For this entry I want tolook at a piece of Blake's art work. I feel Blake's art is often overlooked in most analysis of his work. It is presented as a kind of secondary extension to the poem rather than a valid starting point or work within itself. I'm glad that the upcoming essay includes his art as part of the discussion of his work, it helps me to understand and clarify the meaning his work as a whole.
The two versions of the tyger I'd like to briefly comment on are above, A and B.
Holy Thursday: SOE
I feel Blake is really pointing out the truth of childhood experience that is behind the facade of pride and glory of the children's parade on Holy Thursday. Here is a poem where experience is not protrayed as a state of cynicism and disillusionment, but rather presents an enlightened view of whats going on in society. This to me really highlights the contridictions that can occur within both the concepts of experience and innocence. There are not stagnant states of right or wrong, but are both complex and varied in what they represent to us, society and to Blake.,
Holy Thursday in SOE questions the very principles which hold up such revered morals as pity and charity. These morals pale in comparision to the abject poverty and misery when the truth is exposed:
"And the sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare
And their ways are filled with thorns
It is eternal winter there."
This is reality for these orphans. The subject of the poem is their experience, their pain and their poverty inflicted by the "cold and usurous hand" that supposedly looks after them. This is the same hand that extends from the "wise guardians of the poor" that are talked about in SOI, who are warned to preserve face with pity "lest you drive an angel from your door". The poem in SOI when read in isolation is all about the so called beauty of this demonstration. The narrator fails to see the children's reality behind the pomp of ceremony and the life saving "pity" displayed by the benefactors. This to me says that innocence can be actually a state of blindness and niavity. When read in conjunction with the Holy Thursday in SOE the meaning becomes so much clearer and for me the tone of Holy Thursday in SOI becomes a little sarcastic. The language is so inflated compared to the SOE version and echos the fake pomp and cermony that the viewer is apparently relishing eg. "mighty wind" "harmonious thunderings", "hum of multitudes". He/she who is obseerving from an innocent (or niave perspective) is totally caught up in the ceremonial brilliance of it all- and this brilliance is a bit hard to credit once Blake gives us the truth in SOE. Thus, I think Blake has intended these poems be understood together as two parts of the one whole.
Image taken by my brother at Dobroyd Point, Sydney.
Week 4: My poem of experience:
I don't usually write creatively but have read some wonderful pieces on here so wanted to give my own song of experience a go. It's about the death of my brother from an OD that happened when I was 12, and how I now have come to view his experience through my own eyes as an adult.
Thirsty welts on mottled arms
Death wrapped warmly in a bulldogs scarf
Displaced and gone
Away. How was I to understand
Twisted uniform, parent's sobs
An image in the mirror
of white tepid milk coloured
lacking in tears and tone.
Such helpless distress, compressed
into one night
You were gone and that's all I knew.
And all that I could know.
from this point that I've tiptoed to
your pain becomes real.
I now know
what pain through the cracks
of life can do.
How the pin prick of needle
could for a moment
harness the torment within you.
The image in the mirror becomes coloured.
I am not white like that
milky teenage reflection
But coloured with insight.
Answers are not present
Peace still hard to find
But a grip of your pain
pangs inside me
And the cold air of perspective
Sears through my lungs.
I can look in the mirror again.
I have been pretty sick lately so havn't been keeping up to date with my LJ as much as I'd like. The sickness is over now so it's time to play catch up on the two weeks I was away. I usually go off MG's suggestions for entries but for the next few entries I'm going to do a creative writing peice and some personal analysis on some of the poems from SOI and SOE which I have taken "delight in". Inspiration for this question, is taken from the recent discussion question.
Before I start I just wanted to post this clip. I think it's pretty hilarious and says a lot about the double standards that exist in American Republican political commentary. It has absolutely nothing to do with Blake:
I have done so much writing on Malouf this week for this discussion that I need to stop the analysis for a day and just recouperate.
I'm 27 weeks pregnant and am exhausted at the moment, this is so much harder than last time. When ever I hear about glowing pregnant women I crack a wry smile as it's the opposite of how I feel at present. I'm a nauseous, tired, ball of acne, short fused and agitated. Whingy and irrational. Never underestimate the power of hormones people!
