A little known masterpiece of deadpan absurdity, What A Life! is a delightfully curiosity from 1911 by Edward Verrall Lucas and George Morrow. It has been called a proto-Dadaist satire and would influence Surrealist collage techniques. It was displayed at the landmark MOMA exhibition in New York of 1936 entitled ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism’.
The illustrations that the text are built around are taken entirely from the general catalogue of Whiteleys, a fashionable London department store of the time. Below is the entire work for those with a passion for obscure oddities
What a Life!
E. V. L. and G. M.
Illustrated by Whiteley’s
As adventures are to the adventurous, so is romance to the romantic. One man searching the pages of Whiteley’s General Catalogue will find only facts and prices; another will find what we think we have found — a deeply-moving human drama.
The gloriously eccentric American illustrator and writer Edward Gorey saw his singular body of work as ‘literary nonsense’ in the tradition of Carroll and Lear. Renowned for meretricious cross hatching, mordant wit and the macabre relish that he depicts the peculiar and sometimes sinister goings on in the rarefied atmosphere of the Victorian/Edwardian fantasy realm where he seemed to spend his whole imaginative life in, with the exception, of course, of frequent excursions to the ballet, Edward Gorey, in my opinion, is the sole twentieth century heir to the title of nonsense.
Although ostensibly a children’s nonsense tale, Edward Lear’sThe History of the Seven Families of Lake Pipple-popple manages to convey in its fourteen very brief chapters humour, bathos, absurdity, pathos and ultimately the dizzying pull of destiny and the tragic inevitability of fate, all with extravagant wordplay and dazzling inventiveness.
The History of the
Seven Families of the
In former days — that is to say, once upon a time, there lived in the Land of Gramblamble, Seven Families. They lived by the side of the great Lake Pipple-popple (one of the Seven Families, indeed, lived in the Lake), and on the outskirts of the City of Tosh, which, excepting when it was quite dark, they could see plainly. The names of all these places you have probably heard of, and you have only not to look in your Geography books to find out all about them.
Now the Seven Families who lived on the borders of the great Lake Pipple-popple, were as follows in the next Chapter.
THE SEVEN FAMILIES
There was a Family of Two old Parrots and Seven young Parrots.
There was a Family of Two old Storks and Seven young Storks.
There was a Family of Two old Geese, and Seven young Geese.
There was a Family of Two old Owls, and Seven young Owls.
There was a Family of Two Old Guinea Pigs and Seven young Guinea Pigs.
There was a Family of Two old Cats and Seven young Cats,
And there was a Family of Two old Fishes and Seven young Fishes.
THE HABITS OF THE SEVEN FAMILIES
The Parrots lived upon the Soffsky-Poffsky trees, — which were beautiful to behold, and covered with blue leaves, — and they fed uponfruit, artichokes, and striped beetles.
The Storks walked in and out of the Lake Pipple-popple, and ate frogs for breakfast and buttered toast for tea, but on account of the extreme length of their legs, they could not sit down, and so they walked about continually.
The Geese, having webs to their feet, caught quantities of flies, which they ate for dinner.
The Owls anxiously looked after mice, which they caught and made into sago puddings.
The Guinea Pigs toddled about the gardens, and ate lettuces and Cheshire cheese.
The Cats sate still in the sunshine, and fed upon sponge biscuits.
The Fishes lived in the Lake, and fed chiefly on boiled periwinkles.
And all these Seven Families lived together in the utmost fun and felicity.
THE CHILDREN OF THE SEVEN FAMILIES ARE SENT AWAY
One day all the Seven Fathers and the Seven Mothers of the Seven Families agreed that they would send their children out to see the world.
So they called them all together, and gave them each eight shillings and some good advice, some chocolate drops, and a small green morocco pocket-book to set down their expenses in.
They then particularly entreated them not to quarrel, and all the parents sent off their children with a parting injunction.
‘If,’ said the old Parrots, ‘you find a Cherry, do not fight about who should have it.’
‘And,’ said the old Storks, ‘if you find a Frog, divide it carefully into seven bits, but on no account quarrel about it.’
And the old Geese said to the Seven young Geese, ‘Whatever you do, be sure you do not touch a Plum-pudding Flea.’
And the old Owls said, ‘If you find a Mouse, tear him up into seven slices, and eat him cheerfully, but without quarrelling.’
And the old Guinea Pigs said, ‘Have a care that you eat your Lettuces, should you find any, not greedily but calmly.’
And the old Cats said, ‘Be particularly careful not to meddle with a Clangle-Wangle, if you should see one.’
