Category: William Blake’s reception


Are you the Eagle or the Crow?

When first reading the Proverbs of Hell, I read them as Hell’s version of the “Ten Commandments” simply from the title of the piece itself. However, after closely reading the piece, I came to the realization that it served more as a “list of truths and revelations”. Blake does not take a side in regards to these proverbs being completely true, rather he takes what he learned from “walking the fires of hell” and lays his knowledge out on the table for us to make what we wish out of it. In other words, Blake leaves the decision of the validity of these proverbs to be decided by us.

One of the proverbs that really stood out to me was specifically on lines 45-46 where he says “The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow” (Blake, 72). This proverb stood out to me because Blake again incorporates the symbol of the eagle, but this time compares it to a crow rather than an owl as we have observed in The Songs of Innocence. An eagle is typically seen as the most majestic of all bird species, in addition the symbol of the eagle is associated with “freedom” or self-discovery.  In contrast, a crow is a black and ugly creature, which is typically associated with death. A majestic eagle would surely waste it’s time learning from a bird that is below his class.

I related this idea of “freedom” and “death” through the symbol of the birds, back to the this question of what is good versus what is evil. We as a society have lived our lives based on a set of rules and guidelines in order to live a “good” life. If we stray from that path, we must repent for the “sins” we have committed. BUT, I came to realize that it has evolved into something more than just what’s good and whats bad, it has been morphed into a selfish dictatorship from a higher power (in Blake’s time, the corrupted Church). We ultimately have the power to decide whether we will stray from these rules and guidelines, stray from the crow, and self discover the truth for ourselves and become the divine Eagle.

In conclusion, Neither black nor white, good nor evil, William Blake’s TRUE poetic genius allows us to erase these boundaries that separate one from the other, and see aspects of the world around us in a new light.

-Kimberly Martinez-Melchor

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William Blake touches upon the necessity to contraries working together to build an understanding to a whole idea. He uses the proverb of “Opposition is True Friendship” as a way to teach readers through failure that there is a way to harness contraries to understand them. He feels that it is necessary that people understand both sides to an argument as just having one side has someone open to criticism. It falsifies an argument as there is not enough substance to be able to keep the argument afloat if there is no way to have this openness. He states in his proverb “Swedenborg has not written one new truth: Now hear another: he has written all the old falshoods” (79). “Truths” are not statements that are established without “falshoods” as before they become true there will always be opposition to break them down. It is during this process that one must continue on to deepen their understanding of these topics as falseness actually can lead to truth it is just a step in furthering knowledge, he just warns against staying within a confinement of being wrong. He continues saying “Swedenborg’s writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further” (79). In order to be free from “recapitulations” and have opinions that are more than “superficial” statements there must be greater effort in delving into the understanding of a bigger picture. It is this that will help to scratch the surface of the argument.  Thus, Swedenborg is being used as a cautionary tale of the human mind and their necessity to have depth-ness to their thoughts. As the superficial is something that has already been stated it is important to view the bigger picture to have more concentrated understandings of the human psyche.

-Alexis Blanco

William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” are astonishing in so many levels. First of all, when I think of the word “proverb” I associate it with a religious connotation – The Book of Proverbs –  and how it’s meant to inform people on how to live their life “truthfully” and “correctly” by honoring God; e.g. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5). However, in Blake’s last proverb, he goes on to say, “Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.” In other words, Blake sheds light on his idea that people should already know “truth” without questioning it; that the truth can’t be told in a way that’s going to misinform individuals. However, with Marilyn Manson’s performance of the proverbs, it adds a very dark and rogue tone to the words. Almost like a parallel to society; that we live in a dark world in which truth surrounds us. We may question some of these dark truths but deep down inside, we may already know the answer them. With Manson’s performance, the proverbs sound like a form of common sense were supposed to know; one should already know and be aware that “the nakedness of woman is the work of God” and that “one thought fills immensity.” We’re expected to know these things based on the day to day lives we live.

Blakes touches on his idea of the poetic Genius again, in “Provers of Hell”; he claims that it is both a natural–not taught–kind of Genius, and that it isn’t necessarily the best looking process. Blake writes in lines 66-7: “Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.” This goes back to the conversation with Blake and Reynolds wherein Blake argues that the kind of poetic Genius he is talking about cannot be taught in an institution; it is merely within us all and only within ourselves can we find that power.

