I decided to read and record two poems from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. I chose the Lamb from the Songs of Innocence and its counterpart the Tyger from the Songs of Experience.
I have enjoyed Blake for many years, although perhaps “been fascinated by” might be more accurate. I have never been altogether too sure whether Blake is to be enjoyed or endured. A man of often terrifying vision.
I have given a little of my own interpretation of these contrasting poems, and I hope that this causes no difficulty, neither upsets others’ notions of what these works signify. My interpretation is, needless to say, my own.
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I enjoyed your recitation and commentary in this podcast and was able to read along with the poem recital in my volume of British literature, which includes a fair number of Blake’s works.
Your suggestion that such poetic offerings may be less likely to appear these days, while true in the sense that the popularity of such offerings might be less evident in the general run of 21st century media, writers of great works from the recent past like W.B. Yeats, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and even Virginia Woolf are still fairly popular among the literate and artistic communities, and perhaps what we are seeing these days is more a consequence of the evolution of creative literature, rather than simply a lack of interest or attention to such ideas.
Your commentary also reminded me of a passage from Blake’s lengthy work, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” in which he expresses:
“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.”
Blake’s view of the world-at-large was a bit dark, it would seem, but so was everyday life in London in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, where he spent most of his life. He also apparently did not enjoy much notoriety as a writer in his own time, but even in my literature classes in the mid-1980’s, my professors enthusiastically praised his works, and even almost two-hundred years after his demise, we are still talking about them!
Wonderful beginning to a much anticipated series here…..John H.
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John, thank you for your wonderful comments. An interesting quote from the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, another well trodden path for me as a youth when I read much Blake. And of course a similar theme – good and evil.
You know, I think I find myself more and more inclined to seek comfort and avoid what disturbs me. I can not imagine reading Revelation these days and I probably only ever glanced at the more notorious passages of that nightmare work.
Interesting what you say. I was pondering Blake as I wandered across the fields this afternoon and dreamt up a title for my next podcast “I’m Off to Narnia”.
I know we can not avoid evil – we are surrounded by it. It exists. Or at least it exists in terms of our own human morality.
But you very wisely told me a while ago that we should look for good in the world, and I was very grateful for you drawing my attention to the penal system in Iceland and Scandinavia. That really did give me pause for thought.
In a similar fashion I found myself wondering this afternoon whether I was rubbing the disturbing in my own face by re-reading Blake. Rather as you suggested I should look to the good not the bad in the real world, I can not help but wonder whether my well being might similarly be improved by concentrating on more cheerful fare than staring through William Blake;s “doors of perception”.
Its rather like with Netflix or any other entertainment – I find myself a great deal more content after watching a heart warming episode of Sex Education than after watching watching a violent Krimi.
I do think Blake was very close to the edge in terms of sanity. Perhaps I will stick to Jane Austen or the Chronicles of Narnia!
Enjoyable monologue and recitation, Anthony.
Hopefully this is just an entertaining literary exercise, not a reversion to including humanity as a comparative benchmark in experiencing Cosmic Reality? Blake was much circumscribed by his times.
Best wishes, Keith.
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No indeed. I was hesitant in a sense to read or comment on Blake for just that reason. I for one certainly do not ponder on a creator or why such a chimeric and elusive beast would create both “good” and “evil”. It is just that having given up on the conventional world, one sees with an ever increasing certainty the foolishness of man and his ridiculous preoccupation with dominance, power and money. It is all so painfully irrelevant. So I feel there is a certain utility in looking at the lamb and the tyger. Not in any religious sense but rather in seeing through the emptiness of the pointless behavior of the tyger and his materialist ambitions.
While we are conscious beings on this rocky outcrop, we may as well behave as decently as we can.
And while I have very little if any interest in the world and its ten thousand things, it seems to me that while we are here we would be better off behaving as lambs rather than tygers. It just seems the decent thing to do. Regardless of whether it matters or not in the big picture, I see the tyger’s behavior as shamelessly pointless and unnecessary.