“Holy Thursday” recounts the annual marching of approximately six thousand poor children to St. Paul’s Cathedral. These children hailed from the charity schools of the city and were taken to the Cathedral to demonstrate their reverence for God and their gratitude to their benefactors. This ostensibly admiring poem contains hints of irony, however. The beadles seat the children “in companies” as if they were soldiers rather than children. The compulsory note of their praise is implied in this regimented worship.
"Holy Thursday" has three stanzas, each consisting of two rhyming couplets. The singsong quality of the AABB rhyme, usually a sign of innocence in these poems, belies the thinly veiled subtext of the poem regarding the exploitation of the innocent by those who are, ultimately, their moral and spiritual inferiors.
As always, Blake favors the innocent children even as he despises the system which enslaves or abuses them. The “wise guardians of the poor,” the children’s patrons, are seated “beneath them.” Even though the gratitude may be forced upon the children, their innocence, which is stated twice outright in the poem, trumps the self-serving nature of the spectacle.
Blake closes with the warning to “cherish pity; lest you drive and angel from your door,” a statement that seems out of place on the surface. When compared to the Biblical account of the angels’ visit to Lot in the city of Sodom, however, the driving away of an angel at the door becomes a more sobering image. Lot, alone of all the denizens of Sodom, offered the angels, who were disguised as travelers, hospitality in a city full of dangers for the unwary visitor. His pity for his guests results in his own family’s rescue from the destruction about to strike the wicked city. Similarly, the reader is encouraged to “cherish pity” even in the midst of a sin-stricken and cynical system that would use a parade of poor children as a show of public virtue.