Tag Archives: Eve

“The Little Girl Lost” by William Blake

LittleGirlLost

I have to say that this is not one of my favorite poems by Blake. I read it twice today and both times I ended up scratching my head and not really sure how I felt about it. It’s a fairly long poem, so here is a link for those who wish to read it.

Bartleby.com

When I first read it, I felt that the little girl, Lyca, was a symbol for a virginal Eve archetype, wandering in the desert and seeking to return to the garden. But then, after the second reading, I felt maybe that she represents a young woman reaching sexual maturity. Then when I tried to figure out the symbolism connected to the lion, leopard, and tyger, it seemed more ambiguous. Is the lion being protective, like a Christ symbol, or is the lion taking sexual advantage of Lyca, as represented by his licking of her bosom and bringing her into his cave?

I don’t often look up the meaning of poems, since I like to interpret them for myself, but this one caused me to look up an academic paper on the poem. Unfortunately, this only made matters worse. Here is the paper I perused.

http://www.english.uga.edu/wblake/SONGS/35/3435mont.bib.html

As you can see, even in academic circles, interpretations are all over the chart. No one seems to agree on anything regarding this poem (nor the subsequent “The Little Girl Found”). Frankly, I wish I had never looked at this. I feel more confused about this poem now than I did when I first read it.

There is one critique from this paper that I completely agree with, that of Kathleen Raine: “The poems fail, Raine argues, because Blake relies on traditional sources rather than his own imagination.” It is Blake’s imaginative power that has always drawn me to his work. If, as Raine asserts, these poems are Blake’s reworking of other allegories, that would explain why the poem feels rather ambiguous and not cohesive to me.

Despite the fact that I don’t care for this particular poem, I do love Blake’s work. But it stands to reason that when dealing with the poems of someone as prolific as William Blake, not every poem is going to be great. Still, even a not-so-great Blake poem is worth reading, and “The Little Girl Lost” falls into that category for me; not so great, but still worth reading.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Book of J” by Harold Bloom

BookOfJThis is a book that has been on my shelf waiting for me to read for quite a long time. I picked it up when I was in college. Harold Bloom had come to speak at the campus and I knew I would have the opportunity to meet him before his lecture. I was familiar with the book and the concept was very interesting, so I bought a copy and had him sign it for me. (Yes, I’m one of those book-dorks who loves autographed copies.) Anyway, I finally got around to reading it and I’m glad I did.

Essentially, the Book of J is a construct of passages extracted from the first three books of the Torah, or the Old Testament for Christian readers (Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers). Scholars seem to be in agreement that the early biblical texts were written by several different people, then combined and redacted to create a unified text. In this book, Bloom argues that one of the unknown authors, whom he refers to as J, was a woman and referred to god as Yahweh. In addition, he goes on to assert that the intention of J as a writer was not to create a religious or historical text, but that she was in fact writing a literary story of comic irony, comparable to Shakespeare or Chaucer.

The book is split into three parts. The first part contains Bloom’s introductory sections—background information, thesis, history, and so forth. The second section is the reconstructed Book of J, the text translated by David Rosenberg. The third section is Bloom’s analysis of the text.

Bloom begins by asserting that J was a woman writer who wrote for a female audience. He also stresses that “Yahweh, in the Book of J, is a literary character, just as Hamlet is.” (p. 12) He continues by placing J in the same category as Shakespeare, claiming that they are both universal authors, hence their works are prone to contradictory interpretations. Bloom then praises J’s work as being so powerful that three major religions were founded based upon her writing.

J mixes everything available to her and produces a work so comprehensive and so universal that the entire Hebrew Bible, Greek New Testament, and Arabic Koran could be founded upon it. (p. 18)

Shortly before presenting J’s text, Bloom encourages readers to let go of their preconceived notions of the text and approach it from a literary and not a religious perspective.

