I was struck today by a comment by someone in class who said “I am finding so much of what Blake writes about touches aspects of my own experience”. That is perfect and beautiful. His writing is hauntingly mysterious and yet somehow touches deep into our own imperfections and our own search for what is true. “The Human Abstract” is such a poem with which we wrestled and wrestled today. There are those powerful opening lines that point out painfully that all our efforts of “Pity” and “Mercy” are concepts that could not exist if we did not experience ourselves as above, or superior to those around us. They are virtues made by privileged humans. Blake forces me to take stock of my so-called virtues. What more is possible in this life-time, for me! Then there is that almost grotesque description of how my behaviour, my “abstract” behaviour, divorced from any true and deep respect for “the other” is the source of some horrible internal growth which masquerades as human and expresses itself as a “Tree” of “Deceit” of “Mystery” of “Cruelty” that grows “in the Human Brain”- nightmare territory!
We also looked today at the “Introduction” to Songs of Experience. Here we were challenged to work out whether the “Bard” “Who Present, Past, & Future sees” was an enlightened being urging the female “Earth” to wake up and renew her energies by facing the sun, OR whether “the voice of the Bard” was a tyrannical commander, the “Selfish father of men”? If we listen to “The Voice of the Ancient Bard”, the last poem in Songs of Experience it seems likely that Blake’s Bard is an enlightened being heralding “image of truth new born”, pushing away, in its wake, “Doubt…clouds of reason./Dark disputes…”
So Blake both confronts us with questions and, if we read on into his work, resolves them. The whole work is an organic whole with one part answering the other. And this is what we will find next week as we approach The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Blog Topics for Week 4 (and remember Peer Reviews begin this week- the official URL list will be posted soon: make sure you are there!)
*Take one line from “The Human Abstract” and build your own poem from that one line and also try to illustrate your poem with your own graphic (coloured if possible). Stick to the form of Blake’s poem in line length and rhyme (if possible)
*Youtube record yourself making a dramatic reading of one of Blake’s poems studied so far and give a short interpretative commentary on the poem after you have read it. Post this into your blog.
*Imagine that you are Thomas Butts and that you have received the letter written to you by William Blake from Felpham on October 2, 1800. Thank him for the poem that was sent to you and tell Blake what you think about his poem.
*Write a short review of the Open University web site which features commentary on all the Songs of Innocence and Experience. Would you recommend this site? Give some reasons for this (and a couple of examples if possible).
*Explore the meaning of the word “Bard” as used by Blake in a number of places and as used by other poets and historians. Search the Blake Archive at http://www.blakearchive.org/ to find out where else Blake uses the word and what the context is. Is it possible to say why Blake chose this particular word?
*Pick out a few of the most arresting qualities of Mr Blake as described by his friend Samuel Palmer in his Letter to Alexander Gilchrist. From these qualities describe in your own words (with quotations from Palmer’s letter as necessary) what kind of a man Mr William Blake was.
William Blake (1757-1827) Life Mask made in 1823