‘Can I see anothers woe,/ And not be in sorrow too’: Sentimentalism of Blake and Dickens

Though Dickens has been accused of being pejoratively “sentimental,” (Kaplan 37) we should take into consideration what “sentimental” meant to Dickens and his contemporaries or the philosophical tradition that argues that the sentiments were inherently “moral.”(Kaplan 37)  According to Fred Kaplan, the eighteenth century writers who imposed moral value on “sentiment” were David Hume and Adam Smith.  Hume argues that “the ultimate ends of human actions can never…be accounted for by reason, but recommend themselves entirely to the sentiments and affections of mankind, without any dependence on the intellectual faculties….” (Kaplan 37)  Hume’s optimistic definition of human nature is complemented by Adam Smith who created the genial metaphor of the “internal…impartial spectator,” the “man within the breast,” a second self that we all possess, against whose altruistic and benevolent standards we judge our thoughts and actions. (Kaplan 37) Dickens, who inherits this tradition, by describing humiliated children, social outcasts and their cruel fate, provokes sorrow and anger towards social injustice.

This “sentimental” tradition can apply to the case of William Blake who, like Dickens, depicts people at the bottom of the social scale and arouses readers’ grief and wrath upon social evil and hypocrisy.  Blake and Dickens can be said to have the same interest which is not in accurately representing society but in creating a social world within their works that accurately embodies “the moral paradigms.” (Kaplan 59)  To represent their concern and anger, they both unnaturally amplify “the voice of the artist” substituting a personal vision for mimesis. (Kaplan 59)  In other words, they by substituting a secular text for what had once been the mission reserved for scripture, run the risk of compounding “the potential blasphemy and hybris.” (Kaplan 59)

To prove their “moral” sentimentalism, we will examine Dickens’ Bleak House and Blake’s “Chimney Sweeper” which will help us to understand how their sentiments are deeply related to morality.  First, let us turn to Jo, a crossing sweeper in Bleak House.   Next is a citation of a passage in which the state of Jo is described: “It must be a strange state to be like Jo!  To shuffle through the streets, unfamiliar with the shapes and in utter darkness as to the meaning, of those mysterious symbols, so abundant over the shops, and the corner of streets, and on the doors, and in the windows!  To see people read, and to see people write, and to see the postman deliver letters, and not to have the least idea of all that language – to be, to every scrap of it, stone blind and dumb!” (274)  Here Dickens describes Jo’s utter ignorance about reading and writing in a comical yet pathetic way and brings our attention to the result of a lack of education.

This condition also leads Jo to religious ignorance.  Though Jo admires the size of the edifice of “the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts,” he has no idea what it is all about. (274)  Jo’s ignorance symbolizes the fact that the Society, which tries to perform the mission of doing good to people abroad, never extends aid to Jo, however near its building may be to him.  Furthermore, Jo’s ignorance about the religion is also described as “[i]t must be very puzzling to see the good company going to the churches on Sundays, with their books in their hands.” (274)  It is noteworthy that “the great Cross of the summit of St. Paul’s Cathedral” (326) is degraded just as “the crowning of the great, confused city” in the eyes of Jo, which is “so far out of his reach.” (326)  Mark Spilka points out that “Dickens satirizes the senselessness and futility of contemporary faith.”(213)  Dickens’ satire is even more effective as it is mingled with moral compassion and sympathy for Jo.

A sharp attack on the established church is also delivered in “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  A striking difference with Dickens’ depiction of Jo is that poems are narrated by a sweep so that we can share the same point of view with the victim and feel the same pain and sorrow: “When my mother died I was very young, / And my father sold me while yet my tongue, / Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep. / So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.”  It is likely that Blake’s contemporary readers also “weep” and “cry” in the bottom of their heart, as the sweep does.

Blake depicts not only the sweeps’ miserable lives but also a false picture of the promised afterlife in Tom’s dream of an angel.  In Tom’s dream, the sweeps begin “lock’d up in coffins of black.” Then “And by came an Angel who had a bright key,/ And he open’d the coffins & set them all free./ Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run/ And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.”  The angel of this poem is “unable or unwilling to alter the harsh facts of life of this world, only active in an idealistic afterlife.”(Marsh 111)  Thus we are faced by scandalous cruelty and injustice, and the religious propaganda that sustains injustice.  Blake urges us to change things and help the sweeps gain their freedom, to attack their father, employers, and the “angel”-Church.  When we pay attention to the ironic tone of the last line “So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm,” our wrath towards the social injustice is aroused.

