The Poems of William Blake

The Poems of William Blake Summary and Analysis of A War Song to Englishmen


The speaker here, arguably a non-human prophet, in this poem is horrified at the world’s upheaval and tyrannical oppressive governing power as well as at his own necessity to call for rebellion. The meter of the song is set in a deliberate marching rhythm pattern to produce that solemn and unified tone of a battle cry, and it is filled with unabashed, rhetorical patriotism. It’s as if Blake is taking something as patriotic as a war cry and turning it over on itself in an ironic manner. Notice how the frist two lines of the poem are twisted in the next two (“the Angel of Fate turns them”). The presence of the Angel suggests a fall is coming, but not if the battle is won.

The “darken’d earth” in line 4 is indicative of a global enslavement of mankind practiced by all societies with government. In this world, there is a total lack of spirituality, inspiration, imagination, and enlightenment. The Angel then presents a “fatal scroll” to any countryman who is willing to take it, that is—who is willing to fight for his/her freedom. The Angel then warns the people that they may die in their cause, but in death one will “rise with ghosts” to a better place.

Stanzas four and five are fairly simple to follow. The battle men face off against “the arrows of Almighty God” that are so great in number, they block out the light from reaching the earth. It is in the final stanza where the poet alludes directly to the horrors of tyrannical history, all of which was accomplished under the auspices of God and church. Collectively, the sins of the “fathers” are being unavoidably handed down to the sons. The message here is that tyranny must be fought with rebellion, and the apocalypse of war must take on a new obverse meaning.


What is still unclear by the end of the song is why the tyrannical Kings of old England are there to “welcome” the rebels. Perhaps this is representative of Blake’s difficulty with deciding life over freedom. Regardless, the fate of the soldiers reaches beyond England’s history anyhow and is subtly intended for all mankind. Overall, the verse is dignified with patriotism for all humankind, however ironic his patriotism to his own country may appear.

In the end, “A War Song to Englishmen” is an uncharacteristic poem in the Blake canon. A direct call of patriotic duty, it is as obvious in meaning as it appears. It is a general call to war of his countrymen, only not a war of aggression, supremacy, hegemony, or territorial gain, but rather a call of rebellion to the individual to fight for himself to be set free.