The Interview with William Blake Page Two
An imagined conversation by Kevin McLaughlin
McL: There is another powerful phenomenon, this one regarding the first four lines of your poem “Auguries of Innocence”. These lines are universally known to folk from all creeds, by people who also have the Visionary gene in their spiritual DNA. They are the epitome of sending a transforming eye to distant truths. As I mentioned before I am Buddhist. These lines express our core beliefs better than most of our sutras and basic writings. These lines are a Revelation.
To see a world in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
(Knowing of Blake’s aversion to Newton, as well as much of scientific study, I abstained from relating the four lines to particle physics.)
McL: I must tell you of your influence on succeeding generations. Your massive canon of poetry, letters, satires, prophecies, and marginalia have been studied world-wide and commented upon by the greatest of literary and philosophical scholars. You have been classified as a “pre-Romantic,” and influenced the finest poets of Albion. I took two courses at the University level devoted only to your work. In the 1960s and 1970s your prophecies became a leading inspiration for many who experimented with mind altering substances. Though I myself did not participate in this, I believe I came to know and cherish your work on the same level as your most devoted scholars and disciples.
Your paintings and engravings achieved unprecedented fame. My brother recently saw an exhibit of your water colors in a prestigious museum in Manhattan, America. Keith said his time in the gallery included some of his finest moments. He swears he felt your presence. This is not unusual. Your art works, your paintings and plates are on display throughout the world.
Blake: I can’t say I am humbled or surprised to learn of my influence after I left this planet. But I am gratified.
McL: I am something of an expert on a form of poetry developed in Japan called haiku. They consist of three lines sorted syllabically with a 5-7-5 count. Ideally there is a cutting word which encourages the reader to divide the verse into two parts. Classical haiku contain a direct or indirect reference to nature. Might you be interested in trying this form?
Blake: (The poet laughed so hard his body shook.) Not at all! Forms, especially one so miniscule, are too restrictive. Thank the Angels my vision could not be contained in such a diminutive arrangement. I do not care to hear any more about this form.
McL: (At this point the discussion returned to generalities. I took the opportunity to tell of one specific McLaughlin family tradition.) Each year on my birthday, I recited to my mum the first stanza of “Infant Sorrow”. December 9th was really her day, not mine.
My mother groaned! My father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
(Mrs. Blake’s eyes filled with joyous tears. She came over and gave me an awkward hug. We all agreed there was yet more to be discussed. Invited to spend the night, I accepted. I could always return at my leisure to 2018.)
McL: (I acknowledge being a bit disconcerted by the Blakes' innocent nudity. I recall Blake, during his lifetime, was widely considered a madman. I also recall that the poet maintained a steadfast friendship with American revolutionary Thomas Paine.)
I am familiar with and admire The Marriage of Heaven Hell. Am I correct in stating it contains some hyperbole and opinions you would recant in other works? Was it not because of the stridency and extremity of your writings that some thought you a madman? Your age was one of intellectual temperance combined with political revolutions. An odd combination.
Mrs. Blake: Mr. Blake doesn’t exaggerate. He is the finest man alive. His hands don’t dirt, his soul doesn’t stain.
Blake: I mock thee not tho I by thee am mocked, thou callest me Madman, but I call thee blockhead. Read by those capable of reading carefully The Marriage of Heaven and Hell presents a complete, impervious theology.
McL: Sheepish apologies tendered. Your Prophecies and pieces such as The Book of Urizen and The Four Zoas are regrettably beyond the scope of this interview. I am curious about your relationship with Emmanuel Swedenborg. Some say he was the single greatest influence upon your thinking.
Blake: Swedenborg was an inspired mystic. He was an insipid thinker. He led many to heaven. He led many to hell. Swedenborg did little but write the Table of Contents for Heaven. He is a philosopher/theologian who must be read carefully. He saw sin and corruption where there was none. Yes, he did influence some of my work. He claimed to have Godly visions. Well, God poked his head through my window when I was but a babe, and revealed, in language unknown to man, that his Spirit liveth within my Body. Angels were my playmates. I needed no standard education. I learned arts and sciences at the feet of the Archangel Michael. On rare occasions Satan visited, and pretended to seek my counsel.
McL: Some in my age are saying we are in the End Times. The Jewish people have returned to Jerusalem, famine and apocalyptic weather events cross the Earth. A planet designed to nurture two billion people houses seven billion. A common slogan among the common people is “Man against man, and God against them all.” Much of the natural world has been despoiled. Thousands of species go extinct each decade. We have weapons that can bring about an extinction level event.
Blake: You rant old man. Do others from the year 2000 speak so wickedly? The Last Judgment when all those are cast away who trouble Religion with Questions regarding Good & Evil or eating of the tree of those Knowledges or Reasonings which hinder the vison of God will be turned to an all-consuming fire. Look to yourself. Awful as it seems, our race will continue for many thousands of years.
McL: Please name me two social causes that need to be confronted and rectified.
Blake: That is a simple question. Women need to be placed on the same legal and educational plane as men. I have read the Bible many times. I have many disagreements with this seminal text, specifically those that make woman subordinate to man. A similar injustice is slavery’s cruel practice. This abomination, in milder forms, may well continue for hundreds more years. And be careful of this Industrial Revolution ("Tyger, tyger, burning bright"). This will enslave men and women of all ethnicities.
McL: Mr. Blake, it turns out you have written my favorite poem, one I frequently use when I give lectures. I am a Buddhist, a non-theistic religion unknown to you. This beautiful verse has many applications for those of us who follow this Way from the Far East. I beg the pleasure of reciting it to you and soliciting your comments.
(Note: At this point Mrs. Blake excused herself to prepare a pot of tea and supplement this treat with recently baked scones. Both Blake and I stood when she departed the room.
Before I could begin reciting, Mrs. Blake re-entered the room with a pot of tea and a tray of orange flavored scones. Temporarily, the conversation became casual. I summarized political developments and social conventions over the centuries as best I could. Blake was especially interested in the success of the American, French, and Russian revolutions. Ireland’s independence in the 1920s delighted Mrs. Blake. Both of my new friends were delighted to learn the British monarchy was just a figure-head, but upset to learn the Royal family was supported by the public dole.)
Here’s my reading of your great work:
The SICK ROSE
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Such powerful, terrifying imagery! I know of no equal.
Blake: When a work of beauty doth its perfection reach, then beginneth its corruption. In this case, the rose’s blooms reached their ultimate state. Immediately thereafter, the petals began to fall. So it is with all. The invisible worm is the doctrine of Impermanence that dooms all men, women, and all of creation.
Albion Rose - from A Large Book of Designs by William Blake
An Allegory of Peace by William Blake