The Garden of Love by William Blake

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore. 

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.

Summary and Analysis

The three short stanzas, lyrical in movement describe the sense of shock on the mind of a child whose experience of spontaneous affinity with nature is overturned when he discovers an encroachment in the form of a “chapel”. The chapel symbolizes authority, control and religious regimentation which is an aversion to the child who is essentially an embodiment of freedom as well as joy. The first stanza conveys through simple direct lines the change that has been imposed upon the Garden. The syntax is in harmony with the subjective narrative of a child. In his innocence which cannot understand how the “green” where he used to play can undergo a change which is quite drastic he says, “And saw that I never had seen;” The Garden which symbolizes harmony, peace and love has been deprived of what the child treasured.

The second stanza contains an anti-religion attitude, typical of Blake envisioned through the mind of a child. The chapel thus represents an exclusion stated directly simply through, the line “And the Gates of this Chapel were thus”. The second line of this stanza denotes the proscriptive form of the religion which the Chapel espouses. The Child’s mind, which in its natural state of innocence is magnanimous, inclusive and extensive cannot understand commands of denial, but painfully obeys the command which to him means, “you shall not enter the chapel”. So he turns towards the natural world of plants and flowers which in his mind are splendid in their beauty.

The third stanza conveys a sense of yet another disappointment and betrayal. Instead of the sweet smelling flowers, symbols of life and rejuvenation, the child is confronted with symbols of death and gloom, because what he sees is “graves” and “tomb-stones”. The imagery of death is carried over to religion through the reference to “Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds”. However, the “death” brought about by conventional religion does not end at the level of the destruction of the Garden, but it extends to the painful experience evoked in the last, alliterative thudding line, “And binding with briars my joys and desires”. The poem, like most poems of Blake operates on two levels – the obvious meaning and the implied meaning – At the first level, the poem is a description of encroachment. At the other level it is a strong critique of institutionalized religion.

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