The works of William Blake, poetic, symbolic and critical/2/The Mental Traveller

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

See: Contents of Vol. II

I travelled through a land of men,
A land of men and women, too,
And saw and heard such dreadful things
As cold earth-wanderers never knew.
For there the babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe,
Just as we reap in joy the fruit
That we in bitter tears did sow.
And if the babe is born a boy
He's given to a woman old
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.
She binds iron thorns about his head,
She pierces both his hands and feet,
She cuts his heart out at his side
To make it feel both cold and heat.
Her fingers number every nerve,
Just as a miser counts his gold ;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries,
And she grows young as he grows old.
Till he becomes a bleeding youth,
And she becomes a virgin bright ;
Then he rends up his manacles
And binds her down for his delight.
He plants himself in all her nerves,
Just as a husbandman his mould,
And she becomes his dwelling-place
And garden fruitful seventyfold.
An aged shadow, soon he fades,
Wandering round an earthly cot,
Full filled all with gems and gold
Which he by industry has got.
And these are the gems of the human soul,
The rubies and pearls of a lovesick eye,
The countless gold of the aching heart,
The martyr's groan and the lover's sigh.
They are his meat, they are his drink,
He feeds the beggar and the poor ;
To the wayfaring traveller
Forever opens his door.
His grief is their eternal joy,
They make the roofs and walls to ring,
Till from the fire upon the hearth
A little female babe doth spring.
And she is all of solid fire,
And gems and gold, that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling band.
But she comes to the man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor ;
They soon drive out the aged host
A beggar at another's door.
He wanders weeping far away,
Until some other take him in ;
Oft blind and aged-bent, sore distressed,
Until he can a maiden win.
And to allay his freezing age
The poor man takes her in his arms ;
The cottage fades before his sight,
The garden, and its lovely charms.
The guests are scattered through the land
For the eye altering, alters all,
The senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat earth becomes a ball.
Stars, moon and sun all shrink away,
A desert vast without a bound :
And nothing left to eat or drink,
And a dark desert all around.
The honey of her infant lips,
The bread and wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving eye
Do him to infancy beguile,
For as he eats and drinks he grows
Younger and younger every day,
And on the desert wild they both
Wander in terror and dismay.
Like the wild stag, she flees away,
Her fear plants many a thicket wild ;
While he pursues her, night and day,
By various arts of love beguiled.
By various arts of love and hate,
Till the wild desert's planted o'er
With labyrinths of wayward love,
Where roam the lion, wolf, and boar.
Till he becomes a wayward babe,
And she a weeping woman old ;
Then many a lover wanders here,
The sun and stars are nearer rolled.
The trees bring forth sweet ecstacy
To all who in the desert roam,
Till many a city there is built,
And many a pleasant shepherd's home.
But when they find the frowning babe,
Terror strikes through the region wild ;
They cry : " The babe ! the babe is born ! "
And flee away on every side.
For who dare touch the frowning form
His arm is withered to the root ;
Bears, lions, wolves, all howling fly,
And every tree doth shed its fruit.
And none can touch that frowning form,
Except it be a woman old ;
She nails him down upon a rock,
And all is done as I have told. The Mental Traveller is at the same time a sun-myth and a stoiy of the Incarnation. It is also a vision of Time and Space, Love and morality, Imagination and materialism. Like all the sexual symbols it covers three meanings and implies (lie "form' of a fourth. It will bear a separate interpretation from the point of view of each Zoa, a Urizen interpretation, an interpretation for Luvah, for Tharmas, and for Urthona.

It will not be difficult for the reader to whom Blake's symbolism is no longer a mystery and a confusion, to trace these meanings. As in most other obscure passages, Blake in this poem gives us many a hint where to look for the pages of parallel narrative in the Prophetic Books that throw light on its meaning. The hints are to be found sometimes in the picture suggested, and sometimes in catch-words or technical symbolic terms whose idea is not elaborated here, but elsewhere.

The land where the Mental Traveller journeys is within us. The men and women are "affections, children of our thoughts, walking within our blood-vessels." ("Jerusalem," p. 38, l. 33.) One of the numerous water-colour illustrations to Young's " Night Thoughts " in Mr. Bain's volume represents Luvah and Vala in the act of" going down the Human Heart." The male and female persons of this poem are, among others, Luvah and Vala.

