Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Tyger, tyger, burning bright"

Happy 250th birthday to the English poet and champion of human liberty, William Blake!

From his America, A Prophecy, 1793:

Fiery the Angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll'd
Around their shores, indignant burning with the fires of Orc;
And Boston's Angel cried aloud as they flew thro' the dark night.

He cried: `Why trembles honesty; and, like a murderer,
Why seeks he refuge from the frowns of his immortal station?
Must the generous tremble, and leave his joy to the idle, to the pestilence
That mock him? Who commanded this? What God? What Angel?
To keep the gen'rous from experience till the ungenerous
Are unrestrain'd performers of the energies of nature;
Till pity is become a trade, and generosity a science
That men get rich by; and the sandy desert is giv'n to the strong?
What God is he writes laws of peace, and clothes him in a tempest?
What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs?
What crawling villain preaches abstinence and wraps himself
In fat of lambs? No more I follow, no more obedience pay!'

So cried he, rending off his robe and throwing down his sceptre
In sight of Albion's Guardian; and all the Thirteen Angels
Rent off their robes to the hungry wind, and threw their golden sceptres
Down on the land of America; indignant they descended

Headlong from out their heav'nly heights, descending swift as fires
Over the land; naked and flaming are their lineaments seen
In the deep gloom; by Washington and Paine and Warren they stood;
And the flame folded, roaring fierce within the pitchy night...

Blake was a rebel, a mystic, an engraver, and an amazing poet. He was arrested in 1803 for "high treason" for uttering "Damn the King, damn all his subjects..." Luckily, he was acquitted.

Blake's critique of the Industrial Revolution's brutal materialism, and his search for a poetic and religious freedom that would break the chains of human bondage mark him as one of the most important writers giving birth to the modern age. He protested slavery, and believed in racial and sexual equality: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)".

Generations of poets and writers have found great inspriation in the massive, if often obscure, poetry of his "Prophetic Books." His Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience were lyrical portraits of childlike innocence and terror, and a protest against a world that would swallow up human souls in the "demonic mills" of rising capitalism.

Oh, that we could use the spirit of Blake to walk among us today!

"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

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