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have been recognized as such by most of our ancestors. Codes, etiquettes and moralities have wavered and varied. Irony is still set down as a “sin” in manuals of devotion. The last heretic was burnt at the stake in 1758. We are not yet out of the forest. It is necessary that the art of poetry should retain all its liberties. The poet must be free to recognize the existence of ideas, whatever they are and wherever he finds them.
Questions for Meditation
Is America still a colony? intellectually? in all ways save in her political organization? Is she self-sufficient? What is the value of a metropolis” of several? Is America importing art? and exporting artists? Does she export “artists”, or merely promising embryos which hatch into artists elsewhere? Does America want foreign books? Does she originate? or does she merely multiply and dilute? Is she bigoted 2 Is her bigotry a danger to the arts? To what extent does she fear discovery and discoveries? Is she mistrustful of invention simply because she has no critical sense? no standards whereby to measure achievement? Is this the reason for “booms” and for so many people of “promise” “petering out”? How many of her authors consider quantity preferable to intensity? E. P.
z ." V YALE DISCOVERS BLAKE /
/ Selections from the Symbolical Poems of William Blake,
edited, with an Introduction, by Fred. E. Pierce, Ph. D.
Yale Univ. Press. It is interesting to note that professors, pedants, and other critical persons are discovering that Blake was after all not so mad as his contemporaries thought, and that they have even taken to patronizing him in consequence. The moral is, that if a man of genius only waits long enough he will be sure of some recognition. Blake's recognition as a poet has been slow in arriving, because he is too much of the spiritual aristocrat for America, and too much of the imaginative man for England. In England there are still persons who think Blake mad, such as Mr. Comyns Carr and Mr. G. K. Chesterton. Mr. Chesterton's small book on the subject may be disregarded. He considers Blake mad for the simple reason that he did not hold the same opinions as his own. In fact, Mr. Chesterton declares that Blake was mad because he was logical, whereas Chesterton is not. Everyone in England is mad, according to Mr. Chesterton, except Mr. Shaw and himself; and Mr. Shaw is mad because he is totally illogical, whereas Mr. Chesterton is logical or not, just as it suits him to be. This, however, is a digression. Blake was a genius, and Mr. Chesterton is a journalist. Blake's “madness” was perfectly reasonable, and extremely simple at bottom. He
believed that man was at one time perfect, but that he had fallen into imperfection and error because he preferred to exalt certain qualities over certain others, instead of living in eternity, as Blake called it (or as Spinoza might have * . called it, seeing all things sub specie a termitatis). Thus Albion, the perfect man, first exalted his emotions over his intellect. Then his rebellious instincts got the better of the emotional judgments of his intellect, now hopelessly sentimentalized. Then his merely animal instinct for existence conquered all three, until at last his intellect, divorced utterly from all contact with reality, rebelled against the animal instinct in turn, and went out alone in a world of stony horror and of darkness—a charnel-house of materialism, to make laws for that world. All this is plain, and still plainer is Blake's intention when we grasp that he personalized these successive states under the figures of Urizen, Luvah, Urthona, and Tharmas, and their female counterparts. Thus Blake explained the story of the world under the guise of a myth. But this is not all. Blake, like many other philosophers (William James, for example, and Spinoza), sought for a release from this endless circle of non-entity. He found it in three things: first, in the teaching of Jesus, whereby mankind is delivered from the charnel-pit of pessimism and negation through pity and forgiveness; second, in the doctrine of the Divine Right of Man, as taught in the French Revolution; third, in the endless creation of a world of Art, to set in opposition to the real world; a fortress-city which each
Yale Discovers Blake
man could build for himself, and where he could be “lord and master in his own house.” Now, this is not madness. It is a philosophic system, as valuable as any other, and whose grandeur is unquestioned. Blake, however, knew that philosophic explanations of the universe are of no value unless tested. So he tested his by living it. He became God as far as possible. Socrates and he were brothers, and had talks together; and not only Socrates but Jesus Christ and the angels, and even God Himself, “spoke” to him through the imagination and were seen by him through “the mind's eye.” Madness? No. Had Blake been really mad, he would have declared that such vision was given to him alone, and not to other men. But Blake insisted, as Whitman insisted, that “what is true of me is every bit as true of you.” So to every man is given the Divine Power and Imagination, and Blake spent his whole life urging others to use them. Is there any spectacle more sublime than that of this poor man, sneered and jeered at, painting and writing his visions all his life long, that others might share them? “I have never seen his hands idle, except when he was sleeping” said his wife after his death. So far Blake's doctrine is all of one piece. Why is it then, that in his Prophetic Books, in which he gave this doctrine to the world, we get not only confusion but contradiction? It is because a scheme so vast as his was, is utterly unrealizable by any one man. Our desires and imaginations may be infinite, but the machinery of our bodies, our “vegetable existence,” as Blake would have called it, is limited, perhaps wisely; and so all our desires cannot be achieved. Were it otherwise, we would wear eternity as a garment, and we would have no further need for the material world, or for human existence. Yet Blake might have made his work more perfect, from a literary point of view, had he been a man to whom literature was the chief form of expression. But we know it was not. Blake was primarily an artist, a painter, and he lacked both the training, the time, and the inclination to weld the confused elements of his Prophetic Books into one great epic. We must take him, therefore, as an unequal poet, who planned a sublime structure, but who was unable through poverty, lack of education, necessity of winning his bread, and temperamental inclination towards another art, to entirely fulfill his plans. Nevertheless, it is necessary to point out that no one will ever realize Blake's true greatness as a poet who has not read Vala through from end to end. Vala is Blake's supreme attempt at the epic. Never again did he attempt so long or so connected a composition, or one of the same breadth, Vala is the story of the death and regeneration of all mankind. The scene is eternity and the time during which the action is consummated is all infinity. Page after page and passage after passage of superb poetry are unrolled before us. At the conclusion, the effect may be somewhat confused: but we must admit that only two other poets in all history have ever dared to grapple with a theme of remotely similar extent. These are Dante, and Goethe in his Faust. And