96. Auguries of Innocence (partial): William Blake

These poems were not published by William Blake, but were found in a notebook (“The Pickering Manuscript”) decades after his death by a biographer. The first stanza is the most famous, but I have found at least three different versions of the remaining poem on the internet; I’m not enough of a Blake expert to be authoritative. I offer this one because I feel it most appropriate for middle school students, but the first stanza might be enough of a paradox for your students to wrestle with.

I appreciate the social justice aspect. Specifically, I like posing questions to my students that require moral judgments. For example, can one judge a society by how it treats its poorest members? It’s prisoners? Is an Afghanistan civilian’s life worth more or less than an American’s? Why do we eat cows and not dogs? Is life fair? Do we have an obligation to those less fortunate? If you study and teach Gandhi, and show the movie “Gandhi”, he raises many of these issues if you listen closely enough. The students love to debate them. Blake hands them to you here.

FYI: An “augury” is a sign or omen. Very Blake.

(Fragments from “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 Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.
A Dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fiber from the Brain does tear.

He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar.
The Beggar’s Dog and Widow’s Cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.
The Gnat that sings his Summer song
Poison gets from Slander’s tongue.
The poison of the Snake and Newt
Is the sweat of Envy’s Foot.

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the World we safely go.

Every Night and 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.

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