The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Poetry Friday in the nick of time

Posted on: December 15, 2006

I read on Maud Newton that next year will be the 250th anniversary of William Blake. Pullman, always eager to promote literature in the broadsheets, shares his experience with the poet along with others in the New Statesman.

I had to read Songs of Innocence and Experience for ‘A’ levels–the Oxford University Press edition specifically, as it showed Blake’s artwork, in colour, side by side with the poetry. We were told that school children in England were brought up reciting Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/in the forests of the night. For us it was the first time reading his work, if not the first time hearing his name. Mrs. Bryan told us how Blake, through his art, fought against the failure of the state and the Church of England in properly governing, protecting and supporting the most vulnerable members of society. She pointed out that as England established its empire, oppressing and abusing nations abroad it was doing the same thing to her very own people, most notably the children.

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduc’d to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

I was drawn to the music of his poetry.; as you read the words in your mind, melodies naturally accompanied it. I had never seen any poet marry the visual to his words so literally and to me this placed him high above most poets I had met previously. It was hard for me to pick favourites among his collection because the entire composition seemed resistant to such arbitrary separation. No single poem seemed to resonate as much when taken out of context. The pairing of poems, the contrast in tone, the hammer fall that you heard as you read the first words of “Introduction” in Songs of Experience…it was all so masterful.

I often realise that I was so lucky to have such excellent literary experiences in school. I cannot imagine how much more empty my life would be if school had hardened me against Blake. Songs of Innocence and Experience remains one of my favourite books.

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I water’d it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright;
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veil’d the pole:
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.

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