The Divine Image

William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
All pray in their distress
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

These poems were written from the perspective of Christianity, but these lessons can be applied to people of any religion even to those who are atheist. In other words, these lessons can be applied to every person in the world.

Mercy, pity, peace and love are essential virtues for everyone. Whenever in distress, everyone prays to these virtues. People praise these virtues, and by doing so return their gratitude to these virtues.



For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is God our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love are God and the same virtues are found in men, women and children. When a person inculcates these virtues he brings himself nearer to the God.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face
And Love, the human form divine
And Peace, the human dress.

Mercy comes from the human heart. Pity is on human face. Love is within the soul of human being. Peace is within the human body. We bestow mercy on someone from our heart. We show pity through our face. We shower love from our soul, and we are at peace within our body.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

Every person, in every part of the world prays whenever in distress. And whenever a man prays, he prays to the human form of divine.

We can compare it to the preaching of the Bhakti movement which says that you can chose to pray to the God in any form you wish, and through any method you wish. Sikhism, which is the most recent religion from India, too teaches that to serve the humankind is like serving the God.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew,
Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.

No matter you belong to which religion, you should always love the human being because wherever you will find mercy, love and pity, you will find the God too. One can never become spiritual with cruelty, hatred and violence in mind.

The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

This poem is about the negative connotations of all the four virtues discussed in the previous poem. The poet says that pity cannot be there if none of us is poor. We need a poor person so that we can have pity on him. Mercy cannot be present if everyone is equally happy. We need a sad person so that we can show mercy at him.

And mutual fear brings peace,
Till the selfish loves increase,
Then cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

Peace is a product of mutual fear. When the selfish love increases among people then cruelty casts its evil designs. Here, the poet has used negative senses like knitting a snare and spreading the bait to convey cruelty.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears,
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Once cruelty has spread its bait, it settles down, but it does so with some holy fears. Cruelty also waters the ground with tears. It is only when the cruelty succeeds in casting its effects that humility is born under the feet of cruelty.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head,
And the Caterpillar and Fly
Feed on the Mystery.

Once the cruelty is ensconced comfortably, mystery spreads its shade. Here, mystery has been used to portray the negative feelings and emotions which may come as a result of cruelty. The poet has used caterpillar and fly in the negative sense. We should keep in mind that these creatures are scavengers and feed on dead remains. Here, these creatures are feeding on mystery, or suffering.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat,
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

Suffering bears the fruit of deceit which is blood red in colour and sweet in taste. In other words, the fruit is tempting and many of us may fall to the temptation of eating the proverbial forbidden fruit. Raven is another name for crow, and it is used to portray negative things in most of the cultures. We can say that even the raven makes its home, only to worsen the situation.

The Gods of the earth and sea
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree,
But their search was all in vain,
There grows one in the Human Brain.

The Gods try to search the tree of doubt, which is the tree where the raven has made its nest and where caterpillar and fly get enough to eat. But the Gods fail to find the tree because that tree is not present anywhere in nature rather within the human head.

In other words, the trees of negative thoughts and emotions take root inside our brain. They are of our own making.


Understanding the Poem

Question 1: How are these two matched poems related to each other in content? How is the human being depicted in the Song of Innocence and how is he/she depicted in the Song of Experience? Do we find both aspects working in an average human being?

Answer: Both the poems are about virtues which are necessary for a human being to meet the divine. In the Song of Innocence, it is all about nice virtues and positive aspects. In the Song of Experience, it is all about the negative aspects of virtues. While the first poem is about how ideal the world should be, the second poem is more about harsh realities of life.

Many of us try to instill some or all of the virtues within us. But in order to survive in life we often tend to deviate from the path. That is the situation when negative traits and feelings take roots in us.

Question 2: How would you explain the lines

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity a human face
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Answer: Mercy comes from the human heart. Pity is on human face. Love is within the soul of human being. Peace is within the human body.

Question 3: How do Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love get distorted in the human brain?

Answer: We know that everything has two aspects, i.e. positive and negative. So, is true for these four virtues, viz. Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love. According to the poet, pity comes because of povery, mercy comes because of unhappiness, peace comes because of mutual fear, and love comes because of cruelty. Poverty, unhappiness, fear and cruelty are the negative counterparts of the four virtues.

Question 4: Blake’s poetry expresses one aspect of his multi-dimensional view of human experience – of mankind once whole and happy, now fallen into discord and tyranny, from which it must be rescued. Explain with refernce to these two poems.

Answer: The first poem explains mankind which was once whole and happy. The poet has talked about all the virtues, which are Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love. According to the poet, these virtues are in every man and as a corollay, in the God too.

The second poem talks about the mankind falling into discord and tyranny from which it must be rescued. In the second poem, cruelty takes roots in the brain of a person and it provides enough ammunition for other negative traits to take hold.


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