Wednesday, January 3, 2007

William Blake, from 2007

In my campaign to read more contemporary fiction by women (I'm trying to find out if it really is all chick-lit these days) I've come across Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z. by Deborah Weinstein. I'm only about half-way through so far, so I'll hold my thoughts on it for the moment, but because it's about the world of contemporary poetry it got me feeling that maybe I should be reading more poetry, too. So I hauled out my Norton Anthology of British Literature, Vol. 2, and opened it at the beginning: William Blake. (I can't believe there's a whole volume before Blake!)

I had remembered Blake as a wild-haired mystic all about murdering infants in their cradles. But what struck me on this reading, maybe because of the particular poem I turned to ("Visions of the Daughters of Albion") or maybe because of the times we're living in, was his sense of scientific frustration.

With what sense does the bee form cells? have not the mouse & frog
Eyes and ears and sense of touch? yet are their habitations
And their pursuits as different as their forms and as their joys.
Ask the wild ass why he refuses burdens, and the meek camel
Why he loves man; is it because of eye, ear, mouth, or skin,
Or breathing nostrils? No, for these the wolf and tyger have.

He goes on. I'm always aware of the tendency to impose one's biases on poetry, but surely -- isn't Blake about to just explode with the desire to know all the things that science is about to discover in the next hundred years or so?

Maybe it's all just a spiritual metaphor -- I don't know. But reading him gave me a powerful sense of what it must have felt like to know that there were explanations for all he observed but that these explanations (including evolution) were still out of his reach. And I wonder if that sense of frustration might have fueled some of the ferocious creativity of the time.

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