William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827)
The Garden of Love in Songs of Experience
Copy A, plate 45
Illustrated book of poems
Tate Britain, London
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.
The poem marks the transition between childhood and adulthood
What was not seen, understood or noticed now suddenly engages the poet`s consciousness and comprehension
For the child, his memory of the place had been "the Garden of Love", an idyll - a place of joy and dreams, a welcoming place where one played without care or abandon, and filled with flowers whose scent was sweet. A delight for the senses and a young being filled with life and untainted by cares
Now instead there was a chapel, locked against entry, a place of rules and prohibitions, surrounded by graves and the thought of death and not flowers. Black frocked clergy intrude in the scene clutching thorny briars and no flowers are to be seen and their scent is absent. Still called "the Garden of Love", it is now however a place of little joy and certainly not conducive to vision, the other senses and the imagination.
What started as a happy remembrance has for the poet turned to disappointment and gloom
The innocence of childhood has given way to the sombreness of experience
What Blake is describing is a journey, a pilgrimage which is life time long and that particular time when childhood gives way to the beginnings of adulthood. The age of discretion
Blake reminds us that without the innocence and joy of childhood within our hearts, our prospects will indeed be bleak
At the age of discretion one`s concept of religion is immature, seeing it as a set of moral rules and commandments and nothing more
It is a fraught time, an exciting time but without proper guidance one where idealism can give way to cynicism or worse.
It can be a springboard for future spiritual growth or a time of the start of loose meandering, a time where there is no spiritual growth, or a period of stunted growth or the loss of any sense of the spirit at all
In a talk in Rome in 2003, J. Francis Cardinal Stafford, then President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity spoke of the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005 and the challenges faced by young people as they embark on their journey.
"[F]or young people to make a pilgrimage is to meet the natural human need to see and touch God. To seek the glory of God is no 'light matter' for the Hebrew equivalent of 'glory' in the Old Testament means something 'weighty ' in a person, something which gives one 'importance.' ...
[P]ilgrimages call the young man and the woman to transcend their person as a moral being and to rediscover man the sinner. A pilgrimage means to go beyond moralism in religion, that caricature of Christianity when it is made reductively into a system of commandments and nothing more.
The WYD pilgrimage makes evident to young people an all-pervading sense that, even though all the blunders, hypocrisies and even malice of our personal and collective histories have scattered and divided the children of Adam, that is not the end of the story.
Rather, Christ's mercy at the end has "gathered up the fragments from every side, forged them into the fire of love and welded into one what had been broken" (St. Augustine). ...
[T] he WYD pilgrimage will teach young people that, despite all human sinfulness and perverse cunning, they can still believe that human nature is one and good and overflowing with possibilities. God's love will reveal to them that human existence is unified and comprehensive.
Much can be forgiven among those who have "loved much" (Lk 7:47). With each step on the pilgrimage the young pilgrims will be faced with their own fallibility and corruptibility. Likewise, they will be faced with the idiosyncracies and sinfulness of others.
At the same time, they will learn a greater lesson: that no amount of human inconsistency and deviousness can quite manage to squelch the radiance of what God has created. It is He who is responsible for the intrinsic goodness of human nature."