Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blake's Pity

Wikimedia Commons
Large Color Printed Drawings 

We're told that as a youth Blake had an unfortunate love affair with the young woman of a higher (social? economic?) class. On the rebound Catherine expressed pity for him, which led to their marriage.

Like most good words in English Pity has been badly degraded in the past couple of centuries. In Blake's day it meant something more respectable. "Pity evokes a tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow or empathy for people, a person, or an animal in misery, pain, or distress"(wikipedia). Through the years the contempuous dimension of the word has increased to the point where in the 21st Century pity is no longer reputable. Blake saw it altogether otherwise.

Here is the Divine Image:
To Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine
Love Mercy Pity Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too."
from Notebook], "I_heard An Angel"3; E470:

"I heard an Angel singing
When the day was springing,
"Mercy, Pity, Peace
Is the world's release."
Thus he sung all day
Over the new mown hay,
Till the sun went down
And haycocks looked brown.
I heard a Devil curse
Over the heath and the furze,
"Mercy could be no more,
If there was nobody poor,
And pity no more could be,
If all were as happy as we."
At his curse the sun went down,
And the heavens gave a frown.
Down pour'd the heavy rain
Over the new reap'd grain ...
And Miseries' increase
Is Mercy, Pity, Peace."

(The Tate Collection cites a passage from Shakespeare's Macbeth related to the above picture; Blake shows a female cherub leaning down to snatch the baby from its mother. His image refers closely to Shakespeare's text:

"And Pity, like a naked new-born babe
Striding the blast, or heav'n's cherubim hors'd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air"

(Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7)

Besides helping me with the picture my dear wife added this to the post: the grace of the transcendent God reaches down to us; in pity that of God in you or me reaches out to those in need (of all sorts).

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