Auguries of Innocence is a one William Blake’s longer poems having elements of a child-like innocence and a gravely mature narrative –together portraying chaos during the poet’s lifetime.
Auguries of Innocence Summary
Lines 1- 4
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
According to Blake beauty, his found often in common places that we tend to overlook because we have seen them over and over again. But this simple beauty is that connects us with their creator, the divine power. It is this unity with the divine that can help us live a full life.
The powerful imagery introduces the matter of perception or the ability to see something grand within something insignificant.
There is ambiguity to the concepts like infinity and eternity and that provide signs of innocence. Innocence can help one imagine greatness in small, insignificant things like seeing ‘a heaven’ in a “Wild Flower” and ‘a world’ in ‘a grain of sand’.
The poem further creates a paradox of capturing infinity in ‘the palm of your hand’, that is grasping something immeasurably big in immeasurably small space. Infinity is an abstract idea and often too large to comprehend or limit within reason, and therefore it cannot be contained within the palm of the hand.
Eternity in an hour’ also represents an exceptionally long period of time and cannot be limited within an hour. A person who stops and sees the bigger picture in mundane things-lives a life of greater meaning and thus fills every hour with countless moments of joy.
Lines 5- 8
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
Next four lines speak of two birds: the red robin and the dove, also symbols of innocence and freedom again as the poem is a search for these symbols.
Blake writes about various human violations of this innocence like the image of a robin redbreast –a bird associated with Christian holidays, in a cage that ‘puts all Heaven in a Rage’.
This is the image of the caged humanity of man, given the history of his time with the French Revolution and the American Revolution. Imprisoning innocence is symbolized by slavery, humanity engaging humanity, a pure evil thing to commit.
‘A Dove house fill’d with Doves & Pigeons / Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions’ further describes slavery. The dove represents piety and innocence and the act of putting them in Dove houses causes even the hell to tremble.
Doves and pigeons are like children who are taken advantage of others because they are unaware of the hypocrisy of men and their greed. This speaks about Blake’s disapproval of organized religion preached by the Church at the time.
Lines 9- 12
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Now the theme of animal abuse is introduced with a starved dog “at his master’s gate”. The condition of this dog is used to comment and predict the ruin of the State as it forgets about the welfare of its people. Blake now mentions a misused horse looking for “human blood” i.e. revenge.
This also refers to maltreatment of the working class by the Marxist Bourgeoisie. The workers, especially the post-Industrial revolution were considered working animals.
The horrible circumstances of the animals are similar to face by the innocents that are vulnerable to abuse. The brutal and oppressive world treats the weak like the dog and the horse that are innocent of any crime.
In society groups like the homeless, the poor, the unemployed etc are often neglected. The oppressed are then forced to take up a life of crime and rebel against the abusers and this leads turmoil in the entire country
Lines 13- 16
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The theme of oppression is continued as more animals are described. Blake highlights the “outcry” of a Hare that is hunted for pleasure and material benefits. It further emphasizes how the innocent are always the target of predatory abuse.
A bird that is being hunted carries a wounded wing. This causes the “Cherubim”, an angel in heaven, to stop singing.
This symbolized how the heavens condemn and disapprove of innocents being subjugated and maltreated. So another sign of innocence is when one is harmed even when not guilty of any wrongdoing.
Lines 17- 20
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The chastisement of animal cruelty continues with condemnation of cockfights/ rooster fights. Such cruel activities are used as instruments of amusement by people; when even the sunrise is “affright” and distraught due to sheer brutality.
This also refers to maltreatment of the working class by the Marxist Bourgeoisie. The workers, especially the post-Industrial revolution were considered working animals.
The howls of lions and wolves are the loud criticism of such humans who are described as hell-dwellers. The concepts of soul and hell indicate that people who enjoy hurting innocent lives are punished even after their death.
The torment the innocent is an unholy act worthy of a diabolic penalty. Just as animals are coerced into self-harm in such games there are also people who are forced to inflict self-harm by others and that another sign of innocent nature.
Lines 21- 24
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
Now the poet talks about the hypocrisy that people practice when it comes to animals. Animals like deer represent the idea of freedom and so it is claimed cruel to slaughter them.
The deranged understanding of animal rights by people causes them to break into a fit when it comes to hurting a lamb out in the open. But when the same lamb is butchered under the butcher’s knife, no outcry happens and the community does not even grieve for that lamb.
Thus, the twisted human logic and when it is acceptable to take a life, animal or human. The lamb also symbolizes the blind faith that is propagated by organized religion.
Here the people are terrified of subjugation. The lack of discrimination in the natural right to life and security, whether human or animal, also represents innocence.
Lines 25- 28
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won’t Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
The poet talks about a blind bat that flying at evening is the same as a blind person talking about the ideas of reason and logic. The next lines introduce an owl which is frightening to people.
Owls are generally considered to be wise and so their insistence on saying the truth frightens people. It also shows animals also have intelligence like human beings.
The owl being active at night also symbolizes that wisdom is rare in the common opinions of people. Accepting that animals are capable of reason and intelligence will make it difficult those who consume or hunt animals to justify their actions.
