The Human Abstract by William Blake

This poem consists of six stanzas, of four lines each. It is philosophical in nature and points out the necessity and need of the seemingly bad things (perhaps, outcomes) in the world. The first stanza uses words like pity and mercy to indicate that neither would be possible had “we” as people or human kind “not make somebody poor” and unhappy, respectively. This use of contrast to indicate what brings about the opposite is a theme that repeats throughout the poem. For example, Blake uses the symbol of “mutual fear” to indicate that it brings about peace.

The image of Cruelty is personified as a man who takes in human kind’s “holy fears” and turns them into sorrow and suffering (“And waters the ground with tears”). This and other metaphors that use man as a stand in for the concepts of ‘cruelty’ and ‘humility’ reinforces the title of the poem, ‘The Human Abstract.’

As a side note, the poem is a beautiful illustration of what the human brain is capable of. As a philosophical poem, it is applicable to the world on both macro (global, national, city, neighborhood) and micro (family, individual) levels. While news, politicians and television programming tend to appeal to our cynical and selfish sides, the poem can serve as a reminder that human kind is also capable of beautiful things like this.

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