Lost,” it envisages “a future where different attitudes to ‘sweet love’ may prevail” (Green, “William Blake’s visions”).
Whether it was intentional or not, Blake was known to open to the probabilities and possibilities of the future, even open to the need to effect change. This was apparent in poems like the “Holy Thursday” poems, “The Chimney-Sweeper” poems, “The Little Vagabond,” and “The Little Black Boy.”
One example of this can be found in “The Chimney-Sweeper,” where a character named Tom Dacre who sees his freedom by an angel. Another example is found in “The Little Black Boy,” where the main character looks forward to a future where he and the little white boy will play together without any fear or inequality. Based on these two poems alone, it does look like Blake is confronting these social issues of injustice, moral corruption, maybe even prejudice. But in all of the poems in Songs of Innocence and of Experience, one thing was prominent: William Blake had a vision.
The same thing can be said with William Wordsworth, specifically with Tintern Abbey where he said this: “Once again I see/ These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines/ Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,/ Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke/ Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!/ With some uncertain notice, as might seem/ Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,/ Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire/ The Hermit sits alone.”
Based on these lines alone, it appeared that the author saw a lot of things: a lot of nature, of some dwellers and a Hermit’s cave. But it also said something else. In that, this poem created “expectations that does not immediately appear to fulfill” (Thomas, “Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey”). For example, there was nothing traceable to Tintern Abbey, not since its abandonment.
Wordsworth may not have known anything about the building or its history, but he envisioned it as a reminder of radical change. Like William Blake, he had a vision.
But history aside, Tintern Abbey had a vision of its own. This poem looked before after: backwards to the ballads of ordinary life and forward to autobiographical, philosophical concerns which can be found in the “Imitation’s Ode.”
The poem was also a bit prophetic, with a bit of a youthful exaltation in nature when discussing it with his sister. An example of this exaltation is this: “And in thy voice I catch/ The language of my former heart, and read/ My former pleasures in the shooting lights/ Of thy wild eyes.”
In short, the ruins of Tintern Abbey may not mean much to anyone looking, but for William Wordsworth, he sees something worth looking for, which is why I will say he had a vision.
Both William Blake and William Wordsworth became known poetic figures during the Romantic Era, a period which was basically a response to the Industrial Revolution. They both have strengths. They both have weaknesses. They have similarities. They have difference. They both see nature as good and city as bad. They both a unique style. And they both have a vision in their work. I look forward to reading more of their pieces of literature in the future.
Brennan, Thomas J. “Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey.” The Explicator. 63.1. 2004.
Green, Andrew. “William Blake’s visions: Andrew Green explores the presence of vision in
Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” The English Review. 15.1. 2004.
Heath, William W. “Tintern Abbey: Overview.” Reference Guide to English Literature. 1991.