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

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Yale center for British Art America
Title Plate
Looking at the lives of William Blake and Thomas Paine we find many similarities. Both were born into dissenting families; Blake into Moravians, Paine into Quakers. Both boys had exceptional intellectual abilities which would have set them apart from their milieu. Their fathers were both in trade; Blake's father sold hosiery, Paine's father manufactured stays for corsets. Blake's schooling consisted of a few years of drawing school and apprenticeship to an engraver; Paine went to Grammar school for five years. Each was between the age of thirty and forty before he found the work which would define his life. Both men developed technological skills as well as engaging in intellectual pursuits. Both were childless.

Paine was twenty years Blake's senior. He had influenced the course of the American Revolution with his book Common Sense before his path crossed that of Blake at Joseph Johnson's printing shop. The two men were joined by their desire to change the world. Each had at his command a mighty pen, but Paine had the ear of his contemporaries whereas Blake did not. As it turns out their gifts were complementary; Paine's writing was an intensely burning fire which quickly did its work, Blake's work burns like the embers in a well stoked furnace - releasing its heat and light over a long period. 

Northrup Frye in Fearful Symmetry on pages 66-67 sheds light on the differences between the two men:

"He [Blake] met and liked Tom Paine and respected his honesty as a thinker. Yet Paine could write in his Age of Reason:

'I had some turn, and I believe some talent for poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouraged, as leading too much into the field of imagination.'

The attitude of life implied by such a remark can have no permanent revolutionary vigor, for underlying it is the weary materialism which asserts that the deader a thing is the more trustworthy it is; that a rock is a solid reality and that the vital spirit of a living man is a rarefied and diaphanous ghost. It is no accident that Paine said in the same book that God can be revealed only in mechanics, and that a mill is a microcosm of the universe. A revolution based on such ideas is not an awakening of the spirit of man: if it kills the tyrant it can only replace him with another... 

Revolution is always an attempt to smash the structure of tyranny and create a better world, even when the revolutionaries do not understand what creation implies of what a better world is.

...all we need to say just now is that for Blake the central problem of social and political liberty is the release of the imagination."

Songs and Ballads, Pickering Manuscript, (E 486)
     The Grey Monk               
"I die I die the Mother said
My Children die for lack of Bread 
What more has the merciless Tyrant said
The Monk sat down on the Stony Bed

The blood red ran from the Grey Monks side 
His hands & feet were wounded wide
His Body bent his arms & knees
Like to the roots of ancient trees

His eye was dry no tear could flow
A hollow groan first spoke his woe 
He trembled & shudderd upon the Bed
At length with a feeble cry he said

When God commanded this hand to write
In the studious hours of deep midnight
He told me the writing I wrote should prove 
The Bane of all that on Earth I lovd        

My Brother starvd between two Walls
His Childrens Cry my Soul appalls
I mockd at the wrack & griding chain        
My bent body mocks their torturing pain     

Thy Father drew his sword in the North
With his thousands strong he marched forth  
Thy Brother has armd himself in Steel       
To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel      

But vain the Sword & vain the Bow 
They never can work Wars overthrow
The Hermits Prayer & the Widows tear
Alone can free the World from fear

For a Tear is an Intellectual Thing         
And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King 
And the bitter groan of the Martyrs woe     
Is an Arrow from the Almighties Bow

The hand of Vengeance found the Bed         
To which the Purple Tyrant fled
The iron hand crushd the Tyrants head 
And became a Tyrant in his stead" 

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