Tag Archives: light bringer

“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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“Prometheus” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

While flipping through my tome of works by the English Romantic writers, I came across “Prometheus” by Lord Byron, which I had not read in a very long time. I figured I should read it again.

The poem praises the god Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. The first thing to remember when reading this poem is that fire is a metaphor for knowledge and enlightenment. Essentially, Prometheus is the ancient equivalent to Lucifer. In fact, the name Lucifer has been interpreted as meaning “light bringer.” So in the same way that Lucifer gave the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to humankind, thereby making them more godlike, so Prometheus bestowed divine enlightenment on humanity.

Like Lucifer, Prometheus was punished for his transgression. Zeus bound him to a rock, where an eagle came daily to devour his liver. Prometheus’ liver grows back, and the next day, the bird returns to feast again.

Prometheus

Prometheus

From the poem, it appears that Byron sees both Zeus and God as symbols of tyranny and oppression, whereas Prometheus and Lucifer are symbols of human intellectual liberation. This is clearly shown in lines 18 – 22:

And the inexorable Heaven,
And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
The ruling principle of Hate,
Which for its pleasure doth create
The things it may annihilate,

While the correlation between Prometheus and Lucifer is quite obvious, I will venture to put forth the possibility that Byron also viewed Prometheus as a Christ-like symbol. Both suffered for humanity: Christ on the cross and Prometheus on the rock. But Byron takes the analogy a step further by stating that Prometheus is like man, a combination of divine spirit and flesh, which also describes Christ:

Thou art a symbol and a sign
         To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
         A troubled stream from a pure source;

It’s kind of strange to imagine a symbol that could represent Christ and Lucifer at the same time, and I think this is the genius of the poem. Byron successfully creates a version of the myth that embraces the two opposing figures and exalts both of them. For Byron, the only evil is tyranny, the chaining of humanity to the rock of torture and ignorance. Christ, Lucifer, and Prometheus all sought to enlighten mankind, and all suffered as a result.

Click here to read the poem online.

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