Here is the poem "Holy Thursday" from Songs of Experience by William Blake:

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land?
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurious hand.

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns;
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall,
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

In a practice test on the SAT Literature Subject exam, I found a question about the last stanza specifically:

In the final stanza, what does Blake appeal to in his readers?
I. Their emotions
II. Their faith
III. Their reason
(A) I only
(B) II only
(C) III only
(D) I and III
(E) I, II, and III

The only choice I am completely sure about here is III because it seems logical to have enough food in the place where "the sun does shine" and "the rain does fall" which is not the case in the reality. Also, I can agree with the choice I since the reader can feel pity for those in the poem who lived in poverty and hunger.
However, I can't find a reason why the choice II may be correct. It is understandable that the poem itself does touch the subject of faith, but does Blake appeal to it in the last stanza specifically?
Here is the test explanation for this question:

First, decide which of the Roman numeral item(s) is or are correct. Blake appeals to his readers’ emotions, so item I is correct. Although there is no mention in the stanza of religion, God, or faith, item II, the title “Holy Thursday” implies a religious context, making item II also correct. Blake does call on his readers’ reason, so item III should be included in the answer. Choice (E), which includes items I, II, and III, is the correct answer.

Here, I couldn't find how Blake appeals to faith in the last stanza. Please explain whether the subject of faith is maybe implied in the final stanza or influences it indirectly.

1 Answer 1


the title “Holy Thursday” implies a religious context, making ["Blake appeals to his readers' faith"] also correct.

That sentence from the textbook betrays a remarkable lack of understanding of poetry and of Blake's poetry in particular. Just because the title refers to a religious date, doesn't at all mean the author is appealing to his readers' faith. I could write an anti-religious poem and title it "Ascension Day" without ever appealing to my readers' faith. So the deduction as written is definitely wrong.

It's important to be aware that Blake's poetry contains a lot of religious imagery, symbolism, and commentary, which may sometimes seem contradictory: he may viciously attack the church and priesthood (see for example the last two lines of "The Garden of Love" or the entirety of "A Little Boy Lost") while typically portraying God and Heaven as the wonderful things that religion holds them to be (see for example "The Little Girl Found" or "The Chimney Sweeper"). In fact, there is no contradiction, as long as you're able to perceive God as entirely separate from mainstream religion. Blake is able to distinguish between the two in his poetry, mercilessly criticising one without lessening his love for the other. But the existence of a religious context, specifically with reference to Blake, doesn't necessarily imply that he's appealing to his readers' faith. Some of his poetry is brutally cynical about religious things, nearly the opposite of appealing to readers' faith.

With all that said, is he, in fact, appealing to his readers' faith in the final stanza of this poem?

For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall,
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

The deduction of no hunger or poverty from the fact of sunshine and rainfall is one that's based more in reason and faith than reality. It seems reasonable that if there are plenty of natural resources, then children don't need to starve. One might believe that this should be the case, that poverty wouldn't be allowed to happen in a world of plenty. But in reality, as we know, the sun does shine and the rain does fall but children are still poor and hungry. Thus, the point of the poem is to argue (appealing to our reason) that poverty shouldn't exist in a "rich and fruitful land", and to make us feel (appealing to our emotions) pity for hungry children and anger that such conditions exist.

How about faith?

It could be argued that the first stanza ("Is this a holy thing to see ...") implies that if the people in our world were more holy, then favourable natural conditions and poor hungry children could never coexist. Expecting us to believe this might be an appeal to our faith: more holiness is what's needed to improve conditions in the world. It could also be interpreted in a less direct way: in an afterlife which is more holy, there would be no poverty. This again appeals to faith. On the other hand, the poem could also be interpreted as a straightforward description of the horrendousness of our society: saying it's not "holy" to have hungry children in a land of plenty, without necessarily implying that a more holy place exists. (Given that it's Blake - and yes, given the title of the poem - I suspect that implication is intended here. But it's possible to understand and interpret the poem without it.)

TL;DR: I and III are true, II could be argued either way but the book's argument is wrong.

Note: all poems referenced in this answer are from Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. It's important to know that many titles are duplicated between these songs, including in fact the one in your question: there's a "Holy Thursday" of Innocence and another one of Experience.

  • 2
    Surely this poem is ironic? The surface argument appears to be, "in a fruitful land where the people are holy, children would not go hungry; but children are hungry, therefore the land is not fruitful." But it's clear that the logic is incomplete: the correct conclusion needs to be "therefore either the land is not fruitful, or the people are not holy. The rhetorical effect of the irony is to strengthen the argument by making the reader spot the error and correct it. Oct 15, 2018 at 11:13
  • @Gareth Of course you're right. My argument regarding faith was pretty weak (too early in the morning ...) I've now edited and hopefully improved it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 15, 2018 at 11:34

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