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Complex Universal Themes In Blake, Slessor, Eliot And Tennyson's Poetry

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In the poems ‘London’, ‘Beach Burial’, ‘A poison Tree’,’ The Garden of Love’,’ Journey of the Magi’ and ‘Ulysses’ by Blake, Slessor, Eliot and Tennyson, simple images of objects, actions and ideas are used to develop universal themes of life, death, social decay, religion and human alienation. ‘London’ and ‘Beach Burial’ both use simple images to express the speaker’s human journey to despair. ‘Journey of the Magi’ and ‘Ulysses’ both explore a reflection of a journey and it’s impacts on life through images. ‘A Poison Tree’ and ‘The Garden of Love’ are little tales describing the suppressions and confessions of anger and the destruction that the corrupted church provokes.

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‘London’, by William Blake and ‘Beach Burial’ by Slessor both heavily rely on simple images of death and pain to explore and develop the themes of life and its miseries.

In ‘London’, Blake is highly critical of London and wretched lives that Londoners lead, but he is also critical of institutions such as the church, the monarchy and especially marriage, which takes away people’s freedom. London uses simple of images of colour, such as ‘black’ning church’ and ‘midnight streets’ to evoke a sense of darkness which can be further interpreted as a notion to death. As the hapless soldier’s ‘sigh runs in blood down Palace walls’, a vivid criticism of the monarchy who wage wars without a thought for those who do the fighting is asserted. The simple image of the chimney sweeper, “How the chimney sweeper’s cry” contributes to the depiction of London’s period of industrialisation. This simple yet effective imagery demonstrates the rigidity of London’s society at that particular time. Like London, Beach Burial uses images of suffering and desolation to reveal the speakers recognition of the great democracy of death. “Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,/Whether as enemies they fought,/ Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together.” Slessor illustrates a stark description of death and how it inevitably forces men together, despite their differences.

**Similarly to London, Beach Burial use simple images of colour to assist in revealing a suitably serious and sombre tone. ” Unknown seaman- the ghostly pencil/ Wavers and fades, the purple drips”, the indelible pencil used to write unknown seaman turns purple in the wet, wavering and fading like a ghostly pencil.

Both poems successfully use simple images of suffering and misery to develop the underlying theme of death.

Simple images of nature are evident in ‘Journey of the Magi’, by T S Eliot, and ‘Ulysses’, by Tennyson, as they strengthen and develop the complicated theme of how life and religion can be influenced and changed. ‘Journey of the Magi’ is a narrative reflection of the speaker’s conversion to Christianity as he expresses his feelings towards his religion and thoroughly describes his religious rebirth. A great sense of human alienation is evoked as the speaker presents himself being both physically and psychologically uncomfortable, “And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly/And the villages dirty and charging high prices.” The antagonism between the people and the harshness of the journey are conveyed through images of the physical aspects of the journey. Eliot effectively uses simple images to deliver the audience with implications of complexity, “And an old white horse galloped away in a meadow.” This alludes to the death of Christ as the speaker’s religion is running or ‘galloping’ away from him. Like ‘Journey of the Magi’, simple images are apparent in Ulysses as they intensify the theme of the consequences of life and existence. ‘Ulysses’ similarly retells a journey, but a very different one, it is a recount of the war in Troy as the speaker’s experiences and adventures are exhibited from a reflective point of view.

The speaker represents the idea of how life rusts, “How dull it is to pause, to make an end/ To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!” The speaker’s life wilts and crumbles when he returns home, as he feels empty looking out at “that untravelled world.” ‘Ulysses’ is similar to London in the way that it effectively uses images associated with colour to accentuate the tone of the poem, “And when thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades/Vext the dim sea”, the speaker evokes a sense of gloom and misery.

‘Ulysses’ and ‘Journey of the Magi’ both express how a certain journey changed a person’s outlook on life. The images are used in combination with emotive language to establish the tone while maintaining to accentuate the underlying themes of life, death and religion.

‘The Garden of Love’ and ‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake both use simple images of nature to explore and develop complex themes of anger and the corruption of the Church. ‘A Poison Tree’ uses extended metaphor, hinted at the title of the poem, which already conceives a strong sense of anger. The speaker’s anger is like a seed, which is hidden under the ground and is nurtured, as a plant is nurtured by sun and rain, by the poet’s hypocritical smiles and constant tears. ” And I watered it in fears/ Night and morning with my tears;/And I sunned it with smiles/And with soft deceitful wiles.” The images of the fruit allude to the speaker’s anger as the fruit of anger may look attractive and desirable to the speaker (thus the theft), but in reality, it is completely poisonous. The image of the tree has something in common with the Eden myth, “And it grew both day and night/Till it bore an apple bright” and it may even remind the reader of the poisoned apple in Snow White. Imagery is relatively responsible in presenting the audience with this horrid little tale of people and their complex relationships. ‘The Garden of Love’ describes Blake’s attitude towards the church. The speaker’s sense of the church is that of something that is dark and bleak, as implied through the use of vivid images of nature and colour; “And I saw it was filled with graves/And tomb-stones where flowers should be/And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds.” Sweet images of ‘flowers’, the ‘green’ and essentially the entire garden are compared to what it has become; a grave and deathly place. The Church has corruptly acquired the green, which was once used as a public place.

In the poems studied, simple images of objects, actions and ideas are used in combination with a variety of poetic techniques to allow the complex universal themes of life, death, human alienation and religion to be explored thoroughly. Imagery is obviously a very important element of poetry.

Every picture the poet paints with figurative language has a vivid association with the meaning being generated.

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