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

Wednesday, July 28, 2021


Wikipedia Commons
Songs of Innocence
Plate 9, Copy Y

The Little Black Boy is presented in the voice of the black child. Perhaps we whites are now being sensitized to racial tensions from the perspective of non-dominant race. Each has been trained to see from his own point of view. The 'black cloud' and the 'white cloud' prevent both children from seeing each other as beloved children of God who have gifts for the other.

A beauty of poetry is that it is capable of speaking to different individuals in different ways, and to the same individual in different ways at different times. Today I am listening to The Little Black Boy by focusing on the 'black cloud' and the 'white cloud' from which the black child and white child must be set free.

Years ago the theologian Nels Ferre wrote a book titled The Sun and the Umbrella. Ferre based his book on Plato's myth of the cave in which mankind's perception of reality came from seeing only shadows, not from the objects which cast the shadows. In Ferre's myth mankind was released from the cave so that he could see reality directly. But Ferre postulated the the direct vision was too bright for those who were exposed to it. Rather than return to the cave, some constructed Umbrellas to protect themselves from the intensity of naked truth.   

I am becoming aware that 'we backs' and 'we whites' voluntarily live within clouds which shield us from the truth of a fuller knowledge of our brotherhood. We construct fantasies based on false conceptions, on self interest, on fears, and on historical divisions. Blake's poem indicates that breaking down the barriers to love is not painless. But if we are to 'bear the beams of love,' each must free himself from the cloud which shields him as does Ferre's umbrella. It is from the intensity of experiencing The Divine Vision that we try to escape.  
Songs of Innocence, Plate 9, (E 9)   
"The Little Black Boy.

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:
But I am black as if bereav'd of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say.

Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.      
And flowers and trees and beasts and men recieve
Comfort in morning joy in the noon day.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face      
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

SONGS 10  
For when our souls have learn'd the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

Thus  did my mother say and kissed me,
And thus I say to little English boy;
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:

Ill shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me."

Milton, Plate 32 [35], (E 131)
"Because we were combind in Freedom & holy Brotherhood While those combind by Satans Tyranny first in the blood of War And Sacrifice &, next, in Chains of imprisonment: are Shapeless Rocks Retaining only Satans Mathematic Holiness, Length: Bredth & Highth Calling the Human Imagination: which is the Divine Vision & Fruition In which Man liveth eternally: madness & blasphemy, against Its own Qualities, which are Servants of Humanity, not Gods or Lords."

Jerusalem, Plate 27, (E 173)
"The Divine Vision still was seen Still was the Human Form, Divine Weeping in weak & mortal clay O Jesus still the Form was thine. And thine the Human Face & thine The Human Hands & Feet & Breath Entering thro' the Gates of Birth And passing thro' the Gates of Death"

From an address by Thorwald W. Bender

'S CHRISTOLOGY: "Christ in You the Hope of Glory"

"The following quotations from The Sun and the Umbrella voices  his concern:

'Unfortunately , the face of God has been hid under 
Christian Umbrellas. The power of the Sun seldom falls 
directly on the worshippers. The healing rays of the Sun 
are deflected, thrown back and absorbed by the Umbrellas 
under which the Gospel of God as Love is proclaimed. 
Even Christian theology can be an effective Umbrella 
against the full light of the Sun. Much of the formulation of 
the Christian faith is made out of a closely woven fabric 
under which alone the early disciples dared to leave the 
House of Legality. Can we now sift, in some way, what is 
Light from what is Umbrella? The task has to be done.'"   


Monday, July 26, 2021


Wikipedia Commons
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Copy Z, Plate 32

Quoting from William Blake: Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Edited by Andrew Lincoln:

Introduction, Page 10

"The Songs of Innocence and of Experience rarely offer simple choices - as between moral absolutes - but tend to emphasize the relativity of particular images and points of view. 'Mercy, Pity, Love and Peace' can reveal the innate divinity of all human life, or mask the selfishness of the natural heart. To accept the one view and refuse the alternative would be to turn away from an unpleasant truth or to accept a reductive view of human feeling. Some poems contain contradictory views within them, and as we shall see, Blake's technique generates ambiguities that repeatedly complicate interpretation. Few books offer such a challenge with such a disarming appearance of simplicity."