Next, let us turn to “The Chimney Sweeper” in Songs of Experience.  Here is a citation of the first stanza: “A little black thing among the snow: / Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe! / Where are thy father & mother?  say? / They are both gone up to the church to pray.”  Blake attacks the hypocrisy of the Church and also the parents’ collusion with it.  The parents don’t have to feel guilty because they are persuaded that their son will go to heaven.  They are grateful to the whole establishment, Church and state.  It is clear that Church, state and parents collude in “a hypocritical lie.”(Marsh 115)

Blake also concentrates on problems of understanding, which is crucial in social reform and improvement: “And because I am happy, & dance & sing, / They think they have done me no injury: / And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King / Who make up a heaven of our misery.”  The sweeps are ignorant because of a lack of education, therefore they can believe they are “happy” and can “dance & sing.”  In spite of this cruel fact, employers and parents “think they have done” them “no injury” thanks to the false system of religion and faith.  As Karl Marx identifies education as a crucial stage in a society’s progress towards equality, Blake brings our attention to the importance of education.

The sweeps’ lack of education is reminiscent of Jo in Bleak House.  Let us look at the scene in which Jo is compared with a drover’s dog: “He [A dog ] and Jo listen to the music, probably with much the same amount of animal satisfaction; likewise, as to awakened association, aspiration or regret, melancholy or joyful reference to things beyond the senses, they are probably upon a par.  But, otherwise, how far above the human listener is the brute!  Turn that dog’s descendants wild, like Jo, and in a very few years they will so degenerate that they will lose even their bark – but not their bite.” ( 275)  Here Dickens suggests as dogs will lose their “bark,” Jo lacks the ability to utter words loudly to resist the social evil.  However, it is also implied that Jo should have the potential for violence against social injustice by the word “bite,” though Jo himself never show any revolutionary power to the end.

In conclusion, both Blake and Dickens are sentimental in that “sentiment” means a radically “moral” feeling and they both try to arouse feelings such as anger, sorrow, and sympathy in readers and incite them to reform society.  This sentimentalism we can also find in their depiction of the deaths of victims.  Just after Jo’s death the narration continues: “Dead, your Majesty.  Dead, my lords and gentlemen.  Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order.  Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts.  And dying thus around us every day.”(705)  Dickens is attempting purposely to arouse his readers’ innate moral sentiments, reminding them that “the more emotionally sensitive they are to death the more morally attentive they will be to the values of life.” (Kaplan 50)  This is exactly the case with Jo.  It goes without saying that Blake’s depiction of the deaths of the sweeps has the same effect.

 

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles.  Bleak House (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1971)

Kaplan, Fred.  Sacred Tears: Sentimentality in Victorian Literature (Penguin: Princeton University Press, 1987)

Marsh, Nicolas.  William Blake: The Poems  (Houndmills: Palgrave: 2001)

Spilka, Mark.  Dickens and Kafka: a mutual interpretation (Gloucester: Indiana University Press, 1963)

Jeff Gillett’s Songs

My attention has just been brought to Jeff Gillett’s setting to music of the forty-six poems from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (including “A Divine Image”). The Songs have, of course, been a popular source for many musicians, and you can read about a few versions in articles by Keri Davies on Benjamin Britten and John Sykes, as well as a more recent entry by me on Fernand Péna. These particular versions offer renditions accompanied by guitar, cello and other stringed instruments that draw strongly on folk traditions.

Jeff Gillett himself has performed in folk clubs around the UK, working in particular with Ron Taylor on releases such as Take Off Your Old Coat (1992), Fair Length and Share (1995) and Both Shine as One (2006). Some of Jeff’s work has also provided inspiration for the ceilidh group The Downfielders. Performers on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience include violinist Cathy Brown, pianist/cellist Alison Gregory, and Jeff’s partner Elaine.

