Page:Facsimile of the original outlines before colouring of The songs of innocence and of experience executed by William Blake.djvu/19

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

xiii

though a broken letter has caused the date to seem to be 1780 in the facsimile given in the "Works," while 1790 saw the "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" engraved. "Tiriel" is supposed by some critics to be as early, or earlier, though its date has not been fixed. The "Vision of the Daughters of Albion," with its motto "The eye sees more than the heart knows," was printed in 1793; so was "America," and "Europe. The "Gates of Paradise" belong to the same year. The "Ghost of Abel" claims, in a footnote of Blake's own, that the "original stereotype" belonged to 1780, though this is difficult to believe; here also the last figure should perhaps be 9.

It is not surprising that the Songs of Experience begin with a very different note from that of the Songs of Innocence. Even if we suppose that when he wrote the former, Blake was only partly conscious of the full scope of his visionary poetic message, there can be no doubt that it had been in great measure revealed to him before he collected the second portion of what is too often looked on as one work.

The voice of the Ancient Bard, who speaks through Blake, calls on Earth to "return." The meaning is that she should re-enter the state of innocence by the door of forgiveness.

"Mutual forgiveness of each vice,
 Such are the gates of Paradise."

As he says in the poem of the Gates. Every word is symbolic in these first Songs of Experience. The evening dew is the pity that joins what wrath separates, the ancient Word walks in the evening,—the moment when the soul falls into the Night of Nature, and calls on her to seek the inspired life by casting off the worship of law. It bids her cease to know good and evil,—to disgorge from the spirit's choked throat the deadly apple that stops the pure breath of eternity. The starry floor—thought, and the watery shore,—emotion are given to the lapsed soul. But she believes that she is given to them, and so ceases to be able to control the axis of the mind,—the starry pole,—and renew the light of inspiration, fallen into the darkness of reason.

Earth demands to be relieved from the restrictions of the body that oblige her spirit to know of love through the flesh—an evil as great as though the ploughman were compelled to plough in darkness and the seedsman sow by night. This restriction is the "cruel" work of that "selfish Father of men," who is no other than Satan, Prince of this world—often worshipped as God—so the Prophetic Books remind us. Meanwhile, one evil breeds another. Dark flesh breeds dark law, and the chain of jealousy, called morality, even freezes around the bones in whose cage we must needs learn what of love we may.