Actually, when it comes to leftovers I have a huge appetite; what I have never hungered for is William Blake, what with the piping and the bleating lambs and the geographical features talking to each other. Nor is the question of who framed the tiger's fearful symmetry strike me as a whodunit of the highest order. Maybe tigers were a more offbeat item, worthy of interest, in Blake's day. Then there's the earnestness. There was no one more earnest than William Blake, but I guess earnest is what you need if you want to get Classicifed -- I'm thinking about John Woolman in Volume 1. La Rochefoucauld fans must look elsewhere. (Note that I'm not talking about Blake's art, about which I am not qualified to write, and which it seems too weird to be earnest.)
Having said all that, I was -- well, not blown away exactly, but very impressed by "Auguries of Innocence". That's this one:
TO see a world in a grain of sand,A totally banal thought -- I realize it wasn't then, so it isn't Blake's fault, but by the same token it isn't my fault that I heard "Nights In White Satin" out of all those car radios in my youth, which this quatrain has always reminded me of, for some reason. But what I didn't know, as part of my own Auguries of Ignorance, is that there's more to the poem -- animal rights stuff, for one:
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cageWho cages robins, first of all, but there is something I like about linking the idea of animal cruelty and the health of the state. It feels true -- a society that tolerates great wickedness towards the defenseless cannot be very healthy. My sense is, however, that this is not borne out by the evidence. Dickensian England was also at the height of its power. But then statecraft is a wicked business -- there's no getting around that. Then there's this kind of almanac-style rhymes of very sturdy sentiments:
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Man was made for joy and woe;When I had kids I realized what a godsend cliches are. It's like serving them soup for dinner -- something more original would be counterproductive and not as nourishing. That's what these lines sound like -- it's not exactly striking, but it sticks to your ribs. And anyway I find originality, like authenticity, to be way overrated as artistic virtues.
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
And finally we have some rootin-tootin auguries:
He who mocks the infant’s faithBlake seems like a conventional modern icon, with his railing against oppression and visionary art style and all, but then he points out how much he hates doubt, and then you think, "Oh, right, he's really religious too." Although I believe he was one of the first to use the "I'm spiritual but not religious" dodge. But he did so earnestly.
Shall be mock’d in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the infant’s faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
Photo by flickr user Muffet used with a Creative Commons license.