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The Human Abstract Essay

1572 words - 6 pages

The Human Abstract


"The Human Abstract" has not received much critical attention on its own. Of the critical interpretations that do exist, many approach the poem by examining its various manifestations in Blake's manuscripts, reading it against "A Divine Image," a poem w hich was never finally published by Blake, or comparing it to its Innocence counterpart, "The Divine Image." Most critics seem to agree that "The Human Abstract" represents a philosophical turning point in The Songs of Innocence and of Expe rience, and in Blake's work as a whole. In 1924, Joseph H. Wicksteed observes that this "difficult" poem, "originally called 'The human Image," represents "Blake's attempt to summarize his philosophy of revolt against the ob ject of worship he found in the mind of his age." He contends that Blake "makes no distinction" between God and Man: "God is Man and Man is God, and either may be good or bad." Placing the poem in context with Blake's work as a whole, Wicksteed argues that, with this poem, "Blake is moving towards the position definitely reached in 'The Marriage,' that Reason, or the abstracting power of the mind, robs life of all its fullness and vigour." He then proceeds with a line-byline reading of the poem.
Robert Gleckner briefly treats "The Human Abstract" in his book, The Piper and The Bard, suggesting that "'The Divine Image' of Innocence is perverted in experience to 'The Human Abstract.'" He places the poem i n the didactic landscape of The Songs of Innocence and of Experience, contending that the "rational 'holiness'" in the poem "leads us directly to the 'holiness' of 'Holy Thursday,' the 'heaven' of 'The Chimney Sweeper,' the 'Church' of 'The Littl e Vagabond,' the 'mystery' of 'A Little Boy Lost,' and the 'Christian forbearance' of 'A Poison Tree.'" In a later essay, "William Blake and the Human Abstract," 1961, Gleckner offers a more extensive reading of the poem, paying particular attention to t he formulation of its title and observing that "of all the songs of experience the one which provides the greatest insight into Blake's concern with his titles, his struggle to define the two contrary states of the human soul, and his poetic technique (es pecially in the Songs of Experience), is "The Human Abstract". He also approaches the poem through an examination of the four drafts located in Blake's manuscript, pointing out that critics have neglected to examine the way in which the poem "A Divine Image" "is complexly operative in 'The Human Abstract.'" This connection is the focus of the Gleckner's essay, which he concludes with the contention that "The Human Abstract" represents Blake's final realization that the "real disease" is not a "s ocial, economic, religious, [or] political" force, but rather "the cancerous tree of mystery...man's own thinking process." Later, both Geoffrey Keynes and David Erdman will point out that "The Human Abstract" replaced "A Divine Image" as the Experience response to "The Divine...

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