Mirror Images

mirror broken

(This is a post that has previously appeared here, however now with four brand new illustrations by Susanne Rempt).

All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realised that what he saw reflected was at one and the same time the self and an image was the moment of a great divide, a second Fall, but as certain Gnostic sects argued about the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden this recognition was a necessary loss of Innocence.  It was the first experience of a mediated reality. All that was needed was the technical expertise to manufacture mirrors to disseminate this heightened self-awareness to every individual. And from mirrors it was only a matter of time before the camera and then film which led to the media landscape that envelops and dominates our perception today.

Mirrors are mentioned frequently in myth, folk-lore and religion; not to mention in art and literature. In Corinthians Paul says of our knowledge of the divine ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. In Vodou, the syncretic religion practised widely in Haiti that combines elements of West African spirit religion, Catholicism and arguably Mesoamerican traditions, the altars of hounfours (temples)voodoo mirror

are decorated with mirrors as they are conduits that the houngan use to contact the spirit world. Many cultures at many times held the tradition of covering all mirrors in the house when in mourning, this custom persists today in Judaism. In connection with a heresy held by one of the numerous Gnostic sects Borges states ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’

In libertine fiction mirrors play a large part as they increase the pleasure of the moment and enables the libertine to view the erotic scene which they are actively participating in. In the sparkling sophisticated jewel of a tale Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow) by Vivant Denon the artful heroine describes to her paramour the delights of her chamber with its reflective glass covering every wall, when he enters he is enchanted to find a ‘a vast cage of mirrors’ and then states that, ‘Desires are reproduced through their image’.mirror hand

One of the most memorable mentions in fairy-tales of the deceptive nature of the looking-glass is the Magic Mirror of the Evil Queen in Snow White, which is a good illustration of William Blake’s quote ‘A truth told with evil intent beats any lie you could invent.’

However, for me the supreme moment for the mirror in literature is when Alice steps through to the other side of the looking glass. _20180102_164940 (1)Ever since the phrase has been used to describe many different and varying experiences; the transfigured absolute reality glimpsed in insanity; the shifting contours of the nightly dreamscape, the heavens and hells of drug use (the John Tenniel illustration was reproduced on LSD blotters in the sixties) the transcendence achieved in sexual ecstasy, and ultimately death, that unknowing inevitable frontier where we hope that the outward appearance will vanish to be replaced for all eternity by our fundamental essence. For although mirrors are just surface and can deceive, distort and warp, they also always reveal something other than just ourselves.

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Les Diaboliques

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At a  Dinner of Atheists-Les Diaboliques- Barbey d’Aurevilly-Illustration Felicien Rops
After the scandal and subsequent prosecution that attended the publication of Les Fleurs Du Mal (see The Flowers of Evil: Litanies Of Satan)the decadent writer and theorist of Dandyism, Barbey D’Aurevilly told his friend Charles Baudelaire that after such a book it only remains for him to choose between the muzzle of the pistol and the foot of the cross.

It was nicely put and neatly summarized the dilemma facing the true decadent. D’Aurevilly, like many other decadents, including J.K Huysmans, Leon Bloy (see The Captives of Longjumeau) and Villers de l’isle Adam (see To the Dreamers, To the Deriders) opted for the cross. However the Catholicism re-adopted by the decadents retained more than a whiff of sulphur about it. Often it seems as if they decided to pledge their devotion to God just in order to celebrate Satan and all his works, revelling all the more in the sins of the flesh. Sin gives sensuality an additional flavour. It is no exaggeration to say that the French Symbolists invented  the modern conception of Satanism.

D’Aurevilly’s masterpiece is the  short story collection Les Diaboliques, a celebration of crime and immorality. No matter how much the bored gentleman dandies try to excel in evil in Les Diaboliques they are no match for the Devil’s representatives on earth, all of whom wear petticoats. Containing such bon-mots as “The Devil teaches women what they are – or they would teach it to the Devil if he did not know” and “Next to the wound, what a woman makes best is the bandage”, D’Aurevilly encapsulated the misogyny of  the decadents in glittering, cynical one-liners. The book was illustrated by the Decadent artist par excellence Felicien Rops who also illustrated Les Fleurs Du Mal and whose entire artistic production was dedicated to an expose of the grip that Sin, Death and The Devil holds over the world.

