Holy Thursday (Songs of Innocence)
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The poem depicts a ceremony held on Ascension Day, which in England was then called Holy Thursday, a name now generally applied to what is also called Maundy Thursday: six thousand orphans of London's charity schools, scrubbed clean and dressed in the coats of distinctive colours, are marched two by two to Saint Paul's Cathedral, under the control of their beadles, and sing in the cathedral.
The children in their colourful dresses are compared to flowers and their procession toward the church as a river. Their singing on the day that commemorated the Ascension of Jesus is depicted as raising them above their old, lifeless guardians, who remain at a lower level.
The bleak reality of the orphans' lives is depicted in the contrasting poem, Holy Thursday (Songs of Experience).
‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames’ waters flow.
Oh what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.
Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.
- Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi (eds.). "Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy AA, object 19 (Bentley 19, Erdman 19, Keynes 19) "HOLY THURSDAY"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
- TATE: "Songs of Innocence: Holy Thursday"
- Oxford Dictionaries
- The Book of Common Prayer 1816
- Collins English Dictionary
- Naser Emdad, "Transformation of Blake in 'Holy Thursday': From a Spiritual Prophet to a Social Reformer" in ASA University Review, Vol. 6 No. 2, July – December, 2012
- David Fairer, "Experience Reading Innocence: Contextualizing Blake's Holy Thursday" in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Volume 35, Number 4, Summer 2002, pp. 535-562
- Songs of Innocence "Holy Thursday (I)" Synopsis and commentary
- GradeSaver: "Songs of Innocence and of Experience Summary and Analysis"