“Visions of the Daughters of Albion” by William Blake was on the Agenda for third years this week: what an amazing poem in its challenge to conventional views of women and sexuality. Blake is here daring to declare that women have the right to determine their own sexuality -despite the tyranny of males. This poem is a song of freedom for women, but it also shows just how hard it is for women to free themselves: the whole of society is structured to keep women as a kind of subservient slave class -according to Blake. In the image below, on the right hand side is the title page showing Oothoon fleeing across the ocean – away from a wrathful masculine figure. On the left, is the image on the frontispiece of the poem with Oothoon shackled to a man who has abused her, Bromion, while her rightful lover is consumed with jealously on the rocks behind. The whole scene takes place in a cave with a sick and sinister sun rising in the background. In fact the scene looks almost like the inside of a human skull: this indeed is where so much human drama takes place- and it is this that humans have to fight to free themselves: “The mind-forged manacles” that Blake spoke about in his poem “London”.
With our passionate Second Years we worked on William Butler Yeats- a poet deeply influenced by Blake in fact. Both poets were deeply concerned with finding ways to make the human spirit whole – as a way of defending the human being against the chaos in the surrounding world: “Things fall apart the centre cannot hold” says Blake in “The Second Coming” and his poetry searches for that stabilizing centre that he finds and expresses so powerfully in a simple poem like “The Isle of Innisfree”, with its “Deep heart’s core”. This was Yeats’ quest through his whole life… to find the deep heart’s core… as a security against thost “things” falling apart. The Wild Swans at Coole… also provided him with a sense of continuity and inner solidity that he felt lacking so much in the world around him, and in himself
With my industrious, keen first years we worked hard on Judith Wright, on her quest for inner stability – in poems like “Pool and Star”. And we looked at the way she uses nature to challenge human beings to open their hearts to a different reality, beyond the limits of their reason. We saw this in “The Cycads” and “Gum Trees Stripping”. It is extraordinary when you put these three poets (Blake, Yeats and Wright) together how close are their central core concerns – although of course the details of the landscape and the imagery are quite different: Yeats’ Ireland, Wright’s primeval Australia and Blake’s fantastic imaginary, symbolic worlds: what a feast! Enjoy it now- one day you will all be out in the real world of work and won’t have time to indulge your poetic side so much. Here is my doctored image of the star reflected in the pool that meant so much to Judith Wright: a fabulous metaphor for a state of mind free from everyday clutter, open to the wonders and mystery of the universe. What an amazing insight Judith Wright has!
Here are a few lines from Wright’s poem:
Let me be most clear and most tender;
let no wind break my perfection.
Let the stream of my life run muted,
and a pure sleep unbar
my every depth and secret.
I wait for the risingof a star
whose spear of light shall transfix me
of a far off world whose silence
my very truth must answer…
What an amazing poem of inner vision this. She sees what is necessary to still, quieten the mind. And she expresses her experience of what the fruit of this stillness could be. Incidentally the photograph here is of the rock shelf at Tippet’s Lookout at the Northern edge of Kuring-gai Chase not far from Jerusalem Bay: one of my favourite walking haunts! Went there with my friend Graeme around 6 weeks ago.