The starting point for this particular CD was initially an educational one (as a teacher, Jeff wanted to help his students prepare for an examination and so use music to help them remember the poems). As such, the project is as much a pedagogical one as musical, but plenty of the tracks that be heard at www.myspace.com/blakesettings demonstrate the sensitivity of accompaniment for which he is best known. Jeff’s voice in particular is especially suited for creating sympathetic renditions, his version of “The Sick Rose” being a favourite of mine.

You can buy the CD, as well as read Jeff’s comments on the poems, view videos (and even book him for a performance) at www.blakesongsettings.co.uk.

Fernand Péna’s Ode to William Blake

This month sees the release of a two-year project by Fernand Péna, a privately released CD based on Blake’s poetry and titled Ode to William Blake.

Péna, who has been a musician and singer since 1968 in bands such as ETC and Climats Sonores, released his last album – Rien à comprendre (Nothing to understand) – five years ago. This also included two tracks inspired by Blake: “The Mother Said” (drawn from Blake’s lyric “I saw a monk of Charlemagne”) and “Get thee away” (from “I rose up at the dawn of day” in the Rossetti manuscript). Ode to William Blake, however, is – with regard to Blake – a much more extensive and  ambitious work, including some sixteen songs taken from Blake’s poetry.

Many of these take their inspiration from Songs of Innocence and of Experience, but others come from other Blakean lyrics such as “William Bond”. You can hear these, as well as the earlier Blake inspired tracks, at http://www.myspace.com/fernandpna/music. The CD also comes with a selection of Blake’s poetry in the form of a booklet, some samples of which can also be seen on his MySpace page. As Péna remarks of his latest release:

The songs on this disc have been made very spontaneously, therefore very quickly. [Yet] working-out, registering, programming and mixing asked for hundreds of hours. Each song, each note (even the wrong ones!) were only kept after many rejected versions. The respect toward Blake’s ideas was always there. I chose, most of the time, this rasping voice, that is for me the best way to fit with what I feel toward Blake. But this was not systematic or conceptual. As I do it for yoga I avoided overthinking and looked for the most difficult thing: conscience in the instant. I do not pretend to have succeeded in it.

Péna worked previously with David Tootill, artistic director of Southbank Mosaics, whose Project Blake (to install Blake-inspired mosaics in Lambeth) led the singer to compose music for the project. He will also be singing at Tate Britain on November 28 at the invitation of the Blake Society.

Blake Set to Music: John Sykes

The music critic Andrew Porter said of the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, that “there can be few English-speaking composers who … have not contemplated setting all forty-six of the poems”. Though, as Donald Fitch points out, few have actually realised any substantial part of that dream. Only the American composer William Bolcom has succeeded in setting all 46 poems as a single sustained composition. Many others have set substantial numbers of the poems, though not often as a connected set. A relatively unknown composer, John Sykes, came close. A provisional list of Sykes’s songs, compiled by Stephen Banfield, shows settings of all but nine of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

Sykes eschewed commercial dissemination of his work to the extent that he published none of his songs and gained no professional performances of them in his lifetime.  There may well have been others like him, personally modest, content to write for themselves alone or for a few intimate friends; in Sykes’s case these included the pianists Mary and Geraldine Peppin and the latter’s husband Randall Swingler. A Blake-inspired poet active in the British Communist Party and a flautist of professional standard, Swingler wrote (with Auden) the libretto for Britten’s Ballad of Heroes, and supplied Sykes with some of his song lyrics. It is unclear if Sykes himself was a Party member.

John Austen Sykes was born in India in 1909. In 1928 he went up to Oxford as organ scholar at Balliol, where he was a contemporary of Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis. One contemporary considered him to have been the most distinguished music undergraduate of his time. After Oxford, he went to London, to the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition under Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gordon Jacob. In 1936 he was appointed to the staff of Kingswood School, the Methodist boarding school in Bath, founded by John Wesley in 1748, and there he stayed, except for war service in the Pioneer Corps (he was a conscientious objector), until he died of cancer in the school Sanatorium in the summer term of 1962.

His only two published works were a Christmas anthem, The Child of the World (O.U.P., 1958)—a setting of words by Randall Swingler, and “Disposer Supreme”, a hymn tune published in the supplement to the old Methodist Hymn Book.

