“Holy Thursday”

This page displays Michael Phillips’s reproduction of the Innocence poem “Holy Thursday” from William Blake’s best known collection of poems, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, alongside Blake’s original. Robert McFate’s Holy Thursday, a response to Blake’s Experience version of “Holy Thursday,” is then shown below it alongside Blake’s original. Follow the link to read about the Songs as a collection. Phillips’s reproduction was displayed in the Blake in the Heartland exhibit at Tiffin University, which ran March-April 2015.

The “Holy Thursday” poems are companion poems, sharing the same title and subject while approaching them from different perspectives. The title “Holy Thursday” itself refers not to the Christian celebration of Maunday Thursday (the Thursday before Easter, also known as Holy Thursday), but Ascension Day (or the Feast of the Ascension) as it is celebrated by the Church of England. This day is celebrated the fortieth day after Easter, or on the Sunday following, to commemorate Christ’s ascension into heaven after the resurrection. St. Paul’s Cathedral held a service that day which included the poor children kept in London’s charity schools, who would be cleaned and dressed and then walked to the cathedral for services.

Blake’s Innocence version of the poem celebrates the day, describing the children with clean faces and uplifted hands as sounding like a choir of angels, ending with an encouragement to readers to care for poor children lest they “drive an angel” from their door. Blake’s Experience version of the poem, on the other hand, laments the existence of poverty, questioning the holiness of the sight of so many thousands of poor children in London alone. Robert McFate’s response appears to be an aerial view of the inside of a church during Holy Thursday, the children’s faces appearing as skulls looking up to heaven.

Blake’s originals taken from Wikimedia Commons. See a list of all copies of the Songs available on the internet, with the ability to view different copies of the same page side by side, at The William Blake Archive, which also provides transcriptions of and annotations for each individual plateYou can also read David Erdman’s edition of all of Blake’s works at The Blake Digital Text Project. Images of Michael Phillips’s reproductions by permission. Click on the images to enlarge.

William Blake's original "Holy Thursday," Innocence, Copy AA.
William Blake’s original “Holy Thursday,” Innocence, Copy AA.

Michael Phillips's reproduction of "Holy Thursday."
Michael Phillips’s reproduction of “Holy Thursday.”

William Blake’s original, “Holy Thursday,” Copy F, Experience.

Robert McFate's Holy Thursday.
Robert McFate’s Holy Thursday.

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