Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PITY TO THE MYSTIC

In William Blake: Poet and Mystic, Pierre Berger writes of the universality of Blake's identification with 'minute particulars' of the created world:

"If, however, mysticism has the effect of destroying or attenuating this personal love and its selfish passions, it has the compensating result of increasing the sentiment of universal sympathy and the primitive feeling of fellowship with all created beings. Blake's work is full of this sympathy and this feeling.
His love has as its object, not only man, but all creatures, animals, even all plants and stones, beneath each of which he perceived a soul resembling his own. None of his predecessors had ever enjoyed such intimate communion with the world of animals and of inert nature. Others had regarded these as wonders of creation, as examples of God's goodness ; had admired them for their beauty, caressed and praised them as faithful servants or lovable companions. But no one had ever loved them as equals, as a brother or a sister might be loved. We must go back to the old Indian philosophers, or to mediaeval mystics like St. Francis of Assisi, to find this sentiment of brotherhood with animals, plants and inanimate things, this immense feeling of tenderness towards them, in which there is neither condescending pity nor any sense of man's superiority. To Blake, they were all spirits, like himself. He went farther even than most mystics : to him, the stone, the cloud, the clod of clay, were not merely each the abode of a spirit, but the spirits themselves, thus made visible to our eyes. He, who could " see a world in a grain of sand/' who found in the caterpillar on the leaf an image of the sorrows of motherhood, who heard the cherubim's song interrupted by the wounding of a lark, was able also to describe in touching words the emotions of the flower or the sparrow, the desire for love felt by the clod of clay, the sadness of the sick rose, or the infinite longings of the sunflower. To him, nothing is insignificant: all things are equal in the world of the eternal. What seems a trifle to others, fills "him full of smiles or tears." He represents himself as a sower who would cast his seed on the sand rather than tear up " some stinking weed." Of him, as of the Man of Sorrows, might it have been written that he would not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Blake would never have declared that he loved the spider and the nettle because other men hated them. That would have been the love that springs from pity. He loved them because they were his equals. Sterne's hero refused to kill a fly, since the world was large enough for it and him. Blake thought the same. But he went further, and saw the fly as a man, and himself as a fly. He ended by identifying himself with it." (Page 246)

 

Songs of Innocence and Experience, 40 (E 23)
THE FLY.

"Little Fly
Thy summers play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush'd away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing:
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath:
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die."

Berger: "His soul is one with the soul of all creatures : he feels with them and for them. His immense sympathy is like God's."

Songs of Innocence and Experience, 27, (E 17)
On Anothers Sorrow

"And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird's grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear,

And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity in their breast;
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant's tear ?"


The Divine form of Pity is recognition of the kinship of everything in the world which is our gift to inhabit.


Image is from:
Yale Center for British Art
Blake's Water-colours for the Poems of Thomas Gray
Ode on the Spring
No. 6

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