“Jerusalem,” by William Blake, is a contemplative portrayal of England’s development during the time period in question. This poem is concerned with the theme of England’s loss of innocence; this is important because it shows that development is not, as people often perceive, beneficial for a country; rather, it destroys nature and corrupts humanity. Through the use of descriptive imagery, Blake conveys the “wicked” transformation nature and humans experience due to modernization. The use of anaphora and rhetorical questions both heightens the theme of lost innocence and reinforces the poet’s desire to regain this innocence. In addition, Blake’s skillful use of figurative language enhances the reader’s comprehension of the poem.
Throughout the poem, Blake uses vivid imagery to describe England’s loss of innocence due to industrial development. Blake begins the poem by painting images of nature’s innocence in the reader’s mind, using words such as “mountains green” (2) and “pleasant pasture” (4). He portrays nature as peaceful and beautiful: as it always has been, and as it is always meant to be. In the second stanza, however, the images of nature’s innocence are lost and are replaced by images of “clouded hills” (6) and “dark satanic mills” (8). These images suggest that England’s development causes the innocence of nature to become lost. Nature’s untouched beauty is tainted by industrialization; hills which were once green become clouded, and mills that were once providers become satanic. Blake makes clever use of imagery to show the effects of England’s development on nature.
Moreover, Blake uses imagery to portray humans losing their innocence. Prior to England’s development people led a simple life, the life of “the holy lamb of God” (3). People led a simple life resembling that of Jesus Christ, where there was no greed, jealousy, or corruption. This innocence, however, was lost as a consequence of England’s industrial development. People took on the characteristics of “clouded hills” (6).Those who previously led an honest life became corrupted by greed and power. Their innocence became clouded by sins, and was eventually lost.
Blake also uses rhetorical questions to convey the theme of lost innocence. Blake begins the poem with four rhetorical questions, which he uses to illustrate the poem’s main theme: “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green?”(1-2). By questioning whether England’s mountains were green in the past, Blake evokes the theme of lost innocence in the reader’s mind. The reader learns that England did have green mountains in the past, but now they have been transformed into “clouded hills” with “dark satanic mills” as a result of industrialization. Blake uses this question to accentuate nature’s loss of innocence.
In addition, Blake uses anaphora to emphasize his determination to regain England’s innocence:
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrow of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire! (9-12)
To reinforce Blake’s determination, strength, and desire to regain innocence, the speaker makes skilful use of anaphora. Through this type of repetition the poem rhetorically enacts Blake’s sincere wish to regain innocence. The use of repetition also serves to mimic Blake’s relentless effort and desire to regain innocence at any cost.
Blake uses figurative language to give the reader a more concrete understanding of the poem’s major theme. In the first stanza, Blake makes clever use of synecdoche to reinforce England’s innocence prior to its development. This is evident when Blake says, “the holy lamb of god/on England’s pleasant pastures seen” (3-4). Here, Blake uses the idea of a shepherd god to signify Jesus Christ. Christ is a symbol of justice, humanity, and innocence. Accordingly, placing Christ on English soil recalls the innocence of English citizens before England transformed into an industrial country. The idea of Jesus seen in England suggests the spiritual connection that England enjoyed prior to industrialization. However, during industrialization England lost its spiritual connection; thus, people begin to commit sins and lose their innocence.
Blake also uses personification to express his determination to create Jerusalem, a representation of the old England, which embodies both natural and human innocence:
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land. (13-16)
In line 14, Blake personifies his sword to enhance the meaning of the poem. Blake insists he will not let England’s loss of innocence paralyze him; he will continue to fight, and will bring back innocence “in England’s green and pleasant land.”
William Blake’s “Jerusalem” conveys the effects that industrial development had on England. The central theme of the poem is England’s loss of innocence. This theme is of great importance because people usually overlook the horrific consequences of development, such as destruction of nature and corruption of humanity. Through the use of imagery, Blake reinforces the wicked transformation that nature and humanity undergo as a consequence of modernization. Through the use of rhetorical questions and anaphora, Blake both enlightens the theme of lost innocence and accentuates his desire to regain this innocence. Furthermore, through cunning use of figurative language Blake enhances the reader’s comprehension of the poem. Through this poem Blake not only expresses his determination to regain the loss of innocence, but he also endeavors to make the reader conscious of it. In other words, Blake writes this poem to enlighten his reader about the adverse effects of industrialization. Blake not only writes about England’s present, but also about the future adverse effects of development. Given the current world situation, one must admit that there is some validity to Blake’s concerns.