Romanticism: Convictions of Childhood

Jawanza James Williams, Texas Writer
Jawanza James Williams, Texas Writer

Passion is an element of the human condition that runs deep within the literary text of the Romantics. The introduction of Romanticism proved to be a ground breaking shift to much more personal and emotionally relevant areas of the typical but definitively human experiences. There is a spectrum upon which Romanticism explores elements of the human experience that are placed in a context by which the common man can grasp the overall message and find significant meaning in the piece; it is intellectual and emotional, and that is an integral initiator of the period. A general characteristic of romantic poetry are the accounts and critiques of children and the everlasting moments of their coming of age. In William Blake’s “The Lamb,” and William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven,” we find interesting childhood phenomena that translates over time and lend themselves to comparison and contrast; and more importantly, to the transcriptions of the romantic period.

The treatment of one’s childhood in Blake’s “The Lamb,” was particularly different from the general mediums by which children were educated about Christ. “Most stories and verse written for children during Blake's time were blatantly preachy, as they were created to provide moral instruction for life. During the last part of the eighteenth century, many tracts were published with the intention of guiding young minds in matters of ethics and propriety. Blake, however, understood how uninterested children are in such heavy-handed messages, and as a result, his writing is lighter and more interesting to children.”(Bussey) “The Lamb” has a uniquely childish, optimistic tone throughout that lends to the appropriate use to educate children on the love of Christ. The poem gives children an identity that they perhaps previously do not have. When a child is without some conviction in life besides survival, it cheapens experiences that would otherwise have been fundamental moments that have lasting effects on one’s social, emotional, and psychological health.

“The Lamb” opens with questions that bid the attention of children and even adults. It has a convicting syntax that imbues the reader with an enthusiastic desire to self-analyze. Blake forces the reader to look within themselves to question their own existence; they are petitioned to determine the origin of themselves. To a child, where nothing about the meaning or purpose of life is particularly laid out, it serves to waken them to a world where there is an importance greater than that of themselves in relation to their parents, for instance. Blake refers to the reader as “Little Lamb,” and he goes on throughout the poem to make reference to Jesus Christ who is depicted as a lamb in Christian symbolism. This connection with divinity that the speaker of “The Lamb” sketches with the child reader dogmatizes their understanding of the world and ultimately themselves. “Children will gain a sense that the speaker is talking to a lamb about God, and as they grow older and revisit the poem, it offers them new insights.”(Bussey)

The ultimately underlying constituent of William Blake’s “The Lamb” that lends itself to the convictions of childhood is the fact that the text defines the given “truths” of life through the authorizations and the absolutism of Christianity. In terms of the Romantic period, “The Lamb” proclaims the dictations of Christianity in a deeply personal manner, which is intended to be received early on in life. Blake addresses the reader on a completely personal medium that is readily available for interpretation; it does not have a gargantuan vocabulary that proselytizes in what can be inaccessible for the reader. Blake’s “The Lamb” settles perfectly into the Romantic Period primarily because of its personal exploration of childhood spirituality and the linguistic means by which it attains its objectives.

William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” is an incredibly moving piece that explores an adult man’s fascination with a young child who he cannot believe has a working comprehension on the subject of death. “In the poem of We are Seven,” which brings into day for the first time a profound fact in the abysses of human nature, namely, that the mind of an infant cannot admit the idea of death, any more than the fountain of light can comprehend the aboriginal darkness.”(De Quincey) Wordsworth opens the poem with an adult male speaker who initially exhibits his idea of what a child is. In the first stanza the speaker does not associate the child with having any sense of life beyond the fact of living it, which is only briefly; the speaker describes the child as basically new to life, full of it, and because of that unable to understand the opaque nature of death.

Arguably, one could make the retrospective claim that the child in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” actually does not have a valid perception of death. The young child proclaims, after all of the speakers attempts to question her understanding, that she and her siblings, including the two that have passed are still seven. The adult speaker takes the position that they are not seven, simply because two have passed on, however, the young girl considers them both still very much a part of the group of siblings. This can prove to be a confusing element of the poem based the perspective that one chooses to view the situation. It is true that the expired siblings still existed at one point, so in essence, the child is correct in her affirmation; however, the speaker is valid in his argument that they are only five because two are now gone. This is a quality of “We Are Seven” that has a romanticized characteristic. Both the speakers of the piece have a deep-seated passion about their beliefs on the issue. The adult speaker is determined, ultimately, to understand how a child could have the particular ideas on death she has, while he is also trying to convince her to adopt his belief. The young child holds fast throughout the entirety of the piece.