Most of his music was written either for the school or for a small group of friends. Over the years, he wrote something like twenty anthems for the chapel choir. A former pupil recalls

From the experience of my own lessons with him, where I learnt from him, rather than was taught by him, I have to say that Sykes was not all that brilliant a teacher: but he was far more—he was an inspiration. Without ever forcing it on us, he filled the school with music so that it was a natural and exciting part of our lives—and I don’t just mean those of us who eventually were to become professional musicians: it was for everybody.

Readers of E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class (1963) must have been puzzled by his digression into an irrelevant denunciation of Kingswood School. The puzzlement increases when it is realised not just that Thompson was a pupil at that school (omission of such data is typically Thompsonian mauvaise foi) but that his discovery of Blake must owe much to a charismatic, left-wing, Blake enthusiast on the staff—John Sykes.

As Stephen Banfield has pointed out, Sykes’s Blake songs (two sequences of 16 and 20 songs, the one from Innocence and the other from Experience) are uneven; the simpler (though later composed) Songs of Innocence in particular, often relying too much on unmemorable ostinati and strophic repetition. The best perhaps show the influence of Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine) and his admired Elizabethans. Banfield continues

One wishes [Sykes] had allowed himself more broad unfolding canvases, as in ‘Hear the voice of the bard!’. But when, as in ‘The little black boy’ or ‘Nurse’s song’, an extremely graceful melody is supplemented with unobtrusive harmonic colouring, the outcome is exquisite. ‘London’ is an isolated essay in dissonant modernity; but what concerns us here is his distancing himself backwards, like Warlock, to the renaissance. Although some of his later songs, notably the Homage to John Dowland, whose texts are even more of a referential tribute than the music, he consolidated his neo-Elizabethan manner, the one wholly outstanding example of it comes rather unexpectedly in the last of the Songs of Innocence, ‘On another’s sorrow’. It is perhaps unnecessary to comment at all on such a perfect song … except to say that with its wonderfully crafted melody and plastic metre, its sensibility of both romantic refinement and archaic artifice, and its transfixing marriage of an 18th-century text with a 16th-century manner, it seems the perfect encapsulation in English song of one era’s transmutation of another.

Blake settings by John Sykes

“Ah! Sunflower” (song for high voice and piano). Apparently an early work. A later setting is Songs of Experience, IV. [Fitch 1216]

“I love the Jocund Dance” (choral setting for SATB unacc.)

“Jerusalem” (unison song with piano, January 1939)—presumably an arrangement of Parry’s tune.

Songs of Experience (song cycle for voice and piano, ca 1931). [Fitch 1217]

I. “Introduction: Hear the Voice of the Bard”.—II. “Earth’s Answer”.—III. “My Pretty Rose Tree”.—IV. “Ah! Sunflower”.—V. “The Lilly”.—VI. “The Poison Tree”.—VII. “The Sick Rose”.—VIII. “The Fly”.—IX. “Holy Thursday”.—X. “The Tyger”.

Banfield and Fitch list further settings of “The angel”, “The garden of love”, “The little vagabond”, “London”, “The human abstract”, “Infant sorrow”, “To Tirzah”, “The schoolboy”, “The clod and the pebble”, and “The voice of the ancient bard”; these do not appear to form part of the Sykes Archive at Kingswood.

Songs of Innocence (song cycle for voice and piano, June 1935—March 1936). [Fitch 1218]

1. “Piping Down the Valleys Wild”.—2. “The Blossom”.—3. “The Shepherd”.—4. “The Ecchoing Green”.—5. “The Lamb”.—6. “The Little Black Boy”.—7. “The Little Boy Lost & Found”.—8. “Laughing Song”.—9. “A Cradle Song”.—10. “The Divine Image”.—11. “Holy Thursday”.—12. “Spring”.—13. “Nurse’s Song”.—14. “Infant Joy”.—15. “A Dream”.—16. “On Another’s Sorrow”.

“The Tyger” (duet, TB + piano). An arrangement of Songs of Experience, X, with lower voice part added. [Fitch 1219]

“To The Muses” (for SATB unacc.)