When I learned that Bono and U2 had named their tour in 2014-15 Songs of Innocence and had followed up with Songs of Experience in 2017, I wanted to learn the connection between Bono and Blake. They topped it off with a combined tour Innocence and Experience in 2018.

Here is what Bono had to say in an Interview with Rolling Stones:

What are the common themes that tie the songs on Songs of Experience together?
"I try not to talk about William Blake too much because it sounds pretentious quoting such a literary giant but it was his great idea I pinched to compare the person we become through experience to the person who set out on the journey. If you’re talking about innocence, you’ve probably already lost it but I do believe at the far end of experience, it’s possible to recover it with wisdom. I’m not saying I have much of that but what little I have, I wanted to cram into these songs. I know U2 go into every album like it’s their last one but even more this time I wanted the people around me that I loved to know exactly how I felt. So a lot of the songs are kind of letters, letters to Ali [wife], letters to my sons and daughters, actually our sons and daughters."
And one that I didn’t realize until too late that I was writing to myself, “It’s the Little Things Give You Away.” In all of these advice type songs, you are of course preaching what you need to hear. In that sense, they’re all written to the singer. One other piece on Blake, I don’t know if I’m explaining too much here but the best songs for me are often arguments with yourself or arguments with some other version of yourself. Even singing our song “One,” which was half fiction, I’ve had this ongoing fight. In “Little Things,” innocence challenges experience: “I saw you on the stairs, you didn’t notice I was there, that’s cause you were busy talking at me, not to me. You were high above the storm, a hurricane being born but this freedom just might cost you your liberty.”

At the end of the song, experience breaks down and admits his deepest fears, having been called out on it by his younger, braver, bolder self. That same conversation also opens the album with a song called ”Love Is All We Have Left.” My favorite opening line to a U2 album: “There’s nothing to stop this being the best day ever.” In the second verse, innocence admonishes experience: “Now you’re at the other end of the telescope, seven billion stars in her eyes, so many stars so many ways of seeing, hey, this is no time not to be alive.” It’s a chilling moment – in the chorus I was pretending to be Frank Sinatra singing on the moon, a sci-fi torch song “love, love is all we have left, a baby cries on the doorstep, love is all we have left.”

Here is a quote from Hopeful Symmetry: A Blakeian Look at U2’s Songs Of Experience:

"But as with U2’s Songs of Innocence, and much of U2’s music, out of the darkness comes light.  Joyful defiance.

You see now why we cry: the raw honesty of the letters to loved ones, the thought of losing Bono, the thought of losing things we hold dear – like freedom, democracy… the empathy for what Bono might have gone through during and after his scare, the empathy with refugees. This album is an emotional juggernaut.  It hits you with all the feels…"

Bono sings Let your love be known

It seems clear to me that Blake's goal was that readers of Songs of Innocence and of Experience not approach the poems as an intellectual exercise. Although the poems can yield much insight to the intellect, they speak just a powerfully to the emotions and to the Soul or Imagination (to use Blake's term.) Symbolic language necessarily connects differently to each mind that it enters according to the gifts of the beholder. It is not surprising that a musician responds to the Songs as an intuitive, emotional experience. 

Bono and U2 seem to have assimilated Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience and produced in their own media and style, groups of songs based on themes and techniques used by Blake. But the musicians work is directed toward involving the audience in emotional responses. Bono uses what he is familiar with, his own life experience, to drive home his feelings of sorrow and joy, anger and delight, fear and trust. Blake wanted to show the two contrary states of the human soul; Bono aims to do the same. As rock music, innocence and experience become insistent and visceral.    

