'Grey Monk, The' by William Blake

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"I die, I die!" the Mother said,
"My children die for lack of bread.
What more has the merciless Tyrant said?"
The Monk sat down on the stony bed.

The blood red ran from the Grey Monk's side,
His hands and feet were wounded wide,
His body bent, his arms and knees
Like to the roots of ancient trees.

His eye was dry; no tear could flow:
A hollow groan first spoke his woe.
He trembled and shudder'd upon the bed;
At length with a feeble cry he said:

"When God commanded this hand to write
In the studious hours of deep midnight,
He told me the writing I wrote should prove
The bane of all that on Earth I lov'd.

My Brother starv'd between two walls,
His Children's cry my soul appalls;
I mock'd at the rack and griding chain,
My bent body mocks their torturing pain.

Thy father drew his sword in the North,
With his thousands strong he marched forth;
Thy Brother has arm'd himself in steel
To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel.

But vain the Sword and vain the Bow,
They never can work War's overthrow.
The Hermit's prayer and the Widow's tear
Alone can free the World from fear.

For a Tear is an intellectual thing,
And a Sigh is the sword of an Angel King,
And the bitter groan of the Martyr's woe
Is an arrow from the Almighty's bow.

The hand of Vengeance found the bed
To which the Purple Tyrant fled;
The iron hand crush'd the Tyrant's head
And became a Tyrant in his stead."

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Grey Monk by William Blake: A Critical Interpretation

Have you ever come across a literary masterpiece that leaves you reeling long after you've finished reading it? The Grey Monk by William Blake is one such poem that has stood the test of time and continues to leave readers spellbound with its vivid imagery and philosophical musings.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the intricate web of themes, symbols and metaphors that Blake weaves into this poem, and explore what makes it a timeless classic.

The Grey Monk: A Brief Overview

The Grey Monk is a poem from William Blake's collection, "Songs of Innocence and Experience" which was published in 1794. The poem tells the story of a monk who is tormented by his own thoughts and desires, and who ultimately succumbs to his own destruction.

Blake's poem is a commentary on the oppressive nature of organized religion and the human condition of being torn between our desire for freedom and our fear of the unknown.

The Symbols and Metaphors of The Grey Monk

One of the most striking aspects of The Grey Monk is the rich imagery that Blake employs to bring his characters and themes to life. The poem is filled with symbols and metaphors that offer a deeper understanding of the narrative and its underlying message.

The Grey Monk

The titular character of the poem is a symbol of the oppressive nature of organized religion. The monk is described as being "clothed in grey" which is a reference to the monastic robes traditionally worn by monks. The colour grey is often associated with dullness, boredom and conformity, all of which are hallmarks of institutionalized religion.

The Little Boy

The little boy in the poem represents innocence and freedom. He is described as being "fresh from the leaping stream" and "sporting with the god of day". The stream and the sun are symbols of life and vitality, and the boy's carefree nature is a stark contrast to the monk's rigid and oppressive worldview.

The Tiger

The tiger that appears towards the end of the poem is a symbol of our primal desires and the darker aspects of our nature. The tiger is described as being "burning bright" which is a metaphor for the intense and uncontrollable nature of our desires. The monk's inability to face the tiger symbolizes his own inability to confront the darker aspects of his own personality.

The Garden of Love

The Garden of Love is a metaphor for the human desire for freedom and the obstacles that we face in achieving it. The garden is described as being "walled" which represents the barriers that society puts in our way. The flowers that are planted in the garden represent our hopes and dreams, which are often crushed by the oppressive forces around us.

The Themes of The Grey Monk

The Grey Monk is a complex poem that deals with a variety of themes, some of which are more evident than others. Here are some of the main themes that run through the narrative:


One of the central themes in The Grey Monk is oppression. The poem is a scathing critique of the oppressive nature of organized religion and the ways in which it stifles individual freedom and creativity.


The poem is also a celebration of freedom and the human desire to break free from the shackles of oppression. The little boy in the poem symbolizes our innate desire for freedom, while the Garden of Love represents the obstacles that we face in achieving it.


The Grey Monk is also a meditation on the nature of fear and the ways in which it can paralyze us. The monk is paralyzed by his own fears and desires, which ultimately lead to his own destruction.


