Tag Archives: Garden of 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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“The Garden of Love” by William Blake

GardenOfLove

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

This poem, included in the Songs of Experience, is an attack against the church and ecclesiastic authority. The Garden of Love symbolizes the Garden of Eden, which Blake associates with sexual freedom. Sexuality is not sinful in Blake’s eyes, but a beautiful and natural part of the human experience.

The image of the chapel in the midst of the Garden implies that the church and religious dogma are preventing humanity’s return to the Edenic state. As a result, the statement “Thou shalt not” takes on two meanings. The obvious is “thou shalt not” have sex out of wedlock, which is contradictory to the natural human state as Blake sees it. But also, “thou shalt not” re-enter the Garden of Eden. The church is like the cherubim blocking the return to the Garden.

The other metaphor I want to point out is the image of “tombstones where flowers should be.” The flower symbolizes the woman who has reached sexual maturity. Sadly, in Blake’s society, a woman who gave in to her sexual desires was cast out and shunned, often left desolate on the streets and destined to die at an early age. For a woman back then, sex before marriage too often resulted in death.

Although we have come a long way in accepting our sexuality, there are still cultures that condemn women for engaging in intercourse out of wedlock and we see news stories of women who are murdered for doing so. The big difference is that most of us are horrified by these occurrences, which is a sign that as a society we are slowly moving in the right direction.

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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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“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.

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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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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.

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