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William Blake - who spoke with angels


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It seems as if the Progressive Christian Cohorts have gone into hibernation......ūüėÄWhich suits me in many ways. I don't respond well to direct questions, nor to overly contentious challenges to whatever waffle proceeds from the dustbin of my mind.¬†

 "Oh, you see it that way? Interesting. I see it this way" is contentious enough, at least as I see it. 

Anyway, I thought I would ramble on about William Blake. I won't describe him as artist, poet and mystic, because some seem to think "mystic" has to do with pulling rabbits out of a hat - which just goes to show. So, artist and poet. And a bit of a nutter. He claimed to speak with angels, this among his many visions, and when his brother died he said his saw his soul rising up from the body, ever upwards, "clapping his hands with joy". 

Way back when I had little love for poetry (meeting only boring quatrains in school that spoke of the glories of British Empire builders strutting the poop deck, or being buried with all honours, bugles playing sad laments - not really my sort of stuff. Maybe if I had known some Spike Milligan it might have all been different) but did read a bit of this fine wordsmith Malcolm Muggeridge, who often weaved into his writings a few couplets of William Blake. I was quite taken by them and once, seeing a cheap copy of "The Portable Blake" I invested. Such is life. As Keith Richards has said, all he wants on his gravestone is:- "He passed it on". The Blues that is, not the cocaine when busted by the police.

Well, whatever, I found many of the couplets quoted by Malcolm Muggeridge to have originated from Blake's "Auguries of Innocence". One such I have always remembered as:-

" The widows mite is worth much more

Than all the gold on Afric's shore"

Which is not quite right, as you will see if you plough through the Auguries. 

Here it is. 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
A Dove house filld with Doves andPigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clipped and armed for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs and Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here and there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog and Widows Cat
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake and Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes and Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent
It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy and Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made and Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight
The Bleat the Bark Bellow and Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear
The Soldier armd with Sword and Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy and sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell and buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age and Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell and Death
The Childs Toys and the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace
When Gold and Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
The Emmets Inch and Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please
If the Sun and Moon should Doubt
Theyd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
The Whore and Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse
Every Night and every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears and God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

The perceptive will perhaps note that Blake's spelling left something to be desired, and his capitalisation was idiosyncratic to say the least. 

 And:- 

The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe

More than just bats perhaps!

But anyway, some great couplets there. enough for a lifetimes reflection if we do not reach for final conclusions. But the word "Innocence" leads to one of Blake's most well known Illuminated Books, "Songs of Innocence and of Experience", which show the two "contrary states of the human soul". Which will serve as the intro to my next post, whenever. 

Thank you. 

 

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William Blake was a man of vision and of the imagination. He saw the world being ushered in by the Newtonian "billiard ball" universe as soul destroying. When Blake painted Newton he is depicted as circumscribing the world with a compass, another way of Blake suggesting the "mind forged manacles" which represented for him pure self-limitation and the denigration of the human imagination. Obviously, we still live in a Newtonian universe and we haven't caught up with Einstein et al.

"May God us keep From Single vision & Newtons sleep."

A poem of Blakes on the same theme is "Mock on, Mock on".....

Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, Mock on, 'tis all in vain.
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back, they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton's Particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.

Getting back to mysticism, rabbits and hats.......

Mystic:-definition

a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.

I think William Blake can somehow be shoved into that definition, but he was more of a one off.

His "social conscience" (for want of better words) belied any thought of his own mysticism being in any way other-worldly.  He saw the strands of realities that led inevitably to young children being used as chimney sweeps, that led to the hypocrisies of the Poor House, and raged against them. 

John Higgs, an admirer, has written well of Blake's "visions". See "William Blake v The World".....

Spoiler Alert:- Blake wins!

 

 

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Well,I did - looking back - say that mentioning Blake's "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" would act as the intro to my next post. It looks likeI was diverted. But no matter.

Many of William Blake's best lyrical poems can be found in his "Songs of Innocence and Experience", songs that show the "two contrary states of the human soul."

These "Songs" are found as pairs, one of "Innocence" and one of "Experience", as in:-

The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost 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 & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

The corresponding song of experience is The Tyger (which often stands alone in examples of Blake's poems - "Tyger" is Blake's spelling of Tiger. His spelling was idiosyncratic to say the least!)

The Tyger

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, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & 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?

Obviously the two poems, as a pair, ask profound questions. But I mentioned previously the "social conscience" of Blake, and this is found in another pair of poems from the "Songs", both called "Holy Thursday".

The poems are about an annual event held in London in the early 19th century when the orphans/unwanted children of the Poor House were paraded through the streets of London by their elders and "betters", and taken to St Paul's Cathedral where they took part in a Service, singing hymns.

The song of Innocence:-

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green
Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door

The song of Experience:-

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reducd to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill'd with thorns.
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e'er the sun does shine,
And where-e'er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall

Relating "innocence" and "experience" as a simple contrast doesn't really cover it for me. It rather involves our whole perception of the world around us, our grasp of ethics. And more.

Time to go.

 

 

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