So then, what Blake is restating in this proverb is the “naturalness” of that Genius, claiming that though it is not practiced and taught, it is the best path to walk on. In addition, he is also stating that through the Genius, improvement is futile because what is written through the Genius cannot be perfected nor improved; it is already perfect.

The same idea comes in form of another proverb: “All wholesom food is caught without a net or a trap”, which alludes to the unnecessary use of extra tools. Relating back to my argument, those tools would be practices of exploiting the Genius out of the body by way of force through an institution. The way of the Genius, the natural & crooked, is more wholesome than using the aid of others.

I suppose the first part of the proverb, the institutionalized aspect of learning, belongs to hell; Blake sees this way of thinking as an infernal belief. The reason for this is because the narrator of the Marriage texts reflects Blake’s character and artistry, through the fact that he is self-educated and discusses his teaching of the proverbs he’s found. The parallel then shifts the poetic Genius to the divine image of heaven. In the marriage between himself and society, he is the prophet.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

Guidelines for close reading

To help students with their interpretations and writing, please apply the five guidelines for close reading:

  1. Identify poetic voice, style, and form.
  2. Look for irony, paradox, ambiguity, and tension.
  3. Note those words, phrases, or images that seem odd or out- of-place.
  4. Note any important symbols, motifs, and themes.
  5. Is there anything missing from the text/artwork that should be there?

Children are wanted to be thought of as innocent bearers of light that are the hope for a better existence. Yet there is always that fear that they will grow up and become exposed to the truths that taint them and destroy that child-like wonder that they have. It is through the The Nurse’s Song, in both Innocence and Experience, that show this promise of a protected being full of life and vibrancy but that could easily be affected by the harsh realities that the world has to offer. In Innocence, Blake states:

When the voices of children are heard on the green

And laughing is heard on the hill,

My Heart is at rest within my breast

And every thing else is still

The poem gives the idea that the “voices of the children” are this harmonizing song of promise of joy. It is this song of innocence that is being “heard on the hill” and reassures them that the harsh realities will not affect the children. The want to preserve their childhood and have them “rest” and keep them “still” however in truth there is no way of avoiding the truths of reality. The poem undergoes an evolution when Walker decides to give the children a nostalgic view through the Experience collection. Blake starts off the poem:

When the voices of children are heard on the green

And whisperings are in the dale:

The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,

My face turns green and pale

He decides to start the poem just as the other one to invoke a sense of connectivity with the past and that the past itself is what shapes one. It is a callback to better times when that childlike wonder existed but also helps to paint a new status quo of age. There is nostalgia in the way that the narrator speaks about “The days of my youth” being ‘fresh in my mind” and it is something that the narrator lacks. It is this that transforms them into “green and pale” a sickness that spreads through them taking away the innocence and replacing it with experience. These contraries serve not to go against one another but rather remind the former of where they came from. Some see the innocence being lost as a negative but what Blake is trying to reassure others is that they will retain some semblance of it in their memory. It is this memory that further helps to develop them into a being of thought and wisdom.

-Alexis Blanco

The innocence that is found in “A Dream” is bounded by the warm opportunistic tone offered in the last two stanzas, especially the last the line:

Pitying, I dropped a tear:
But I saw a glow-worm near,
Who replied, ‘What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night?

‘I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetle’s hum;
Little wanderer, hie thee home! ‘

It appears as if the Emmet is given the chance to unite with their family once again, offered by the open-ended style of the resolution. Here, the reader is immediately pulled into the world of the ant and their family; an image of their reuniting is fantasized as move on from the story. It has no real ending other than the glow-worm offering its aid to the ant. Had this been written for Experience, then I’m sure Blake would have suggested a different ending; if it were anything like the ending found in “The Angel”, we would find the Emmet was too late. Though this was only the dream of innocence, and only a dream of experience ends this way…

I hate to pose the same question as the speaker in Blake’s poem, but what can it mean, this dream? If the idea of experience is to bridge the outcomes of reality and build expectations from said experience, what can this dream–of a fictional place–mean in relation to experience? Surely even the concept of dreaming and the fountain of imagination of which it is created, must be considered innocent, for they are unreal–a non-tangible experience. But where do we begin deeming the ideas of the subconscious as manifestations of experience?

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

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William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience are dichotomized into two categories: one of the newness of childhood and another that is tainted by the perils of misery. However, although the poems differ in form and attitude, there are also parallels and threads that beg to be analyzed by the reader.

