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29 November 2008

William Blake: The Lamb, The Tyger, The Chimney-Sweeper / from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience

Certainly click on the image.

This is sort of a special request, a response to some e-mails that mentioned the recent posts of William Blake's images of Satan, God and Hell. My correspondent is a talented young artist, and has kindly given me permission to blog some of his work. Watch This Space.

William Blake was synesthetic. He did not -- he probably could not -- separate his poems from the illustrations he engraved of and for them. Specifically, he did not want readers to receive his poems in the ordinary typographical way of black alphabetic text on white paper. Though the words were sublime, they were just a small part of what he was trying to communicate to the World. The other part was the magnificent visual imagery and symbology intended to inform the viewer as much as the words, to form a unity of communicating.

These are perhaps his two most famous poems, "The Lamb" and "The Tyger," from his remarkable books

Songs of Innocence
and
Songs of Experience

Shewing the Two Contrary States
of the Human Soul

Blake published "Innocence" in 1789, and published "Experience" in a single volume with "Innocence" in 1794.

I've also tossed in the text alone of his poem "The Chimney-Sweeper."

In his lifetime (1757-1827), Blake was not well known. His poetry was entirely different from the popular English poetry of his day, and his art was just as alien from the popular painting and visual art of England and Europe. In both poetry and art, he was largely self-taught and self-schooled. Although he was apprenticed as a boy, by his own wish, to an engraver, as he matured he invented entirely new techniques of engraving and art.

His achievements did not come to widespread attention until literary and art critics rediscovered and began writing about his work in 1863, long afer Blake had died. Now both the art and the poetry are recognized as profoundly important, lasting and influential achievements.

Some poems that were part of "Songs of Innocence" were originally published when Blake was 15. It took Blake some years to realize that they were more significant than just the first attempts of an adolescent to write poetry. Blake is unique in English poetry in his lifelong vision of the World as seen through a child's mind and sensibilities. To Blake, this is not a vision of the world to mature beyond. It was a profoundly important way of seeing the World that most adults simply dismissed -- without ever really examining the reasons for dismissing the child's vision of the World.

But as Blake grew into adulthood, he began to take an adult's notice of the realities -- the harsh and grim and brutal realities of This World, and its political and social consequences and implications. This is the world of "Songs of Experience."

~ ~ ~


The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb I'll tell thee;
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee,
Little Lamb God bless thee.


~ ~ ~

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

~ ~ ~

The Chimney-Sweeper

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ‘Weep! weep! weep! weep!’
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved; so I said,
‘Hush, Tom! never mind it, for, when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.’

And so he was quiet, and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight!—
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel, who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins, and set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind:
And the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke, and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm:
So, if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.


13 comments:

Jim Olson said...

There is a superb choral arrangement of Little Lamb. I will look it up and comment more. I've sung it with Marsh Chapel choir and with Back Bay Chorale.

Vleeptron Dude said...

I don't want you to look it up, I want you to SING it!

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