Thursday, March 20, 2008

William Blake

Well I just finished the works of William Blake, and I am a bit disappointed. Most of his good stuff is his well known stuff, and the obscure is very uneven. Blake recycled a lot of his work, and the sameness of the images and the extravagance of his hate for the establishment gets wearisome. For example, this encapsulates Blake's world view, from "Auguries of Innocence"

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

but the rest of the poem is crude and mundane. Or his statement

If a thing loves, it is infinite

shows the way to his view that any imagination confined, any self-denial, is contrary to God's will. My favourite of his prophetic books is "The French Revolution", a mythic poem with cohesion, vivid imagery and meaning For anybody wanting to start his myth cycle, that would be where I recommend. If you read Blake's work with an eye towards his championing of women, the working class, and the abolition of slavery, as well as the overthrow of the tyranny of the Church and State, you will get more out of it. As generally I find only snippets of his work to be consistently interesting, there are few poems I can display that show Blake at his best. This one is justly famous, so I leave you with it

Preface to Milton

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountain green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.


Helen said...

Every time I hear of William Blake I think of Bull Durham - was it the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom?
Great movie!

John said...

Me too!

Annie: [In response to Crash's query, "Who dresses you?"] The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. William Blake.
Crash: William Blake?
Annie: William Blake!
Crash: William Blake?!
Annie: William Blake!
Crash: What do you mean William Blake?
Annie: I mean William Blake!