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Blake and Betjeman: Critics of Their Society?

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Introduction

Blake and Betjeman: Critics of Their Society? Blake and Betjeman are indeed both critics of their society. Through their poetry, we are able to gain a clear insight into their perspectives on issues that were prevalent in their society. In Blake's poem, "The Chimney Sweeper", we witness his social critique at its best. Blake wrote this poem during a period in which we know that children were used as chimney sweeps because of their suitability for the task (i.e. they were small enough to crawl up the chimneys). By the end of the poem, Tom Dacre is `happy and warm', but we as readers are left questioning the injustice that faces the young chimney sweep. He is a victim of his own innocence and in reality, he is clearly being exploited. The line `If you are a good boy' suggests that if the sweep does as he is told and subjects himself to this life of misery, he will be rewarded in Heaven. Blake clearly does not agree with this viewpoint, and alludes to his opinion that you should not have to suffer in this life and be grateful, simply to be happy in the next. He is criticizing the society he lives in for providing the poor youths with false hope. ...read more.

Middle

This line is also implicit of London's child labour and offers an insight into the fears of the children who were forced to work. In the third line of this stanza, Blake uses the word `ban'. This refers to the restrictions on the freedom and liberties of the individual and is something with which Blake was firmly opposed. Another example of this can be seen in Blake's poem "Slough", in which he uses negative imagery throughout the poem to emphasize his opposition. Repeating the word `tinned' in the second verse, conveys the idea that the people in Slough are eating artificial food and have consequently become artificial themselves. This is supported in verse 9 by the use of words such as `synthetic' to convey a feeling of artificiality. This is an excellent example of Betjeman's dislike of all things modern in society. He uses humour and satire to provide this limited view of Slough in which his moral outrage and disgust at the modernisation of society in Slough is clearly visible. Betjeman was an avid conservationist and he aimed his poetic wit at those who he felt threatened to spoil the English countryside. ...read more.

Conclusion

The poem is an amalgamation of Betjeman's usual anti-pretension and anti-modernist themes. The initial impression of a typical, honest and well-respected executive is diffused by the revelation that he does wear the `other hat'. If he is only an ordinary worker, driving the `firm's Cortina', how can he afford an Aston-Martin and a speed-boat made of `fibre-glass'? The explanation can be found in the fact that the executive `will settle any buildings that are standing in our way/ The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.' Betjeman is commenting on the corrupt nature of businessmen and the fact that they are prepared to destroy Victorian architecture for their own business gain. Betjeman's ironic and comical tone clearly shows his aversion to the modern business executive present in his society. Betjeman and Blake are most definitely critics of their society. Although their poetic styles differ greatly, the basis of their work stems from the same point; they are two poets who use their lyrical skill to address contemporary issues. The times in which these two poets wrote were ones of great change, and it is these social and political changes that have allowed them to write so emotively. The poetry of Blake and Betjeman provides us with a valuable insight into the contrasting worlds that they lived in. ...read more.

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