And now for something completely different.
William Blake’s most accessible work — I say that with a healthy irony, as “most accessible” doesn’t mean much when one considers “Jerusalem” or “The Four Zoas” — is his collection of shorter poems, “Songs of Innocence and Experience.” You probably know “The Tyger” from your high school English class, although maybe not fondly.
Well, despite what your horrible high school English teacher suggested, it’s great stuff. And there’s no way I can do it justice or provide all the context I’d like. (For instance, they all are engraved / art work, so just the words are but part of the whole.) Suffice it to say the two perspectives — innocence and experience — give you one filter through which to read the poems.
Here’s a taste. The two “The Divine Image” poems. You can decide if they are meant as a pair. First the Innocence one and then the Experienced.
The Divine Image
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew;
Where Mercy, Love, & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
The Divine Image
Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy the Human Dress.
The Human Dress is forged Iron,
The Human Form a fiery Forge,
The Human Face a Furnace seal’d,
The Human Heart is hungry Gorge.