Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book of Thel I

The Thel Pics:

These pictures came from the Digital Collections of the Library of Congress. Blake's first large poem (not so large) was Thel. It consisted of 6 Plates with two introductory pictures (called in Erdman's Illuminated Blake Plates i and ii: Much can be said about all of them.

You may view all these plates in The William Blake Archive. 
Having done that select Thel which will offer you 8 currently available copies. Click on any one, then if you see 'compare' click on it; you may see all 8 copies. They vary in several ways.


Thel's Motto:

The Book of Thel is a poem by William Blake, dated 1789 .... It is illustrated by his own plates, and is relatively short and easy to understand, compared to his later prophetic consists of eight plates executed in illuminated printing. Fifteen copies of the original print of 1789-1793 are known. Two copies bearing a watermark of 1815 are more elaborately colored than the others. The silver rod and golden bowl can be interpreted as Blake's rejection of the conventional church (Church of England), in fact of all churches.  

The Eagle knows only the sky and must ask the mole to gain knowledge about the pit; likewise, Thel knows only innocence and eternity and must be endowed with mortality if she wants to learn about the ways of the mortal beings on Earth.  

THEL'S Motto: 
"Does the Eagle know what is in the pit? 
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole: 
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod? 
Or Love in a golden bowl?" 

An enigmatic quatrain, and one that opens more questions than it answers. The Eagle, from above, has a theoretical knowledge of the "pit" (i.e., worldly experience) which he sees from afar, but it is the blind mole who, even though he is blind, really experiences life in the pit. Which, therefore, of the two forms of knowledge, theoretical or experienced, is better?

The last two lines question whether Wisdom and Love really are, or should be, contained within physical form and moral experience: aren't they best left as untainted spiritual essences, uncorrupted by Experience? The "silver rod" is presumably intended as a phallic reference, whereas the "golden bowl" (the flesh) is not necessarily phallic."

In an interesting post on Romanticism the writer offers several meanings for Thel's Motto; here's one of them:
"One reading would be that it asserts a kind of environmentalism, that the mole knows about the pit better than the eagle because it’s the mole’s habitat.".

Read in toto much light is cast on Thel's Motto.


In plate ii, the Title page,there appears to be no script associated with it.

Using the 'Works compare' various things may be seen in various copies.

All of them show Thel, beside the trunk of a bending tree, looking at an embrace of a naked man and a clothed woman. Erdman tells us they are in two blossoms of the anemone pulsatilla, opened by the wind.

Another anemone bud, unopened, stands at Thel's feet.

The three buds: two opened ones represent Desire, while the unopened one represents Restraint.

in microcosm that's the story of Thel; she observed Experience, but thought better of it and returned to Har, which might be called self-centered Innocence.

There's a figure within the second O; Erdman says it's a shepherd with a crook like Thel's. There are many other objects that might be analyzed.


Here is Plate 1:
The daughters of Mne Seraphim led
round their sunny flocks,
All but the youngest; she in paleness
sought the secret air.
To fade away like morning beauty from
her mortal day:
Down by the river of Adona her soft
voice is heard:
And thus her gentle lamentation falls
like morning dew.

O life of this our spring! why fades
the lotus of the water?
Why fade these children of the spring?
born but to smile & fall.
Ah! Thel is like a watry bow. and like
a parting cloud.
Like a reflection in a glass. like
shadows in the water.
Like dreams of infants.
like a smile upon an infants face,
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like 
music in the air;
Ah! gentle may I lay me down, and gentle rest my head.
And gentle sleep the sleep of death. and gentle hear
the voice Of him that walketh in the garden in the evening time.

The Lilly of the valley breathing in the humble grass
Answer'd the lovely maid and said; I am a watry weed,
and I am very small, and love to dwell in lowly vales;
So weak, the gilded butterfly scarce perches on my head.
Yet I am visited from heaven and he that smiles on all.
Walks in the valley. and each morn over me spreads his hand
Saying, rejoice thou humble grass, thou new-born lilly flower,
Thou gentle maid of silent valleys. and of modest brooks;
For thou shalt be clothed in light, and fed with morning manna:
Till summers heat melts thee beside the fountains and the springs
To flourish in eternal vales: then why should Thel complain?

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