“As the catterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on,    
      so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.” (54-55)   

Caterpillar-PNG-Transparent-Image egg-clipart-leaf-2

Just when I thought Blake could not get any more confusing, I read this. First, caterpillars are in a stage of pre-reproduction and therefore cannot lay eggs. There is something sick and sinister about presenting a prepubescent being as child-bearing adult. Then, the diction in association with the priest is also odd. Priests are recognized as someone who bestow blessings on others, not curses. Maybe I didn’t expect things to become so twisted even with the knowledge that hell is in the title of the poem.

What is even more interesting are the parallels that can be drawn in this proverb. One example is the parallel between the caterpillar and the priest. If the priest is compared to a caterpillar, the priest is then in a condition where they cannot lay anything, or we could say transfer knowledge. Had it been a butterfly and not a caterpillar, the priest would then have the authority to teach. If the butterfly is one step above the caterpillar, then what is one step above the priest? Some might say it is God. Blake chose the caterpillar because no priest can ever be at the same level as God. If not even priests can be compared to God, then based on the hierarchical system, no one else can, too. This might make us question whether there is a purpose for religion at all.

Another thing to note is that the priest is not only compared to just any caterpillar, but a female caterpillar. There is a possibility that Blake made this decision because it was the easiest way to make this analogy work. On the other hand, he is raising the question on whether God is a man or a woman, or whether God even has a gender.

Joy in this context can be referred to children in reference to “Infant Joy” from Songs of Innocence. The parallel to joys here are leaves. Children are like leaves, attached to a branch, untouched except by the inhabitants of the tree. Like how one chooses the prettiest flower from the bush to pluck, the caterpillar and the priest chooses the purest child to soil and the sinister element is brought forward again. It appears as a constant battle between good and evil where evil prevails each time.

-Van Vang