Further Reading

Donald Fitch, Blake Set to Music: A Bibliography of Musical Settings of the Poems and Prose of William Blake. Catalogs and bibliographies; 5 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990)

Stephen Banfield, Sensibility and English Song (Cambridge: The University Press, 1985)

Website

http://www.jasykes.talktalk.net

Zoapod 13: Jah Wobble Presents The Inspiration of William Blake (transcript)

Transcript of Zoamorphosis podcast 13. To listen to the full podcast click here.

1. Welcome to Zoamorphosis Podcast 13, which will take a look at the 1996 album by Jah Wobble, The Inspiration of William Blake. Jah Wobble, born John Joseph Wardle, first came to the attention of a wider public when he joined John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd as bass player in 1978. Although he left after only two years, the combination of post-punk and dub music was to have an important influence on Wobble’s subsequent career.

2. After a period as an underground train driver, that career was revived with the 1989 release of Without Judgement, and Wobble engaged in a number of projects, becoming quite prolific from the mid-90s onwards, experimenting with a number of cultural influences including Chinese music and English folk songs. It is that willingness to experiment that makes The Inspiration of William Blake much less an unusual choice than it may first appear. Taking his cue from that other Londoner (Wobble was born in Whitechapel in the East End), Wobble is clearly attracted by the combination of antinomian politics, metropolitan nous and visionary experience. As he writes in his commentary on Blake’s The Good and Evil Angels which prefaces the lyrics to The Inspiration of William Blake, Wobble is attracted to the earlier artist’s contrary vision:

3. Blake demonstrates the perfect balance between heaven and earth, good and evil, man and woman, yin and yang; two archetypal forces moving against each other and yet in harmony. Both are separate yet contain each other. Neither can live without the other and therefore, nor could human life. Both inform one another as they move into each other, unconscious into conscious and back again. What would light be without dark, and when all is dark where is wisdom?

4. The thirteen tracks of Inspiration were recorded at 30 Hertz Studios and The Chapel, Wobble working with Jackie Liebezeit on drums, Justin Adams on guitar, Neville Murray on percussion, and a number of other musicians throughout the album. Wobble mixes relatively straight adaptations of Blake’s poems – primarily from Songs of Innocence and of Experience, but also The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Auguries of Innocence – with tracks that take Blake more loosely as their inspiration, such as “Bananas” and “The Kings of Asia”. Here, I’ll look briefly at a selection of the tracks, beginning with the second on the album, “Lonely London”:

[music]

5. Leibezeit’s and Murray’s percussion on the track creates a wonderful feel to this vision of London, reminiscent of Samba or perhaps even the Burundi drumming that Malcolm McLaren impishly poached from Adam and the Ants to promote his 1980s new wave group, Bow Wow Wow. After the multicultural, exotic London marked in the vibrant opening to the track, the mood shifts strongly as Wobble’s sinister voice recites Blake’s “London” and lines from the Proverbs of Hell over Mark Feda’s synthesised atmospheres. After the gentle (and, unfortunately, slightly tedious) voice of childhood in the first track, “Songs of Innocence”, Wobble is much more effective as the voice of the devil. However, lest we become too tempted by such diabolism, the following song, “Bananas”, offers a delightfully light, nonsensical and rhythmic dance track.

6. The dub strain evident throughout the album is used to particularly impressive effect on “Tyger Tyger”:

[music]

7. The lyrics of this track are pretty much straight Blake, but Wobble’s musical interpretation is one of the boldest and most original ever to be released. This Tyger is a jaunty beast of the jungle, one confident enough to declaim in a Cockney accent against a calypso chorus. The answer to Wobble’s ever-so slightly adapted question, “Did he who make the lamb really make thee”, cannot be anything other than yes, but this is a creator laid back and poised in a laconic universe in which tigers are a portion of eternity too great for the eye of man to see. This is, quite rightly, the track from Inspiration that is most widely known.

8. The last track to be considered here, and also the last track of the album, “Auguries of Innocence”, lacks the easy familiarity of “Tyger Tyger” but is a resounding and remarkable climax to the album.