Cockney Rebel: Austin Osman Spare

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Austin Osman Spare-Portrait of the Artist 1907
Phil Baker’s excellent 2011 biography of the gloriously eccentric artist/magician Austin Osman Spare should hopefully revive interest in an unjustly neglected London artist. Hailed as the new Aubrey Beardsley at the tender age of 17 he fell into obscurity and lived in Dickensian squalor  when the satyrs and general air of Yellow Book decadence that impregnated his drawings fell out of fashion after the First World War. Later years saw Spare inventing his own idiosyncratic form of magic involving the intensive use of Sigils; using automatic drawing techniques years before Breton posited Surrealism as pure psychic automatism, hanging out with The Great Beast himself Aleister Crowley; hawking his ‘Surrealist Racing Card Forecast’ cards (a divinatory artwork to help you pick winners at the races) in the back pages of the Exchange and Mart, experimenting with anamorphosis in his Experiments in Relativity series which in their use of film stars could be said to have anticipated Pop Art, and holding art exhibitions in dodgy South London pubs.

Because of his self-mythologizing tendencies and the willingness of certain friends to give credence to his amazingly tall tales he has gained a certain cache in occult circles since his death. The above Portrait of The Artist is in the private collection of Led Zeppelin guitarist and previously avowed Crowleyite Jimmy Page.

Like Blake, that other inspired Londoner, Spare created his own system rather than be enslaved by another man’s.

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Austin Osman Spare-Joan Crawford 1933

My Evil is Stronger

Ellen Rogers
Ellen Rogers

If you weren’t already aware, my collection Motion No. 69 is now available as an e-book (just click on the Author Page link). If you haven’t already decided to buy (for shame), maybe the little taste below will persuade you. I have also included audio, read by yours truly.

My Evil is Stronger

That look on your face?
Take it off, wipe it away.
I know you.
You and your kind,
always taking advantage
of every situation.
With a disarming smile,
a cheeky grin, a dubious charm.
But when nobody’s watching,
the smile instantly fades
from your too-full, sensual lips,
licking, cat-like
in anticipation of a kill tonight.
Fresh meat indeed…
Your eyes glazing over:
Thousand-yard-lasered-hypnotic-death-stare
causing electro-magnetic fluctuations
in the immediate field
of vision and effect;
In the unnerving darkness,
your stoned, Satanic laughter echoes.
Yes, your evil is strong.
You know a thing or two.
Read between the lines of Faust.
Hold Prometheus as the burning example.
A dollar-store De Sade,
with a stable of Justines and Juliettes.
But my evil is stronger.
You could never begin to comprehend
the ways of me and my kind:
Contractors for the Apocalypse,
Annihilating Angels,
we are elemental and pan-universal.
Your evil is strong.
No love lost
within your small, black heart,
but I am darkness incarnate—
the isolate of terror.
My evil is stronger,
as you will find out right quick.
Unless you take
that damnable look
off your face.

A Heavenly 69

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Motion No. 69

I have been rather coy with actual information regarding the release of my forthcoming collection, Motion No. 69, however there comes a time to quit with the teasing and produce the goods. So I am pleased to announce that after lengthy consultations with a pair of dice, a pack of Tarot Cards and a series of calculations based around prime numbers using Gematria, that Motion No, 69 by Alex Severs (not my real name) and illustrated by T. Kiros will be published on Thursday, the 30th of November 2017 at 3:23PM GMT. If you are interested in reserving a print copy please leave a comment and I will be in contact.

Loplop, Superior of Birds

Loplop
Loplop Introduces Loplop-Max Ernst 1930

The German Surrealist Max Ernst was one of the most outstanding artists and personalities of the Surrealist movement. Notable for the invention of a number of automatic artistic techniques, his body of work is also remarkable for its creation of a densely rich personal mythology.

Central to that mythology is Ernst’s alter ego, Loplop, Superior of Birds. As I noted in my previous post A Week of Max Ernst: Monday, Ernst wrote that he hatched from an egg which his mother had laid in an eagle’s nest. He traced the figure of Loplop to a traumatic childhood event: his beloved pet bird had died on the same day that his younger sister was born and he consequently conflated the two events to the point that he confused birds with humans.

As well as referencing Freudian psychoanalytic theory, Ernst, whose art is drenched in alchemy and esotericism, would surely have been familiar with the idea of the language of the birds; the perfect, divine language found in mythology and the occult sciences that can only be understood by the initiated.

