The Complaint of the Religiously Imprisoned

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, The Garden of Love

6 thoughts on “The Complaint of the Religiously Imprisoned

  1. What does this mean to you, Dan? Do you think it was Adam and Eve in the Garden and what happened after the Fall? Or are you thinking the “green” means spirituality? Or does it mean a pristine type of Christianity which has now become tainted with “religion?” Or some other meaning?

    It makes religion look very totalitarianistic. Which is good if you ask me.

  2. To me, it’s a much simpler interpretation: legalism. People stuck in a legalistic church, although the church may preach Christ and him crucified, feel they must conform to a certain set of moral rules to be righteous in the sight of God and man. The “binding with briars my joys and desires” describes the inner conflict of a person who approves of a certain thing morally, but his church condemns it. Although, it could also describe an unjust and unholy desire for something that the church rightly condemns. Either way, the person feels imprisoned in the church’s rules, and loses sight of the righteousness that has already been given him by the blood of Christ. Some people in the shaking off of the rules will shake off religion altogether, which is unfortunate.

    But, don’t confuse this as my approval of the shaking off of religion. Jesus came to fulfill the law and also set up religious observances. Christ should cause us to be religious, the right kind of religious.

  3. Love is simple and beautiful when we are young children. It is a place to play in safety. As we grow older, we find that it is complicated and even seems to erect barriers that shut us out. The places in which we used to play have been spoiled and are now only places of longing.

    The same is true of religion. It used to be something we innocently viewed as a safe refuge. Then, in time of need, we discovered that it was nothing more than “whited sepulchres” in which no true refuge can be found. We worship the dead there for the Living One is no where to found in such a place. But we keep going back, thinking tradition can’t be wrong.

  4. I think Blake correctly sees religion itself (represented by the chapel and the priestly caste that operates it following the prescriptive and restrictive “Thous Shall Not” rules and regulations of scripture) as erecting significant barriers between us and the world, replacing an engaging and participatory love of life with a cult of death, pain, and suffering, binding with briars my joys and desires.

  5. In the books (not the movies) “The Lord of the Rings” Wormtongue goes to the Shire and sets up a totalitarian type of government while Frodo and gang are away. This poem kind of reminds me of that. The Shire, with all its simple pleasures, was now tainted by those bent on controlling others.

    It also reminds me of the parable of the wicked tenants. There was a beautiful vineyard, but the tenants were abusive, and this displeased the owner of the vineyard. The reason that Jesus was upset with the Pharisees was because they had replaced the Word of God with the traditions of men. Just like Dan says — legalism. Jesus saw that they were abusive and were making it more difficult to come to God. This poem is a haunting picture of that kind of religious totalitarianism.

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