William Blake was a poet and artist who was born in London, England in 1757. He lived 69 years, and although his work went largely unnoticed during his lifetime, he is now considered a prominent English Romantic poet. Blake’s religious views, and his philosophy that “man is god”, ran against the religious thoughts at the time, and some might equate Blake’s views to those of the hippie movement of the 20th century.
In “The Garden of Love”, the conflict between organized religion and individual thought is the constant idea throughout the poem. Blake's colorful use of imagery and heavy symbolism express his resentment toward the church. He makes it obvious how he feels, that it is restrictive in nature and hinders him from expressing his loves, joys, and desires. The poem begins with the narrator lying beside a river, where “love lay sleeping”. Blake laying with love on the riverbank leads us to believe that he knows love in an intimate way. Blake’s familiarity to this intimacy is a clear reference to his experience of sex, and his discovery that love can be expressed sexually (Devin). Blake’s use of repetition when he describes the weeping sounds he hears from the “rushes dank” enforces the concern felt by the narrator.
In the second stanza, the narrator goes to the “heath and the wild” and the “thorns and thistles” where they tell him that they were “beguiled” and “driven out.” This is the first indication that the reader receives that indicates love is under attack. These plants represent weeds, an undesirable nuisance to those who cultivate gardens. Blake uses personification when they say that they were “driven out” or exiled from the garden of love. They then go onto say that they were “compelled to the chaste”, meaning their wild passions and desires of love are being repressed and banished. Love would have allowed them to stay in the garden of love, but someone or something has exiled these unwanted things. (Griffiths).
The third stanza begins with the narrator visiting the garden of love, but he sees something he never saw there before, a chapel in the midst of the green he used to play on. When the narrator says he “used to play on the green”, this indicates that he was familiar with the Garden of Love in his childhood. He realizes that now he has reached adulthood, he finds that love's natural expressions are no longer free and universal, but bound by the restrictions of the organized church. Blake uses the chapel to represent the orthodox church of the 18th century. He uses this religious symbol to convey the idea of negativity, and seems to be dismissing organized religion as unnatural and restrictive. Blake changes the rhyme scheme from ABAB to ABCB in the third stanza to convey the change of tone in the poem (Griffiths).
In the fourth stanza, Blake uses religious symbols to show how the structured religion of the Orthodox Church can destroy the love and joy within. The narrator finds that the gates to the chapel are shut,...