In this land are "breeding women, walking in pride, bringing forth under green trees, with pleasure, without pain, for their food is blood of the captive " (" Jerusalem," p. 68, l. 37).

If the babe is a mental emotion, an infant joy showing the Human Form, he is given to the Nameless Shadowy Female who, in her ancient form, unites the attributes of Rahab, Tirzah, Guendolen, Enion, Vala, and all the others. She is, in fact, the Mundane Shell, Love, being "brought into light of day in pride of chaste beauty" ("Jerusalem," p. 22, l. 17). He is bound on a rock which is a rock of blood (" Jerusalem," p. 83, l. 56) that becomes opaque hardness, covering all vegetated things ("Jerusalem," p. 67, l. 5). The feminine nature drinks up the affections, symbolized as sons of Jerusalem, Dan and Gad (ibid. l. 22). These affections are, indeed, the Human Form, Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love being its Regions, now bound, or nailed, down to the rock ("Jerusalem " p. 67, l. 44), or stems of vegetation ("Jerusalem," p. 67, l. 44, to p. 68, 1. 9).

This catching of the shrieks in cups is one of the sports of amorous play among those in the wine-press of Luvah who are the human forms of weeds, — so identified are the Rock, Blood, Female, Vegetable (" Vala," Night IX., 1. 768, and "Milton," p. 24, 1. 38). All this belongs also to war (name of the wine-press), enemy of art, and therefore of Man. It belongs to the separation of the Masculine from the Feminine, and both from Man ("Jerusalem," p. 90, l. 14). When the knife cuts the head it is denial (" Jerusalem," p. 67, l. 24). It cuts off eternity in those who submit to it under the Epicurean Philosophy of Albion's Tree ("Jerusalem," p. 67, l. 13). When it cuts the heart it is love refused in cruelties of holiness that takes the flesh from the victim and examines the infant's limbs ("Jerusalem," p. 68,1. 57). Thus the Woman Old acts to the Infant Joy, as Albion and as Tharmas when in the moral state of morbidity and error (" Jerusalem," p. 22, l. 20, and "Vala," Night L, 1. 46).

These show who the child on the rock is. But the woman becomes young-, and the child old, by the law that a punisher mingles with his victim's spectre (" Jerusalem," l. 14).

When the result is that both are. of one age, then they change parts, and he turns to Ore at the moment when Ore set himself free and conquered the Nameless Shadowy Female. As he grows old the wealth of his soul consists of the accumulation of his own smiles and tears. But he is male, and mental, and these things make the joy of others, when he "teaches in song" — as the overworked phrase has it — what he "learned in suffering."

From his mental fire a form of beauty springs that becomes another man's delight. He, like Tiriel, is driven out, having exhausted his masculine — that is to say, mental — potency. It was a part of Blake's belief in the reality of mental creations that they could eject their creator from his own world.

It is now the business of the mind who lias done its own work to enjoy another's, as another enjoys his. ("In seed-time, learn; in harvest, teach; in winter, enjoy" — "[[Marriage of Heaven and Hell]]," first proverb.)

His mental guests, no longer thought of by him, become scattered. His mind alone concentrated them. His cottage vanishes. (Was this written at Felpham ? Compare the expression about the Flat Earth becoming a ball, and the phrase in Mr. Butt's letter, September, 1801.)

What has happened is this. The man has entered a state of mortality, and vegetation drawn down to it by physical love, when mental had fatigued him as the shadowy and other females drew down Zoas and spectres into generation.

Presently a new mental birth takes place. A babe is born. It must be given up to the old laws of the Mundane Shell. Golgonooza is built on rocks ("Jerusalem," p. 53, l. 17), and if the idea is to enter into consummate bliss, it must enter into a mortal. (Truth must be a man.) (" Jerusalem," p. 69, l. 31, and p. 86, l. 42.)

Thus the thoughts and the thinker melt into one another, the labours of art and the experience of love being the gates through which the mental passes to the personal, and the personal to the mental.