Posted by: Tom Triumph | November 6, 2013

198. Auguries of Innocence: William Blake

William Blake is my favorite poet.

I can’t say that I like to curl up in front of a fire with his collected works, but he was the first poet to really make me think. His work attacks the world from a different place. His early works, such as “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience”, are not complex, but he causes the entire mind to shift. His later works are insane (and I mean that in a good way).

So many poets are twee, or brusk or clever or funny. Too many are older, reflecting on points that those of us, also older, will nod our heads at. It’s not the age, but the perspective. There is no kick in the gut, like a generation before felt about Ginsburg. To the reader, Blake forces his reader to see his world.

It’s on his terms.

And a class that has students who push–those who don’t wait for the teacher to explain it–Blake is fuel to the learning fire.

Here, the first four lines are ripe for a class discussion. What does he mean? How can you see the larger picture in the details? They should be able to tease it out. Try a bit of journal writing before discussion.

There is a passage in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair” where a student is told to describe a house, and ordered to focus on a single brick before moving onto the second. Brick by brick. The narrator is a writing instructor and his student is hopeless. Anyway, she shows up at his office frightened. She did it. At first, she thought it was stupid and she just stared at this brick. And then, pop, the words poured out. The student couldn’t stop, writing thousands of words, brick by brick.

What do your students see in their sneaker? Does their shoe tell their story? The choice? The wears and tears and condition? Every nick? Their music? A playlist? The selection says….? How about their grades? This is a lesson on its own.

The rest of the poem is something else. Here, Blake uses a series of images to create a whole picture. Brick by brick. How does THAT work? In the end, what world is Blake describing? Would they want to live there?

A nice lesson might be for each student to describe themselves (or, if you feel trusting, a peer) in a couplet. Model this first by having them do it about you. The question in the end is: When all put together, does it equal the class? How far can you take it?

Auguries of Innocence
William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent
It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell & buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
Theyd immediately Go out
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

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Responses

  1. I’m very much enjoying your blog so far and look forward to following! :) Thought you might be interested in my online graphic novel about William Blake http://thepoetandtheflea.wordpress.com Best regards, G. E.


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