Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Power of a Poem 12

I have always loved William Blake (1757-1827) whom we studied long ago at college and of whom I have written at length on many occasions in these pages, especially here at this link: BlakeEssayTQ.  Of course, I had come across him at school because we had learnt by heart one of his wonderfully melodious poems or more precisely lyrics from Songs of Innocence.  We learnt the poetic Introducction by heart, i.e., "Piping down the valleys wild etc." 

Blake is known a pre-Romantic, and his style is completely sui generis and unconventional.  He uses the first person pronoun "I" and "me" quite a lot just as the Romantics were to do.  Also his verse was written in the language of the people which both Wordsworth and Coleridge were to popularise so much some years later.  However, Blake was not just a poet, but combined great artistic sensitivity and ability with wonderful craftsmanship as an illustrator supreme.  Indeed most of his early poems appeared as words emblazoned on artistic plates which contained amazingly original illustrations. 

He also was a mystic, much influenced by the great Swedenborg.  Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 - 1772) was a Swedish scientist, philosopher, Christian mystic and theologian who had a prolific career as an inventor and scientist. In 1741 at the age of fifty-three he entered into a spiritual phase in which he eventually began to experience dreams and visions beginning on Easter weekend April 6, 1744. He claimed that the Lord had opened his eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons, and other spirits. For the remaining 28 years of his life, he wrote and published 18 theological works, of which the best known was Heaven and Hell (1758) and several unpublished theological works.  It could be said that the young Blake found in this learned spiritualist a fellow or kindred spirit on whom he modelled himself.  He certainly imbibed much of Swedenborg's spiritualism, especially with the conviction that he like his mentor could talk to angels and demons.  Indeed, Blake was also to write a book of amazing originality called also Heaven and Hell again like his mentor.

Blake was also amazingly ahead of his time in his commitment to the rights of workers and to the exploitation of children workers in the mines and also as chimney sweeps.  He had an amazingly sharp social conscience, and wrote a lot about liberty and freedom.  In fact, at one statge, he was spied upon by the crown because of his republican and revolutionary sympathies.  This caused him much upset.  It's just that his spirituality/spiritualism was also one rooted in the rights of others - no small feat for a man who lived in such narrow-minded and closed times. My Blakean offering here is a lovely wee poem that is highly critical of organized, institutionalized or clericalized Christianity.  This poem could certainly be seen as a critique of the modern Roman Catholic Church.

The Garden of Love

I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dank
Weeping, weeping.

Then I went to the heath and the wild,
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And "Thou shalt not," writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

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