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

Thursday, September 26, 2013


William Blake was engaged to provide paintings to adorn the fireplace in Yaxham Rectory which was rebuilt in 1820. The rectory was to be occupied by Rev. John Cowper Johnson who served as rector of St Peter's Church. Johnson was a cousin of William Cowper the hymn writer, so Blake's acquaintance with him was through Hayley who was the biographer of Cowper.

The commission included three pictures: Evening and Winter illustrating lines from Cowper's poem The Task, and a landscape of the Olney bridge.

Lines for Blake's Winter from The Task by William Cowper:

"O Winter! ruler of the inverted year,
Thy scattered hair with sleet like ashes filled,
Thy breath congealed upon thy lips, thy cheeks
Fringed with a beard made white with other snows
Than those of age, thy forehead wrapt in clouds.
A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne
A slïding car, indebted to no wheels,
But urged by storms along its slippery way;
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seemest,
And dreaded as thou art."

Blake's poem To Winter written in his youth and included in Poetical Sketches uses some of the same images to portray winter as does Cowper.

Poetical Sketches, To Winter, (E 410)         
"O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs,
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o'er the yawning deep    
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain'd; sheathed
In ribbed steel, I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear'd his sceptre o'er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o'er the groaning rocks: 
He withers all in silence, and his hand       
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal'st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster  
Is driv'n yelling to his caves beneath mount Hecla"
In Songs of Innocence and of Experience Blake began to use winter as an image for the absence of the human dimension. Winter became the state in which the love and grace associated with innocence was withdrawn leaving a bleak and joyless existence. 

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 33, (E 19)
"Holy Thursday
Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty! 

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill'd with thorns.
It is eternal winter there."

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 38, (E 23)
"NURSES Song                                 
When the voices of children, are heard on the green
And whisprings are in the dale:
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,       
My face turns green and pale.

Then come home my children, the sun is gone down
And the dews of night arise
Your spring & your day, are wasted in play
And your winter and night in disguise."

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 53, (E 31)
"The School Boy  
O! father & mother, if buds are nip'd,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip'd
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and cares dismay, 

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear,
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear."
Later winter became for Blake the condition in which change can begin. Conscious of the birth of Jesus in mid-winter, Blake used the season of greatest hardship and despair to bring forth the greatest promise of hope.

Europe, Plate 3, (E 61)
     "The deep of winter came;                                    
     What time the secret child,
Descended thro' the orient gates of the eternal day:
War ceas'd, & all the troops like shadows fled to their abodes.

Then Enitharmon saw her sons & daughters rise around.            
Like pearly clouds they meet together in the crystal house:
And Los, possessor of the moon, joy'd in the peaceful night:
Thus speaking while his num'rous sons shook their bright fiery wings"

Four Zoas, Night V, Page 57, (E 339)
"He stood trembling & Enitharmon clung around his knees
Their senses unexpansive in one stedfast bulk remain
The night blew cold & Enitharmon shriekd on the dismal wind      
Page 58 
Her pale hands cling around her husband & over her weak head
Shadows of Eternal death sit in the leaden air

But the soft pipe the flute the viol organ harp & cymbal
And the sweet sound of silver voices calm the weary couch
Of Enitharmon but her groans drown the immortal harps           
Loud & more loud the living music floats upon the air
Faint & more faint the daylight wanes. The wheels of turning darkness
Began in solemn revolutions. Earth convulsd with rending pangs
Rockd to & fro & cried sore at the groans of Enitharmon   
Still the faint harps & silver voices calm the weary couch      
But from the caves of deepest night ascending in clouds of mist
The winter spread his wide black wings across from pole to pole
Grim frost beneath & terrible snow linkd in a marriage chain
Began a dismal dance. The winds around on pointed rocks
Settled like bats innumerable ready to fly abroad            
The groans of Enitharmon shake the skies the labring Earth
Till from her heart rending his way a terrible Child sprang forth
In thunder smoke & sullen flames & howlings & fury & blood"  

1 comment:

  1. John Milton
    On the Morning of Christs Nativity
    Compos'd 1629

    "It was the Winter wilde,
    While the Heav'n-born-childe, [ 30 ]
    All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
    Nature in aw to him
    Had doff't her gawdy trim,
    With her great Master so to sympathize:
    It was no season then for her [ 35 ]
    To wanton with the Sun her lusty Paramour."