William Wordsworth and William Blake:
The use of light and dark imagery to create memory
In the poem’s “Ode, Intimations of Immortality” by William Wordsworth and “The Tyger” and “The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake from Songs of Experience, the poets use light and dark imagery to give the audience a picture of life and, ultimately, death. The poems all have the idea of death in common but most importantly, both poets are able to enhance the reader’s experience by providing them with a real sense of place and emotion through their use of imagery. Not only do the authors interpret their senses into light versus darkness, they also use imagery of both to provide us with a way to comprehend the themes of life and death. All three poems have a common theme of how one’s memory can affect the way they perceive death and the afterlife. The use of light and dark imagery in all three poems are similar because they give a firm grasping of reminiscence, enlist the aid of light and dark imagery to show us death, and give the readers a clear vision of the place the author is trying to describe.
In all three of the selected poems there is a common thread wove amongst them of how a person thinks about the afterlife and in particular, heaven. In “Ode, Intimations on Immortality” Wordsworth writes, “Forebode not any severing of our loves! / Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might” (Wordsworth XI, 2-3). In these lines and the ones that follow Wordsworth gives us a clear picture of what heaven is to him. It is a severing of one’s delights and loves, and “another race (that) hath been” (Wordsworth XI, 13). For William Blake, the idea of heaven is less subtle as he deals with it in a darker way. In “The Chimney Sweeper” he writes, “Because I was happy upon the heath, / And smiled among the winter’s snow/ They clothed me in the clothes of death, / And taught me to sing the notes of woe” ( Blake 5-8). Blake’s description of the dark clothing and the songs of sadness represent death and the feelings of the character about the way his life has been. Blake’s “The Tyger” is similar in nature but reflects upon who is the Creator of the tyger that the author is talking about in the poem.
The use of light and dark imagery within each of the three poems is profound. In Wordsworth’s poem especially there is a great use of this technique to describe the world that the author saw as a child and the world he grew up to experience. “The earth, and every common sight/ To me did seem/ appareled in celestial light, / the glory and the freshness of a dream” (Wordsworth I, 2-5). However, the author laments by the end of the poem that the world does not look so glorious anymore, the product of his impending end of life, describing how “The Clouds that gather round the setting sun/ Do take a sober colouring from an eye” (Wordsworth XI, 9-10). In “The Chimney Sweeper” it is the mood that takes on a darker tone, with the beginning saying, “A little black thing in the snow, / Crying ‘weep! Weep!’ in notes of woe!” (Blake I, 1-2). Descriptions of winter, snow, and “the clothes of death” finish out the dark tone, while “The Tyger” speaks of “When the stars threw down their spears/ And watered heaven with their tears” (Blake 13-14). The use of dark imagery in both comes through loud and clear.
The use of light and dark enhances the mood of each poem and creates a very real vision of bleakness versus light, giving the reader a sense of place. In “The Tyger” especially there is a great deal of description that gives the reader a good sense of the jungle or woods where the poem is taking place. Blake writes, “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/ In the forests of the night,/ What immortal hand or eye/ Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”, giving the mood a fearful luster and using the image of a dark forest to create the place which he is trying to show the reader. In Wordsworth’s poem his descriptions of the fields, streams, and other places in the author’s memory. “The winds come to me from the fields of sleep,/ And all the earth is gay,/ Land and sea/ Give themselves up to jollity” (Wordsworth 28-31). Each of the poems gives a clear picture of the place the authors imagined in their minds when they wrote the poems, by using light and dark imagery.
The poetry of William Blake and William Wordsworth all share the common factors of darkness, light, and reminiscence. What is important about these poems is that sense of time and place that is created through the use of dark and light imagery, and how it sets the tone for the poems. While each writer takes a different approach, the themes of life, death, and heaven are made inherently obvious through the use of imagery and color in the poems. They let us remember something along with the writers, whether it is a bleak memory or a fair one, and gives us a real sense of place.
Blake, William. “The Chimney Sweeper.” About: Quotations. 23 Jan. 2007
Blake, William. “The Tyger From Songs of Experience.” William Blake. 24 Jan. 2007
Wordsworth, William. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” Bartleby. 23 Jan. 2007