Perhaps the largest obstacle to our reading J as J is that we cannot cease thinking of the Book of J as the heart of the composite work the Torah, or five books of Moses, and so as the central element in those even more composite works the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, with its Old testament/New Testament structure… To read the Book of J, we need to begin by scrubbing away the varnish that keeps us from seeing that the Redactor and previous revisionists could not obliterate the original work of the J writer. That varnish is called by many names: belief, scholarship, history, literary criticism, what have you. (p. 47)

J’s book begins with the creation of Adam in the Garden and ends with the death of Moses in Moab. Throughout her text, Yahweh appears as a fickle, unstable god, who cannot help acting upon whims. In addition, the women characters always appear stronger than the male counterparts, which is something Bloom points out as support for his argument that J was a woman writing for a female audience. In fact, I would personally take it a step further and assert that J viewed women to be on the same level of divinity as Yahweh, as demonstrated by Hava’s (Eve) claim that she possesses the creative life-giving power of god.

Now the man knew Hava, his wife, in the flesh; she conceived Cain: “I have created a man as Yahweh has,” she said when he was born. (p. 63)

I want to look at one more passage from J’s book, which is a great example of both Yahweh’s fickle character and the strength of the women in the book. In this passage, Yahweh decides to kill Moses for no apparent reason (except that maybe because Moses had not yet had his son circumcised), which in and of itself is bizarre. Why kill your main prophet and the person who is leading your chosen ones? But what is most telling about the passage is that it is Moses’ wife who intervenes and saves Moses. I get the impression that J was expressing that Zipporah, being a strong woman, was on equal footing with Yahweh. She is, in any case, certainly stronger than Moses.

On the way, at a night lodging, Yahweh met him—and was ready to kill him. Zipporah took a flinty stone, cutting her son’s foreskin; touched it between Moses’ legs: “Because you are my blood bridegroom.” He withdrew from him. “A blood bridegroom,” she said, “marked by this circumcision.” (p. 144)

Bloom has a lot of great commentary following the Book of J, and it is much too in-depth to go into within the confines of this blog post. I’ll just mention as bullet points a few of the concepts that struck me as interesting and which you may want to think about:

  • There was no proverbial “fall” and hence no split. J expresses a unity between body and soul, as well as between man and nature.
  • Yahweh did a better job creating the first woman than he did creating the first man.
  • Man was banished from the Garden to prevent his ascension to god-status.
  • Sodom was destroyed not because of sin, but because the people there showed contempt for Yahweh as well as contempt for others. Sin was not a concept for J.

“By normative standards, Jewish or Christian, J’s portrayal of Yahweh is blasphemy.” (p. 280) She portrays Yahweh as a character with defects and flaws, which makes him a realistic literary character and one to whom we can relate. After reading this book, I will never read the Torah texts the same way again.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature, Spiritual

Sexual Symbolism in “The Blossom” by William Blake

TheBlossom I am including the poem here, since it is short.

Merry, merry sparrow!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Sees you, swift as arrow,
Seek your cradle narrow,
Near my bosom.

Pretty, pretty robin!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Hears you sobbing, sobbing,
Pretty, pretty robin,
Near my bosom.

Upon first reading, I got the sense of sexual symbolism here. I asked myself if I was maybe reading too much into the poem, but after reading it over a couple more times, the imagery became stronger and I definitely concluded that Blake was expressing sexuality, particularly the loss of virginity.

The blossom is a symbol of female genitalia. Nothing really new here. The flower has been an artistic representation for the vagina for as long as humans have created art. What did strike me, though, is that preceding each mention of the blossom, Blake writes “Under leaves so green.” At first glance, I thought he was saying that the birds were under the leaves, but not so. I believe that he is implying that the blossom is under the leaves go green, which leads me to see this more as symbolic of Eve’s first sexual experience in the Garden of Eden, where she covered her genitalia with a leaf after becoming sexually aware.

In the first stanza, the image of the sparrow and its comparison to an arrow seeking the “cradle narrow” represents the phallus entering the woman for the first time. Again, there is nothing remarkable here. The arrow is a fairly common phallic symbol.

Now for me, it’s the second stanza that gets interesting. We have a different bird here, the robin, and the bird is associated with sobbing. I thought about the robin and pictured the bird with the reddish patch on its belly. I concluded that the robin must symbolize either the blood that accompanies the loss of virginity (being deflowered) or menstruation. If the robin represents loss of virginity, then the sobbing is a result of being deflowered. If the robin represents menstruation, then the sobbing likely represents the sorrow of the woman realizing that she did not get pregnant. It’s also possible that Blake was expressing both.

As with so many of the poems in Songs of Innocence, this one appears simple on the surface, but becomes more complex the deeper you look. As always, feel free to share your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature