Tag Archives: red

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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“Evil” by Arthur Rimbaud

Rimbaud

While the red-stained mouths of machine guns ring
Across the infinite expanse of day;
While red or green, before their posturing King,
The massed battalions break and melt away;

And while a monstrous frenzy runs a course
That makes of a thousand men a smoking pile-
Poor fools! – dead, in summer, in the grass,
On Nature’s breast, who meant these men to smile;

There is a God, who smiles upon us through
The gleam of gold, the incense-laden air,
Who drowses in a cloud of murmured prayer,

And only wakes when weeping mothers bow
Themselves in anguish, wrapped in old black shawls-
And their last small coin into his coffer falls.

(translation from http://www.poemhunter.com)

This is a very intense poem and I see it as a strong critique against tyrannical rulers who abuse their power, particularly those associated with the Catholic Church. Rimbaud sees this as the ultimate evil, to commit murder in the name of God, or to gather money from mourning mothers to bolster wealth. And it seems as if he is making a connection between the two, that young men are being sent off to die in the name of God and King, and then the mothers of the dead soldiers are exploited, manipulated into giving up their money in the hope that doing so will secure a place in Heaven for their dead sons.

HussardThe one part of this poem that puzzled me was the reference to red and green. After doing a little research online, I came up with two possibilities. The first is that Rimbaud was referring to the hussars, a regimen of soldiers who fought under Napoleon. According to Wikipedia: “Hussars were notoriously impetuous, and Napoleon was quoted as stating that he would be surprised for a hussar to live beyond the age of 30 due to their tendency to become reckless in battle, exposing their weaknesses in frontal assaults. The hussars of Napoleon created the tradition of sabrage, the opening of a champagne bottle with a sabre.” Anyway, the hussars wore green and red uniforms.

The other possibility is that Rimbaud was referring to the colors of liturgical vestments worn during Catholic services. In that period, different colors were worn for different liturgies, and red or green vestments were fairly common colors, depending upon the service. (Source) It is also possible that he was referring to both.

I am inclined to agree with Rimbaud’s thoughts. People who use their power to exploit others are the embodiment of evil. Unfortunately, this is something that still occurs today. But, on a more optimistic note, I think society is less tolerant of people who abuse their authority, and that bodes well.

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