On The Rights of Earth

William Blake’s “Earth’s Answer” from Songs of Experience is radically anti-God. It is a piece of speculative fiction that places Earth and the heavens at odds with each other, and in doing so sets up a primordial battle between oppressor and oppressed which can be mapped on to other conflicts through a political lens. The conflict is established most directly in the second and third stanzas where earth states that they are “Prison’d on watry shore / Starry Jealousy does keep my den” and that the “father of men” is selfish. Starry jealousy refers to some malicious intent from the angels, often represented by stars, which leads them to prevent earth from shining like them. The charechterization of God, the father of men, as selfish, is interesting in that it does not complain about humans directly or even blame them for what they have done to earth, but instead goes straight to the source, a move which challenges the idea of free will.

Earth does not only complain of its own cause, however, in the second half of the poem it shifts it begins to expand its argument for the oppressed beyond itself.

Can delight
Chain’d in night
The virgins of youth and morning bear.
Does spring hide its joy
When buds and blossoms grow?
Does the sower?
Sow by night?
Or the plowman in darkness plow?
…free Love with bondage bound.
At multiple points these lines demonstrate that the conflict being articulated by earth is one between nature, and restraint. In Earth’s case its natural state of being, a bright hot molten rock (of love?) is restricted by a “watry shore” and a “cold and hoar” den. It equates this prison to nonsensical restrictions that do not exist: restricting delight to the night would prevent it being enjoyed by the innocent, no one would expect spring to be somber, nor for farmers to work at night. Tracking this argument onto the political issues of Songs of Innocence and Experience, a connection can be made to the rights of child workers, we should allow children to exist as their nature dictates, not restrict it with work, Women and Slaves should be free full stop. It is a simplistic argument but by positioning the reader with the earth, a difficult thing to sympathize with, Blake prepares them to be more sympathetic to other, more rational causes.

One thought on “On The Rights of Earth”

  1. You provide a great description of Blake using Earth/nature to represent the “battle between oppressor and oppressed”, and it was interesting to think about God/a higher power being the oppressor rather than the savior for once. Because the biography we read about Blake (from The Longman Anthology) mentioned his imaginative spirituality, I wonder if the “oppressor” is not just God, but rather the institutionalization of religion, spirituality, and God. Religion as a rational institution, which was especially popularized during the prior period of Enlightenment, does not allow for the freedom, individualism, and emotion that Blake and other Romantics so desired, so it certainly could have an oppressive effect.

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