I said I'd put some pictures up of our nursery after looking at MG's journal so here are a fewof Tara frolicking with the frangipanis and some other assorted pics of different angles of the nursey. It's lot bigger now, we've got about 2000 plants which are struggling a bit to grow in the winter frost.
We're slowly building it up and one of our favourite past times is to collect seeds and store them for later use. Tara has a box of lillies which we've dried up and she breaks open the seed pods in the sun while sitting on her trampoline. It's a picture of pure innocence and joy, Blake would have rejoiced at the sight.
There was a wealth of thought provoking points raised in the lecture, I can remember in my weariness being especially ignited by Michael mentioning the idea of the Chrysilis in relation to Janet's awakening. The chrysalis undergoes a metamorphisis which is a seemingly magical process. This has always fascinated me the idea of a butterfly literally melting in a cocoon and becoming a whole new creature. That's right, they don't just grow wings they literally melt down and become LIQUID in the cocoon and then becomes a new animal.
I remember going to the Butterfly garden at Coffs harbour and hearing this in a talk and the concept intrugued me so much I stood frozen in a trance for a good two minutes. Dead still blue, green, yellow, black liquified caterpillars becoming a .... what? A butterfly? That's the stuff of dreams and science fiction. Seriously.
Anyway the idea of metamorphisis of a butterfly and Janet's personal awakening where she peels the bees off her skin and reveals a new body really stuck in my mind. Bees, butterflies and metamorphisis are the connections I have made.
LJ Entry : Week 2 Finding Seeds of Blake in Malouf's Works
When I first read about Gemmy the picture that came to mind was of a savage, overlooked beggar who had been raised either by himself or by wild animals. I had a picture of a dirty disease ridden convict and a man who was very unsure of himself "I'm a B-B-B-ritish object!"
I felt sorry for him. He was a like a primeval monster who had no past, present or future.
I also felt compassion for him at the same time as revulsion. He had black stumps for teeth, was totally disfiguered, stank and had no real means of effective communication. I felt that he was smarter than he was given credit for but only appeared dumb becuase of his primal need to survive and be accepted within a group.
"Relying on a wit that was instinctive in him and had been sharpened under much harder circumstances than these, he let himself be gathered into a world which, though he was alarmed at first by its wildness, proved no different in essence than his previous one..."
It was almost as if he had no idea whether to be scared of this new world he had discovered or embrace it, which echos the quote Malouf puts at the beginning:
"Whether this was Jerusalem or Babylon we know not" -William Blake the Four Zoa's
At this point in the novel it seems more like Babylon- a place of disharmony, division and social dysfunction.
In short, Gemmy seemed terrified yet drawn to this new world and yearned to be accepted by those that reviled him.
It is also disconcerting the way the colonials looked down at Gemmy like he was some kind of sub human spiecies. It was by mere association with the Indigenous people that he becomes less than them and became worthy of suspicion. Mr Frazer's "anthropological" theories on his "white" yet "black" physical appearance exemplify this:
"The whole cast of his face gave the look of one of them. How was that, then?
Mr Frazer had the answer:... the white man's facial structure came from a different diet.... his jaw had adapted to the new sounds it had to make.... Wasn't it true that if white man stayed too long in China they were inclined to develop, after time, slanty eyes?"
This is to be expected of course, we all know the colonial invaders considered the Ingineous Australians as less than nobel both in appearance and mental capacity, and to be merely associated with them tainted a person's very being and worth. The concept of the "nobel savage" was lost on them and they were considered the enemy and the danger to western civilsation. Someone in this weeks class pointed out quite rightly that not much has changed- indeed the Aboriginal Australians in todays society have significantly higher mortality rates, deaths from diseases, suicide rates, alcohol and drug abuse and are subjcted to a kind of uncaring pity by some segments in society, other segments just hate them.
The solution of governments to all these "issues"? To throw money in sporadic outbursts at desert communities, to offer "aplogies" with no real compensation, to push Indigenous Australians into remote desert communites where they can be neither seen nor heard.
I could go on...
This weeks lecture was so interesting in that it showed me that Blake's ideas contained in his art and writing were brilliant, yet contridictory. There is no one theory for the meaning and purpose of one's life, yet it is tempting to put Blake and other writers into a nutshell and label them as mystics, or humanists or Romantics so that their theories are cohesive and easy to interpret.
