Tag Archives: Eden

“Infant Sorrow” by William Blake

InfantSorrow

My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt.
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father’s hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands;
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mother’s breast.

For a short poem of only eight lines, there is a lot going on here and there are multiple ways that this poem can be interpreted. First, we can take the poem at face value. During the Industrial Revolution at a time when poverty was rampant, having another mouth to feed would have certainly been a hardship for two parents. In addition, I can only suspect that the infant mortality rate was quite high, which would add another level of sorrow for a child.

There are some images that lead me to consider another interpretation of this poem. In the first stanza, the baby is described as “a fiend hid in a cloud.” And in the second stanza, we have images of bondage and struggling against the father. This leads me to wonder if the infant in this poem is a symbol for Lucifer, an angel who struggled against god, was cast down into this “dangerous world,” and is ultimately bound here. If one considers Lucifer to be another manifestation of the Prometheus myth, then the images of bondage definitely work to support this idea.

Finally, there is one other possible interpretation; that the man and the woman are Adam and Eve, and the infant is their first-born son, Cain. Being the first human born into the world according to Judeo-Christian belief, he would have been born into a world infinitely more dangerous than Eden. Cain would ultimately murder his brother, Abel, and spend the rest of his days in sorrow. It is also worth noting that Adam and Eve are depicted as weeping and mourning the death of Abel, so the imagery of the groaning mother and weeping father can be tied into this interpretation.

Blake’s poems are so rich and fascinating; I am always in awe at how he managed to include so much in so few words. Hope you enjoyed this post. Have a great and inspired day!!

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“Some Reflections on War and Peace” by Umberto Eco

TurningBackTheClock

While in Paris this past spring, I visited the famous Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. While I was there I purchased a copy of Umberto Eco’s Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. I began reading it the other day, fully expecting that I would read through the book and then write a review of it. I discovered that the book is actually a collection of essays written by Eco and after reading the first one realized that my original plan would not do this book justice. Hence, I decided to write individual blog posts specific to essays in the book.

“Some Reflections on War and Peace” is the first essay and it explores what Eco sees as the two types of warfare: paleowar, which is traditional war fought on a defined front against a clear enemy; and neowar, which is war where the identity of the enemy is uncertain and there is no front.

Eco asserts that the first Gulf War marked the advent of neowar and a shift in the general psychology and public view of warfare. It was no longer acceptable to simply wipe out an enemy, regardless of collateral damage. Global media has increased public sensitivity to war and the casualties associated with it.

The Gulf War established two principles: (1) none of our men should die and (2) as few enemies as possible should be killed. Regarding the death of our adversaries we saw some hypocrisy, because a great number of Iraqis died in the desert, but the very fact that no one emphasized this detail is an interesting sign. In any case neowarfare typically tries to avoid killing civilians, because if you kill too many of them, you run the risk of condemnation by the international media.

Hence the employment and celebration of smart bombs. After fifty years of peace due to the cold war, such sensitivity might strike many young people as normal, but can you imagine this attitude in the years when V1s were destroying London and Allied bombs were razing Dresden?

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 14 – 15)

Eco seems very critical regarding media’s role regarding neowar. He uses 9/11 as a prime example. In this case, the media actually aided bin Laden in achieving his goals, which is to spread fear and uncertainty.

Bin Laden’s aim was to impress world public opinion with that image, and accordingly mass media talked about it, showed the dramatic rescue operations, the evacuations, and the mutilated skyline of Manhattan. Did they have to repeat this news item every day, for at least a month, with photographs, film clips, and the endless eyewitness reports, broadcasting over and over the images of that wound before the eyes of all? It is hard to give an answer. Sales of newspapers with those photos went up, television channels that offered continuous repeats of those film clips enjoyed improved ratings, the public wanted to see those terrible scenes replayed, perhaps to feed its indignation, perhaps sometimes to indulge an unconscious sadism. Maybe it was impossible to do otherwise, but the fact remains that in this way the media gave bin Laden billions of dollars’ worth of free publicity, showing every day the images he had created, sowing bewilderment among Westerners, and giving fundamentalist supporters a reason for pride.

(ibid: p. 18)

Eco makes another astute observation regarding how media influences the public’s opinion regarding war. People in the West often side with a group not because they believe in a cause, but because they oppose war as it is being presented via international media. A perfect example of this is the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. One could argue that many Palestinian supporters side with them not because they agree with their ideology, but because they feel a sense of outrage at the images which they are exposed to.

