Romantic Period: William Blake, and Life as a Precious Gift


Image Credit: "Romanticism", The Art Story

*This article will also touch on literary modernism, where our site gets its name from*

Getting Started:

Drawing from William Blake’s “The Tyger”, a common motif during the romantic period is the struggle to accept changes in the outside world. As a result of societal changes, individuals often struggle with changes within themselves. During Blake’s time frame, the world experiences various social and industrial shifts which Blake discusses in his writing. Furthermore, Blake’s “The Tyger” explores the issue of human nature as well as understanding the importance of life as a precious gift.However, Blake also emphasizes the ambiguity of the human condition such that life often proves challenging and frightening due to its unpredictable nature. With that being said, the ambiguity of the human condition generates significant fear for people, such that we really do not know what will happen next in life. Blake opens “The Tyger” with the following lines:


“Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”


The opening to Blake’s poem draws from questions of human creation, as well as pertaining to the peaceful nature of life as a whole. The first and second half of the this stanza provides a deliberate juxtaposition from Blake, such that “burning bright, in the forests of the night” represents a sense of freedom, as well as providing images that resonate with the positive things in life. The deliberate image of a tiger is used in order to establish a sense of freedom, as well as conveying images of peace and tranquility. However, “what immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?” presents the issue questioning human creation due to sometimes negative aspects of life. Furthermore, in relation to tragic events taking place in the outside world, Blake deliberately raises questions asking who would allow such terrible things in the world to happen.


Something to consider is that during Blake’s time frame issues such as the holy wars were still somewhat active, and the events of the holy wars does not go without its own controversy. In relation to the juxtaposition between positive and negative factors in life, Blake emphasizes that as a result of bad things happening in the world, individuals begin to question whether a higher power would allow such hardship in the world. In many cases, life is difficult and the world is often consumed by fear. Blake emphasizes that life is a precious gift, yet there is a significant challenge in denying the dangers of the modern world.


William Blake influenced Samuel Beckett:


The issue of questioning the human condition coincides with the constant struggle to identify the true meaning of life. Despite the true meaning of life being quite ambiguous itself, individuals continue to search for this romanticized greater purpose in life, considering that life is often viewed as overwhelming at times. The issue of life being sometimes overwhelming is comparable to the work of Samuel Beckett and the theatre of the absurd. Although William Blake was born in 1757, his mindset serves as an influence for Samuel Beckett (born 1906) and the theatre of the absurd as a whole. Beckett’s theatre of the absurd becomes the focal point of twentieth century drama following the events of World War Two. Beckett, in my opinion, is the greatest modern writer of all time. Beckett’s most famous work was written in his mid to late thirties, such that Beckett draws from his emotions following the Holocaust orchestrated by Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945. Beckett’s writing provides characters whom of which constantly challenge human nature and whether a higher power actually exists due to their constant misfortune. This sense of questioning the human condition is influenced by Beckett’s sadness and anger following the deaths of countless Jewish people during the Second World War. There is a portion of readers who believe that Beckett was a religious man, however, following World War Two that is simply not the case. For instance, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953) appears to be referring to God, but the name is used as a red herring. Instead, the 1953 play focuses on the issue of waiting, which is something that resonates with audience members and readers on a universal scale. Beckett’s theatre of the absurd is known for its ambiguous nature which leaves readers and audience members in a state of questioning themselves, which is Beckett’s inherent goal and distinct style.


Beckett’s theatre of the absurd applies to the issue of waiting in the real world, such that people live life and nothing is ever certain. Beckett’s emphasis of uncertainty resonates with real world thoughts, such that the next moment in life or even what happens when we close our eyes for good is never truly solidified. Keeping that in mind, Beckett’s theatre of the absurd does apply to William Blake’s mindset almost 200 years prior. Blake’s “The Tyger” raises questions such as whether the higher power who created this sense of paradise on earth is also the reason for bad things happening at the same time. Blake’s initial mindset regarding the questioning of life itself maintains relevance in the twenty-first century as well. For instance, one of the first things a child asks their parents or legal guardian when reaching a certain age is, “What happens when we die?” However, we simply do not know for sure. Furthermore, that’s is what Blake and Beckett are addressing. In the majority of cases life is portrayed as peaceful, but in the event of tragedy, the reason is not always clear. Blake’s “The Tyger” provides rhetorical questions as to whether a higher power has created the world, even with its challenges and difficulties. Therefore, the underlying message Blake transmits is determining what the meaning of life "really" is.In relation to Beckett, the meaning of life is also questioned and answers remain uncertain. Consequently, human nature imposes a multitude of uncertain questions and answers which resonates with the human mind throughout previous centuries and for the future.


Conclusion and Personal Assessment:

Although Blake and Beckett’s work are not directly related, nor are they entirely addressing the same issues, there is always a way of comparing two selections. I have discussed Blake in university,and then began making connections to Beckett in my mind while it was not busy at work. In most cases, writing is used to convey emotions which resonate with audience members in various ways. In saying that, Blake questions the nature and the process of human creation during the eighteenth century. Although that was over 200 years ago, this mindset is still something people discuss quite frequently. In order to connect Blake’s ideas with the theatre of the absurd, we must consider that these questions are uncertain and will always be unanswered. Essentially, Beckett’s theatre of the absurd relates to Blake’s ideas considering that Beckett provides an atmosphere of uncertainty within his writing which speaks to audience members and readers. Thus, the central idea is that there are many things in life that cannot be answered, such that we are constantly waiting for a resolution to all of life’s unanswered questions.

(c) The Modernist Son, 2020

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