A Divine Image

A Divine Image

Q. Critically explain the poem A Divine Image by William Blake.

William Blake published “A Divine Image” in 1794 as part of his collection “Songs of Experience.” This work, together with “Songs of Innocence,” looks at the dual aspects of the human soul.

Analysis of A Divine Image by William Blake

Stanza 1

Cruelty has a Human Heart
And Jealousy a Human Face
Terror the Human Form Divine
And Secrecy, the Human Dress

Cruelty has a Human Heart

The heart is traditionally symbolized as the seat of emotions. By stating that “Cruelty has a Human Heart,” Blake suggests cruelty is an innate, emotional part of humanity.

It is not an external force but something that resides within the core of human beings.

The implication is that cruelty is not just a learned behaviour but a fundamental, perhaps inescapable, aspect of human nature. Blake personifies ‘Cruelty’ by giving it a ‘Human Heart.’

Symbolism of the Heart

The heart is traditionally viewed as the centre of emotion, feeling, and moral judgment. It is often associated with positive qualities like love, compassion, and empathy.

By stating that “Cruelty has a Human Heart,” Blake implies an inversion of this traditional symbolism.

Instead of associating the heart with kindness and love, he links it with cruelty, suggesting that the capacity for cruelty is intrinsic to the human emotional experience.

It suggests that cruelty is not an external force but something from within the human heart—a part of human nature.

And Jealousy a Human Face

The face is how we present ourselves to the world; it is the most visible part of a person.

By associating jealousy with the human face, Blake indicates that this emotion is not only evident but also an ordinary, everyday aspect of human interaction.

This suggests that people can not always control how they show their feelings. Jealousy, which many see as a bad feeling, is hard for people to hide because it often shows clearly on their faces.

Similar to the earlier line about cruelty, Blake personifies the emotion of jealousy, giving it a distinctly human characteristic of a face.

Symbolism of the Face

The face, the most visible part of the human body, is a window to one’s emotions and inner thoughts. Here, expressions of joy, sadness, anger, and jealousy become most evident.

By saying “Jealousy a Human Face,” Blake means that one can easily see jealousy on people’s faces because it is hard to hide. It shows the transparency of this human emotion.

Terror the Human Form Divine

This is perhaps the most complex line. The juxtaposition of “Terror” with “the Human Form Divine” has different interpretations.

It might suggest that the capacity for terror is an essential, even god-like aspect of humanity, elevating our capacity for destruction to a divine status.

There is an inherent irony here, as divinity is usually associated with benevolence, not terror. Blake could be criticizing how humans, in their arrogance or self-perceived divinity, often perpetrate terror.

The immediately striking aspect of this phrase is the juxtaposition of “Terror” with “the Human Form Divine.”

Divinity usually embodies positive and noble qualities such as goodness, benevolence, and holiness. In contrast, “Terror” suggests fear, horror, and destructiveness.

By linking these seemingly opposite notions, Blake could suggest that the human capacity for terror has an aspect of the divine or a god-like power.

The Human Form 

Describing the human form as both a vessel for terror and the divine reflects the duality and complexity of human nature.

It implies that the capacity for great fear and the essence of divinity exist within humans’ physical and perhaps even spiritual makeup.

Blake’s work often critiques contemporary political, religious, and social structures.

This line criticizes how these structures, upheld by humans believed to be somewhat ‘divine’ in their power and authority, often result in terror and suffering.

And Secrecy, the Human Dress

Clothing hides our physical form, as secrecy hides our true intentions or feelings. Blake is likely suggesting that humans habitually conceal their true selves, implying a nature of deceit or hidden motives.

This line could also critique societal norms and the façade people maintain in social interactions, hiding their true nature behind a ‘dress’ of secrecy.

In this line, Blake personifies the concept of secrecy. Personification is a common technique in his poetry, giving abstract qualities of human attributes to make a profound statement about human nature.

Symbolism of the Dress

The term “dress” here symbolizes the outer layer or the facade that people present to the outside world. In fashion and culture, dress frequently relates to one’s identity, status, and management.

Blake’s description of secrecy as a “human dress” implies that concealing the truth is a habitual behaviour among individuals. It seems as though people wear this secrecy like a garment.

This metaphor may suggest that humans are inherently inclined to hide their true selves, emotions, or intentions. It could also imply a critique of the lack of transparency and openness in human interactions.

The notion of secrecy as a “dress” suggests that people often cover their authentic selves, perhaps out of fear, strategy, or the desire to manipulate.

Stanza 2

The Human Dress, is forged Iron
The Human Form, a fiery Forge.
The Human Face, a Furnace seal’d
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge.

The Human Dress, is forged Iron

Iron is strong, durable, and cold. By likening the human facade (or “dress”) to forged iron, Blake suggests that humans protect or shield their true selves with a hard, impenetrable surface.

The phrase “human dress” symbolizes how humans present themselves to the world.

It can refer to literal clothing but is often a metaphor for the outward behaviours, facades, or masks people adopt in social contexts. Iron is a strong, durable metal known for its toughness and resistance to wear and tear.

Forged iron is heated to high temperatures and hammered or pressed into shape. It shows strength, resilience, and the ability to withstand pressure.

The metaphor of “forged iron” implies something created with effort and purpose that can endure and protect.

The Human Form, a fiery Forge

The human form, or body, in literature often symbolizes the physical aspect of humanity, as well as its actions and experiences in the physical world.


A forge is a place where metal is heated and shaped into objects. It is a place of transformation, creativity, and change but also intense heat and sometimes danger.

Describing the human form as a “fiery forge” implies that it is a site of creation and transformation. It could refer to the physical aspects of human existence as well as the metaphorical or spiritual.

Fire, in this context, can symbolize various things: passion, creativity, destruction, and change.

It’s a natural element that can both create and destroy, offering a powerful metaphor for the potential and volatility of the human condition. “Fiery” emphasizes these processes’ intensity and perhaps uncontrollable nature.

“Fiery Forge” suggests that people are constantly changing and growing. This change is influenced by both positive and negative forces.

The imagery of fire and heat conveys a sense of intensity and passion, hinting at the possibility of transformation. However, in this context, the transformation appears to lean more towards destruction.

The Human Face, a Furnace seal’d

A furnace represents contained, intense heat. William Blake compares the human face to a sealed furnace.

This analogy suggests that people often conceal intense emotions and thoughts beneath the surface, keeping them invisible to others too.

Concealment and Suppression

“Seal’d” suggests a deliberate effort to hide or contain what lies within, aligning with the themes of secrecy.

The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge

A gorge can symbolize a deep, insatiable chasm. By describing the human heart as a “hungry gorge,” Blake implies that at the core of human nature lies an endless and perhaps destructive desire or greed.

A gorge is a deep, narrow valley, often with a river flowing through it, and it is a powerful force of nature. The word “hungry” intensifies this metaphor, indicating a voraciousness or an unfillable void.

This might suggest that the human heart always harbours unsatisfied desires and needs, constantly in search of more. It suggests that beneath the surface lies a profound, possibly overwhelming capacity for various intense feelings.