Saturday, March 15, 2014

William Blake
If I told you William Blake was my nemesis; I spent some restless hours when I should have been sleeping wondering how I would tackle him in class; I listened to hours of podcasts from Blake experts to try to get a handle on his thoughts and beliefs; I struggled for months to understand him for myself -- it would not be hyperbole.  William Blake is one of the hardest writers I have taught.  Was it worth it?  I think so, but you'd have to ask my students to get a better answer.

What makes him so difficult?  His poems are deceptively simple upon first glance.

Who made the lamb?  God made the lamb, and Jesus is the lamb and the lamb is Jesus.  The poem reads like a catechism. But what is important to understand about Blake's poetry, is who the narrator of the poem is.  In this case, the narrator is a child.  The child asks and answers the questions, putting the child in a position of knowledge and power, and removing the adult from the equation altogether.

Blake was a theist; he believed in God and identified himself as a Christian, holding the bible to be the best literature written, but was not a Christian in any traditional or orthodox sense.  He believed humans all manifest God and the kingdom of heaven is within all.  Blake believed in good and evil, but again, not in any traditional sense.  For Blake, the way in which we grasp reality can be evil, evil is in the mind. and we are all responsible for the evil in the world.  This is the just the fringes of his beliefs.  Blake was a mystic, and had visions of angels and God beginning at a very young age. His theology is so uniquely "Blake-ian", I imagine it would take a scholar years of study to fully understand and be able to explain it.

Now do you see what I mean?  Though I found teaching this class very challenging, it was rewarding.  When we finally got down to discussing the poems -- we discussed "The Chimney Sweeper"in both Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience -- the students had wonderful observations and enjoyed dissecting the poems.

If you dare (!) click on the link below and listen to a podcast from a lecture by U.C. Davis Professor Timothy Morton.  You will need to download iTunes University to listen.   My students listened to it on their own, and then we listened to it together, with a power point presentation I created to help them follow it and explain terms.  Please let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Christina Victor-BandyopadhyayMarch 16, 2014 at 3:17 AM

    Aah, finally you write about someone I know...and like. He ranks close after Wordsworth and Tennyson on my list of favorite poets. But I did not know much about him.

    I liked "The Tiger" when I was rather young and it still 'flashes upon that inward eye'. "Did He who made the lamb make thee!" There is so much beauty and depth of thought. God can make the lamb and the tiger. He communicates the 'bigness', awesomeness and fullness of God very effectively.

    To me, this poem is thought provoking. It does not impose any particular belief on us and we are free to interpret it within the boundaries of our own beliefs. Based on this poem alone, he seems to be one who is wrestling with his thoughts and not one who is dogmatic about any particular belief.