Loplop first appeared  in his ground-breaking collage novels La Femme 100 Têtes  and Une semaine de bonté. Birds are a recurring feature in Ernst’s artwork in various media (see A Week of Max Ernst: TuesdayA Week of Max Ernst: Thursday & A Week of Max Ernst: Friday). I have also included a photo of Ernst’s striking, and it has to be admitted, birdlike visage.

Loplop and the Mouse's Horoscope
Loplop and the Mouse’s Horoscope-1929
Loplop et la Belle Jardinière-Max Ernst, 1929
Loplop et la Belle Jardinière= Max Ernst, 1929
Une Semaine de Bonté, Max Ernst, 1934
Une Semaine de Bonté, Max Ernst, 1934
Une semaine de bonté-Max Ernst 1934
Une semaine de bonté-Max Ernst 1934
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Birds also Birds, Fish Snake and Scarecrow-Max Ernst 1921
La colombe avait raison,-Max Ernst 1926
La colombe avait raison,-Max Ernst 1926
Max Ernst-Man Ray 1934
Max Ernst-Man Ray 1934

Persistent Rumours of Encroaching Ice

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Encroaching Ice

Do you live in fear of Judgement Day? Are you feeling all alone in the face of Armageddon, isolated before the Apocalypse? Do you dream of any of the following:

A). The end of the world by flood

B). The end of the world by famine

C). The end of the world by fire

If the answer is yes to any of the above, do you believe that the causation will be:

1). Nuclear annihilation

2). Ecological catastrophe

3). Divine eschatological judgement

Or is it the case that you are more concerned with  the Violent Unknown Event*, or perhaps you can no longer ignore the persistent rumours in your head of the encroaching ice? Maybe it is the ultimate  heat death of the universe, as per the Second Law of Thermodynamics (that is, of course, dependent on whether the universe can be considered a closed system), that troubles your peace of mind?

Regardless of the exact nature and cause of Ragnarok, the forthcoming collection Motion No. 69 is perfect material for the End Times. Although even a kabbalistic reading of its dense pages will not yield a definite date (however advance releases do seem to point to it being a Wednesday), it does offer the possibility of a recurrence, this time with feeling.

* Or VUE for short-See Peter Greenaway’s 1980 documentary The Falls.

The Return

Art Collection of Roy and Mary Cullen

The cat arrived a few days after my father disappeared. The pouring rain weighed down my already overloaded backpack as I walked home from the bus stop after school. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the bedraggled black cat at the top of the cul-de-sac until I had almost tripped over him. I bent down to stroke him and then, of course, he followed me home. Since there was no question of leaving him outside in that weather, I let him in. I called out for Dad just in case he had returned but there was no answer.
As if he knew the way, the cat went straight for the kitchen. Guessing that he must be hungry and thirsty, I filled a bowl with water and set it down for him. Then, after digging around in the cupboards, I retrieved a can of buried kippers.
While I watched him devour the fish, I noticed that he was collarless and on the skinny side. I didn’t have the heart to throw him out, even though Mum wouldn’t be happy. Unlike Dad, she had no time at all for animals. Nevertheless, much to my surprise, she hardly put up a fight when I said that I wanted to keep the cat for good.
“I want nothing to do with it,” she had said. “You’ll have to do everything yourself.”
Maybe she wanted to spare my feelings, though I think she was just too tired to resist. She did refuse to drive me to the pet shop, however. I had to improvise with an old paint tray and newspaper for the night. After dinner she asked me what I was going to call him.
“Edward,” I replied.
She didn’t say anything; she didn’t have to because disapproval was written all over her face. Edward is my father’s middle name.
Mother was convinced that Dad had run out on us, leaving behind only debts, worry and heartache. I knew that whatever his faults he would never do that me. She said that it was time I faced the facts. I was old enough to see things for what they were.
I didn’t tell her that Dad had already returned in a different form. It was pointless; she would have carted me down to the psychiatrist straight away. There, she would explain to the good doctor, the history of mental illness in the family (Dad’s side) and how the recent distressing events had caused me to have a breakdown.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when I realized beyond a doubt that my father had returned as the black cat, but this awareness had steadily grown in me day by day. The very fact that Edward made his appearance so soon after Dad was last seen could, I suppose, be dismissed as mere coincidence, but I shared with my father the conviction that there was no such thing. Besides, it made perfect sense in a way. My father always had a certain cat-like quality about him. He certainly seemed happier in his new form. All the seemingly contradictory traits of his personality were absolutely natural in a cat. As a human, his idleness, punctuated with sudden bursts of concentrated activity would draw comment. Yet this was the very essence of the feline nature. The friendly warmth that could turn in a moment into arrogant aloofness confused and alienated people, but was thought of as charming in a pet. Undoubtedly it was a little mad, but then all cats are mad.
I had soon fattened him up, bought him a fancy collar and generally just spoilt him. Mother, true to her word, had nothing to do with him at all. She had, in fact, taken an active dislike to him, shooing him away every time he came near. I bore the reproach for the cat hairs on the couch.
Mother feared and therefore hated animals. And yet, when I was younger, Dad had insisted on keeping pets in the house, mainly cats but also dogs, despite her disapproval. The presence of the cat in the house undoubtedly served as an unpleasant reminder. Any mention of Dad had become strictly verboten, but I wasn’t about to re-christen Edward. Every time I called out his name, I could see her heart harden a little more against me.

