Friday, February 5, 2016

Poems by Blake - The Divine Image


by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

Summary of the Poem

The personified figures of Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love are listed as the four “virtues of delight.” The speaker states that all people pray to these in times of distress and thank them for blessings because they represent “God, our father dear.” They are also, however, the characteristics of Man: Mercy is found in the human heart, Pity in the human face; Peace is a garment that envelops humans, and Love exists in the human “form” or body. Therefore, all prayers to Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love are directed not just to God but to “the human form divine,” which all people must love and respect regardless of their religion or culture.


The poem is comprised of five ballad stanzas—quatrains in which the lines have four and three beats, alternately, and rhyme ABCB. This stanza form, in English poetry, conveys a sense of candor and naturalness, and it is common in songs, hymns, and nursery rhymes. The lilting rhythm and the frequent repetition of words and phrases combine with a spiritual subject matter to create the poem’s simple, hymn-like quality.


This is one of Blake’s more rhetorical Songs. The speaker praises both God and man while asserting an identity between the two. “The Divine Image” thus differs from most of the other Songs of Innocence, which deal with the emotional power of conventional Christian faith, and the innocent belief in a supreme, benevolent, and protective God, rather than with the parallels between these transcendent realms and the realm of man.

The poem uses personification to dramatize Christ’s mediation between God and Man. Beginning with abstract qualities (the four virtues of Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love), the poem makes these abstractions the object of human prayer and piety. The second stanza explains this somewhat strange notion by equating the virtues with God himself. But the idea is still slightly unorthodox, suggesting as it does that we pray to these abstract virtues because they are God, rather than praying to God because he has these sympathetic qualities. The poem seems to emphasize that Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love are not God’s characteristics but his substance—they are precisely what we mean when we speak of God.

The speaker now claims that Mercy, Pity, Peace, Love are also equivalent to Man: it is in humans that these qualities find a kind of embodiment, and they become recognizable because their features (heart, face, body, clothes) are basically human. Thus when we think of God, we are modeling him after these ideal human qualities. And when people pray, regardless of who or where they are, or to what God they think they are praying, they actually worship “the human form divine”—what is ideal, or most godly, in human beings. Blake’s “Divine Image” is therefore a reversed one: the poem constructs God in the image of man rather (whereas, in the Bible, God creates man in his image). The implication that God is a mental creation reflects Blake’s belief that “all deities reside in the human breast.”

The poem does not explicitly mention Christ, but the four virtues that Blake assigns alternately to man and God are the ones conventionally associated with Jesus. Because Christ was both God and man, he becomes the vehicle for Blake’s mediation between the two. But the fact that he is given an abstract rather than a human figuration underscores the elaborate intellectualization involved in Christian doctrine. Blake himself favors a more direct identification between what is human and what is divine. Thus the companion poem in Songs of Experience, “The Human Abstract,” goes further toward exposing the elaborate institutions of religion as mental confabulations that obscure rather than honor the true identity of God and man.