"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 Lillys leaf:
Ah weep not little voice, thou can'st not speak. but thou can'st
Is this a Worm? I see thee lay helpless & naked: weeping,
And none to answer, none to cherish thee with mothers smiles.
The Clod of Clay heard the Worms voice, & raisd her pitying head;
She bowd 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,
Thou seest me the meanest thing, and so I am indeed;
My bosom of itself is cold. and of itself is dark:"
These notes are taken largely from Erdman's The Illuminated Blake:
To understand this image you need a better copy: Works Compare let’s you see several copies that vary widely.
The cloud in the upper left contains a naked, flying man, and the speech we hear comes from him.
The worm at the bottom of the picture has become a chrysalis; and out of it we see a human infant.
Thel’s billowing skirts (seen best in a green copy J) point toward the passing Cloud (represented by the naked human, prophetically calling forth the worm and saying goodbye to Thel .
After experiencing the Lilly, the Cloud, the Clod of Clay and the Worm (all manifestations of the material world), Thel will return of course to Har.
These notes are taken largely from Damon's A Blake Dictionary, pages 52 and 401:
In the Cloud Damon saw the 'fertilizing' male (he has brought Blake's thought forms right dawn to the 21st century). In the Clod of Clay he saw the mother and in the Worm the baby.
Damon found the interpretation of the poem obvious "especially when we compare it to Milton's Comus".
In 1801 Blake did 8 pictures illlustrating Comus; here is Plate 5 (The Magic Banquet with the Lady Spell-Bound)
A very good treatment of Thel and Comus is found in an article in the Colby Review entitled 'Comus, Cloud, and Thel's "Unacted Desires"' Here's a paragraph:
"Rodger L. Tarr elaborates,
"What makes The Book of Thel all the more interesting, then, is Blake's inherent denial of Milton's belief in the divinity of virginity, and his
counterargument that generative copulation is the key both to wisdom and to love."
Both works focus on an adolescent girl confronted with the possible loss of her virginity; each young protagonist rejects this possibility and ultimately eludes entrapment. (One may not consider Thel trapped at all;
unlike Milton's "Lady," who at one point is enchanted to Comus' magic
chair, Thel's movements are at all times "unhindered"; she does feel herself in danger, however....) But where Milton regards his young protagonist as entirely admirable for her strength of mind, Blake considers Thel to be in error for rejecting the necessary move from the world of Innocence to that of Experience."
This of course is an entirely physical and material interpretation, only one of many ways to view it. For materialists the Book of Thel shows that Blake upheld sexual activity as a source of energy, while Milton chose sexual restraint as the primary good.
Milton was an early hero for Blake; he wrote his first large poem (Milton) dealing with Milton's values, placing him right next to Christ.