William Blake: Poetry Fetter’d

William_Blake_-_Jerusalem,_Plate_1,_Frontispiece_-_Google_Art_Project

Poetry Fetter’d Fetters the Human Race. Nations are Destroy’d or Flourish in proportion as Their Poetry, Painting and Music are Destroy’d or Flourish! The Primeval State of Man was Wisdom, Art and Science.

–from Jerusalem

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John Milton: The Temptation and Fall of Eve

Today is the anniversary of John Milton’s death. What’s there to say about Milton? An incredible mind–after he became blind he composed his verse in his head and dictated it later to his amanuensis. I also recall hearing or reading somewhere that there is good evidence that he had learned all of the accumulated human knowledge up to his time (at least knowledge in the Western tradition). The following is an excerpt from his most famous work, Paradise Lost. The illustration is from William Blake, whose thoughts on Milton are most interesting.

. . . her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat.
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. 

           –John Milton, Paradise Lost, IX.780-784

A Dead Deer Reminds Me of William Blake

A Dead Deer Reminds Me of William Blake
She hit it before she had time
to swerve or stomp on the brakes—
the deer wide-eyed in the windshield,
then stretched out on the roadside
as if placed there on purpose.
A tan and white mound of once-life
now dying, the round red intestines
exposed on the grass still
digesting the last meal of clover.
While the deer stubbornly died
she trembled at the curb
in helpless sorrow and cried,
and I couldn’t help but think that her tears
were proof that sometimes we can
even comprehend Blake:
Every thing that lives is Holy.
But what about the dead? Blake again:
If thou art the food of worms,
how great thy blessing!
A day later the buzzards gathered,

nodding bald heads in agreement.

_______________________
Last October I wrote my first poem for dVerse, a marvelous online poetic community. It happened to be a Meeting the Bar prompt. So imagine my happiness to find that for tonight’s Meeting the Bar Tony Maude has invited us to choose a prompt from the previous year to use as inspiration for a poem. I blended a few prompts together for this one–obviously, Victoria’s Literary Allusion prompt. And Anna’s prompt, The Unfathomable, which I didn’t have opportunity to write for the first time around. One might also judge this poem as an example of Anna’s High/Low Art prompt. At any rate, while it’s been a fun year, I wish I could have been more consistent. A poet’s family cannot live by words alone!

Damn the Money!

(Blake’s Ancient of Days)

Sorry I haven’t posted any new poetry in a few weeks. Work-weary. This story about William Blake is appropriate:

“Blake never lost his link with the common people, or the men who work with their hands; and however high the flights of his imagination, he remained, all his life, a humble engraver working for his bread, with the skill of his hands. It is recorded that, when no money remained to pay their simple household expenses, Mrs. Blake used to set an empty plate before her husband at dinner-time and that he would then turn (with the remark ‘Damn the money!’) from his prophecies and visions of other worlds, and take up his graver to work on some humble task.”
                          –from an essay by Kathleen Raine

Blake-ish Poems

(original artwork by yours truly)
Instructional Poems for Young and Old 
(with a Practical Moral to Close Each Piece) 

Little Mouse so proudly sat

on kitchen table, plump and fat.
Mrs. Mouse, as mothers do,
said, “I should be so very blue
if Mr. Cat should find you there
and eat you, bone, skin, and hair.”
Little Mouse, against her fears
let her words go out his ears.
A pounce. A crunch. And then a fart:
Sometimes staying ain’t so smart.
*****
Mr. Cat asked, “Mrs. Mouse,
would you come into my house?”
Mrs. Mouse said, “Mr. Cat,
I am fine just where I’m at.”
“But look and see—it is quite nice.
A perfect place to raise some mice.
It’s warm and dry; you’ll live in style,
not like in your old woodpile.”
“All the same, I think I’ll pass”:
Sometimes staying saves your ass.

———————–

A word about this set of poems. I actually wrote and posted them a few months ago, but since they were not linked to any online poetry groups they had maybe a dozen readers. So while they are not spankin’ brand new, they are gently used and I feel justified in reposting. I think they fit what Victoria Slotto, host of tonight’s Meeting At the Bar over at dVerse, is looking for. Or one can sincerely hope so.

Now, as for the literary influence, I definitely had William Blake in mind when I wrote them, specifically Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. I’ve spent a lot of time with Blake, and he has undoubtedly worked an influence on my own stuff. There are superficial similarities between these poems and Blake’s, such as the title. And the original artwork. (For those not familiar, Blake is as well-known for his striking “illuminations” as he is for his poems. I have my doubts whether my drawing will enjoy the same appeal.) Couched within the sometimes (seemingly) simplistic poems contained in Songs, especially those in the Innocence section, Blake deals with some deeper issues of human existence. I like the way he views things from more than one perspective, and it is this aspect of Blake I was most trying to mimic. I also admit to poking fun at the moralistic poems geared toward children that were popular at the time.

All that aside, I’ve written what my oldest daughter calls “sad” poems the last few weeks, so it was time for some fun. But look closely–there may be a deeper message somewhere in there after all!

Milton and Blake–Expulsion from Paradise

(image by the incomparable William Blake)

In either hand the hastening Angel caught
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms.
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

–John Milton, from Paradise Lost (12.641-649)