Within the ranks of the West, pro-Islamic groups would be formed not out of faith but out of opposition to the war, and new sects would arise that reject the West, Ghandians who would put down their tools and refuse to collaborate with their governments, fanatics like the Davidians in Waco who (without being Muslims) would unleash terror campaigns to purify the corrupt Western world. In the streets of Europe, processions would form of desperate, passive supplicants waiting for the Apocalypse.

(ibid: p. 25)

The later part of the essay deals with the possibility of peace on a global scale. Eco is not optimistic. He asserts that conflict is part of human nature, and while we would like to envision a return to a peaceful state, mirroring that of the Edenic state, the sad fact is that humans have never enjoyed a prolonged state of peace.

I don’t believe that on this earth men, who are wolves preying on their fellow men, will attain global peace. Basically, Fukuyama was thinking about this peace with his idea of the end of history, but recent events have shown that history repeats itself, and always in the form of conflict.

(ibid: p. 29)

While this view of war and peace seems dismal, Eco ends the essay on a note of optimism. While global peace may never be possible, peace on a local level is certainly within our grasp. And I would augment this by asserting that if enough people worked towards local harmony, this could have a rippling effect across a wider plane.

Our only hope is to work on local peace.

(ibid: p. 30)

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Three Poems by William Blake

PrettyRoseTree

As I continue to work my way through the Songs of Experience, the next one is more of a set, three poems that share the same illuminated page and also share a theme of flowers.

MY PRETTY ROSE-TREE

A flower was offered to me,
Such a flower as May never bore;
But I said I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree,
And I passed the sweet flower o’er.

Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree,
To tend her by day and by night;
But my Rose turned away with jealousy,
And her thorns were my only delight.

AH! SUN-FLOWER

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

THE LILLY

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble Sheep a threatening horn:
While the Lilly white shall in Love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

There is a lot here to consider. The first question is: Why three poems? After reading through them a couple times, I concluded that the three flowers/poems represent the three stages of a woman’s life: birth, adulthood, and death. This would also be symbolic of the triple goddess: maid, mother, and crone.

In the first poem, the Rose-tree is the mother who gives birth to the baby girl. The red color of the rose symbolizes the blood associated with childbirth. The mother becomes jealous of her daughter, possibly because she mourns the loss of her beauty which she sees reflected in the daughter’s visage, or it could be the attention which the father pays to the young girl. Regardless, the mother is not joyous over the birth of her daughter.

The Sun-flower symbolizes the girl becoming a woman. She has reached her full height and now aspires to reach the sun (or son). She is ready to become a mother herself and renew the cycle.

Lastly, the Lilly is the symbol of death and mourning, hence they are frequently used in funeral wreaths. The whiteness represents the pallor of the skin, yet also hints at a purification of the soul as it transitions to the next realm.

While all this makes sense, there was something about this poem that still bothered me and as I thought about it some more, I figured out what it was. In the first poem, I realized that roses do not grow on trees. The image was all wrong. So why would Blake, skilled poet that he was, use such a poor image, unless he was hinting at something else. That is when an alternate interpretation came to me.

I pictured the Rose-tree as symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This completely changed my view of the poems. The flower that was originally offered was the promise of life in the Garden of Eden, but humanity instead turned to the Tree of Knowledge and as a result, became subjected to the thorns of life (the curse of experience). Humanity then attempted to reach back to God and did so through Christ, the Sun-flower (or Son-flower). This makes the lines “Arise from their graves and aspire, /Where my Sun-flower wishes to go” make more sense. Finally, the whiteness and purity of the Lilly represents the return to the Edenic state. No more will “a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright” as humanity is returned to the place of divine being.

Even now, I feel that there is more to this triad of poems than I am seeing. But alas, the day is moving on and as much as I would love to sit all day and contemplate this, I must attend to other things. If you see anything else hidden in these poems, please share them in a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a beautiful day and keep reading!

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“A Dream” by William Blake

ADream

This is the second-to-last poem in the Songs of Innocence, and for me it was the most complex and challenging so far.

Once a dream did weave a shade
O’er my angel-guarded bed,
That an emmet lost its way
Where on grass methought I lay.

Troubled, wildered, and forlorn,
Dark, benighted, travel-worn,
Over many a tangle spray,
All heart-broke, I heard her say:

Oh my children! do they cry,
Do they hear their father sigh?
Now they look abroad to see,
Now return and weep for me.

Pitying, I dropped a tear:
But I saw a glow-worm near,
Who replied, What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night?

I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetle’s hum;
Little wanderer, hie thee home!

The first problem I had in figuring this poem out was the language. Blake incorporates Old and Middle English terms which I had to look up. Emmet is an Old English term for an ant, and wight is a Middle English word for a creature, particularly a human being, that is generally considered to be unfortunate. Once I understood these terms, it was easier for me to figure out the rest of the metaphors and symbolism.

