In my last post I talked about the “Introduction to the Songs of Experience.” Today I want to talk about the follow-up poem: “EARTH’s Answer.” In the Introduction, the Bard beckons the Goddess, symbolized by the Earth, to awaken and take her rightful place upon the starry throne.
The opening stanza depicts the Earth as ancient and dying. There is a sense that the Earth has been abused and subjugated, and is nearing the end of her existence.
In the next two stanzas, we hear the voice of the Earth Goddess. She describes god as being jealous and fearful, and that these are the reasons for her imprisonment and suffering. Blake is thereby asserting that fear and jealousy are the primary causes of hatred and oppression.
The fourth stanza is composed of a series of questions.
My first impression of this stanza is that Blake is associating the Earth Goddess with the Persephone myth. But as I thought about this more, I began to see this as a criticism against the godhead as the Creator. It appears that the Earth feels that god is somehow ashamed of the Earth and wants to hide the divine nature in a shroud of darkness, and she is wondering why. If the Earth is the paragon of beauty and creation, why would god hide that divine nature instead of rejoicing in it?
The last thing I would like to look at is Blake’s illustration that encompasses the poem (see illustration). There is a circle formed around the poem that contains a vine and a snake. This almost gives the impression of an ouroboros. I find this very significant, especially since the snake is a symbol of knowledge and the shedding of one’s outer skin. The ouroboros is also a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, representing the need for the Earth to renew herself.
I find all of Blake’s poems to be infinitely fascinating and this one is especially interesting. I realized that when I first read this poem many years ago, I missed a lot of the symbolism. I suspect that when I read it again, maybe 20 years from now, I will uncover new symbolism woven into the text. That is what makes Blake’s poems so great, for me anyway.
Click here to read the poem online.