The Garden Of Love

Julia McDonald
ENGL 102H/Ellzey
Poetry Interpretation

“The Garden of Love”

“The Garden of Love” is, quite obviously, a poem about life and the pursuit of happiness. It is also about the effects that negativity can have on love. Blake uses religion to convey the idea that negativity “…pervades and corrupts all life”(51 n.9), further supporting it with his use of rhyme scheme and imagery. In searching for love people often times emerge scarred and hostile from their fruitless efforts. Some continue to have faith in the idea of love and its possibilities, others do not. These folk sometimes seek refuge from their pain in a variety of houses. It is just as often that these refugees project their negative attitudes onto others that search for love and happiness. People who fear love can prevent others from finding it, because they change the positive surroundings to suit their negative world.
The conflict between organized religion and the individual is the constant idea throughout the poem. Blake, himself, despised the Church, as an institution rather than an idea, and used religious symbols to show how structured religion can destroy the lover and creator within. A chapel has been built, perverting a once pure and loving environment. In inspecting the chapel, the persona feels only negativity from a religious house, as the gates are shut “And Thou shalt not writ over the door”(6). Not only has man and machine invaded this place once full of life, but they have also brought with them negative commandments. The negative phrase, “Thou shalt not” defies the instructions in Deuteronomy to write “Thou shalt”- a positive commandment- “upon the posts of they house and on thy gates,” supporting the notion that “negative commandments pervade and corrupt all life”(51 n.9). Other images are used to represent individual and Church, positive and negative. He uses words that exude life and breath, such as “green, love, bore,” and “sweet flowers.” These are all positive images that support the individual’s search for creativity and love within the natural environment(pre-Church). Blake uses negative images to represent the Church, which in turn conveys the effects that negativity and pessimism can have on positive things. Negativity can often overpower positivity. In “The Garden of Love” negative images invade a positive environment and change it to suit its needs. The Church tears apart the natural environment in order to create a church, shuts the gates to keep out evil and poor people, and replacing the Garden of Love with a garden of death by substituting tombstones for flowers. Blake uses words that imply darkness and negativity, such as “new building, gates, graves, black gowns,” and “briars.” The positive images that are present in the first stanza of the poem eventually disappear and the poem is overflowing with negatives. “And I saw it was filled with graves,/And tomb-stones where flowers should be:/And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,/And binding with briars, my joys & desires”(9-12). The images of innocence and life that introduced the persona finds her place of refuge overgrown with darkness and infected with limitations. As Jean Hagstrum said, “It is always the institutional Urizen who perverts natural life. In the garden of love in Experience stands an altar, and priests read commands from a book on a lectern” (531). What used to be a place lush with life and hope is being confined by negativity. Blake’s use of conflicting imagery shows how negativity is infectious and limits love.
Blake also uses the persona to show the effects of negativity on positivity. The persona changes throughout the poem as the influence of the organized Church on the environment increases. In the beginning, the voice is innocent, pure, open, and exploring, saying, “I went to the Garden of Love,/and saw what I never had seen…/Where I used to play on the green” (1-4). The voice was individualistic and not influenced by any powers other than her own. However, as the poem progresses and the persona experiences more negativity, that voice changes. In the final lines, with the addition of internal rhyme scheme, the voice seems trapped and confused. “And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,/And binding with briars, my joys & desires”(11-12). In the first two stanzas of