The poem EARTH’s Answer. from the Songs of Experience contrasts the poem The Lamb from the Songs of Innocence for obvious reasons. The Earth’s Answer is a poem that personifies the Earth as a divine (feminine) character. Whereas, The Lamb is a poem that is about an innocent child, a male character, talking to a male character (if we will call the Christian God male). The Lamb is also devout to God and blessed by him: “Little Lamb God bless thee”. Earth’s Answer has a more resentful tone stating: “I hear the Father of the ancient men/ Selfish father of men/ Cruel jealous selfish fear”.

Both poems can be comparable because they both deal with entrapment. In Earth’s answer the bondage that the Earth experiences is more apparent as she is: “chain’d in night” and “her locks covered with grey despair”. The bondage in the Songs of Experience is due to the condition of mankind that needs to help her break the chains of their selfish fear that denies free love. In The Lamb, the bondage is less apparent. The entrapment in this sense is apparent by the inquiry of the voice (the boy) asking the lamb (but not really asking since he knows the answer) who “gave thee life & bid thee feed” and “gave thee clothing of delight”. The Boy asking The Lamb who has done all of this for him takes on an expectation of forced gratitude from the lamb that owes everything to God. In a way, to be forced to be grateful itself is an act of control over an individual. In this way the lamb is also being imprisoned by God himself.

-Beyanira Bautista

 

Have you ever caught yourself rewatching a film you watched as a child, or listen to a song you heard growing up, and finally understood the dark, or “scandalous” humor/lyrics used that you never understood as a child? I know it happens to me a lot, especially within my four years here in college. The reason for this is because growing up, we are naive and unaware of the “bad” in the world; our minds are ultimately innocent. It is through experience, and growing up that we come to the realization that the world isn’t just black and white.

Relating to this idea of “coming of age”, I particularly looked at Blake’s “The Echoing Green” from The Songs of Innocence, and “The Angel” from The Songs of Experience. I found these two poems to be contrary with similar ideas of this concept of “coming of age” in question. The contrary between these two poems is that The Echoing Green describes childhood as this lively and joyful time, filled with bells of “chearful sound” (Blake, 14). Readers here envision childhood as the “ultimate paradise” one can be in. The Angel on the other hand, relates this state of childhood with constant shed of tears “both night and day” (Blake, 38). Childhood here is seen as this dark, and crippling state, with the Angel having to constantly comfort the maiden Queen. Both poems however, end with the idea that childhood eventually comes to an end, when we grow up, experience, and become fully aware of the kind of world we live in. The Echoing Green ends with “And our sports have an end…sport no more seen, On the darkening Green” (Blake, 14). The last two lines of The Angel read “For the time of youth was fled…And grey hairs were on my head” (Blake, 38).

Identifying the similarities and difference between the poems we can begin to see Blake’s “poetic” genius forcing us to ponder on how poems in both Songs work together to provide the “big picture”.

-Kimberly Martinez-Melchor

In William Blake’s “Infant Joy,” he immediately presents the reader with a new born child who asserts nothing but happiness:

“‘I happy am, / Joy is my name.’” (lines 4 – 5).

While the child may not have a name, he/she lets the world know of their own internal state of blissfulness. Before being exposed to knowledge, children are happy. Before and after birth, nothing’s tainted their minds, their viewpoints, or their imaginations. Life is easy for children. Life if “joy” for children.

Unlike “Infant Joy,” “Infant Sorrow” sheds light on the child’s vulnerabilities and its worries: “Into the dangerous world I leapt, / Helpless, naked, piping loud, / Like a fiend hid in a cloud” (lines 2 – 4).  The child is no longer inside the womb where its protected from all harm and evil, its naked body is now exposed to society; it’s ears now have the ability to hear the “piping” around him / her; feeling like an “evil” spirit hiding behind a cloud. Unlike a child whose mind hasn’t been influenced by the rest of society, this child worries about the “fiend” that may be brought upon him / her when they leap into the world. Rather than enjoying its purity, the child agonizes about the effects life will have on him/her once he/she finally acquires knowledge and judgement.

By reading these two poems side by side, it gets the reader thinking about the themes Blake often used in his writing (life, death, happiness etc…). Essentially, these themes become applicable to the world we live in. When we were children, we had nothing to work about; no bills to pay, no books to buy; we lived in a stress-free environment when we were children. Both of these poems serve as a message to remind people to always remain bliss; not for others but for oneself. One minute were two days old, the next, we’re submitting grad school applications. They serve as a message to enjoy life and take advantage of each and every moment; never stress about the small things; engulf in the happiness you get from life.