Humanistic Paeans for the People

When it comes to exposing the truth, both William Blake and John Lennon have done it successfully. The Human Abstract and Imagine are both memorable pieces that have encouraged people to develop new perspectives of society. From the start of each piece, the writer sparks the reader’s imagination of a world without the barbaric standards set by organized religions. Lennon recognized that a mutual fear of other countries’ motives, along with contrasting religious ideals in the world, created unnecessary war. It is almost as if Lennon was amending Blake on his warnings of the deadly wars that would results from society being placed under a heavy cloud of religion. The rhythm and instrumental background of John Lennon’s Imagine successfully reflects the mood of William Blake’s The Human Abstract. A slow, constantly flowing rhythm, such as the piano in Imagine fits perfectly into the background of Blake’s poem. The statement that both of these writers made, although cautiously unaccepted at first, live on forever and will be applicable to generations to come.


The poem was originally drafted in Blake’s notebook. The illustration shows a gowned old man with a long beard who kneels with his legs outspread. He raises his arms to grip the ropes as if he tries to free himself. There is a tree trunk with a broad base on the right and the edge of another on the left. The colour of the sky suggests sunrise or sunset. A muddy river runs along the lower edge of the design in front of the man. The picture portrays the supreme God of Blake’s mythology and the creator the material world, whom Blake named “Urizen” (probably from your reason), struggling with his own nets of religion, under the Tree of Mystery, which symbolically “represents the resulting growth of religion and the priesthood (the Catterpillar and the Fly), feeding on its leaves”.


William Blake was a mystic. His poetry, illustrations, and songs were embedded with obscurity to evoke bizarre and unique thoughts within the reader. His poems and paintings were regarded as two flames that introduced new, intellectual concepts to society. However, the population saw and still sees his work as impure, though not many people have had the motivation to move past that barrier and dig deeper for Blake’s true intentions. Blake was often categorized as anti-Christian, but he felt that this was exaggerated.Although his ideas were different than his peers, he felt that no one’s thoughts should be entirely rejected.

In William Blake’s book titled Songs of Experience, released in 1794, his poem named The Human Abstract depicts the false virtues that the Church casts upon society, along with the detrimental effect it presents in the human brain. It describes how religious figures use a cruel combination of pity, mercy, fear,and war to bind everyone in society to only one form of good. The symbols and mythological figures behind the stanzas give trustworthiness to an idea that was vastly rejected in Blake’s time. The poem and the illustration of Urizen, chained to the earth, leave the reader with a realization of the true, barbaric intentions of the Church and a shared desire with Blake to revolt against them.

John Lennon’s popularity with the Beatles allowed him to reach a broad audience with his solo songs. Just like William Blake, he wanted to present a unique message to the reader that could evoke a new manner of thinking and behavior in society. Both Blake and Lennon saw the destruction that was being created by the wars for religious dominance and desired a way to awaken people’s perspectives through their writing. John Lennon had a deep interest in finding out the truth, which eventually developed into an anger toward the system, politicians, and hypocrisy of important figures in the world.




John Lennon wrote Imagine to address his fellow citizens with a new, refreshing idea of a peaceful state of mind. When the song was written, there was a myriad of war, political battles, and religious controversy brewing in the United States with the decision to enter the Vietnam War. Lennon was one of the many protesters against the War, choosing to spend time only with his wife, Yoko Ono, in their apartment.

Several poems from Yoko Ono’s 1964 book Grapefruit inspired Lennon to write the lyrics for Imagine—in particular, one which Capitol Records reproduced on the back cover of the original Imagine LP titled Cloud Piece, reads: “Imagine the clouds dripping, dig a hole in your garden to put them in.” Lennon later said the composition “should be credited as a Lennon/Ono song. A lot of it—the lyric and the concept—came from Yoko, but in those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted her contribution, but it was right out of Grapefruit.” When asked about the song’s meaning during a December 1980 interview with David Sheff for Playboy magazine, Lennon told Sheff that Dick Gregory had given Ono and him a Christian prayer book, which helped inspire in Lennon what he described as:

The concept of positive prayer … If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing—then it can be true … the World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to Imagine and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?” That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.

With the combined influence of “Cloud Piece” and the prayer book given to him by Gregory, Lennon wrote what author John Blaney described as “a humanistic paean for the people.”


Paen: from the Greek παιάν (also παιήων or παιών), “song of triumph, any solemn song or chant.”

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