As the year wore on, my mother and I spoke a little less each day. Really, we had one subject to discuss but as we already knew and disagreed with the other’s opinion, we kept silent on the matter. Edward was always waiting for me at the front door when I arrived home. First thing, I would feed him and then hurriedly complete the chores Mother had set for me before going to my room to do my homework. Edward always followed and would curl up in my red moon chair while I sat at my desk. If I was stuck on a particularly difficult question, I would ask him. He would look at me knowingly in the
manner of all cats, but of course, remained silent. I missed Dad’s explanations even if
he would digress and give lengthy lectures on all kinds of unrelated subjects. Almost everything was twisted to fit into his own eccentric worldview. You would always have to ask again what the answer was. Now, he could only appear wise.
I would stay in my room, reading or listening to music until I had to eat dinner or to cook, if it was my turn. Mother insisted that we eat at the table. Out of politeness, I would ask about her day at work, to which she always replied in monosyllables. Then she would ask me about school and I’d respond in kind. After that she would proceed to critique my housework or my attitude, particularly what she referred to as my adolescent sullenness. At first, I rose to the bait, but soon I realized that these were arguments I had no hope of winning. While all this was going on, Edward kept hidden in a corner so as not to antagonize Mother. For if she caught sight of him, she would scream at me to get that bloody cat out.
After doing the dishes, I would say goodnight to Mother, invariably ensconced in her chair, watching TV while nursing a gin and tonic. Some nights she never made it to bed. Edward would reappear and be waiting at my bedroom door. However, he always stayed outside until I was changed for bed before coming in to settle down in his chair. I would say ‘goodnight’ and ‘love you’ and although he never responded, his mere presence was answer enough.
Then, just as I had gotten used to the rather strange state of affairs that existed in our household, Mother brought home a new boyfriend and everything changed.

She had obviously sought out the complete opposite of Dad. Rather than handsome, vain, unpredictable, broke, quick-tempered and fond of a good laugh, the new boyfriend was plain, stable, comfortably well off, even-keeled and serious, or to neatly sum up in a word: dull. Dull as dishwater and a governmental accountant to boot. I am still at a loss to understand the attraction. There was nothing appealing about his thinning, mousey brown hair, that narrow, pinched face, the thick glasses perched precariously on an unremarkable nose.
Even the fact —or perhaps even more because of it— that he didn’t drink, smoke, swear or gamble made me wary. Dad always said that you are never to trust a man without a vice. Dad had also told me to beware of men with small feet and the new boyfriend had, even for a man of such moderate stature, uncommonly dainty feet.
And interestingly, the new boyfriend was immediately at odds with Edward. In fact, he seemed physically afraid of the cat. Edward would arch his back and hiss and the boyfriend would in turn flinch and draw back. Although this obviously afforded me some amusement, I wished Edward would behave, as I was concerned as to the new boyfriend’s plans. His symmetrical centre parting and the crease lines around his mouth were suggestive of a cruel vindictive nature. I’d sometimes catch him staring though those ugly bifocals at Edward while he slept. Seeing that queasy, unpleasant smile stretch his thin lips, I would involuntarily shiver. The fact was that I did not know what was to become of Dad and me if they were to carry on.
The worst of it was that Mother assumed a triumphant air. As if the fact that she had a new boyfriend vindicated her and enabled her to behave like a petty tyrant. Before she had been harsh but after that she became merciless. The number of chores multiplied daily. She criticized me constantly. The ban on mentioning my father was lifted but only to denigrate him and myself in turn.
We had a fierce argument about the boyfriend. She warned me that I had better start being nice to him. I told her that I had no intention of being nice to him; he wasn’t my father, after all. She said that it was a pity he wasn’t because then I might be a decent human being. Instead, I was the daughter of a worthless bastard and as a result, what could you expect but a crazy ungrateful bitch? I slapped her face, hard, and ran upstairs to my bedroom where I locked myself and Edward in. Mother banged on the door calling me horrible names and promising to bring down all kinds of punishment upon my head. Eventually she gave up, but it was hours before I was able to sleep. All the while, I talked quietly to Edward of my fears.

