Friday, March 12, 2010

Blake's worm

Blake used the worm as a minor but important symbol in his poetry; you may find 87 occurrences of the word in his Complete Works. He used it to express many different, contrasting or even opposite things. Let's begin with Thel:

Thel, Plate 3, (E 5)
" ...Every thing that lives

Lives not alone nor for itself. Fear not, and I will call
The weak worm from its lowly bed, and thou shalt hear its voice,
Come forth, worm of the silent valley, to thy pensive queen."
The helpless worm arose, and sat upon the Lily's leaf,
And the bright Cloud sail'd on, to find his partner in the vale.
Then Thel astonish'd view'd the Worm upon its dewy bed.
"Art thou a Worm? Image of weakness, art thou but a Worm?
I see thee like an infant wrapped in the Lily's leaf
Ah! weep not, little voice, thou canst not speak, but thou canst weep.
Is this a Worm? I see thee lay helpless and naked, weeping,
And none to answer, none to cherish thee with mother's smiles."
The Clod of Clay heard the Worm's voice and rais'd her pitying head:
She bow'd over the weeping infant, and her life exhal'd
In milky fondness: then on Thel she fix'd her humble eyes.
'O beauty of the vales of Har! we live not for ourselves.' "

Blake has been telling us something about ourselves, our psyche, our community, nation, world.

Another important facet of Blake's worm occurs in the Gates of Paradise: (E 269)

"15. The Door of Death I open found, And the Worm weaving in the ground:
16. Thou'rt my Mother, from the womb; Wife, Sister, Daughter, to the tomb;

Among other ideas this evokes something Jesus said about his mother at Matthew 12:46-50:

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.

Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.
48But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
49And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
50For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

But here we find worm used in a virtually opposite sense,.
Look at Jerusalem Plate 29, (Erdman 175) where the Spectre of Albion pronounces this:

"I am your Rational Power O Albion & that Human Form
You call Divine, is but a Worm seventy inches long
That creeps forth in a night & is dried in the morning sun"

What does the big worm suggest? a purely conventional life, with no imagination or creativity, a kind of man in whom Los and Luvah are simply absent. A man ruled body and soul by the Selfhood.

In Genesis we read that God created Man in his own image, and also that he formed man out of the dust. And following Digby we have two kinds of men: the one represented by Glad Day and the one represented by the worm of 70 inches. But God includes 'Men' and 'worms' as part of the 'whole Creation' that will be redeemed.

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