The Garden of Love

  • 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 and desires.

William Blake (1757­–1827) is one of the greatest visionary poets in the English language as well as one of England’s greatest visual artists. In 1782 he married Catherine Sophia Boucher, whom he taught to read and write, and to whom he remained devoted throughout his life. Upon the occasion of an exhibition of his illuminated manuscripts in 1809, he was dismissed by one critic as “an unfortunate lunatic whose personal inoffensiveness secures him from confinement.” A profoundly religious visionary who claimed often to converse with God, he railed against the sins of the church, all forms of bigotry and oppression and, as this poem suggests, the church’s pervasive condemnation of sexuality. Blake died in poverty in 1827 and was buried in an unmarked grave. Not until long after his death was his eccentric genius recognized.

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