Artists such as Blake are SO MUCH MORE than the labels we give them. Indeed these labels all contridict as someone in class pointed out. I have read that Blake is both a mystic and an athiest, that he both loved and hated Rousseau's philosophies, that he valued the "contraries" and disharmony of the four zoas, yet saw paradise as a place where all these zoas were in harmony. It would be nice to have a clean cut philosophy to write an essay on that fitted all his ideas in to a cohesive and agreeable mould. This is not the case, Blake's own imagination is so extensive and so beyond the bounds of restraint that it is impossible for his ideas to form a neat jigsaw puzzle. His contridictions only make his works more interesting and more human. I think the answer is to see Blake's works for what they are, not extensions of an underpinning philiosophy. It seems to me his works of art are search for the truth and take him and his readers in several directions.
Which is the way it should be.
"We started livin' in an old house
My ma' gave birth, & we were checkin' it out.
It was a baby boy, so we bought him a toy.
It was a ray gun, and it was 1984.
We named him "baby;" he had a toothache.
He started cryin'
It sounded like an earthquake.
It didn't last long, because I stopped it.
I grabbed a rag doll, stuck some little pins it in it.
This song remindes me of where we've just moved to. The white bread suburban mediorcrity of the central coast. Joy.
Review either Ginsberg's or Kazin's view of Blake.
On Kazin's essay: An Introduction To William Blake
This took a long time to read mostly because each sentence was drenched with analysis and interpretation of Blake's poetical and artistic works. Alfred Kazin's writing is very precise which is helpful when trying to understand a poet such as Blake who writes with several layers of meaning and allusion to some complex ideas and myths. I found Kazin's reference to philosophical and religious schools of thought such as materialism, naturalism, mysticism, nihlism and deism in relation to Blake's writing very helpful as it gave a points of reference for me to remember what Blake valued and what he didn't.
I found the idea that Blake was "non-religious" and "not a mystic" confusing at first, from a beginners point of view there is so much religious iconography and imagery in his writing it would seem that he was preoccupied with God. According to Kazin the opposite was the case, Blake was preoccupied with knowing the true condition of man not as an imitative shadow of God but through the only one thing we know for certain- our imagination. Imagination was the only certainty we have God and his minions on earth were a cheap imitation.
According to Blake, the stars were in the heaven's not because God put them there but because "Man's imagination" saw them there. Imagination is the only tool with which we are able to understand ourselves and the world around us, everything else is shackled in man made moral codes which have no purpose apart from the the effect of constraining and tainting us. The poem "London" gives numerous examples of these constraining and corrupt forces in our society such as the church and clergy, materialism, sexually transmitted disease, child slave labour etc. However, the ultimate restraining force on our imagination comes from within us (the "mind forg'd manacles")- the limitations that are inflicted by our own minds, such as self imposed intellectual and social restrictions. I'd say that Blake thought the blackened churches and orphaned infants were caused by these "mind forg'd manacles" of those with political, religious and intellectual power within society at the time. Utiltarianists, royalists and scientists were all people Blake loved to hate. Their corrupt institutions, economic and religious practices central to life in 18th c. London were a symptom of these mind forg'd manacles.
What I am starting to love about Blake is his rebellious thinking for his time. For example, Blake believes Man is at the beginning and the end of the human quest for certainty, not God or Jesus. Add to this the fact that Blake thought there was no such thing as sin just "intellectual error", there and you have a heathen heretic who probably should have been burnt at the stake if his contemporaries had bother to delve into the core of his work. Thank God he was never truly sucessful in his life time- otherwise we may not be lucky enough to sit here appreciating him now!
From the amount I've read about Blake it seems he was labelled a mystic quite frequently in the fluffy and often innaccurate "cliffs notes" type of literature. However Kazin explains what a true mystic is:
"To the mystic God is the nucleus of creation and man in his earthly life is a dislodged atomwhich must find his way back... he lives only for that journey of the soul which will take him away, consumated in death."
This is definetly not Blake who by all accounts is concerned with human experience and uncorrupted expression of this experience.
"Thou art a man, God is no more
Thine own humanity learn to adore."
