“To Tirzah” by William Blake

ToTirzah

Whate’er is Born of Mortal Birth
Must be consumed with the Earth
To rise from Generation free:
Then what have I to do with thee?

The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride,
Blow’d in the morn, in evening died;
But Mercy chang’d Death into Sleep;
The Sexes rose to work & weep.

Thou, Mother of my Mortal part,
With cruelty didst mould my Heart,
And with false self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my Nostrils, Eyes, & Ears:

Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay,
And me to Mortal Life betray.
The Death of Jesus set me free:
Then what have I to do with thee?

In order to fully grasp this poem, there are a couple religious references which should be explained. First, the name Tirzah “is derived from The Song of Solomon vi.4, and signifies physical beauty, that is, sex.” (Geoffrey Keynes) Also, the words on the robe of the aged figure offering the water of life in the engraving are “the second half of St. Paul’s sentence, I Corinthians xv.44: ‘It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body’.” (Keynes)

In the image associated with this poem, there are two women holding the body of the young man, who is the speaker in the poem. My impression is that the two women symbolize two aspects of the divine feminine: the mother and the maiden. I sense conflict in the speaker, who may be experiencing maternal love as well as sexual attraction. The mother’s name, Tirzah, is associated with sexual beauty. I’m sure Freudians would agree with this interpretation. But there is also a sense of anger directed towards the mother. The speaker feels he is a spiritual being and through childbirth is now trapped within a physical body, hence bound to the earth and to corporeal existence. At least until he dies. As such, he relates to Christ. When Christ died, his soul was restored to the divine. Hence, when the speaker dies, he also will be “raised a spiritual body” and become one with god.

This is certainly a psychologically challenging poem. Does one have to sever parental connections in order to live a spiritual life? How did Christ feel about his mother? Does the Oedipus myth tie into all this? Personally, this poem just stirs questions for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to post comments below. Thanks, and keep reading challenging texts.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to ““To Tirzah” by William Blake

  1. I’m not really impressed by this poem. I see it as quite anti-body, anti- senses, anti- woman… Still, I’m glad you posted it, as I love to challenge myself with opposing world views. And Blake always remains the master of language. “Didst close my tongue in senseless clay”!

    • Hi Monika.

      Yeah, I know what you mean. After reading this, I did not feel inspired; I felt puzzled and uncomfortable. But as you pointed out, sometimes we need to be challenged by looking at things from a different perspective.

      Thanks for an honest and thoughtful comment. I always love hearing your thoughts and ideas.

      Jeff

  2. To think of birth as spiritual death–or sleep–certainly requires a reversal of perspective. But isn’t this necessary in order to overcome ego attachment and “rise from generation free?” It takes gnostic vision to experience this reversal. Swedenborg says it is founded in the basic truths of charity and Compassion–putting others before oneself. That is fundamental reversal of perspective.

  3. Nice commentary. I think it’s the *type* of connection with parents, sibs and significant others that needs to be transformed. Maybe Jesus did it completely but, for the rest of us, I see it as a gradual process. That’s why psychology remains important in the spiritual life.

    If we overlook our personal unconscious we run the risk of distorting spiritual experiences like synchronicity and numinosity (at the extremes, paranoia and/or grandiosity). I think the distortion could come from an unduly colored interpretation of those experiences. This arguably can be seen in some powerful, charismatic individuals who, nonetheless, behave callously and unethically.

  4. mike

    The interpretation of this poem has been very strange for me. Early on I thought the title was a word Blake had simply ‘made up’ just for this poem . I had read something ( or heard a Professor) who said as much, ‘that no one knew the meaning ‘ of this ‘name’, like others he had created, and it seemed this was an ‘emanation’ (or Pagan Godess of Nature ), and this became my ‘feeling’ towards the poem.

    Suddenly two weeks ago in a sermon the Pastor mentions the daughters of Zelophehad appealed to Moses for hereditary rights in Numbers 27.
    I clearly heard Tirzah mentioned and immediately wondered if the name could give meaning to the poem.
    I looked in my Erdman’s Bible Dictionary and found ‘her’ meaning >
    “pleasure /beauty” , and also a Canaanite city (but the mention in Song of Solomon from Keyes is of course not mentioned).

    For me the poem is of special interest on a few levels and especially because it is one of twenty six Songs which I’ve been able to actually sing, yet has been the most puzzling of all due to it’s title.

    It doesn’t really seem to quite fit in the Songs because of it’s odd title.
    But then it certainly has “experience” at it’s core , and this should help in discerning it’s meaning. …..continue next >

    • mike

      One problem I’ve discovered in my reading is that I stopped after the second line in the first stanza. Therefore, the 1st statement can be re-stated ‘to be free from Generation, all that are born must die and be consumed.’
      Therefore, what do I really want with you Tirzah ? It’s time to go !

      Next , I have a problem with the word “Blowd”.

      I assume the word would be in use or understood in Blake’s time as a common expression,
      (Our ‘accents’ are different nowadays, is it used for ‘the sound’ ?) as saying ‘Didst’ is odd but understood today.
      Anyway, the meaning seems the same as ‘blown in the morn’ like a ‘wind that came up’.
      Life is short and sorrowful.

      “Mother of my Mortal part” seems to be Eve, Nature, and/or one’s physical mother.
      Our birth/being here in physical reality is from desire/pleasure/beauty but it’s really a negative.

      But the narrator is sure his death will actually be freedom .

      Seems the illustrated figure may be ‘baptizing in the spirit’, and then the person
      will raised in a Spiritual Body. Then truly, “What have I to do with thee, Tirzah” ?

      So then, I’ve had problems interpreting this poem for many years, yet it is still moving and worthwhile to read and sing !

      mike

      • Wow, Mike! Thanks for taking the time to share all that. You have obviously spent a lot of time and thought grappling with this difficult poem. I also was unaware of the biblical connection to the name. This adds another level of complexity to the poem.

        All the best.

        Jeff

      • mike

        Hey, for some reason didn’t get notice this was posted or your reply ?
        And yes, thought a lot about this one.
        btw as I mentioned recordings of ‘singing’, are you aware of Martha Redbone? She has a few of Blake’s songs on YT and a wonderful live concert on PBS at “Woodsongs” from her album “Garden of Love”.
        She’s really wonderful. There’s of course Allen Ginzberg’s recording, which I’ve never cared for !
        But Ed Sanders (with the Fugs, especially “How Sweet I Roamed from Field to Field”) has also been an excellent ‘interpreter’ of Blake. Van Morrison has mentioned Blake in song ….

        anyway, do check out Martha Redbone !
        best,
        mike

  5. John C. Weaver

    I believe this poem is teeming with Biblical allusions to both the Old Testament (Genesis, Numbers) and the New Testament (Gospel according to Saint Luke). I have a problem interpreting ” . . . false deceiving tears/Didst bind my Nostrils, Eyes, & Ears/ Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay . . . ” however. The illustration is very telling and adds immensely to the interpretation of the poem, I believe.

    • Hi. My guess about those lines is they have to do with being molded from the earth. The tears are shed because the mother knows her child will suffer in this life. But I agree, those lines, and the whole poem, are challenging. I am sure there are other interpretations. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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