The Garden of Love
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"The Garden of Love" is written to express Blake's beliefs on the naturalness of sexuality and how organised religion, particularly the orthodox Christian church of Blake's time with their preaching and rules cause the repression of our natural desires.
This was an extremely brave statement to make in his time, with a very direct attack on the orthodox Anglican church with mention of a "Chapel" and "priests". Blake's indignation at his subject matter is evident from the second line as he is talking about seeing "what I had never seen". It is interesting that he says he has "never" seen it when he must have grown up all his life being very aware of the Church's attitude towards sexuality. It can then perhaps be inferred that he is speaking from the point of view of innocence who has just entered the world of experience and is in a state of shock and sadness at how his previous freedoms have been literally blocked and squashed by the Church. "A chapel was built in the midst/ Where I used to play on the green" The "green" has special significance also as it mirrors the contrary poem in innocence "The Echoing Green" hence the reading of the "green" to represent previous, innocent freedom, as well as the more obvious "play".
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.
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Audio recording of "The Garden of Love" with text and illumination