These lines delve into the sense of terror that animals feel toward man and his world. Their confusion and fear can be compared to the state of the world at the time going through a phase of upheavals & confusion, namely the French Revolution, and the American Revolution.
Lines 29- 32
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
Blake says that hurting a defenseless bird is a cowardly act that can never win acceptance. Such people who enjoy hurting other living beings can never be tolerated in a healthy human society.
Further, a person can never earn the affection of a woman by infuriating and pestering an ox. A person who intentionally frustrated an innocent animal is a condemnable and undesirable trait.
Someone who abuses people or animals for entertainment can be worthy of love and respect. This highlights the role social norms play in defining good and bad, entertainment or abuse.
Lines 33- 36
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
The above lines express a sense of frustration at the people never take animal abuse seriously. Blake talks about a carefree boy who kills a fly in jest and thus enrages a spider because that fly was its meal. Therefore the boy caused more harm than what he might have thought.
The next line talks about the “tormenting” of a Chafer, a beetle which deserves the punishment of ‘endless night’ for the tormentor.
Blake, thus, wants people to realize the purpose and importance insects have in life. Therefore, harming them can cause one to suffer ‘endless night’ of grief and restlessness.
Lines 37- 40
“The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh”
The caterpillars and butterflies are described in the next lines. Blake focuses on their innocence and the right to life. The caterpillar is repeating our “mother’s grief”, Eve (in the Bible).
The grief that Eve suffered when she lost her innocence is equated with the grief of other living beings like caterpillars etc. Blake claims that killing a butterfly or moth is like taking a human life and will be considered as murder when the final judgment is made by God.
Lines 41- 44
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat
Blake refers to the fact that a person is accountable for his actions as those actions have ramifications. Therefore, an act of cruelty like training a horse for violence like war will cause people spiritual loss and they will not be allowed to enter the next world.
Thus, violence and hardship against the innocent will lead to spiritual punishments. On the other hand, mercy to animals will bring benefits in this world and the spiritual world. Taking care and feeding a stray animal or someone else’s pet will bring gains to a person.
The good that one does, he receives well in return. It can in the form of material gains, spiritual benefits, love etc. When people help the helpless, God helps them in return. Therefore, harm comes to those who harm others and good comes to those who are good to others, the basic rule of karma.
Lines 45- 52
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
The above lines describe the summer months and the insects that thrive in them. The gnat is said to be happy in summer days, signing harmlessly till it is poisoned by slander. Unlike humans, who slander against each other, animals do not slander each other.
People have a tendency to use their tongues to talk distastefully about others even when they are not harmed by them. Blake compares the poison that a snake and newt carry to the sentiment of envy, a fault found in humans.
The poison of slander is connected to the poison of jealousy because they both can be the same. Such forms of poisons make human beings dangerous than the animals we oppress. Next, the honey bee is described as the artists’ jealousy because of it incomparable in its beauty and majesty.
Next line introduces another human vice, stinginess or miserliness. A miser will always make sure that he does not have to help others, whoever they may be. Thus, the miserly humans have the innocence to help those who have less even if they have a surplus to share.
Lines 53- 62
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent
It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
Lines fifty-three to sixty-two continue Blake’s streak of discussing and exposing human flaws, his point seems to be to expose the evils of the people to contrast the innocence of the animals.
The first two lines dive into extremely wise words as Blake expresses that when people speak the truth and expose it only t make matters worse intentionally, it is worse than lying to cover up a wrongdoing; mainly because the intent is conniving.
He goes on to proclaim that he does understand that man was made with the capability to do good and bad, to cause ease and hardship and to do right and wrong.
The moment you realize that you have the ability to do both and it is in your hands to choose, it helps you be a better person and be safer with your choices in the field of choice to be the abuser or the aid.
Lines fifty-nine onwards discuss the truth that there cannot be a joy if there is not woe and vice versa. Both these intense emotions are basically what dress your soul as while you are alive you must suffer through the tribulations of life and celebrate the moments of joy that is what makes us human.
As we go through our days of hardships and loss and grieve for the joy and comfort that we had claimed eternal there will always be something that will pick us up again so we can move forward as that is the cycle of life.
Blake is highlighting for his readers all the things that make us humans, we were never meant to be perfect beings we have things that are good and bad in our very natures, nevertheless it is our responsibility that we do what is just not only to other people but all living things as they are all creations of God.
The smallest sins can upset the delicate balance of nature; the ‘gnat that sings his Summer’s song’, interrupted by slander ends up biting someone; ‘the poison of the Snake & Newts’ is indicative of a larger issue, that of envy.
All of these small things have ripples and ripples of dire consequences. Despite all the misery that exists, Blake does not want us to despair: every misery comes with a parallel joy, ‘woven fine’ into the pattern of daily life.
Lines 63- 70
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight”
The poet states the fact all humans are equal. A baby wrapped in a blanket grows to become an independent individual and therefore is more valuable than the blanket he is muffled in.
