Saturday, August 13, 2011


Blake's Watercolours 
for the Poems of Thomas Gray 
Design Number 65
The Bard. a Pindaric Ode
Blake's Introduction to Songs of Experience invites us to attend to the voice of the Bard who announces the prospect of the dawning of a new day. 

Songs of Experience, Song 30, (E 17)
Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees
Whose ears have heard,
The Holy Word,
That walk'd among the ancient trees.

Calling the lapsed Soul
And weeping in the evening dew:
That might controll,
The starry pole;
And fallen fallen light renew!

O Earth O Earth return!
Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumberous mass,

Turn away no more:
Why wilt thou turn away
The starry floor
The watry shore
Is giv'n thee till the break of day."

In the Voice of the Ancient Bard, the opening morn as an image of truth is offered by the Ancient Bard to the youth, but with a warning of the maze of darkness left by previous generations of misguided teachers.

Songs of Experience , Song 54, (E 31)
"The Voice of the Ancient Bard.

Youth of delight come hither:
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born.
Doubt is fled & clouds of reason.
Dark disputes & artful teazing.
Folly is an endless maze,
Tangled roots perplex her ways,

How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but care
And wish to lead others, when they should be led."

The Bard in America takes on an even darker aspect as he speaks of the terrors of Eternal Death which he says have been long foretold.

America, Plate 2, (E 51)

"Silent as despairing love, and strong as jealousy,
The hairy shoulders rend the links, free are the wrists of fire;
Round the terrific loins he siez'd the panting struggling womb;
It joy'd: she put aside her clouds & smiled her first-born smile;
As when a black cloud shews its lightnings to the silent deep.

Soon as she saw the terrible boy then burst the virgin cry.

I know thee, I have found thee, & I will not let thee go;
Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa;
And thou art fall'n to give me life in regions of dark death.
On my American plains I feel the struggling afflictions
Endur'd by roots that writhe their arms into the nether deep:
I see a serpent in Canada, who courts me to his love;
In Mexico an Eagle, and a Lion in Peru;
I see a Whale in the South-sea, drinking my soul away.
O what limb rending pains I feel. thy fire & my frost
Mingle in howling pains, in furrows by thy lightnings rent;
This is eternal death; and this the torment long foretold."

Lines which were removed in some copies of America record an enraged Bard ashamed of his own song. The Bard himself destroys his instrument and turns away to lament the vision about which he has sung.

"[ The stern Bard ceas'd, asham'd of his own song; enrag'd he swung
His harp aloft sounding, then dash'd its shining frame against
A ruin'd pillar in glittring fragments; silent he turn'd away,
And wander'd down the vales of Kent in sick & drear lamentings.]"

Blake's Bard bears a closer resemblance to the Old Testament prophets than to a medieval bard who sang the praises of his patron. The Bard fits the description of the visionary as proclaimed by Northrop Frye in Fearful Symmetry: "the business of the visionary [is] to proclaim the Word of God to a society under the domination of Satan; and ... the visionary's social position is typically that of an isolated voice crying in the wilderness against the injustice and hypocrisy of the society from which he sprung." (Page 336)

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