Saturday, October 09, 2010


Sat 13 Mar 2010 12:40:57 PM EST


Chapter Three

Revised 3-13-10

    When the stars threw down their spears,
    And water'd heaven with their tears,
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the lamb make thee? (

Some Simple Blake Poetry

(Simple only in the sense that some meaning
is immmediately apparent)

Songs of Innocence
Songs of Experience
The Book of Thel
href="chap9.htm">Marriage of Heaven and Hell
href="#v">America, a Prophecy
The Everlasting Gospel

       The first lesson in a Blake primer might well be href="">Songs
of Innocence. Looking at that we soon come to The Lamb:

    Little lamb, who made thee?
    Dos't thou know who made thee,
    Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
    By the stream and o'er the mead;
    Gave thee clothing of delight,
    Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
    Gave thee such a tender voice,
    Making all the vales rejoice?
    Little lamb, who made thee?
    Does thou know who made thee?

    Little lamb, I'll tell thee;
    Little lamb, I'll tell thee:
    He is called by thy name,
    For He calls Himself a Lamb.
    He is meek, and He is mild,
    He became a little child.
    I a child, and thou a lamb,
    We are called by His name.
    Little lamb, God bless thee!
    Little lamb, God bless thee!

Some might consider that too simplistic to be
meaningful, but many people have found great meaning in
it. Look for example at a discussion by Ralph Dumain.


       The next one is a favorite of
many social liberals:

The Little Black Boy

    My mother bore me in the southern wild,
    And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
    White as an angel is the English child,
    But I am black, as if bereaved of light.

    My mother told me underneath a tree,
    And sitting down before the heat of day,
    She took me on her lap and kissed me,
    And pointing to the east, began to say:

    "Look on the rising sun: there God does live,
    And gives His light, and gives His heat away;
    And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
    Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

    "And we are put on earth a little space,
    That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
    And the black bodies and this sunburnt face
    Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

    "For when our souls have learned the heat to bear,
    The cloud will vanish; we shall hear His voice,
    Saying: Come out from the grove, my love and care,
    And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice."

    This did my mother say, and kissed me;
    And thus I say to little English boy:
    When I from black and he from white cloud free,
    And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

    I'll shade him from the heat, till he can bear
    To lean in joy upon our Father's knee;
    And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
    And be like him, and he will then love me.

       This is a double whammy! Very profound spiritual and
mystical truth, plus a strong plug for social justice.
Both of these facets informed Blake's personality for
his entire life.

       The href="">The Chimney Sweeper gives a vivid picture of
the terrible oppression of children in Blake's

Finally look at The Divine Image:

    To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
    All pray in their distress;
    And to these virtues of delight
    Return their thankfulness.

    For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
    Is God, our father dear,
    And Mercy, pity, Peace and Love
    Is Man, his child and care.

    For Mercy has a human heart,
    Pity, a human face,
    And Love, the human form divine,
    And Peace, the human dress.

    Then every man of every clime
    That prays in his distress,
    Prays to the human form divine,
    Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

    And all must love the human form
    in heathen, turk or jew.
    Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell
    There God is dwelling too.

    Infant Joy

    'I have no name;
    I am but two days old.'
    What shall I call thee?
    'I happy am,
    Joy is my name.'
    Sweet joy befall thee!

    Pretty joy!
    Sweet joy, but two days old.
    Sweet joy I call thee:
    Thou dost smile,
    I sing the while;
    Sweet joy befall thee!

    One of the thousand thousand babes that gambol
    around the Heavenly Father (from The Faerie Queen).

Now look at a work that shows the other side of
all these 'innocent' poems, the href="">Songs
of Experience, and begin with a statement that all
the lovers of sexual liberation most dearly love. It's
called href="">Earth's Answer. Of course if that's your primary (and
perhaps only) response, you've missed the point entirely.
It's really not about sex per se but about the dead hand
of conventions of all sorts that condemns people to a life
of mediocrity. If you pursue 'men' in the third verse,
the note indicates that that interpreter perceived
"selfish father of men" to mean Adam, lamenting at the
curse which followd the Fall.

Probably the most often read and perhaps most significant of
these poems in href="">Tyger,Tyger. With this poem in mind Northrup
wrote his fantastic book called href="
.html">Fearful Symmetry.

    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night.
    What Immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand, dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder, and what art,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart begin to beat,
    What dread hand? and what dread feet?

    What the hammer? What the chain?
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears,
    And water'd heaven with their tears,
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the lamb make thee?

    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
    In the forests of the night.
    What Immortal hand or eye
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Focus on this question: "Did he who made the lamb make
thee?" Food for considerable thought! At the very least it
must call into question many of the most conventional ideas
about God. This could be the fundamental spiritual issue
for Blake throughout his life, and indeed of the lives of a
great many of us: What about it, God; are you a killer as
well as a lover? Many, many pages of Blake's poetry seem to
address this fundamental question.

If you're a person of sensitivity, some of these Songs of
Experience will break your heart. Look at href="">London.The
last line of verse 2 contains that famous phrase that appears
so often in my blog. The more you think about that term,
the more connotations it will come to have. But consider
that the nature of our lives is that our minds are
chained to numberless conventions of philsophy, religion,
economics, government, etc. etc. Blake's primary endeavour
is to set us free from these shackles that confine our daily
lives to mediocrity-- using perhaps 2% of our God given
brains. (It's not about giving up the ego; it's about giving
up the thousands of prejudices, fears, etc that we carry
around as baggage like poor Christian in href="">Pilgrims Progress.)