A new day brought a change of tactics from Mother, now suddenly all conciliatory. I sensed that something was up and had my suspicions confirmed when she announced that we would be going to the boyfriend’s house for dinner and to spend the night. I started to object, but Mother stopped me and said that it wasn’t up to debate.She said she expected me to be at my very best, as tonight was an important night. I agreed but asked about Edward. This question shattered her pretence of calm.
“The cat will be fine for one night!” she snapped. “If only you would show the same consideration for me as that cat then we wouldn’t have these ridiculous problems.”
I didn’t bother to respond to such a stupid comment. Rather, I said goodbye and began my walk to the bus stop.
All day long I was in a state of dread over the forthcoming dinner. I had been to the boyfriend’s ostentatious pile before. It was utterly detestable. Mother’s cooing and sighing over the absurd antiques and useless collections of figurines and curiosities only heightened my distaste for the place. I was sorely tempted to move the ornaments on the shelves a fraction of an inch or knock over a drink on the coffee table, anything to shatter the illusion of order that the boyfriend obviously went to great lengths to present to the world.
Mother was already getting prepared for the evening when I arrived home from school. She had left work early especially for the occasion. Anxious to avoid confrontation, I ignored the stinging remark that I should dress proper for once. The evening was going to be long and difficult enough as it was without starting off on the wrong foot. So like a dutiful daughter, I put on my knee length black skirt (the dressier of the two that I owned), a white blouse and the strands of pearl Mother bought me for my last birthday. After studying myself in the mirror I sighed. I looked like Mother going on a job interview. By the disdain in Edward’s eyes as he turned away, it was obvious that he didn’t approve either. There was nothing for it, however.
In the car, I kept silent and just watched the lights of the passing cars be consumed by the darkness in the wing mirror. Mother, of course, was harping on her favorite theme —her only theme— of me being my father’s daughter and consequently, a constant source of disappointment.
The boyfriend was eagerly awaiting our arrival and had prepared a veritable feast (his very words). As I nibbled smoked salmon canapés, I nervously wondered what could possibly be the occasion? The unbearable sense of foreboding grew after we sat down to dinner. I thought it odd that Mother was sticking to Coke, as she was never one to turn down a glass of wine. She and the boyfriend gazed at each other with eyes shining in happiness. A happiness I neither shared nor understood. After the main course, the boyfriend said that they had some news that they wanted to share with me.
‘Oh, really, what is it,’ I answered, trying unsuccessfully to sound enthused. I abandoned all pretense as their revealed their announcement.
Mother had just found out she was pregnant. We were to move into the new boyfriend’s dreadful home, by the end of the month. “For the space,” she explained.
Inconceivably, Mother thought I would be delighted to have a new baby brother or sister. I felt on the verge of throwing up. Gathering myself, I asked, “Can I bring Edward?”
They looked at me in pity now that they were assured of victory, as they shook their heads and said no.
“Unfortunately, cats can’t possibly be around newborns,” Mother said. “But we’ll try to make sure he goes to a good home, a more suitable place.”
The subject was dropped. After that they talked of their bold, future plans between themselves —a future in which it seemed I was a mere afterthought— until I excused myself. I made my way to the alien bedroom which would soon be mine. Here I was to spend the night.
I couldn’t settle; all I could think was that I was soon to be separated from Dad for a second and final time. When I did finally sleep, I dreamt of green eyes glowing accusingly in the absolute darkness.

(Special thanks to Dr. M. Sorick for editorial advice and support).

Auguries of Innocence

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the Vision of the Last Judgement-William Blake 1808
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.

Tyger Tyger

The Tyger, written and illustrated by William Blake
The Tyger-Written and Illustrated by William Blake from Songs of Experience 1794

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.

the-ancient-of-days-1794[1]
William Blake-The Ancient of Days 1794