So in the first stanza, we see an emmet (or ant) that has lost its way. It seems fairly clear that this represents a person lost on the spiritual path. As the poem continues, we see a father weeping. This is likely a reference to God mourning his children who have gone astray. Again, the metaphors are fairly straight-forward. But in the fourth stanza, things get a little strange.

Here we are introduced to a glow worm, a watchman of the night, who lights the way for those who crawl upon the earth. It seems to me that the glow worm is symbolic of Lucifer as the Light Bringer, embodied as the serpent, who seeks to bestow enlightenment upon the unfortunate humans. Now, it’s possible that Blake was evoking an image of Christ in the symbol of a serpent. Either way, the serpent is a figure of light and clearly intends to serve as a guide for humanity.

Source: ouroborosponderosa.wordpress.com

Source: ouroborosponderosa.wordpress.com

Lastly, there is a beetle. The ant is instructed to follow the beetle’s hum. The image that comes to mind as I contemplate this is a scarab. In Egyptian mythology, the scarab is depicted as moving the Sun across the sky. It appears that Blake is tying in the ancient Egyptian symbol of guiding illumination and connecting it with the archetype of the serpent as the symbol of wisdom.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

In the last line, the wandering ant is urged to hurry home. I can only assume that this means that humans need to seek a return to the Edenic state, where we are once again connected with the Divine. There is a sense of urgency here, like time is running out, and we need to reestablish our connection with the divine source now or else we will become lost forever.

It is possible that I am reading too much into this poem, but I would like to think that is not the case. Blake’s poems appear deceptively simple, yet are profoundly mystical beneath the surface. I believe this is one of those poems that contains much more that what initially meets the eye.

Of course, your thoughts and interpretations are encouraged. Thanks for reading!

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“The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells

WarOfTheWorldsAs Halloween draws near, I figured it would be good to read some classic science fiction, especially since watching the old sci-fi films has been a long-standing Halloween tradition for me. And let’s face it; The War of the Worlds is one of the most classic science fiction books ever written.

I could write a lot about this book because it works on so many levels. First of all, it is a great example of how to employ scientific and technical writing into the art of fiction. As a professional technical writer, I found this very interesting. Wells includes a level of technical detail in his descriptions that is worthy of any technical document.

The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one tentacle of the handling-machine. With two spatulate hands the handling-machine was digging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shaped receptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a door and removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of the machine. Another steely tentacle directed the powder from the basin along a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from me by the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a little thread of green smoke rose vertically into the quiet air. As I looked, the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended, telescopic fashion, a tentacle that had been a moment before a mere blunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.

Another aspect of the book that I found fascinating is the comparison between humans and animals. Humans are compared to insects, an analogy that is fitting. Humans have a hive mentality and the way we interact is not much different than bees or ants. Many of us are only concerned with the goings-on within our particular mound and do not give much thought to what happens outside our hive, until it affects us directly.

The connection between humans and animals is complex in this book, and there is definitely a social critique on our relationship with animals. The manner in which the Martian invaders treat us is frequently compared with how we treat animals. We exterminate them if they become an annoyance to us; we breed them and keep them as pets; and we raise and use them for food. The book suggests that if a superior species were to arrive or evolve, we would become just another commodity for use by the dominant species.

“Very likely these Martians will make pets of some of them; train them to do tricks—who knows?—get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us.”

While the technical and the social aspects of this book were intriguing, I have to say that what I found the most thought-provoking were the religious metaphors and symbolism I found throughout the text. There are a lot of religious references in the book and one could certainly dedicate an entire analysis to that aspect of the book alone. Some of these biblical references are overt, such as the following passage comparing the Martian invasion with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? The morning service was over, I was walking through the roads to clear my brain for the afternoon, and then—fire, earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work—What are these Martians?”

In addition to direct references, the story is filled with hidden symbolic references to the bible. For example, in the following passage, the heat-ray evokes images of the cherubim with the flaming sword blocking the way to the Garden of Eden. It is almost like technological advancement has brought us to the point where we are no longer able to return to the Edenic state, where technology will prevent us from reunification with the Divine.

It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable, sword of heat. I perceived it coming towards me by the flashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and stupefied to stir.

I suspect you also noticed the symbol of the Burning Bush woven into the quote. When you read this book—and I encourage you to do so, even if you have read it already—you will find allusions such as this throughout.

To sum up, this book has earned its place among the ranks of the classics in literature. It works on many levels and each time you read it you will discover new things. When I first read it as a kid, it was just a really exciting sci-fi book about aliens and fighting. Now, I see it more as a profound social and religious commentary on humanity. I suspect that when I read it at age 80, it will take on yet another meaning.

