this week's theme (sort of) - poems and rock music
(Poem #26) Jerusalem
And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England's mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God On England's pleasant pastures seen? And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic mills? Bring me my bow of burning gold! Bring me my arrows of desire! Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land.
from 'Jerusalem', 1804. First, a Biographical Note, filched from the Wondrous World Wide Web (yes, I shall be using a large number of Capital Letters in today's mail :-)): "I do not behold the outward creation... it is a hindrance and not action." Thus William Blake--painter, engraver, and poet--explained why his work was filled with religious visions rather than with subjects from everyday life. Few people in his time realized that Blake expressed these visions with a talent that approached genius. He lived in near poverty and died unrecognized. Today, however, Blake is acclaimed one of England's great figures of art and literature and one of the most inspired and original painters of his time. Blake was born on Nov. 28, 1757, in London. His father ran a hosiery shop. William, the third of five children, went to school only long enough to learn to read and write, and then he worked in the shop until he was 14. When he saw the boy's talent for drawing, Blake's father apprenticed him to an engraver. At 25 Blake married Catherine Boucher. He taught her to read and write and to help him in his work. They had no children. They worked together to produce an edition of Blake's poems and drawings, called Songs of Innocence. Blake engraved both words and pictures on copper printing plates. Catherine made the printing impressions, hand-colored the pictures, and bound the books. The books sold slowly, for a few shillings each. Today a single copy is worth many thousands of dollars. Blake's fame as an artist and engraver rests largely on a set of 21 copperplate etchings to illustrate the Book of Job in the Old Testament. However, he did much work for which other artists and engravers got the credit. Blake was a poor businessman, and he preferred to work on subjects of his own choice rather than on those that publishers assigned him. A follower of Emanuel Swedenborg, who offered a gentle and mystic interpretation of Christianity, Blake wrote poetry that largely reflects Swedenborgian views. Songs of Innocence (1789) shows life as it seems to innocent children. Songs of Experience (1794) tells of a mature person's realization of pain and terror in the universe. This book contains his famous `Tiger! Tiger! Burning Bright'. Milton (1804-08) and Jerusalem (1804-20) are longer and more obscure works. Blake died on Aug. 12, 1827. - Mark Harden and Carol Gerten-Jackson, WebMuseum Blake was a Certified Poetic Genius - equal parts visionary, mystic, revolutionary, romantic, eccentric and lunatic. Early on in his career as a printer, he rejected the methods and models of fashionable painting and created, alongside many highly competent commissions (mainly illustrations), an art of his own: fusing poetry, engraving and book-binding into a single expression. Yet his wonderfully produced books and prints (now greatly treasured as works of art), were always merely vehicles for his intense, sometimes apocalyptic visions. Through it all, though, his poems remained uncompromisingly 'true' in thought and description - Blake could be bitterly critical of what he saw as wrong with his beloved England. It was this harsh, almost Puritanical criticism, coupled with his joyful and curiously childlike visions of heaven, that inspired him to his greatest flights of lyricism As usual, the Bard puts it best: "Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends. The lunatic, the lover and the poet Are of imagination all compact: One sees more devils than vast hell can hold, That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic, Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt: The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; And as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name." from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. (Yes, I know, I cheated, I've included two poems instead of one today :-)) What I like best about Blake, though, is the effortless skill with which his verse is written. He creates wonderful, resonant phrases of lasting beauty (almost the whole of today's poem, as well as the more famous 'Tyger', are testimony to that) using simple, natural, flowing language; at a time when Euphuism (the use (some would call it abuse) of classical allusions in poetry) ran riot, Blake's verse came like a breath of fresh air. Sadly, it was not appreciated at the time. Oh, and finally, the rock music connection: I really got to know and appreciate this poem only after hearing Emerson, Lake & Palmer's brilliant rock interpretation of it. Rarely have words, meaning and music come together in such perfect synergy. Listen to it. thomas.