And the old Fishes said, ‘Above all things avoid eating a blue Boss-woss, for they do not agree with Fishes, and give them pain in their toes.’
So all the Children of each Family thanked their parents, and making in all forty-nine polite bows, they went into the wide world.
THE HISTORY OF THE SEVEN YOUNG PARROTS
The Seven young Parrots had not gone far, when they saw a tree with a single Cherry on it, which the oldest Parrot picked instantly, but the other six, being extremely hungry, tried to get it also. On which all the Seven began to fight, and they scuffled,
and guffled, and bruffled,
and screamed, and shrieked, and squealed, and squeaked, and clawed, and snapped, and bit, and bumped, and thumped, and dumped, and flumped each other, till they were all torn into little bits, and at last there was nothing left to record this painful incident, except the Cherry and seven small green feathers.
And that was the vicious and voluble end of the Seven young Parrots.
THE HISTORY OF THE SEVEN YOUNG STORKS
When the Seven young Storks set out, they walked or flew fo fourteen weeks in a straight line, and for six weeks more in a crooked one; and after that they ran as hard as they could for one hundred and eight miles: and after that they stood still and made a himmeltanious chatter-clatter-blattery noise with their bills.
About the same time they perceived a large Frog, spotted with green, and with a sky-blue stripe under each ear.
So being hungry, they immediately flew at him, and were going to divide him into seven pieces, when they began to quarrel as to which of his legs should be taken off first. one said this, and another said that, and while they were all quarrelling the Frog hopped away. And when they saw that he was gone, they began to chatter-clatter:
more violently than ever. And after they had fought for a week they pecked each each other all to little pieces, so that at last nothing was left of any of them except their bills,
And that was the end of the Seven young Storks.
THE HISTORY OF THE SEVEN YOUNG GEESE
When the Seven young Geese began to travel, they went over a large plain, on which there was but one tree, and that was a very bad one.
So four of them went up to the top of it, and looked about them, while the other three waddled up and down, and repeated poetry, and their last six lessons in Arithmetic, Geography, and Cookery.
Presently they perceived, a long way off, an object of the most interesting and obese appearance, having a perfectly round body, exactly resembling a boiled plum-pudding, with two little wings, and a beak, and three feathers growing out of his head, and only one leg.
So after a time all the Seven young Geese said to each other, ‘Beyond all doubt this beast must be a Plum-pudding Flea!’
On which they uncautiously began to sing aloud,
‘Wherever you be,
‘O come to our tree,
‘And listen, O listen, O listen to me!’
And no sooner had they sung this verse then the Plum-pudding Flea began to hop and skip on his one leg with the most dreadful velocity, and came straight to the tree, where he stopped and looked about him in a vacant and voluminous manner.
On which the Seven young Geese were greatly alrmed, and all of a tremble-bemble: so one of them put out his great neck, and just touched him with the tip of his bill, — but no sooner had he done this than the Plum-pudding Flea skipped and hopped about more and more and higher and higher, after which he opened his mouth, and, to the great surprise and indignation of the Seven Geese, began to bark so loudly and furiously and terribly that they were totally unable to bear the noise, and by degrees every one of them suddenly tumbled down quite dead.
So that was the end of the Seven young Geese.
THE HISTORY OF THE SEVEN YOUNG OWLS
When the Seven young Owls set out, they sate every now and then on the branches of old trees, and never went far at one time.
And one night when it was quite dark, they thought they heard a Mouse, but as the gas lights were not lighted, they could not see him.
So they called out, ‘Is that a Mouse?’
On which a Mouse answered, ‘Squeaky-peeky-weeky, yes it is.’
And immediately all the young Owls threw themselves off the tree, meaning to alight on the ground; but they did not perceive that there was a large well below them, into which they all fell superficially, and were every one of them drowned in less than half a minute.
So that was the end of the Seven young Owls.
THE HISTORY OF THE SEVEN YOUNG GUINEA PIGS
The Seven young Guinea Pigs went into a garden full of Gooseberry-bushes and Tiggory-trees, under one of which they fell asleep. When they awoke, they saw a large Lettuce which had grown out of the ground while they had been sleeping, and which had an immense number of green leaves. At which they all exclaimed:
‘Lettuce! O Lettuce!
‘Let us, O let us,
‘O Lettuce leaves,
‘O let us leave this tree and eat
‘Lettuce, O let us, Lettuce leaves!’