Jerusalem, Plate 91, (E 251)
"Go, tell them that the Worship of God, is honouring his gifts
In other men: & loving the greatest men best, each according
To his Genius: which is the Holy Ghost in Man; there is no other
God, than that God who is the intellectual fountain of Humanity; 
He who envies or calumniates: which is murder & cruelty,
Murders the Holy-one: Go tell them this & overthrow their cup,
Their bread, their altar-table, their incense & their oath:
Their marriage & their baptism, their burial & consecration:
I have tried to make friends by corporeal gifts but have only    
Made enemies: I never made friends but by spiritual gifts;
By severe contentions of friendship & the burning fire of thought."
Jerusalem, Plate 53, (E 203)
"loud the Furnaces & loud the Anvils          
Of Death thunder incessant around the flaming Couches of
The Twentyfour Friends of Albion and round the awful Four
For the protection of the Twelve Emanations of Albions Sons
The Mystic Union of the Emanation in the Lord; Because   
Man divided from his Emanation is a dark Spectre                 
His Emanation is an ever-weeping melancholy Shadow
But she is made receptive of Generation thro' mercy
In the Potters  Furnace, among the Funeral Urns of Beulah
From Surrey hills, thro' Italy and Greece, to Hinnoms vale.
In Great Eternity, every particular Form gives forth or Emanates
Its own peculiar Light, & the Form is the Divine Vision
And the Light is his Garment This is Jerusalem in every Man
A Tent & Tabernacle of Mutual Forgiveness Male & Female Clothings.
And Jerusalem is called Liberty among the Children of Albion" 
Four Zoas, Night I, Page 13, (E 308)
"But purple night and crimson morning & golden day descending  
Thro' the clear changing atmosphere display'd green fields among
The varying clouds, like paradises stretch'd in the expanse
With towns & villages and temples, tents sheep-folds and pastures
Where dwell the children of the elemental worlds in harmony,     
Not long in harmony they dwell, their life is drawn away    
And wintry woes succeed; successive driven into the Void
Where Enion craves: successive drawn into the golden feast

And Los & Enitharmon sat in discontent & scorn             
The Nuptial Song arose from all the thousand thousand spirits 
Over the joyful Earth & Sea, and ascended into the Heavens
For Elemental Gods their thunderous Organs blew; creating
Delicious Viands. Demons of Waves their watry Eccho's woke!
Bright Souls of vegetative life, budding and blossoming      
Page 14
Stretch their immortal hands to smite the gold & silver Wires
And with immortal Voice soft warbling fill all Earth & Heaven.
With doubling Voices & loud Horns wound round sounding
Cavernous dwellers fill'd the enormous Revelry, Responsing!
And Spirits of Flaming fire on high, govern'd the mighty Song.   

And This the Song! sung at The Feast of Los & Enitharmon"
Four Zoas, Night I, Page 12, (E 307)
"The Earth spread forth her table wide. the Night a silver cup
Fill'd with the wine of anguish waited at the golden feast
But the bright Sun was not as yet; he filling all the expanse
Slept as a bird in the blue shell that soon shall burst away

Los saw the wound of his blow he saw he pitied he wept   
Los now repented that he had smitten Enitharmon he felt love
Arise in all his Veins he threw his arms around her loins
To heal the wound of his smiting

They eat the fleshly bread, they drank the nervous wine" 
Although William Blake never had the opportunity to attend a rock concert, he may have been able to appreciate the vitality of a multimedia production of poetry which had the capacity to console as well as disturb.


Thursday, July 22, 2021


Yale Center for British Art
Plate 53

Erdman's comment on this image: "Nothing is as it seems in this icon of the high priestess of Deism or State Religion, Vala dressed as Rahab."

This post is based on material in Discussions of William Blake edited by John E Grant. Karl Kiralis' chapter, Intellectual Symbolism in Blake's Later Prophetic Writings, is the final chapter in the book.

Kiralis' aim in his article is to facilitate the reading of Jerusalem by demonstrating the use of Blake's context in interpreting Blake's symbolism. These passages focus on his character Vala whom it is essential to grasp.

Kiralis's words are shown in blue

Page 105

Interpreting such a key symbol as Vala requires a careful study of the text. Since she is variously defined by different characters, her whole role in the work must be considered to determine what she represents.

She is identified with Nature by two of the sons of Albion:

Jerusalem, Plate 18, (E 163) 
"Babylon the City of Vala, the Goddess Virgin-Mother. 
She is our Mother! Nature!" 

This is the fallen sons' conception of her.

The fallen Albion seems to have the same misconception.

Jerusalem, Plate 30 [34] 
"art thou not Babylon? Art thou Nature Mother of all!" 

The temporarily 'unfallen' children of Albion call Vala Jerusalem's shadow as does Blake himself.