       The href="">Garden of Love will appeal to the "free lovers", but it's more
significant to me with the prophetic awareness of what has
happened to the God of Love at the hands of the established

       href="">Thel is the story of a young girl going from Innocence to
Experience. She didn't like what she saw, so she fled back
to the place she came from.

In the vales of Har the youngest of the seraphim wanders
down to the river of Adona where she converses with the Lily
of the Valley, the Cloud, the worm, and the clod of clay.

The clod of clay has a special significance in Blake's cast
of characters. Little enough in itself it yet affirms the
existence of glory in the humblest place. Speaking to Thel:

    "O Beauty of the vales of Har! we live not for ourselves.

    Thou seest me, the meanest thing, and so I am indeed.

    My bosom of itself is cold, and of itself is dark;

    But He, that loves the lowly, pours His oil upon my head,

    And kisses me, and binds His nuptial bands around my breast,

    And says: "Thou mother of my children, I have loved thee,

    And I have given thee a crown that none can take away."

    But how this is, sweet Maid, I know not, and I cannot know;

    I ponder, and I cannot ponder; yet I live and love.'

The clod of clay invites Thel to take flesh and experience
what she has missed in her innocence. After her conversations
we read in section 4 (plate 6):

"The eternal gates' terrific Porter lifted the northern bar:"
Thel enters the life of the flesh, "A land of sorrows and of
tears where never smile was seen." At this point Blake
proceeds to denounce a sense based life, after which Thel
"with a shriek fled back unhinder'd till she came into the
vales of Har."

With Thel Blake asks an important question:

Is life worthwhile?-- a question asked
emphatically in the negative by Eastern Religion, but
more often in the positive by life affirming

In Thel Blake asks the question, but doesn't answer it.
According to Raine (page 27) he answered it with a
statement to Vala of her lover which Blake
recorded near the end of Night 9 of The Four Zoas:

    Rise sluggish Soul why sit here, why dost thou
    sit & weep?

           Yon Sun shall wax old & decay but thou shalt
    ever flourish. The fruit shall ripen & fall down & the flowers consume away.
    But thou shalt still survive.
    Arise! O dry thy dewy tears.

(If you feel like working with Thel Ed Friedlander's study
provides much information:

America, a Prophecy

This early work deals with America's war for
independence. (Incidentally a fairly large number of
liberal minded Englishmen supported the American
Revolution, as did Blake here.) He used American
figures as well as French ones in this paean to
revolution. The most notable part is Plate 6 where he
celebrates the end of the age:

    The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their

    The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;

    The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk & dry'd,

    Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing! awakening!

    Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst.

    Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field:

    Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;

    Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,

    Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,

    Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.

    And let his wife and children return from the opressor's scourge.

    They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream,

    Singing, 'The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher

    And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;

    For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.' "
(Two lines of this passage reappears in The Four Zoas [Nt 9], 138.20-21; E406.)

The first two lines strongly evoke the Resurrection, a
measure of the jubilation Blake felt at both the American
and French Revolutions. Blake went immediately to an
earlier resurrection recorded in href=";&version=9;">Ezekiel.

The 'slave' is both a reference to the actual slaves
who graced the British economy, and to English workers
in conditions of slavery, such as the 8 year old
children working 14 hours a day for six pence a week.

The bonds, the bars, the chains are those same 'mind
forg'd manacles' we saw in London, the chains of the
mind, which afflict us today just as they did in
Blake's day.

"The sun has left his blackness, etc": this line occurs again near
the end of thehref="">
Four Zoas (Night 9 138:20).

The Everlasting Gospel

(A portion)

    The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
    Is my vision's greatest enemy.
    Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
    Mine has a snub nose like to mine.
    Thine is the Friend of all Mankind;
    Mine speaks in parables to the blind.
    Thine loves the same world that mine hates;
    Thy heaven doors are my hell gates.
    Socrates taught what Meletus
    Loath'd as a nation's bitterest curse,
    And Caiaphas was in his own mind
    A benefactor to mankind.
    Both read the Bible day and night,
    But thou read'st black where I read white.

The rest of this poem is difficult for the new reader.
After about a dozen readings it may begin to yield more
and more meaning. In this respect Blake is much like
the Bible, and in fact Northrup Frye referred to him as a
'bible soaked protestant'. His approach to the Bible
is arcane, but it will yield meanings that you never
dreamed of before.


In the second half of his career Blake had largely dropped his
preoccupation with "Old Nobodaddy" in favor
of the New Testament God. His first
large prophetic poem, Milton, begins with a famous poem called
Jerusalem that latter
became the theme song of the British Labor party; used to sing it
as a href=""
. (Blake was not the first person to see the
presence of Jesus is ancient England. Tradition
tells us
that he was there in the first century.)

Here is more on Milton.


We see Blake, the new man, again in
in these passages from Jerusalem:

    This theme calls me in sleep night after night, and every morn
    Awakes me at sun-rise; then I see the Saviour over me
    Spreading his beams of love and dictating the words of this mild song.
    "Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
    I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine:
    Fibres of love from man to man thro' Albion's pleasant land.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend:
    Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me."
    (Jerusalem 4: 3-20.)

    "Mutual in one another's love and wrath all renewing
    We live as One Man; for contracting our infinite senses
    We behold multitude, or expanding, we behold as one,
    As One Man all the Universal Family, and that One Man
    We call Jesus the Christ; and he in us, and we in him
    Live in perfect harmony in Eden, the land of life,
    Giving, receiving, and forgiving each other's trespasses.
    He is the Good shepherd, he is the Lord and master,
    He is the Shepherd of Albion, he is all in all,
    In Eden, in the garden of God, and in heavenly Jerusalem."
(Jerusalem 35:16-25)

       Both passages
quoted in

The Gospel of Christian Atheism (altizer))

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