Study Guide

Auguries of Innocence Themes

  • Injustice

    There's a ton of injustice going on in "Auguries of Innocence": animal abuse, child abuse, unlawful empire building… the works. And what does Blake think about injustice? Well, he's against it, obviously. No surprise there. But Blake takes a unique tack against it—he refuses to accept poverty as an inevitable thing. He imagines a beggar's rags tearing the heavens into rags: it has dire consequences for the entire world. In Blake's eyes, no one can afford to ignore an injustice, no matter how small.

    Questions About Injustice

    1. How does Blake think we should deal with injustice? Does he have a plan?
    2. Do you think that things like "a dog starving at his Master's Gate" really do herald the collapse of society? If so or if not, why?
    3. What does Blake think is the punishment for injustice? Is it in this life or after death?

    Chew on This

    Blake was on it—human cruelty is the main source of injustice.

    Actually, it's human indifference to cruelty that's the main source of injustice.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Blake likes to get cosmic, and "Auguries of Innocence" is no exception. We see tears turning into babies and God metamorphosing from beams of light into a human. But aside from the trippy special effects, Blake is really concerned with what makes us truly human. He's concerned with the way we see things. If we see them with a lot of imagination, energy, and love (and "see a world in a grain of sand"), we're becoming more divine, more fully human. But if we don't, and instead dull our perceptions, that's a recipe for insensitivity and cruelty. Life, for Blake, is a matter of heightening our consciousness of reality in order to become more compassionate. He's into "raising awareness"—but in a literal way.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. How does Blake think humans can learn to "see a world in a grain of sand / And heaven in a wildflower"? What's his method?
    2. What do you think Blake would say the meaning of life is, based on "Auguries of Innocence"?
    3. Does Blake explain why some humans suffer and others experience joy? Does he think that there's some sort of poetic justice that makes everything eventually work out?

    Chew on This

    The meaning of life is to raise the consciousness of humanity. And there you have it.

    Actually, the meaning of life is to try to have compassion for people. (Psst—these aren't contradictory statements.)

  • Spirituality

    Blake's obviously spiritual—"Auguries of Innocence" references life after death, Eternity, and God at different points. But his spirituality isn't very familiar: he has a unique interpretation of the Bible and of Jesus. Blake also tends to put a lot of emphasis on the role of imagination in spirituality. For him, art and literature can put people in direct contact with eternal realities. They're ways of looking "through" the eye and not "with" it (i.e., using the spirit to look at reality).

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. How does Blake's conception of God and the spirit differ from mainstream Christianity? How is it similar?
    2. Blake celebrates the "infant's faith" since he thinks a belief in God is essential to humans (we do it automatically, for the most part). Do you agree with this idea, or do you think religions are something we learn?
    3. Why does Blake say that God appears as "beams of light" to the souls living in darkness but as a human to those who live in "realms of day"?

    Chew on This

    The human imagination—when it's inspired—can provide insight into higher realities. It can even understand things that reason can't—far out.

    Sorry to harsh your buzz, gang, but the human imagination isn't a better source of knowledge, and reason is the only sure way of gaining knowledge.

  • Suffering

    This theme is closely related to the first theme, "Injustice," since making people suffer is a pretty common form of injustice. For Blake, suffering didn't come into existence until humanity fell from Eden—which was a higher spiritual state of being (as opposed to, you know a literal garden). After that, humans had to live in the natural world and deal with old age, sickness, and death. But Blake's goal in "Auguries of Innocence" is to show people another way of being that exists above that. He's interested in escaping from the consequences of time—like death and aging and suffering—and re-entering an eternal reality (the same Eden from which humanity fell).

    Questions About Suffering

    1. What is the purpose of suffering in Blake's eyes? Is it an important and potentially meaningful part of life?
    2. Does Blake have a solution to suffering? If so, what? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
    3. Does Blake think animal suffering is as bad as human suffering? Or does he give humans priority? How can you tell?
    4. Does Blake think that God suffers along with humanity? If so, does that help to justify or explain suffering? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?

    Chew on This

    Turn that pained grimace upside-down. Suffering is helpful because it spurs us into thinking and considering our condition.

    Nah, no silver linings here—keep moving. Suffering is useless and we'd be better off without it.

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    In "Auguries of Innocence," Blake really wants wisdom—and he wants to give it out to other people, too (free of charge, even). For him, wisdom has to do with understanding what you can and can't know, and what the limitations of human beings are. He thinks that humans can get insight into the spiritual world, but they're held back by their entrapment in a physical body and in the natural world. More importantly, they're held back by their sense of self-doubt and the fact that they don't trust their imaginations. Presumably, wisdom is supposed to help people get over these hurdles and attain something better.

    Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

    1. What do you think the wisest thing Blake says in "Auguries" is? Why?
    2. What does wisdom (or Blake's kind of wisdom) help you to do (or not do)?
    3. What does Blake have against doubt? Does he think it's ever good to doubt (since he's probably not saying you should believe absolutely everything)?
    4. What do you think about doubt? Do you think it's very useful or should it be used sparingly? Why do you think so?

    Chew on This

    There are no limits to the wisdom and knowledge we can have—none.

    Eh, not so fast there Mr. Optimistic. There are a ton of limits to the wisdom and knowledge we can have, since we rely on our senses and our intellects—which might be totally wrong.