From this quote I can see why the beliefs of Christianity were unappealing to Blake. Sacrifice, putting your neighbour before yourself, denying oneself for the sake of others, awaiting death for entry into heaven are all central tenants of Christianity. Such beliefs aim to reduce human experience to a game which if played correctly will allow a spirit true happiness and glorification. Blake believed that glorification could happen here on Earth. He was concerned with the moment. Living in the NOW not some imagined divine state such as heaven.
So Blake wanted us to live in the present. I can agree with him about this religious aspect (I am not a religious person, spiritual yes, religious no) however I cannot really grasp his hate of naturalism:
"Mock on Mock on Voltaire, Rousseau
Mock on Mock on tis all in vain
You throw sand against the wind and the wind throws it back again. "
I think that science especially is one of the pursuitss which can offer us personal assaurances and objective truths. It doesn't have to stifle the imagination, it doesn't have to threaten it's existance, the two can be mutally exclusive and be simply different expressions of truth. Kazin talks about Blake being a bit of grumpy old man and declaring the earth is flat just to piss off scientists and show his disdain for their so called "objective reality". I wonder why he saw it as such a threat? Perhaps he saw it as a threat to his artistic expression and the realms of imagination? I can see Blake being ropable about modern psychiatry if he had lived now- which attempts to scientifically explain conciousness, dreams and imagination through nothing more chemistry. It's only when people have one narrow view of the world that such thought becomes dangerous whether it is imaginative or scientific.
On a different tangent now, did anyone see that ABC documentary called "Family Fortunes: The Olsen family"? It was a brief look at the life and family of the celebrated Australian artist John Olsen. Now this man truly lived for art. He married twice and gave up 2 different sets of children in the pursuit of artistic integrity and experience overseas and interstate and indoing so cut off all communication with his children at both times. At one stage when his first daughter was talking about the effect her father leaving her, her eyes welled with pure tears and you could see such deep internal hurt at what her father had done. It was like she was a child again reliving the grief. Then the razor sharp editing cut to a bit of Olsen, now and old man, laughing it all off saying "I had primal needs to, I couldn't ignore them." His other son calls him an arsehole and selfish but all the children end up reconnecting with him which is comforting I suppose, for them and for him.
So at what expense do you comprimise your children? Why does the primal need to express oneself artistically mean that you have to cut off all ties with your daughter for the next 30 years after a seemingly happy relationship with her?
I understand that the "experience" was important and that sacrificing artistic expression is akin to dying for an artist, but at what cost does this become justified? I could see Blake's image of the innocent lamb (in The Tyger), being slaugtered when his now adult daughter spoke of her pain. Pain which was all for the sake of Olsen's guiding principle to live life striving for the fullest artistic experience, regardless of the cost. I found it reprehensible, cold and malignant.
I wonder what Blake would have done if him and Cathy were able to have children? Where would he draw the line between shattering innocence in the pursuit of artistic experience? Given he didn't travel more than 50 miles from his home and revered childrenI think he would have had much more compassion than olsen, but it does beg the question "should innocence be destroyed at the expense of another's pursuit of a higher experience"? Is one more valuable than the other?
Comment for Week 1: Anissa Chat's journal
Oh. My. God.
I have just been re-scanning live journal after a semester off English Lit and stumbled here having never viewed your journal before.
Your images are fascinating and so precise, I've read this poem and back a couple of pages and have found both your photography and writing utterly captivating, lucd and insightful. You are a true wordsmith and I second Michael- write a book, you have an incredible gift! In a way your peices are like William Blake's- your photographic images compliment the words of your poetry as his etchings enhanced his own vision.
Can I also ask what camera you have? The images that you take are so vivid and the clarity really adds depth to your work.
BTW my name is Eleanor- I think I lent you a Text book for 20th c lit in 2007.
We're about to depart to go down to Ettalong markets and right now just waiting for my friend to turn up. I'm listening to Eva Cassidy as I watch Tara paint colourful faces on her outdoor paintboard.
When I Eva's her version of Kathy's song it echos within my deepest well . I think these lines resonate the most:
And a song I was writing is left undone
I don't know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can't believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme ...
And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I
I'll be back later as I want to review something I saw on the ABC documentary "Family Fortunes". It was about John Olsen the artist and my mind has linked and contrasted many of Blakes philosophies with Olsen's. I was repulsed and intrigued by Olsen and when someone makes me angry I need to decipher why.