Jerusalem, Plate 45 [31], (E 195)
"And he beheld Jerusalem in Westminster & Marybone, 
Among the ruins of the Temple: and Vala who is her Shadow," 

Blake states:  

Jerusalem Plate 70, (E 224)
"Her name is Vala in Eternity: in Time her name is Rahab" 
Jerusalem, Plate 78, (E 234) 
"They took their Mother Vala, and they crown'd her with gold: 
They namd her Rahab, & gave her power over the Earth 
The Concave Earth round Golgonooza in Entuthon Benython, 
Even to the stars exalting her Throne, to build beyond the Throne 
Of God and the Lamb, to destroy the Lamb & usurp the Throne of God" 

Since she is the eternal prototype of Rahab, we must recall that Rahab was clearly defined:  

Jerusalem Plate 35 [39], (E 181)
"And here begins the System of Moral Virtue, named Rahab."

Vala, then, as she appears on earth is the system of moral virtue or rational morality. She is fallen man's conception of Jerusalem, who represents eternal standards of truth and beauty, but actually she is Jerusalem's opposite, the earthly standards of truth and beauty.

They are unaware of the true meaning of Jerusalem. The maximum of liberty is obtained by granting mutual forgiveness, for it inevitable that man will err with his freedom...To reduce the margin of error, man must not artificially bind himself with moral laws but rather become wise with the 'Gifts of Spirit' through the exercise of 'the Divine Arts of Imagination.'

...Of course Vala is also nature - man's conception of the natural world and its beauty - but this is only part of what she symbolizes. Her fight to preserve herself by continuing to delude man with her false beauty and with the veil of moral virtue as she admits:  

Jerusalem, Plate 80, (E 236)
"But I Vala, Luvahs daughter, keep his body embalmd in moral laws
With spices of sweet odours of lovely jealous stupefaction:
Within my bosom, lest he arise to life & slay my Luvah
Pity me then O Lamb of God! O Jesus pity me!"     

Page 114

The reader was not to be lulled into a vague feeling that he apprehended the symbol: he was to be shocked and thus led to genuine understanding. He would be forced to know what he did not know that he might learn.

...As T.S. Elliot put it when writing his Cocktail Party, for those with a sensibility 'a meaning...gradually reveals itself according to different degrees of consciousness.'



Wednesday, July 21, 2021


Wikipedia Commons
Songs of Innocence
Plate 12, Copy G
Songs of Innocence, Plate 18, (E 12)
"The Divine Image.                

To Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,  
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face: 
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine   
Love Mercy Pity Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too"

The Divine Image expresses the inclusiveness of God with humanity. Man is created in the image of God so that he may express in the flesh the nature of God who is Spirit. Humankind's nature is a implementation of God his creator. Just as God is not isolated from his creation, man is not meant to be isolated from his fellow man. We are meant to feel mercy by being touched in our hearts by another's suffering. We are meant to see with pity the face of every face revealing the underlying humanity which joins man with man. We are meant to express the bonds of love which cement us into one body which incorporates all. We are meant to distinguish the inner truth which resides in each from the outer appearances which prevent us from being at peace with others.

This poem is Blake's plea that mankind not be deceived by the outward appearances of nationality, race or creed. Within us are the same avenues for being in communication with God, 'out father dear,' and recognizing ourselves as being as he is.


"Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is"

First John 4 
[4] Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 
[5] They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 
[6] We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. 
[7] Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 
[8] He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 
[9] In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 
[10] Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 
[11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 
[12] No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us

Four Zoas, Page 126, (E 395) 

"Luvah & Vala henceforth you are Servants obey & live 
You shall forget your former state return O Love in peace 
Into your place the place of seed not in the brain or heart  
If Gods combine against Man Setting their Dominion above
The Human form Divine. Thrown down from their high Station 
In the Eternal heavens of Human Imagination: buried beneath
In dark Oblivion with incessant pangs ages on ages 
In Enmity & war first weakend then in stern repentance 
They must renew their brightness & their disorganizd functions  
Again reorganize till they resume the image of the human 
Cooperating in the bliss of Man obeying his Will 
Servants to the infinite & Eternal of the Human form"
Annotations to Swedenborg, (E 603) 
"Swedenborg: In all the Heavens there is no other Idea of God than that of a Man: . .
Blake: Man can have no idea of any thing greater than Man as a cup cannot contain more than its capaciousness But God is a man not because he is so percievd by man but because he is the creator of man"

The path of Innocence is not traveled by all. Blake sees that mankind is marked by his choices. In London from Songs of Experience, Blake shows us the consequence of stifling our ability to respond to the Divine Image with Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love. He sees it in the streets he walks, the faces he encounters, the cries of the helpless and in failures of human relationships.

