Holy Thursday, also called Ascension Thursday, is a time where the church community comes together to take pity on the poor and hold a service for the impoverished children of London’s charity schools. Holy Thursday as depicted in the Song of Innocence seems to be an idealized take on the service portraying the impoverished children of England singing in unison with their “clean innocent faces.” Their song is a “harmonious thunder” and a “mighty wind”. Blake draws upon the same scene and questions its validity in his Songs of Experience. Blake ponders is that “trembling cry a song?” “Can it be a song of joy?” Blake questions the society that would allow it’s children to be subject to such harsh conditions, despite the prima facie angelic scene described in the Song of Innocence.
In a period characterized by high mortality rates often attributed to poor hygiene and low to no understanding of disease, the amount of orphans in England skyrocketed to the point where the state had a difficult time housing and caring for its wards. Factory owners approached government officials and parish leaders with a proposition that in exchange for the orphans labor, the owners would supply the children with housing and nourishment. Grossly unregulated, this simple solution evolved into a system comprised of child laborers working 10-15 hours a day in deplorable conditions, only to have their most basic physiological needs tended to by the factory owners.
Blake in his “Experienced” depiction of Holy Thursday , critiques the English society that left its children susceptible to the abuses of industry.
“Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,—
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?”
Blake’s contrasting views of the Church scene portray conditions as they currently are for the children of England and how they ought to be. Would these children have been born into a community protected and nurtured by the idealized Church in his Innocence version, they would likely never have been left vulnerable to the horrors of the factories, which in reality they suffer.