William Blake’s “The Lamb” and William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” in comparison have significant similarities that are evident to their both being from the Romantic period but also because of the particular focus on children. Both “The Lamb” and “We Are Seven” deal with subjects that are imperative to the understanding of life. In Blake’s “The Lamb” it is the child’s comprehension of their identity in life, while in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven,” the subject matter is death, and how a child interprets existence after death. Both of the poems address incredibly heavy subject matter. The severities of the subjects discussed in the instance of children are what connect these poems. Both of the pieces have rhyme schemes which make them much more accessible to children, while the language it’s that of the Romantic period. The rhyme schemes of both the poems are inviters of curiosity. The rhythms have the intonations of nursery rhymes. The cadences of the lines are proper for children.

“Wordsworth’s "We Are Seven"—An early, perhaps even self-teaching poem, and not his final statement about poetry and quantification, if there was one--dramatizes ballad form, its "lowliest" meters and their risk of doggerel, as a stubborn register of conflicts between old and new counts.”(Fogel) The meters of both “The Lamb” and “We Are Seven” lend to the argumentation of the subjects. The rhyming leads the reader, in particular the child reader down paths of persuasion to believe what the author is telling them. It is not so much coercions, more attractive suggestions.

Both William Blake’s “The Lamb” and William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” could be used in compilation to teach children. There is a conjunction possible to be used because the poems do illustrate particularly human experiences. In Blake’s “The Lamb” that human experience is the commonality of all humans being “lambs” and our innate connection with divinity. In Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” the human condition explored is the ending of the human condition. Because in “The Lamb” there is an attachment to Christian symbolism, it is apparent that the reader, to fully understand the extent of the poem, must indulge into the dictations and prescriptions of Christianity. In Christianity there is an emblematic fascination with the “everlasting” life promised by those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior, and to use this in conjunction with William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” it is much easier to explain to children the meaning of death. It is not that what one does in life does not matter, because even though you will pass on, you still existed, and will be remembered. In “We Are Seven” the child speaker is intent on proclaiming that her expired siblings are still relevant, and deserved to still be counted as siblings. This conceptualizes the idea for children that even when they are dead that they will still have significance, and in compilation with Blake’s “The Lamb” readers of both poems may be inclined to believe that their after-life is significant in terms of divinity.

In contrast, the basic differences between William Blake’s “The Lamb” and William Wordsworth’s are that the speakers are completely different. In Blake’s “The Lamb” the speaker is a young child speaking to other young children, while in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” the primary speaker is an adult man speaking to a young child. The approaches in relation to the speakers give the pieces different tones, so their authority is different. For instance, in Blake’s “The Lamb” because the speaker is a child, it will come across much different than if it was an adult speaking of God. Because it is a child speaking it gives a particular innocence and authenticity that an adult simply cannot give. A child has absolutely no reason to proselytize to other children. There are no ulterior motives. However, in William Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven,” the primary speaker being an adult male give the poem’s reader different connotations.  The simple fact that the adult speaker doubted the young child’s ability to comprehend anything about death, is proof of his lack of innocence, and gives insight into his gained disbelief throughout life. Also because the adult in “We Are Seven” cross-examined a child on a matter of ideology, and the young child did not give in to his despotic questioning, it is much easier to agree with the child who has a conviction to believe that her siblings are still accountable.

It is easy to envision incredibly colorful childhoods for both William Blake and William Wordsworth. The poetry of “The Lamb” and “We Are Seven” are incredibly appropriate for the Romantic Period. Much more importantly, the poems are amazing critiques of the human condition in terms of childhood, tempered on the context of spirituality and death.  The poems are both successful of giving the reader insight on ideologies that can be interpreted by children that perhaps, before these poems, was a bit more complicated to do. “The Lamb” and “We Are Seven” have a well suited home in the Romantic Period however; they could easily fit in a modern lens. Aside from a few language barriers, both “The Lamb” and We Are Seven” could easily be adapted for use by modern people. These poems are important, and can be called literature because they are lasting, and bridge a gap through time and culture that is not easily accomplished. These poems are definitively human, and they are not going anywhere.

Works Cited

Bussey, Jennifer. "Critical Essay on 'The Lamb'." Poetry for Students . Ed. Jennifer Smith and Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center . Web. 10 Feb. 2011.

De Quincey, Thomas. "On Wordsworth's Poetry." Tait's Edinburgh Magazine 12.141 (Sept. 1845): 545-554. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism . Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Jay Parini. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986. Literature Resource Center . Web. 10 Feb. 2011.

Fogel, Aaron. "Wordsworth's 'We Are Seven' and Crabbe's The Parish Register: poetry and anti-census." Studies in Romanticism 48.1 (2009): 23+. Literature Resource Center . Web. 10 Feb. 2011.

Comments 1 comment

Karolina 4 years ago

Fantastic hub, looking forward to come back and see your new posts. Thank you.

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