Songs of Experience, Plate 46, (E 26)

I wander thro' each charter'd street,          
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.     
And mark in every face I meet                  
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man, 
In every Infants cry of fear,                  
In every voice: in every ban,                  
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear                

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,                
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear 
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse"

Friday, July 16, 2021


Wikipedia Commons
Songs of Innocence
Plate 27

We have been following the motifs in the three poems from Innocence which first appeared in Island in the Moon. Michael Phillips, in William Blake: The Creation of the Songs, on Pages 13-14 comments thus:

"Each of these has been presented from a distinct point of view. And, within the songs themselves, each presents a different perspective upon the child and childhood. In Holy Thursday, it is that of the distant but moved observer, sung by Obtuse Angle, a name which itself is suggestive of a way of seeing and not seeing. In Nurse's Song we are taken aback, in reverie: 'it puts me in mind of my grandmothers song' by the singer and by the song. And in The Little Boy Lost sung by Blake's own persona, 'Quid the Cynic', in the first stanza the child speaks to us directly and poignantly, abandoned by his parent. We are brought full circle, back to the match seller's cries.

    [" I cry my matches as far as Guild hall
     God bless the duke & his aldermen all
     I ask the Gods no more
          no more no more"]
In Songs of Innocence, Blake will fully explore and modulate the contrary perspectives of innocence and experience first seen here.
In the pages that follow we are about to learn from the children, to reawaken a part of ourselves that in relation to the world of experience, to our world, has been diminished or altogether lost."

So Blake is showing us innocent children who play with lambs and frolic on the Ecchoing Green, whose mothers and angels and wild animals watch over them. But we see also innocent children who are forced to sell matches, climb chimneys, go hungry and feel lost and abandoned.

It is not enough to feel empathy for those who suffer, Blake asks us to enter into the joy which is felt by infants, children, parents, birds, flowers, insects and animals. Blake has woven both aspects of emotions into his Songs of Innocence. There is delight in the beauties of a world where everything works together; and there is anguish when harm is visited upon the helpless. Blake asks us to look at the emotions which are felt by a child when he feel lost and when he feels protected and valued. In Providing images in words and pictures of alternating emotions, Blake makes us aware of the internal dynamics of our own emotions as well as the joy and woe that others experience. Our ability to empathize with others is enhanced by entering into the emotional states which he presents. Unless a person has a realistic understanding of his own emotions, his empathy for others will be inauthentic.    

Blake selected On Anothers Sorrow to be the final poem in Songs of Innocence in all of the copies which he collated after 1818. Although the poem emphasizes the pain which is felt when one sees another suffering, we are left with and image of joy which comes from the savior being ever present bringing his peace.

Songs of Innocence, Song 27, (E 17)    
"On Anothers Sorrow        

Can I see anothers woe,
And not be in sorrow too.
Can I see anothers grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrows share,
Can a father see his child,
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill'd.

Can a mother sit and hear,
An infant groan an infant fear--
No no never can it be.
Never never can it be.

And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small birds grief & care
Hear the woes that infants bear--

And not sit beside the nest
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near
Weeping tear on infants tear. 

And not sit both night & day,
Wiping all our tears away.
O! no never can it be.
Never never can it be.

He doth give his joy to all. 
He becomes an infant small.
He becomes a man of woe
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy maker is not by.
Think not, thou canst weep a tear,
And thy maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan"

Philippians 4
[4] Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
[5] Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
[6] Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
[7] And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021


Wikipedia Commons
Songs of Innocence
Plate 13

The third poem which Blake composed when he was writing Island in the Moon is The Little Boy Lost.