Finally, the poem deals with the theme of death and the ways in which our mortality shapes our lives. The monk in the poem is consumed by his own mortality, which prevents him from living a full and meaningful life.

The Language and Structure of The Grey Monk

The language and structure of The Grey Monk are just as important as its themes and symbols in conveying its message. Blake employs a variety of literary techniques to bring his characters and themes to life, including:


Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within a sentence or phrase. Blake uses assonance extensively in The Grey Monk to create a musical and rhythmic effect. For example, in the line "And the weeping child could not be heard", the repetition of the "i" sound creates a mournful and melancholic tone.


Allusion is the reference to a well-known person, place, or event in a literary text. Blake makes several allusions in The Grey Monk, including references to the Bible and Greek mythology. For example, the phrase "sporting with the god of day" is an allusion to the Greek god Apollo, who was associated with the sun.


Apostrophe is the addressing of an absent or imaginary person or thing in a literary text. Blake uses apostrophe in The Grey Monk to address the monk directly, as in the line "Poor Monk! In thy cells thou are kept from harms".

The structure of The Grey Monk is also significant in conveying its themes and symbols. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which represents a different stage in the monk's life. The first stanza describes the monk's youth, the second his middle age, and the third his old age and death.

Conclusion: Why The Grey Monk is a Timeless Classic

In conclusion, The Grey Monk is a timeless classic that has stood the test of time for its vivid imagery, complex themes and unforgettable characters. Blake's use of symbols, metaphors and literary techniques make this poem a masterpiece of English literature, and a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the human condition and the struggle for freedom.

So, if you haven't already read The Grey Monk, what are you waiting for? Take a journey into the mind of one of the greatest poets in English literature and discover for yourself the beauty and power of this unforgettable poem.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Grey Monk: A Masterpiece of William Blake

William Blake, the renowned English poet, painter, and printmaker, is known for his unique style of combining poetry and visual art. His works are characterized by their mystical and visionary themes, and his use of symbolism and allegory. One of his most famous poems, The Grey Monk, is a masterpiece that showcases his exceptional talent.

The Grey Monk is a poem that was first published in Blake's collection of poems, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, in 1794. The poem tells the story of a monk who is tormented by the memories of his past and the sins he has committed. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each with four lines, and follows a strict rhyme scheme of ABAB.

The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It describes the monk as a "grey monk" who is "weeping in the night." The use of the color grey is significant, as it represents the monk's state of mind. Grey is a color that is associated with sadness, depression, and melancholy. The fact that the monk is weeping in the night suggests that he is alone and isolated, and that his pain is something that he cannot share with anyone else.

The second stanza of the poem describes the monk's past. It tells of how he was once a "youthful harlot's curse" and how he "plucked a hollow reed." The use of the word "harlot" suggests that the monk was involved in prostitution or some other form of sexual immorality. The fact that he "plucked a hollow reed" suggests that he was once a musician, but that he has lost his ability to create music.

The third stanza of the poem describes the monk's present state. It tells of how he is "bound with briars" and "burning in a holy fire." The use of the word "briars" suggests that the monk is trapped or imprisoned, and that he is unable to escape from his past. The fact that he is "burning in a holy fire" suggests that he is being punished for his sins, and that he is experiencing a form of spiritual purification.

The final stanza of the poem describes the monk's future. It tells of how he will "rise from the tomb" and "take the silver key." The use of the word "tomb" suggests that the monk will die, but that he will be resurrected. The fact that he will "take the silver key" suggests that he will be given access to some kind of spiritual knowledge or enlightenment.

The Grey Monk is a poem that is rich in symbolism and allegory. The use of the color grey, the image of the harlot, and the burning fire are all symbols that represent the monk's state of mind and his spiritual journey. The poem is also an allegory for the human condition, and the struggle that we all face in trying to overcome our past and find spiritual enlightenment.

In conclusion, The Grey Monk is a masterpiece of William Blake's poetry. It is a powerful and moving poem that explores the themes of sin, redemption, and spiritual enlightenment. The poem's use of symbolism and allegory is masterful, and it is a testament to Blake's exceptional talent as a poet and artist. The Grey Monk is a poem that continues to inspire and captivate readers to this day, and it is a testament to the enduring power of Blake's work.

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