[music]

9. Wobble’s dramatic – even melodramatic – declamation of Blake’s couplets embellishes the powerful lines of the Auguries over an extraordinary soundscape. Again, Wobble’s Cockney voice is confident, proud, defiant and also sympathetic, immensely flexible as it performs Blake’s verse. It is a fallacy, of course – though, I am sure one that also occurred to Wobble himself – but listening to his melodic speech one is tempted to believe this would be as Blake would sound were he to speak those words. The musical textures that interweave the lyrics are hypnotic, intricate, sometimes soothing, sometimes menacing, creating a sense of space and time beyond words that intimates the eternity and infinity with which Blake begins one of his most popular poems. Perhaps what is even more astonishing is the fact that, by the end of the track, that wonderful music disappears and we are left where Wobble himself must have begun, with the words and inspiration of William Blake.

[music]

Joel Bocko – Songs of Innocence and Experience

Joel Bocka’s short film, Songs of Innocence and Experience (2006). Shot in Prague and inspired as much by Jan Svankmajer as William Blake (a marriage made in heaven – or hell).

Go to the next video from the William Blake Jukebox:

William Blake Jukebox is a collection of videos available on YouTube related to William Blake. View them all at http://www.youtube.com/user/WilliamBlakeJukebox.

Zoapod 9: Blake’s Poems – Holy Thursday (Transcript)

Transcript of Zoamorphosis podcast. To listen to the full podcast click here.

1. Welcome to Zoamorphosis Podcast 9, which follows from the last one in taking two more of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, in this case the two “Holy Thursday” poems. The parallel, contrary visions that Blake offered on many themes and motifs in each of these two books, Innocence and Experience is, of course, well known, and this podcast will explore that contrast in two of his best known lyrics.

2. In the early eighteenth century, a tradition began in which charity school children would attend a special service, this event being held at St Paul’s Cathedral between 1782 and 1871. As [Stanley] Gardner points out, these children were not destitute, nor rescued from “the lowest order of poverty”, but rather came from families of the “deserving poor”, and during the century as many of six thousand of them would attend a thanksgiving service which although it did take place on a Thursday, was never on Holy Thursday during Easter week or Ascension Thursday as is often asserted. The services provided an opportunity to educate these children under the auspices of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, but the event was, according to Gardner, more of a festival than a strictly disciplined procession.

3. Having witnessed one of these earliest festivals at St Paul’s, Blake was inspired to write one of his most famous lyrics:

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green

Grey headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door

4. While the couplets of this poem are familiar from a great deal of eighteenth century verse, Blake’s long, fourteener lines are unusual for the period, being more typical of Elizabethan poetry. They add to a stately rhythm, slowing and making the pace of the poem gentler and, as Gardner observes, Blake avoids any satirical intent in this poem. Although David Fairer has written, in relation to this particular poem, that “Blake’s texts lose their innocence more easily than most”, and [Andrew] Lincoln feels that “the exuberant tone of the poem is to some extent modified by a sense of anticlimax”, it is a mistake to assume that Blake is here being sarcastic about the “wise guardians” watching over the “flowers of London town”. That the final moral appears somewhat self-evident, even sentimental, to modern, experienced eyes does not mean that it was not heartfelt on the part of Blake who appears to have responded to this event with great devotion and humility, lavishing considerable care and attention on the more than usually elaborate border to the poem.

5. In the poem “Holy Thursday” included in Songs of Experience, Blake moves from a particular occasion in a specific setting to a general accusation against his contemporary society:

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill’d with thorns.
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

6. The condemnation of the extremes of wealth and poverty is powerfully made, and it is clear that Blake’s remonstrance against the hypocrisy of his day is as deeply felt as his joy at seeing the children’s service at St Paul’s. Yet in some ways the moral of the final stanza is as bland as that in the final line of the poem from Innocence, and in some ways may even be false and superficial – sunshine and rainfall are, by themselves, no guarantee of protection for poverty. Lincoln, it seems to me, is correct in drawing attention to the suspicion with which we should view the narrator of the poem: while the insistent rhythm of the song may emphasise its moral outrage, the speaker is unwilling to recognise any vitality or joy in his subjects, instead retreating “into generalization, and an emotional hardening, that offers little prospect of escape from the human coldness it condemns.”