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“he enters stage” by Jim Morrison

WildernessMorrisonI’m a big Doors fan. I could not even attempt to guess at the number of hours I spent sitting and listening to their music. And as a reader of poetry, it should be no surprise that I have also read Jim Morrison’s poetry. Anyway, this morning I picked up my copy of Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison Volume 1 and randomly flipped to a poem, which I am including in this post courtesy of Huddersfield One website.

he enters stage:

Blood boots. Killer storm.
Fool’s gold. God in a heaven.
Where is she?
Have you seen her?
Has anyone seen this girl?
snap shot (projected)
She’s my sister.
Ladies & gentlemen:
please attend carefully to these words & events
It’s your last chance, our last hope.
In this womb or tomb, we’re free of the swarming streets.
The black fever which rages is safely out those doors
My friends & I come from
Far Arden w/ dances, &
new music
Everywhere followers accrue
to our procession.
Tales of Kings, gods, warriors
and lovers dangled like
jewels for your careless pleasure

I’m Me!
Can you dig it.
My meat is real.
My hands–how they move
balanced like lithe demons
My hair–so twined and writhing
The skin of my face–pinch the cheeks
My flaming sword tongue
spraying verbal fire-flys
I’m real.
I’m human
But I’m not an ordinary man
No No No

What I like about this poem is that it gives us a glimpse into how it must have felt for Jim to be on stage. It is my understanding that The Doors saw music as a way to alter consciousness. Morrison considered himself to be a shaman leading the audience into other realms. And as a musician, I can relate to a lot of what is expressed here. There is something that is ineffable which occurs when musician and audience connect on a spiritual level. I’ve been fortunate to have experienced it on occasions, but I could not express that feeling any better than Jim does in the above poem.

I think my favorite lines in this poem are “My flaming sword tongue/spraying verbal fire-flys.” There is some cool symbolism here. First, the flaming sword evokes the image of the cherubim guarding the Garden of Eden, so Jim’s words could be seen as a gateway to the Edenic state. In addition, the flaming sword offers light, hence the lyrics could also be seen as sources of illumination. Finally, his sharp words can also cut and burn, effectively destroying the established paradigms to make way for new levels of consciousness.

If you are a Doors fan as I am, I encourage you to buy a copy of Jim’s book. There are some very good poems in there and it would be a worthy addition to your book collection.

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Introduction to Songs of Experience by William Blake

IntroSongsOfExperienceI recently wrote about Blake’s “Introduction to the Songs of Innocence” (click here to read that post). The “Introduction to the Songs of Experience” serves as a contrast, where one leaves the Edenic childlike state and moves into the realm of knowledge, along with the associated pain and suffering.

The opening stanza establishes the idea of the poet as a mystic, one who is visionary and understands the transcendent power of poetry. Blake points out that the Bard has heard the “Holy Word,” which means that he understands the power that words have in the act of creation.

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees 
Whose ears have heard, 
The Holy Word,
That walk’d among the ancient trees.

The second stanza addresses humanity in its fallen state. Mankind was banished from Eden as a result of its desire to know and become godlike. The fall is also symbolic of what happens to people on an individual level. Once a person becomes aware of mortality, the carefree innocence of childhood is lost forever.

Calling the lapsed Soul 
And weeping in the evening dew: 
That might controll, 
The starry pole; 
And fallen fallen light renew!

There is an interesting shift in the third stanza. The Bard is no longer addressing humanity in its fallen state, but is addressing the Earth. The Earth here is a representation of the Divine Feminine, which appears to be in a state of hibernation. This is likely the result of patriarchal religious beliefs that state that the Earth must be subjugated. Now the Bard beckons the Earth Goddess to awaken and renew herself.

O Earth O Earth return!
Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumberous mass.

There is some ambiguity in the fourth and final stanza. Blake seems to be addressing both humanity again as well as the Earth. Depending upon how you interpret the Bard’s audience affects the symbolism. If the Bard is addressing humanity, then he is calling on people to recognize their spiritual connection to the Earth and to deny it no longer; if addressing the Earth, he is summoning the Divine Feminine to restore herself beside her masculine counterpart upon the starry throne. I personally feel that both interpretations are correct.

Turn away no more: 
Why wilt thou turn away 
The starry floor 
The watry shore
Is giv’n thee till the break of day.

This is a very powerful and mystical poem, and the closer you read it, the more you will find there. Blake’s next poem in the Songs of Experience is “EARTH’s Answer,” where the Goddess responds to the Bard. You can probably guess what my next post will be about.

Click here to read “Introduction to the Songs of Experience” online.

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