Talking about poems just for the pleasure of it

Thursday, January 20, 2011

William Blake, "A Divine Image"

Cruelty has a Human heart
And Jealousy a Human Face,
Terror, the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy, the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is a forgèd Iron,
The Human Form, a fiery Forge,
The Human Face, a Furnace seal'd,
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge.

Blake has a way of making his statements seem inarguable. The repetition here has an incantatory power that almost compels us to agree, at least for the time we are inside the little world made by this poem.  It speaks of an evil so deeply entrenched in our nature that it is inescapable. Freedom from this evil is impossible for us, since it is created by our very nature-- the "Forge" is our "Form."  This image of a fiery forge, a kind of eternal, infernal smithy, appears in other poems from Blake's Songs of Experience:  the furnace and anvil of "The Tyger," the "mind-forg'd manacles" of "London."   Blake seems haunted by the clanging of this timeless industry, which he finds behind not only man-made constructions, but the natural world as well.

The circular structure of the poem creates its feeling of inevitability.  The first stanza presents these four aspects of human nature, its heart, face, form, and dress; then the second stanza reverses and mirrors the order-- landing us back where we started, at "The Human Heart," which is now revealed to be a "hungry Gorge."  The rhyme of "Forge" and "Gorge" is so perfect, it seems fated.  The heart is forever hungry, insatiable.  The circle can never end.


  1. Enriching! I want to use your resources in teaching our kids about poetry. Keep these coming. P.S. Paul said, "Who's George, and why is he hungry?" He attributed that to reading your post in the early morning without his glasses.:)

  2. What a terrifying poem! You might have mentioned, though, that this is the contrary of Blake's poem from Songs of Innocence, "The Divine Image"--which, however, is a much weaker poem.
    It all puts me in mind of this from Robert Louis Stevenson:
    Old is the tree and the fruit good,
    Very old and thick the wood.
    Woodman, is your courage stout?
    Beware! the root is wrapped about
    Your mother's heart, your father's bones;
    And like the mandrake comes with groans.

    Keep up the good work. ~Abba

  3. I agree that "The Divine Image" is weaker. Just as "The Lamb" is weaker than "The Tyger." Maybe it's easier to write well about Experience than about Innocence. That's a good one from Stevenson! What's it called? It almost sounds as if Stevenson had been reading some Blake when he wrote it.

  4. It's a kind of throw-away that he used as the moral at the end of his fable, "The House of Eld." You can read it here: ~Abba

  5. Wonderful. I always find something in your analyses to apply to my daily life. Please send us more!

  6. More is on the way! Thanks for the kind encouragement.

  7. This was very helpful when doing an anaysis of this poem. Helped me incorrporate some fresh points. Thanks!

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