Ozy’s Holy Thursday: Shelly and Blake’s Satirical View of Monarchy and Empirical Rule P. B Shelly, once penned, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (“A Defence of Poetry’). Certainly, Shelley is not shy to admit the political power of the Romantic period poets and how they can shape ideologies through their narration at a time of immense instability and discord. However, how one can interpret the multiple works of Blake, Wordsworth, and Shelley amongst others can be significantly altered dependant on perspective.
Ideals of liberty, freedom, imprisonment, and enslavement were all prevalent topics of choice. Dependent on a person’s class, religion, or even attitude would find which them was favored. For example, William Blake’s Holy Thursday duology and P. B Shelley’s Ozymandias could be viewed as satirical narratives to empirical and monarchy rule both prior and post-French Revolution. The mutual characterizations of the lower class’ environment such as bareness, cold, as well as the hand that controls their everyday life, we find a society that imprisons its people to serve the affluent rather than promote liberty for all.
In the Innocence version of Holy Thursday, Blake’s description of the charitable school service on Ascension Day in which orphaned children are ushered into St. Paul’s Cathedral to sing, could be viewed as a form of satiric propaganda. Blake’s way of saying, “This is what they want you to see, this is what they want you to believe. ” Considering Songs of Innocence was published in 1789, the year of the Storming of the Bastille. It is safe to assume much of the debate in ideologies and contempt for the monarchy’s rule had made its way to Britain from France.
Inspiring nationalism while also soliciting to one’s devotion to God would have proved challenging yet needed for both the monarchy and the Catholic church to retain its control at a time of disenchantment. In the poem, the children in “two and two” unison entering the church are compared to the Thames river whose “waters flow” through the heart of the London (Blake, “Holy Thursday: From Songs of esting simile and metaphor, alluding that even the most downtrodden of its society are at the city’s center emotionally.
Moreover, in the second stanza the children are again compared to nature and regarded as the “flowers of London … ith radiance all their own” (Blake, “Holy Thursday: … Innocence”). The above being another example of how the speaker uses the children as a false flag to placate to the working class’ bitterness while endorsing the elite to “cherish pity lest you drive an angel from your door” (Blake, “Holy Thursday: … Innocence”). This elevation and consideration of the meek is meant to pacify those against the monarchy’s rule, while simultaneously romanticizing the greatness of their society through its charitable works and spiritual connection to the church.
Finally, the relationship between Catholicism and the abandoned children is exemplified through its continued comparisons of nature and religious symbols. Children are “lambs” and their voices in song raise to heaven “like a mighty wind” while the “wise guardians of the poor” sit beneath them (Blake, “Holy Thursday: … Innocence”). The speaker again instills the idea of the children spiritually rising above and therefore are prioritized by society as well as the church officers who are considered favored protectors. However, this mocking perspective changes five years later with the release of Songs of Experience.
Where Holy Thursday in Songs of Innocence could be considered satirical propaganda for the monarchy and church, the version in Songs of Experience may be viewed as unveiling the ugly truths of London’s society. Blake ultimately reverses the prior perspective of orphaned children singing on Holy Thursday being the sight and sounds of liberty and spiritual fulfillment. From the start, the speaker rhetorically questions “so many children poor” in an abundant land of resource, “Is this a holy thing to see” (Blake, “Holy Thursday: From Songs of Experience”)?
This immediate disdain of the previous version forces the audience to reconsider how godly the prospect of the poor in a land, so rich is. The church officers or all of society for that matter have transformed from “wise guardians,” to a “cold and usurous hand” (Blake, “Holy Thursday, … Innocence;” Blake, “Holy Thursday … Experience”). They provide minimal care and have their own self-interests rather than those of the adolescents as their priority.
No longer referred to as children dressed in bright colours traveling in double-file, they are now “Babes reduced to misery,” who’s voices have gone from “harmonious thunderings” to a “trembling cry” (Blake, “Holy Thursday, … Innocence;” Blake, “Holy Thursday … Experience”). There is no elevation of the downtrodden in this piece. Here, there is contraction, a sense of despair and imprisonment. This point is emphasized in the third stanza when describing the children’s present and future outcomes. Where the orphans’ comparison to nature’s beauty in the Innocence version is evident, here their present environment is sunless.
Their resources or “fields are bleak and bare,” and any path of escape from this desolation, “are filled with thorns” (Blake, “Holy Thursday: From Songs of Experience”). Rather than Innocence’s flowers, flowing rivers, and radiance to describe the season of spring, a season of hope and bloom. In Experience, the present and future are defined as an “eternal winter” or one filled with futility in perpetuity (Blake, “Holy Thursday”). The satirical viewpoint and many of the characterizations in Blake’s duology of Holy Thursday coincide with P. B Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias.
The irony of a traveler coming upon a distressed and decapitated statue devoted to a fallen king amongst a barren land would seem to be enough. However, it is the hubris inscription on the pedestal, “My name is Ozymandias … Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair,” that one could view as almost a comedic rebuke by Shelley to monarchy or empirical rule (“Ozymandias”). On the contrary, when the traveler references the land as being “boundless and bare,” it is not difficult to sense the shared disparity between Ozymandias’ people and those of children in Holy Thursday (Shelley, “Ozymandias”).
Surely, once Ozymandias’ kingdom was plentiful in resources to build such a monument to himself, but to see its decay through the passage of time, while knowing the Kings’ conceit in character; it becomes easy to be sensitive to the hopelessness of the working people such as the sculptor underneath his rule. However, desolation is not the only shared theme between the two works. The reason the traveler knows of the autocratic rule is through the sculptor’s ability to reimagine Ozymandias’ likeness and his, “sneer of a cold command” (Shelley, “Ozymandias”).
Again, like Blake’s “Beadles” in Experience, Shelley makes use of the representation of cold in a dismissive, uncaring, yet controlling manner. He is not a merciless King, who is intent on progressing the lives of his people as well as his kingdom. Here, the motive is one of callousness meant to enslave his people in servitude for the means of his glory. In addition, the King’s “hand that mocked them,” is evidence of another shared parallel of the elite or societal treatment of the lower class (Shelley, “Ozymandias”).
Like the “usurous hand” in Holy Thursday, it speaks to the contempt had for the humble; one in which high society only has enough vested interest that allows them to pursue that is to their own (Blake, “Holy Thursday: … Experience”). Plainly, an argument can be made by the vision being painted by Shelley is one of disdain for the affluent and empirical attitudes towards the working and poor. To summarize, through the duology of Blake’s Holy Thursday and Shelley’s Ozymandias we find an ironic, tongue-in-cheek view of life under an empirical or sovereign rule.
Blake’s first version of Holy Thursday in Songs of Innocence can be seen as sarcastic puffery for how the elite class would like the oppressed to view its compassion within its great civilization. However, by the Songs of Experience version, Blake removes the mask from society that still reveals a land wealthy and full of abundance, but also overwrought with poverty and despair. Common themes of emptiness, cold, and the hand that oversees the exploited are found in both Holy Thursday and Shelley’s Ozymandias.
The bareness is meant to reflect the disparity, the lack of resources, and future outcomes of the lower class. On the other hand, Cold describes the scornful and dismissive attitude the supposed leaders of society have for the less fortunate. Although, it could be argued that both Blake and Shelly shared mutual disregard for autocratic rule both prior and post-French Revolution. Clearly, this is just one of many perspectives and as Blake once wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to a man as it is, infinite” (Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”).