Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


British Museum
Frontispiece to Second Eclogue
Thornton's Pastorals of Virgil
It is not surprising that Blake took delight in inventing the illustrations for the Second Eclogue of Ambrose Phillips in Thornton's Pastorals of Virgil. Blake found here another opportunity to illustrate the contrary states of mankind which he had portrayed so many times before; but of course in a different setting and a different context. 

An example of opposed positions through which the human psyche passes is explored is SONGS Of INNOCENCE and Of EXPERIENCE, subtitled Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. The innocence of the child protected from the harshness of of life is contrasted with the mind which knows the brutal side of nature and society.
In Blake's Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso he pictures the contrasting mental states which are light hearted and care free with those which are pensive and reflective. It is the youth who enjoys the world of mirth and pleasure and the older man who finds himself in a state of melancholy and contemplation.

Blake could appreciate the reversed positions of youth and age in Thenot and Colinet in Ambrose's eclogue, for here we see confusion and negativity in the young man and confidence and pleasure in the aged.   

"Yet, tho' with Years my Body downward tend,
As Trees beneath their Fruit in Autumn bend,
My Mind a chearful Temper still retains,"
"Scarce does one smiling Hour my Youth attend:
Tho' few my Days, as my own Follies show,
Yet all those Days are clouded o'er with Woe:
No Gleam of happy Sun-shine does appear
My lowring Skie and wintry Days to chear."

Blake could take pleasure in the role of the older man as patient counsellor and teacher who gave comfort and encouragement to the discouraged youth. At the time he produced the illustrations to the Pastorals of Virgil, Blake was beginning relationships with the younger men to whom Linnell introduced him. Mutually supportive friendships developed in the circle of artists who offered their gifts of innocence and experience, exuberance and melancholy, woe and joy to one another. 

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 54, (E 31)
"The Voice of the Ancient Bard.   

Youth of delight come hither:
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born.
Doubt is fled & clouds of reason.
Dark disputes & artful teazing.
Folly is an endless maze,
Tangled roots perplex her ways,

How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but care
And wish to lead others, when they should be led."

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