As humans grow, they adapt and even their tools of survival change. People have to work hard in order to survive. But when it comes to their children, they take care of them until they are able to stand for themselves which is similar to all the other living beings in the world.
Blake says that a farmer knows he has to grow his own food and so do his farm animals. Every person who can connect with his emotions and feel them (without hiding them) is a person that lives like a whole individual in eternity.
When people connect with their emotions, the females/angels in heaven ensure that these people feel compassion for others. When these people shed tears for others they receive joy in return.
Thus, every tear they shed returns as a good thing. Thus, people are more than their statuses in society, just as the child is more than his blankets.
Lines 71- 78
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
Here the poet notes the voices of animals being heard even at the gates of heaven highlighting their worth. The next line talks about child abuse. If a child is subjected to abuse (like hit with a rod) and cries, the persons involved are brought to justice through punishment of death.
Blake wants people to treat every act of abuse against any living thing as a criminal. Blake goes on to talk about people who are victims of their circumstances like beggars, soldiers etc.
There are people who suffer in poverty and even heavens cry because of their pain and misery. But it does not affect people who enjoy better social standing. Just as the soldier has to follow his commands and orders, people follow social rules and norms.
They may appear strong and uninfluenced but they always wilt under social pressure. Thus, all the sounds of pain and grief are converted to rights in heaven. Furthermore, whoever does evil in this world will be punished in the afterlife.
Lines 79- 88
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell & buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
Blake says that even a poor man’s penny more valuable to him than all gold in Africa because he owns it and appreciates it. Blake finds it interesting that people who are wealthy can always be seen in the markets searching to buy more things and losing their wealth by spending.
He condemns people to teach the same materialistic values to their young children by not being truthful about the real purpose of life. All the spending n the world cannot prepare them for what comes after we leave this world and its wealth.
If one wants to spend then he should invest true and good values in his children. If he doesn’t teach his children to develop good values and habits then he will never get the rewards after death. Hence, the man who teaches the children to doubt will have a miserable death.
Lines 89- 96
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out
Here the poet talks about the man who teaches children to believe. By teaching them about good and giving them the gift of knowledge, the man ensures he will never die. Blake extols children and their innocence and purity.
Since they are not corrupted by any sin hey enjoy a better chance of entering paradise. As a child turns into a man he acquires a new identity by gaining new experiences and skills. These experiences make a person gain intellect and knowledge.
But if that person employs his intellect to engage in pointless debates then he misuses it. Pride and vanity can cause knowledge and wisdom to be erased.
So it is important to question and understand the world around you. It helps is making up one’s own beliefs and perspective but it does not mean one should destroy others’ beliefs.
Lines 97- 104
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
Blake laments the fact that power, strength and wealth are so powerful that they can easily corrupt any person. They can eventually destroy the human race as the greed for power etc forms the root of all human vices and follies.
This is important because in order to be a good person you need to be able to protect your innocence from your own vices by keeping a control over your greedy and lustful nature.
Blake calls power ‘the strongest poison ever known’, which leads to wars and destruction. On the flipside, art brings peace which makes society stronger and brings people together.
Lines 105- 112
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
Theyd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
Blake believes that one’s religious reflect our true nature and if we defy what we believe in, we lose our true identities. To deny what you see is a crime against self. He criticizes people, like scientists who doubt everything and especially religion.
He feels that everyone needs to believe in something, be it a philosopher or a simpleton. He believes even natural things like Sun and Moon need to believe in something greater to survive and function every day.
On the other hand, to immerse oneself in a passion brings good both the individual and society at large. If you hide your passions then it will only lead to bad things.
Lines 113- 124
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
Blake condemns prostitution and gambling which he believes will destroy his nation, England. By sanctioning prostitution and gambling to flourish England will seal its downfall. He says that times fluctuate between unhappy and happy.
So people should not despair as there will be a better life in the future. Here, Blake points at the people who carry great influence over society and its norms and these people lead to bad influence without any challenge from others.
Blake says that people will continue to be born into both good and bad circumstances but there are some that are born to just cause evil and will suffer from ‘endless nights’ because of that.
Lines 125- 132
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day
The poem finishes with human beings are born in this life to die and that we have a life beyond our physical self. If we live through the suffering in this life and still protect our innocence then only we can find true innocence.
Blake wants the readers to see the hardships in the world as challenges and to stand up to them for the only truth, God in our lives. These lines are a reiteration of the belief in God, who can save us from the dark place that is this world and make everything better in the hereafter.
Auguries of Innocence presents a collection of conflicts between the innocent and the mature, the wealthy and the poor, the privileged and the disprivileged.
Thus the world is full of inequalities and hardships but if we can survive them and keep our innocence then we can recognize the beauty and equilibrium found within nature.
This beauty is a sign of a greater and divine power, God. The poet argues that that the world is constantly in a cycle of rebirth and is recreated all through nature.
The innocence of man is cast aside as a young boy matures into a man. The human perspective remains unchanged and unaltered even with age and experience which is lamentable. The vices of corruption, greed, envy etc are symptomatic of a festering rot that humanity needs a cure from.