“The Garden of Love”
I went to the Garden of Love,
And I saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And “Thou shalt not.” writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.
„Both read the Bible day and night;
but you read black where I read white." William Blake
I’d like to start my analysis of William Blake’s “The Garden of Love” with those lines by William Blake. He refers to the way he’s reading the bible compared to the way the church is interpreting it. I think that this quotation reflects the contradictions and ambiguous relations between William Blake and the Church of England. Or rather the way the Church of England was interpreting the Bible and how they wanted the Bible to be read and comprehended by common people. This is connected to the poem, which is a criticizing the Church of England.
“The Garden of Love” was published in 1794 as part of the “Songs of Experience”.
The special idea of the poem is a lyrical I that is walking around a special garden, which is the “Garden of Love”. The lyrical I discovers that the garden has changed. There used to be flowers in the garden. But they are gone and instead the lyrical I finds itself confronted with a chapel that was built in the garden. Furthermore, there are graves, tomb-stones and priests in the “Garden of Love”.
The poem creates a feeling of anger and dismay about the changes in the garden. The lyrical I is dismayed about the changes and because its wishes and desires will remain unfulfilled. What’s next is that the beauty of the “Garden of Love” faded away through the change. It is accusing the priests and the chapel of being responsible for his unfulfilled wishes because they are “binding with briars” his “joys & desires”.
There is a structure in the poem regarding the thoughts and feelings of the lyrical I. In the first stanza the lyrical I describes its wandering through the garden and the changes that it discovers, meaning a chapel where it used to play. This stanza is quiet and gives no hint on negative feelings or thoughts due to the change. In the second stanza it describes the situation in the garden. Its said that the gates of the chapel are shut. There is an inscription above the gates with a general prohibition addressing all mankind. The lyrical I is turning its attention towards the beautiful garden. In the third stanza the lyrical I is describing the garden. Its naming the changes in the garden, the graves, tomb-stones and priests. The lyrical I is disappointed by the changes.
The lines are getting more and more emotional, energetic and aggressive throughout the poem. The first stanza is describing a peaceful and idyllic scene. There is no tendency towards aggressiveness and tension yet. But at the beginning of the second stanza there is a turn. The poem is getting more and more negative. There is a contradiction between the peaceful garden scene and the chapel with its closed gates and the inscription. There is a certain tension rising in those lines. The last two lines of the second stanza are again emphasizing the idyllic character of the garden. But in the last stanza the tension is at its highest level. It seems to be harsh and energetic. The words used are containing harder sounds, like in “grave”, “priests”, “black gowns”, “briars” etc. Those voiced and voiceless stops are making the words sound not soft, but rather spitted out with energy. Those lines are full of energy and disapproval. There is a connection between the formal structure and the emotions expressed by certain lines. All lines that are transporting a negative feeling of disapproval or dismay are beginning with the word “And”. In the first line there is already the first glance of dismay when it says “And I saw what I never had seen”. In this context it sounds rather insignificant, but in relation with the following lines it is clear that here we can find a first contradiction to the idyllic garden scene. It’s slowly getting more and more obvious that something has changed in the garden.
The lyrical I does clearly detest the changes in the Garden of Love. It is referring to the church and expressing its dislike. Those lines represent a clear critique addressed to the church and their practices regarding religious beliefs. What’s even more, is that the lyrical I accuses the church of “binding with briars my joys & desires”, meaning not allowing the lyrical I to be happy but rather putting pressure on it. Compared to the reality in 18th century England, the doctrines and practices of the Church of England, this might express how those felt who did not follow the Church of England and did not agree with their way of interpreting the Bible. It is a provocation and thus still reflecting a part of reality in the 18th century.
The poem consists of three stanzas with each 4 lines, meaning three quatrains. There is no consistent end rhyme scheme. Only two end rhymes are used. In the first and second stanza, lines two and four rhyme (seen – green / door – bore). But Blake in making use of a couple of internal rhymes. In the second stanza, lines one and two, an internal rhyme occurs in “shut” and “not”. In the last stanza its “gowns” and “rounds”, as well as “briars” and “desires”. The meter of the poem is not consistent. The first stanza starts with a regular, harmonious amphibrach. In the second stanza, there is a change in the meter. Blake is here making use of an anapaest, but it still sounds harmonious. Where as, the last stanza is compared to the previous stanzas a bit disharmonious regarding the meter and the length of the lines. In the first line it is still the anapaest of the previous stanza and then there is a turn. The meter is changed to an amphibrach again. In the first stanza we find a trimeter, which can be found in the second stanza too and at the beginning of the third stanza as well. But in the last two lines of the third stanza Blake is making use of a tetrameter, meaning the lines are longer than the previous ones. The meter is not regular, which means Blake is not using one meter consistently throughout the poem.
 Hoeller, Stephan. The Genesis Factor.