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An Age of Revolutions

• When and what: The last decades of the 18th century were marked by three revolutions: the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions, which reshaped the English social background, and the French Revolution, which reshaped the political background spreading ideas of freedom and equality all other Europe.
• Agrarian and Industrial: these ones didn’t change men’s lives: in fact they were linked to the textile production, which gave the possibility to work at home. So that Britain changed from a mainly farming country into an industrial one, because of the growth in population which meant a greater demand for pots, beer and clothes and the consequent mechanisation of these kind of productions. These became quicker and more efficient thanks to the use of new technologies and inventions, like the steam engine, in the factory system. Goods became cheaper and transport was improved and the railways were expanded all around England.
• Consequences: shift of population from the agricultural south to the north, which caused overpopulation. To resolve this, co-houses or “slums” were built to house the workers creating the “mushroom towns”, but in this way there were worse health conditions, no food for everybody, more desperate thieves and murderers and an higher range of mortality. People had too long working hours, especially women and children, less paid and easier to control, but the firsts who died for malnourishment and fevers too.
• French Revolution: the ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité gave big hopes to all the intellectuals around the world, but Robespierre’s Terror and Napoleon’s empire spread a sense of failure of the war against authority’s oppression.

• One of these intellectuals was William Blake (London 1757-1827)
• Style: Tough he was influenced by Michelangelo in the exaggerated muscular forms for art, he was not conform to academic standards also for poetry and it isn’t possible to put him in pre-Romanticism or in Romanticism, because his style is completely different from anyone else. He does a so massive use of symbols in his poems that he will influence the Symbolists of the XIX century, for example Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud.

• Life and believes: Considered a complete artist, because he was an engraver, a painter, a poet, but he defined himself as a prophet who can see more deeply into reality and who tries to warn man of the evils of society. In fact, he was politically and socially involved, he was enthusiastic for the egalitarian principles of the French Revolution, which should purify mankind’s violence and injustices related to the materialistic Industrial Revolution. Later, disillusioned, his tone became more pessimistic and sad. So imagination became the only way for men to know the world, because no more observations of nature are possible. We can see this strong difference of thought in
• Songs of innocence and Songs of experience, two collections of short lyrical verses.
• The first is in the pastoral mode with an imagery full of lambs, flowers and children, symbols of childhood who reflects the hope of reborn of humanity into a good one. In fact, it has been written and published in 1789 during the outbreak of the French Revolution.
• Example of poem: The Lamb symbol of purity but killed to make born the adult
o The second is the contrary of the first, because “experience”, identified with adulthood, coexists with and completes “innocence”. In fact, it has appeared in 1793-94 when the period of the Terror was at his height in France. In England instead, the experience of industrialised society has made the man an adult who kills nature.
• Examples: -The tiger, symbol of the aggressive power of man who kills and eats lambs, killing the childhood’s dreams
-London, which conveys the negative aspects of industrialisation. We can see Blake’s Romantic side in the use of the first person narrator with the poet at the centre. It is set in London and the speaker perceives the scene through sight and hear. The people he sees are in weakness, woe and desperation, because they are prisoners of the industrialised society through the mind-forged manacles, which aren’t real handcuffs but they bring lack of freedom and constraint. The poet identifies them with the cries of men and children, and the cities swamped by Industrial Revolution. Blake condemns this because it abuses of children and women and it contributes to man’s unhappiness and repression, also signalised by the use of military terms and obsessive repetitions, which increase a sense of anxiety besides the musicality.
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