Holy Thursday (E) - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

As the commentary suggests, Blake uses the underlying imagery here of the vision of the New Heaven and New Earth found in the New Testament book of Revelation. (See Revelation 7:16-17; Revelation 21:1-4.) They will be unveiled at the end of time, when Jesus returns. The new creation is described as a world without need of sun and where there are no more tears or sorrow.

This idea might be a consolation to those currently experiencing poverty and sorrow. However, it can also be used as an excuse to be complacent about contemporary suffering since it will be addressed comprehensively by God at the end of time. Blake's speaker seems to be reacting in the light of the second interpretation. A land free from the poverty these children experience should be as normal for human society as a land with sun and rain. If that is not the case, Blake's England is an abnormal land, just as a land without rain and sun would be.

It is appropriate for the speaker to be thinking of Heaven because of the nature of the celebration he is observing. Holy Thursday refers to Ascension Day, when Christians remember the day that the risen Jesus ascended to Heaven, forty days after his resurrection. The Ascension is linked with the promise that Jesus will return at some point. It is logical, therefore, that an observer accustomed to the Christian story and tradition would connect Ascension Day with this vision of the New Heaven and New Earth and link this vision with his thoughts about human misery.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • Make notes on how Blake uses natural imagery to convey his message


The distortion of Christian belief about the future life

Blake attacks the approach of some forms of contemporary Christianity. This approach taught people to accept present suffering and injustice because of the promise of bliss and the absence of all suffering in the next world. Although this was a consistent teaching of the New Testament, Blake condemned it as the perspective of the ‘fallen' person.

The distortion of Christian belief that makes it a means of controlling people's behaviour

Blake opposed the way in which he felt the Church condoned the established social order without questioning it. Christian teaching about respecting authority led to the sense that being ‘good' meant accepting the status quo as though it had been designed by God to be that way. It is represented by a verse from a 19th century hymn:

The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly
And ordered their estate.

Mrs C.F.Alexander

Blake felt such a view was contradicted by the care for the poor and stance against injustice demonstrated by Jesus and the early church.

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