Posted by: Tom Triumph | October 23, 2010

113. Proverbs of Hell: William Blake

This is a jumble.

A few weeks ago a colleague of mine got to teach an enrichment course on Phillip Pullman’s “The Northern Lights a.k.a. The Golden Compass”. Pullman quotes a lot of Milton, especially Book Two of “Paradise Lost”. My colleague, who is more of a social scientist and really good reading teacher, is not as well versed in Literature (capital “L” intentional). I dove in and found that Pullman owes more to Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” than anything else.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there was a time when I really loved Blake. He was crazy and misunderstood and I thought I was, too. While talking about how I was frustrated in teaching-by-proxy (I wanted to have a small group of kids interested in literature), my wife mentioned not really liking him. Now, my wife is the poet: She’s been published, coached a student to the national Poetry Out Loud competition, and reads poetry for fun. I like teaching it, but she breathes it. This apathy towards Blake is one in a long line of revelations happening in our relationship (she doesn’t like Matisse, either!).

But I realize I don’t like Blake anymore, either. Yes, I appreciate him, but the infusion of crazy inspiration seems like a vaporous memory. It’s been twenty years. Now I am searching for a replacement for the second half of my life. This entire realization makes me a bit sad. At this point this post is mostly about me, and certainly not about middle school problems.

Halloween. So many ghosts and ghouls. Our students, though, are more interested in eggs than candy, and their fears no longer lurk in the closet but are very, very real. Another colleague is working with a counterpart in South Korea, and they had their students write down three fears and threw them into a tag cloud. The top South Korean fears are parents and teachers. Yikes! What fears do your students have? I speculate they are more about failure than anything else.

So talk about fears. Real fears. Then, speculate why we dress in costumes and run into the dark. Perhaps because being a ghoul is more fun than being its victim? There is a power in glee to turn away the darkness.

Blake wrote his poems with beautiful plates; the title for this section is at the start of the blog. “Proverbs of Hell” are from his larger “Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”

Oh, and tell your students that if they want candy they need to have a really good costume. I hate lazy candy grabbers.

Proverbs of Hell
William Blake

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plow.
Dip him in the river who loves water.

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.

All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap.
Bring out number weight & measure in a year of dearth.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
A dead body, revenges not injuries.
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloke of knavery.
Shame is Prides cloke.

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