Songs of Innocence, Song 13, (E 11)   
"The Little Boy lost      
Father, father, where are you going
O do not walk so fast.
Speak father, speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost,

The night was dark no father was there   
The child was wet with dew,
The mire was deep, & the child did weep
And away the vapour flew."

In The Little Boy Lost the child does not experience innocence in the sense of feeling secure and protected. This is a child who feels inadequate to deal with the outer world which is dark and confusing. I think of the autistic child who can't seem to make the connections with the outer world that he is expected to make. Blake tells us that it was the child's weeping, his expression of feeling emotional sadness, that clarified the obscuring conditions.

If this little poem is taken in the psychological sense it represents falling into the depths of the journey into the unconscious where a restructuring of the psyche is demanded. The adult experiences a conundrum for which no solution seems possible. Unless he starts again as a little child who weeps and begs for mercy he is stuck in the mire. 

To put the picture into more spiritual terms if one realizes that the image of God on which one has depended is false, one must be willing to to encounter the true God who will be revealed to those who are ready to receive. In the poem the child has lost sight of the father, he feels abandoned until he weeps and the cloudiness begins to dissipate. 

This passage in the Psalms is brought to mind by Little Boy Lost:

Psalms 69
[1] Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.
[2] I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.
[3] I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.
[4] They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away.
[5] O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.
[13] But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation.
[14] Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.
[15] Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.
[16] Hear me, O LORD; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies.

In the poem Blake indicates the response of the father to the pleas of the child only by the stating that the 'vapor flew' and by showing in the picture that the child is drawn to a light in the distance. However in the lower part of the plate surrounding the words are four angelic figures and two wingless supporting figures.

The images of rush, mire and water from this verse in the Book of Job seem to have been in Blake's mind also.

 Job 8
[11] Can the rush grow up without mire? can the flag grow without water?

The copy of the plate which is shown above is Copy Y belonging to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Blake had added details which are not seen in other copies. Notably there are bulrushes on the lower borders of the image and behind the child. The wavy line across the bottom of the plate suggests water or mire.   

The impression given by this plate is of the plight of the innocent who seeks to be heard by the father. He receives little help, but hope that he will find what he seeks is not absent.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


Wikipedia Commons
Songs of Innocence
Plate 24

The second of the three Songs of Innocence poems which Blake wrote for Island in the Moon is Nurse's Song. The first two lines are spoken by an observer. The Nurse reveals her own emotional state in the next six lines. She is content to do her duty rather than participating in the singing and laughter of the children. Although the Nurse is satisfied within herself, in the next verse she expresses apprehension for the children. However the children want to extend their joyful, carefree play. The Nurse relents, realizing that the light in which the children bask will soon fade and that they may sleep when the light is gone.

Innocence, Blake realizes, is a temporary state. Children grow up and are exposed to the demands of living. The nurse plays the role of the protective element in the Nurse's Song but she has not been given the knowledge or understanding to guide the children along the perilous path. The careless activity of the children playing on the green is contrasted with the Nurse's concern about fading night. We see the cyclical rhythm of night and day, play and sleep, childhood and maturity. 

It is not clear from the poem if the children are well provided for by families or if they are under the care of institutions for the poor as are the children in Holy Thursday. We wonder if the laughter and play are part of an innocent childhood or if they are a respite for children who have already been exposed to hunger, cruelty and harsh conditions such as Dickens and Bronte described and Blake wrote about in The Chimney Sweeper.

On Page 38 of Blake's Apocalypse Harold Bloom states:

"For Blake 'Innocence' is from the start an equivocal term.
So, by 1789, when he engraved the Songs of Innocence, Blake seems to have anticipated joining them together with songs that would show 'The Contrary State of the Human Soul,' as he did five years later. Innocence is a state that warms our hearts against and reproaches the errors of a supposed mature existence."
Songs of innocence, SONGS 24, (E 15)
"Nurse's Song          

When the voices of children are heard on the green And laughing is heard on the hill, My heart is at rest within my breast And every thing else is still Then come home my children, the sun is gone down And the dews of night arise Come come leave off play, and let us away Till the morning appears in the skies No no let us play, for it is yet day And we cannot go to sleep Besides in the sky, the little birds fly And the hills are all coverd with sheep Well well go & play till the light fades away And then go home to bed The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh'd And all the hills ecchoed"