And instantly the Seven young Guinea Pigs rushed with such extreme force against the Lettuce-plant, and hit their heads so vividly against its stalk, that the concussion brought on directly an incipient transitional inflammation of their noses, which grew worse and worse and worse and worse till it incidentally killed them all Seven.
And that was the end of the Seven young Guinea Pigs.
THE HISTORY OF THE SEVEN YOUNG CATS
The Seven young Cats set off on their travels with great delight and rapacity. But, on coming to the top of a high hill, they perceived at a long distance off a Clangle-Wangle (or, as it is more properly written, Clangel-Wangel), and in spite of the warning they had had, they ran straight up to it.
(Now the Clangle-Wangle is a most dangerous and delusive beast, and by no means commonly to be met with. They live in the water as well as on land, using their long tail as a sail when in the former element. Their speed is extreme, but their habits of life are domestic and superfluous, and their general demeanour pensive and pellucid. On summer evenings they may sometimes be observed near the Lake Pipple-popple, standing on their heads and humming their national melodies: they subsist entirely on vegetables, excepting when they eat veal, or mutton, or pork, or beef, or fish, or saltpetre.)
The moment the Clangle-Wangle saw the Seven young Cats approach, he ran away; and as he ran straight on for four months, and the Cats, though they continued to run, could never overtake him, — they all gradually died of fatigue and of exhaustion, and never afterwards recovered.
And this was the end of the Seven young Cats.
THE HISTORY OF THE SEVEN YOUNG FISHES
The Seven young Fishes swam across the Lake Pipple-popple, and into the river, and into the Ocean, where most unhappily for them, they saw on the 15th day of their travels, a bright blue Boss-Woss, and instantly swam after him. But the Blue Boss-Woss plunged into a perpendicular,
circular depth of soft mud,
where in fact his house was.
And the Seven young Fishes, swimming with great uncomfortable velocity, plunged also into the mud quite against their will, and not being accustomed to it, were all suffocated in a very short period.
And that was the end of the Seven young Fishes.
OF WHAT OCCURRED SUBSEQUENTLY
After it was known that the
Seven young Parrots,
and the Seven young Storks,
and the Seven young Geese,
and the Seven young Owls,
and the Seven young Guinea Pigs,
and the Seven young Cats,
and the Seven young Fishes,
were all dead, then the Frog, and the Plum-pudding Flea, and the Mouse, and the Clangel Wangel, and the Blue Boss Woss, all met together to rejoice over their good fortune.
And they collected the Seven Feathers of the Seven young Parrots, and the Seven Bills of the Seven young Storks, and the Lettuce, and the other objects in a circular arrangement at their base, they danced a hornpipe round all these memorials until they were quite tired: after which they gave a tea-party, and a garden-party, and a ball, and a concert, and then returned to their respective homes full of joy and respect, sympathy, satisfaction, and disgust.
OF WHAT BECAME OF THE PARENTS OF THE FORTY-NINE CHILDREN
But when the two old Parrots,
and the two old Storks,
and the two old Geese,
and the two old Owls,
and the two old Guinea Pigs,
and the two old Cats,
and the two old Fishes,
became aware by reading in the newspapers, of the calamitous extinction of the whole of their families, they refused all further sustenance; and sending out to various shops, they purchased great quantities of Cayenne Pepper, and Brandy, and Vinegar, and blue Sealing-wax, besides Seven immense glass Bottles with air-tight stoppers. And having dome this, they ate a light supper of brown bread and Jerusalem Artichokes, and took an affecting and formal leave of the whole of their acquaintance, which was very numerous and distinguished, and select, and responsible, and ridiculous.
And after this, they filled the bottles with the ingredients for pickling, and each couple jumped into a separate bottle, by which effort of course they all died immediately, and become thoroughly pickled in a feew minutes; having previously made their wills (by the assistance of the most eminent Lawyers of the District), in which they left strict orders that the Stoppers of the Seven Bottles should be carefully sealed up with the blue Sealing-wax they had purchased; and that they themselves in the Bottles should be presented to the principal museum of the city of Tosh, to be labelled with Parchment or any other anticongenial succedaneum, and to be placed on a marble table with silver-gilt legs, for the daily inspection and contemplation, and for the perpetual benefit of the pusillanimous public.
And if ever you happen to go to Gramble-Blamble, and visit that museum in the city of Tosh, look for them on the Ninety-eighth table in the Four handred and twenty-seventh room of the right-hand corridor of the left wing of the Central Quadrangle of that magnificent building; for if you do not, you certainly will not see them.
