Interpretation of William Blake's Poem "The Garden of Love"

Term Paper, 2015

10 Pages, Grade: 2,0


The Romantic poem The Garden of Love by William Blake, published in 1794 as part of the Songs of Experience, consists of three quatrains, i.e. three stanzas having four lines each. There is no consistent rhyme scheme, as only two end rhymes can be observed: Line two and four of the first and second stanza rhyme (“seen“ - “green“; “door“ - “bore“), so there is a cross rhyme; all in all the rhyme scheme is the following: abcb (stanza one) / abcb (stanza two) / abcd (stanza three). One can, however, find a couple of internal rhymes in stanza two (shut - not) and three (“gowns“ - “rounds“; “briars“ - “desires“).

The meter turns out to be irregular as well: The first stanza makes use of an amphibrach (x x x), the second one of an anapaest (x x x). The last stanza combines these two meters: Whereas there is an anapaest in the first line, it is followed by an amphibrach in the next lines. Also the length of the lines differs: We find a trimeter in the first two stanzas and the first two lines of stanza three, then there is a change to a tetrameter.

Hence, one can sum up that there is an increasing irregularity concerning rhyme and meter within the poem, as - in contrast to stanza one and two - no end rhyme can be observed in stanza three; additionally, the meter, being consistent in the first two stanzas, becomes irregular in the last one. Also the fact that the number of internal rhymes rises equally - there is none in the first stanza, one in the second one and two internal rhymes can be found in stanza three - is striking.

The poem deals with a lyrical I telling us about its walk to a garden called “Garden of Love“ and the changes having taken place there. In stanza one we get to know about the fact that a chapel has been built at the place the lyrical I once played. In stanza two it moves to the garden itself after having recognized that the gates of the chapel are closed. The last stanza tells us that the flowers that once could be found in the garden have been replaced by graves and tomb-stones, and priests are walking through the garden.

I will try to analyse and interprete the poem with special reference to Blake's opinion of religion and his critical attitude towards the Church of England, including the characteristics of Romantacism, and how this is represented in his poem with regards to its form, structure and language, including the usage of stylistic devices.

Throughout the poem the dismay of the lyrical I about the changes having taken place in the garden becomes more and more abvious.

The first stanza, however, creates quite an idyllic atmosphere, as this dismay cannot be observed yet; only the chapel built in the garden is mentioned, but this alone does not imply any anger or dismay, especially because the sentence “And saw what I never had seen“ could also be associated with something very positive. The parallel structure of the main clause “A Chapel was built in the midst“ and the subordinate clause “Where I used to play on the green“ (“A Chapel“ and I“ are the subject, “was built“ and “used to play“ the predicates and “in the midst“ and “on the green“ adverbial phrases of place) underlines the harmony assumed. Moreover, the image of a felicitious childhood of the lyrical I is created by the last part of the sentence.

Stanza two, however, turns out to contain more tension and disapprovement towards the garden: It focuses on the chapel in the first two lines, the “gates [of which] were shut“; here we have a first negative connotation with the church not providing access for all people because the lyrical I finds them closed. Of course, the closed doors may be a fortuity, but the following line “And Thou shalt not (...)“ - which is Early Modern English for 'You shall not' - evokes quite a negative perception of the church, as it only seems to concentrate on its rules telling people what they are forbidden to do.

A striking stylistic device is the anaphora in the first two lines (“And“ is repeated at the beginning of them): An anaphora usually has the function to emphasize the word(s) being repeated; hence, what is so special about the connector “And“? Looking back to the first stanza, one finds such an “And“ there as well. In stanza two the lines beginning with it are the ones with a 'negative' content; lines three and four sound rather idyllic again because there the lyrical turns to the garden itself again “That so many sweet flowers bore“. Here we can observe an epiphora (stanza one: “I went to the Garden of Love“; stanza two: “So I turn'd to the Garden of Love“) as well as a parallel syntax underlining the harmony and peaceful atmosphere, which has, however, gone by. One can thus assume that the lines beginning with an “And“ are meant to create a 'negative' atmosphere, expressing the dismay of the lyrical I. This would mean line two of stanza one (“And saw what I never had seen“), which I defined as not necessarily negative, could be regarded in a different way as well: There also is the possibility of seeing it as a bad surprise the lyrical I experiences.

In the last stanza the tension and dismay of the lyrical I reaches their highest level. Several things causing this feeling are enumerated: The garden has turned into a graveyard, the flowers which once flourished in the garden have gone and been replaced by tomb-stones and priests walking through the garden are “binding with briars“ the “joys and desires“ of the lyrical I. The alliteration “binding with briars“ as well as the internal rhyme “briars“ - “desires“ attracts the reader's attention to the prohibited happiness of the lyrical I.

What also immediately attracts the reader's attention is the emergence of “And“ at the beginning of each of the four lines. Hence, one can say that the use of this word has been doubled: In the first stanza it occurs once, in stanza two twice and in the last one even four times. This increasement in usage emphazises the growing dismay and disapprovement of the lyrical I. Moreover, stanza three fits the assumption from above that only lines with a 'negative' content are introduced with an “And“.

At this point it is worth taking the irregularity of rhyme and meter into consideration: Not only does the extended anaphorical use of “And“ (with its following 'negative' content) point out the speaker's mood, but also the change in rhyme and meter; whereas a certain order (same scheme of end rhymes, same meter within one stanza) can be found in the first two stanzas, this order seems to be disturbed in stanza three because of its lack of end rhymes, its extended use of internal rhymes and its mixture of the two meters used before. Hence, one is led to the assumption that this growing formal disorder represents the 'mental disorder' of the lyrical I. In this last stanza of the poem the development of anger has been completed, as there is nothing positive mentioned, but it seems to be harsh and energetic. The words used contain a combination of voiced and voiceless stops (“grave”, “priests”, “black gowns”, “briars”) making them sound harder, which underlines the disapprovement of the lyrical I and the melanchony expressed as well.

Let us turn to the “briars“: The briar is a plant of the family of the roses, meaning it has got thorns. According to the utterance of the lyrical I, these briars are the ones destroying its happiness. From my point of view, there is a reference to Jesus Christ, who was commanded to wear a crown of thornes by the soldiers of Pontius Pilatus before his crucifixion. He also was given a sceptre made of reed and a red cape. By this 'equipment' Jesus was mocked as the “King of Jews“, as especially the crown did not represent monarchic power and wealth, but was meant to deride him. Jesus, however, never saw himself as a ruler, but as the son of God, whose mission it was to bring his people to their land and liberate them from slavery in Egypt; but his religious beliefs were not recognized by Pilatus and his followers and as a result he had to suffer from this.


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Interpretation of William Blake's Poem "The Garden of Love"
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Englisches Seminar)
The Study of Poetry
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interpretation, william, blake, poem, garden, love
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Dennis Schmidt (Author), 2015, Interpretation of William Blake's Poem "The Garden of Love", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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