“The Garden of Love”
Beauty and Life Contrasting the Church and Death
William Blake’s poem “The Garden of Love” is filled with metaphors of the contrast between the beauty of nature and all that is natural as distinctly opposed to the unnatural structure of the church. Similarly, Blake contrasts life with death and uses imagery that suggests the disparity between what is seen in youth to what is seen as an adult. Blake uses a tone that is dark and disparaging to display the sentiments of death that he wishes to convey to his audience. On the contrary, when he speaks of the beauty of life and nature his tone is more melodic and musical. “The Garden of Love” is such a stunning piece, because Blake manages to employ many rhetorical devices in such a short work.
Blake’s initial tone in the work seems anticipatory and though the overall tone is dark and dramatic, the fact that he expects to find in the fourth stanza, “the Garden of Love, That so many sweet flowers bore” (p) and does not find this, makes the piece more dramatic. It is almost musical with the dissonance of the darkness of a place, which he used to find beautiful. Instead of beauty there is, as he states in the second stanza, “thistles and thorns of the waste” (p). He also seems to express nostalgia for his childhood in a more hopeful tone. More importantly, he ends the poem with the last line as “And binding with briars my joys and desires” (p), suggesting that he did have joy at one time as a younger person and it was lost as an adult.
Much vivid imagery is also implemented to show the differing nature of nature itself versus the cold structure of a church. In the third stanza Blake writes “A Chapel was built in the midst, Where I used to play on the green” (p). The imagery is evident as a vivid mental picture of nature obscured by a large towering edifice. Similarly in the last stanza Blake writes, “And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds”, (p) spending their time doing rigid, bureaucratic things rather than enjoying the nature around them. Similarly, the image of the black gowns is rather effective in keeping with the ominous tone of the piece. The imagery also plays well into the metaphors that Blake uses.
In the final stanza Blake finds “tombstones where flowers should be” (p) or death where there should be life. Similarly, the priests that were effectively portrayed in black symbolize death as well and the church serves as a metaphor of the misery that accompanies it. This is evident in the way that the supposedly uncorrupted church had in the second stanza “to the thistles and thorns of the waste…Driven out, and compelled to the chaste” (p). The church is presented by metaphor as a symbol of death itself, as well as the dreams that the speaker once had. The unnatural nature of the structure itself and the concept of chastity serve to directly control what is natural and lively.
In conclusion, Blake uses many rhetorical devices in the short poem “The Garden of Love”. Use of imagery, tone, and metaphor guide the audience to an understanding of the deeper meaning behind the words that Blake chooses to challenge ideas about the church. A desire to be young, innocent, and natural is evident as is a darkness of tone and mood when these desires are interrupted by the unnatural institution that is part of Blake’s criticism. Much can be taken from the short piece. As well, the devices used effectively fit the length and the intention of the poem.
William Blake, “The Garden of Love”, 1794.