The only extant work of Looking-Glass World literature, Jabberwocky is undoubtedly the masterpiece of nonsense.
After stepping through the mirror and encountering the White King and Queen, Alice discovers a book. While initially mystified by its contents, Alice realises that it is a Looking-Glass Book and to be able to read it she must hold it up to the mirror. Alice’s reaction to the poem is an excellent summation of its abstract power; “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas-only I don’t exactly know what they are!”
Later Alice encounters the semantician Humpty Dumpty (see my post Glory for further details on their meeting), who deciphers the more unusual coinages of the first stanza. However, considering Humpty’s cavalier attitude to the exact meaning of words and Alice’s subsequent dismissal of Humpty as most unsatisfactory, combined with the markedly different interpretations that Carroll had previously stated leaves the poem eluding traditional, concrete definition.
Nonsense as a form would be used frequently by various Modernist movements, notably Dada and the Italian Futurists, yet they tend to lack the deftness of touch of either Carroll or Lear.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand; Long time the manxome foe he sought— So rested he by the Tumtum tree, And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
Edward Lear is mainly remembered for his limericks and wonderful nonsense poems. However as the following three recipes shows, he also deserves a place in culinary history for his innovative and imaginative dishes, which are best enjoyed with a runcible spoon.
Three Receipts for Domestic Cookery
TO MAKE AN AMBLONGUS PIE
Take 4 pounds (say 4 1/2 pounds) of fresh Amblongusses, and put them in a small pipkin.
Cover them with water and boil them for 8 hours incessantly, after which add 2 pints of new milk, and proceed to boil for 4 hours more.
When you have ascertained that the Amblongusses are quite soft, take them out and place them in a wide pan, taking care to shake them well previously.
Grate some nutmeg over the surface, and cover them carefully with powdered gingerbread, curry-powder, and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper.
Remove the pan into the next room, and place it on the floor. Bring it back again, and let it simmer for three-quarters of an hour. Shake the pan violently till all the Amblongusses have become a pale purple colour.
Then, having prepared a paste, insert the whole carefully, adding at the same time a small pigeon, 2 slices of beef, 4 cauliflowers, and any number of oysters.
Watch patiently till the crust begins to rise, and add a pinch of salt from time to time.
Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of the window as fast as possible.
TO MAKE CRUMBOBBLIOUS CUTLETS
Procure some strips of beef, and having cut them into the smallest possible slices, proceed to cut them still smaller, eight or perhaps nine times.
When the whole is thus minced, brush it up hastily with a new clothes-brush, and stir round rapidly and capriciously with a salt-spoon or a soup ladel.
Place the whole in a saucepan, and remove it to a sunny place, — say the roof of the house if free from sparrows or other birds, — and leave it there for about a week.
At the end of that time add a little lavender, some oil of almonds, and a few herring-bones; and cover the whole with 4 gallons of clarified crumbobblious sauce, when it will be ready for use.
Cut it into the shape of ordinary cutlets, and serve it up in a clean tablecloth or dinner-napkin.
TO MAKE GOSKY PATTIES
Take a pig, three or four years of age, and tie him by the off-hind leg to a post. Place 5 pounds of currants, 5 of sugar, 2 pecks of peas, 18 roast chestnuts, a candle, and six bushels of turnips, within his reach; if he eats these, constantly provide him with more.
Then, procure some cream, some slices of Cheshire cheese, four quinces of foolscap paper, and a packet of black pins. Work the whole into a paste, and spread it out to dry on a sheet of clean brown waterproof linen.
When the paste is perfectly dry, but not before, proceed to beat the Pig violently, with the handle of a large broom. If he squeals, beat him again.
Visit the paste and beat the pig alternately for some days, and ascertain that if at the end of that period the whole is about to turn into Gosky Patties.
If it does not then, it never will; and in that case the Pig may be let loose, and the whole process may be considered as finished.
During the period when Baroque reigned supreme, overt eroticism all but disappeared from Western Art. It would take the emergence of Rococo, the florid, playful and frankly somewhat sluttish younger French sister of Baroque, to take art back into the boudoir.
Francois Boucher was one of the leading lights of Rococo and enjoyed the patronage of the prime mover of the style, Madame de Pompadour, the Official Chief Mistress of King Louis XV. As well as mythological genres scenes featuring Venus he painted two odalisques stripped of all allegorical trappings, the L’Odalisque Brune from 1745 and the L’Odalisque Blonde from 1752.
France was ongoing a vogue for the mysterious, exotic East during the Ancien Regime. Several libertine novels including Denis Diderot Les bijoux indiscrets (The Indiscreet Jewels) and Crebillon Fils La Sopha (The Sofa) are set in fantasy Oriental lands, partly to give full reign to the imagination but also to disguise the political satire on the luxuriant and decadent Court of Louis XV. Part of the attraction, for men anyway, were the stories of odalisques; mistresses or concubines in a harem.
Boucher’s L’Odalisque Brune from 1745 was reportedly a portrait of Madame Boucher , which led Diderot, Encyclopedist and somewhat risque writer of the above-mentioned Les bijoux indiscrets and La Religieuse (The Nun)to state that Boucher was prostituting his wife. L’Odalisque Blonde is a portrait of the courtesan Marie-Louise O’Murphy. King Louis XV was so taken with this painting that he arranged for Marie-Louise to become a petite maitresse (lesser mistress). At least one of her children was the King’s.
Along with a very sweet tooth I share with the Marquis De Sade a quasi-mystical obsession with numbers. Certain numbers that have cropped up recently suggested a piece on the 18th century libertine tradition in French which the Divine Marquis radically re-envisioned at its culmination.
Originally the term libertine was used to describe political opponents of Calvin in Geneva, and went on to develop connotations of atheism and dangerous free-thinking. However by the 18th century the definition had narrowed to describe someone who was a sexual adventurer and debauchee. In the narrow homogeneous confines of French aristocratic circles in the Ancien Regime there flourished a literature which was entirely dedicated to examining the erotic manoeuvres and cynical mores of a fashionable society that pursued pleasure at all costs yet had to hypocritically maintain face .
Several novels including Diderot’s Les bijoux indiscrets (The Indiscreet Jewels) and Crebillon fils La Sopha (The Sofa) transposed the setting to Oriental locations to disguise the political satire of the court of Louis XV. Others were less cautious and set their novels in a contemporary setting with thinly veiled portraits of famous influential figures; the resulting scandals ruined careers and damaged reputations. Laclos the author of the masterpiece of libertine fiction and to my mind the greatest novel ever written, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liasions) never escaped the notoriety that the book brought him; he unjustly became the byword for cynicism and Machiavellian scheming.
One of the central features of the libertine novel is the conflict between sense and sentiment that readers of Jane Austen will be familiar with. However unlike Austen they resolve themselves as an unsentimental education where the hero or heroine is taught the ways of the world and learns how to exploit others for their sensual gratification. As the prophet of the enlightenment Voltaire noted ‘Pleasure is the object, duty and the goal of all rational creatures’, and the aristocrats portrayed are above all rational creatures.
During their education, which always involves seduction and a subtle corruption the characters are taught about the moment. The moment is a key concept in libertine philosophy, it is when the object of desire is most susceptible to seduction. The newly minted libertines are made aware of when the moment is approaching, how to take full advantage of the moment and even how to manufacture the moment in someone who is inimical to seduction. The classic novels of sexual education are Crebillon fils Les Égarements du cœur et de l’esprit ou Mémoires de M. de Meilcour (The Wayward Heart and Head or the Memoirs of M. de Meilcour) and the Marquis De Sade’s La Philosophie dans le boudoir ou Les instituteurs immoraux (Philosophy in the Boudoir or The Immoral Teachers). De Sade of course is notably more extreme than his predecessors and combines elements of the Gothic and Baroque while pointing forward to Romanticism and Decadence.
William Blake was widely derided during his lifetime. William Wordsworth said, “There was no doubt that this poor man was mad” and this view of poor, mad Blake seems to have been the accepted wisdom, even among the Romantics.
However Blake also mixed with major radical figures who would have an immeasurable influence on the history of ideas. For long periods Blake’s main employer and only source of income was the radical bookseller Joseph Johnson, who introduced Blake to Thomas Paine, author of Rights of Man, William Godwin, the godfather of anarchism, and Mary Wollstonecraft, the first feminist and author of Vindication of the Rights of Women, as well as advocates for the abolition of slavery. Although Blake would remain on the periphery of this circle due to his humble background, lack of formal education and visionary tendencies, it cannot be doubted that he shared their radicalism and belief in equality and freedom, especially sexual freedom.
As can be seen from Auguries for Innocence, Blake saw our relations to the natural world as another example of injustice and tyranny. Taking several occult ideas regarding the microcosm/macrocosm (To see a world in a grain of sand) and the Swedenborgian theory of correspondences (the basic relationship between two differing levels of existence), Blake presents in randomly assembled couplets a damning indictment of humanity’s casual cruelty, which, as he views the universe as interconnected, have far-reaching and reverberating consequences across time and in other realms. However Blake, with his belief in the innate divinity of humanity that would become apparent if we cleanse the doors of perception and escape the prison of the senses five, doesn’t despair. He knows that we can do better.
Auguries of Innocence
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.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm’d for fight
Does the rising sun affright.
Every wolf’s and lion’s howl
Raises from hell a human soul.
The wild deer, wand’ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.
The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won’t believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever’s fright.
He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov’d by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov’d
Shall never be by woman lov’d.
The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider’s enmity.
He who torments the chafer’s sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.
The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother’s grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgement draweth nigh.
He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar’s dog and widow’s cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.
The gnat that sings his summer’s song
Poison gets from slander’s tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy’s foot.
The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist’s jealousy.
The prince’s robes and beggar’s rags
Are toadstools on the miser’s bags.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Throughout all these human lands;
Tools were made and born were hands,
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;
This is caught by females bright,
And return’d to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar,
Are waves that beat on heaven’s shore.
The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes revenge in realms of death.
The beggar’s rags, fluttering in air,
Does to rags the heavens tear.
The soldier, arm’d with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer’s sun.
The poor man’s farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric’s shore.
One mite wrung from the lab’rer’s hands
Shall buy and sell the miser’s lands;
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole nation sell and buy.
He who mocks the infant’s faith
Shall be mock’d in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the infant’s faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child’s toys and the old man’s reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.
The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.
The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar’s laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour’s iron brace.
When gold and gems adorn the plow,
To peaceful arts shall envy bow.
A riddle, or the cricket’s cry,
Is to doubt a fit reply.
The emmet’s inch and eagle’s mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne’er believe, do what you please.
If the sun and moon should doubt,
They’d immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.
The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation’s fate.
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave old England’s winding-sheet.
The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Dance before dead England’s hearse.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro’ the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.
God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.
The Tyger which was first published in 1794 in William Blake’s Songs of Experience was later merged with Blake’s previous collection of 1789 Songs of Innocence as Songs of Innocence and of Experience, showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. As with all of Blake’s work it was illuminated and printed by himself.
The Tyger is probably the most famous of Blake’s poems and justifiably so. It is a magical distillation of Blake’s major themes and metaphysics in a short poem of six, four line stanzas with a miraculous melding of form and content. It is in my opinion, the one poem in English literature that comes closest to achieving absolute perfection.
At the time of writing tigers would still have possessed a near mythical status. It is possible that Blake may have seen a tiger cub that was exhibited in a travelling rarity show, hence the childlike and rather cuddly tiger depicted in the plate. The poem is a different matter altogether though. The beauty and the ferocity of the Tyger prompt Blake to question the idea of a benevolent God and leads to a vision of the sublime.
Blake’s Tyger is a Platonic Ideal Form which explains the idiosyncratic spelling. The poem opens with a reiteration, pointing towards the symmetry which plays such an important part in the poem. The rest of the line and the next highlights the duality of the Tyger, who shines with the intensity of the sun (blazing bright) and its nocturnal nature (in the forest of the night). The following couplet that completes the stanza asks what kind of creator could fashion such a violently amoral animal, a question that is reiterated with greater force in the fifth stanza when Blake wonders, Did he who made the Lamb make thee? . The Tyger companion piece in Songs of Innocence is The Lamb, an animal that has obvious connotations to Christ. The sixth and final stanza repeats the opening stanza with one important difference, dare replaces could in frame thy fearful symmetry.
Blake developed his own personal mythology and his view of God the Creator was idiosyncratic and complicated to say the least. He equated the Old Testament Jehovah with the Gnostic demiurge whom he called variously Urizen and Nobodaddy in his writing. The Ancients of Days is his most famous artistic representation of the Divine Architect of the material universe.
Murky, very, very murky, definitely, decidedly so—how else could I describe my motives for not fucking Margot? Before getting in the car I stared up at the window where I had just left Margot lying unclothed and spread-eagled on the mussed up bed. That thought made me hesitate for a moment but I got in the car anyway and started the ignition.
As I drove at speed through the somnolent streets of her neighbourhood, I was in considerable physical discomfort. Pressing my crotch against the steering wheel afforded some relief, but what I really needed was the release that can only be obtained though the agency of the other, the rapture of bodies mingling and dissolving in unison until the mutual, desired annihilation of orgasm. Continue reading →