05 February 2011

JOE SALIBA reads 4 of his Maltese poems - see 2 videos

JOE SALIBA reads 4 of his Maltese poems, 2 on each video...
GĦABRA and IL-BEJTA see first video
PRONJOSI and IL-LEWN T'GĦAJNEJK see second video...

04 February 2011






In Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (1798) William Blake (1757-1827) investigates human nature. In the “Innocence” group of lyrics he concentrates, with a pure and primitive diction and an almost naive eloquence, on the world of the child - idyllic, pure, bright and gentle. For Blake this type of world is “Heaven” or “Poetic Genius” where imagination, unshackled by institutionalisation, is the basis for such an existence. In sharp contrast to the pastoral simplicity of “Innocence”, Blake takes the heavenly mood of the child’s world and turns it into a fierce and terrifying “Hell” in the “Experience” songs. According to the poet, the state of “Hell” and “Evil” is the result of the child’s loss of the power of imagination, dreams and vision, brought about by the child’s growing up in a world where rationalism deprives him of what is natural. Because of this “fallen state”, the child condemns himself to an adult life of cruelty, jealousy, indignation and death. The free human spirit is thus enslaved. Throughout most of his writings Blake attempts to show that “Innocence” and “Experience”, “Heaven” and “Hell”, “Good” and “Evil”, are necessary for spiritual growth, that is, that there is no progression without opposites.
The world of “Innocence” is portrayed through the eyes of children. The child is unaware of anything outside the free climate of his own ecstasy. He does not reflect on his state of being. He does not find happiness and harmony but rather he is happiness itself and he lives in harmony with nature. For Blake, therefore, the child is a Lamb, God and nature are maternal nurses tending to his needs, Providence has appointed guardian angels to watch over the child and the child is part of the “Golden Age”. Even adults can be part of the mystical world of the child by seeking the visionary way through imagination. To achieve this goal, adults must cast aside all deceits and follies contrary to the divine law. For Blake, divine law is the natural requirement to remain a child in spirit. Otherwise man, the “lapsed soul”1 is lost in the prison of earthly values dictated by false moralisers.
The language used to express the ideas of “Innocence” are devoid of any sinister connotations. The verses have simple rhythms. They are musical and tender. The metres are borrowed from nursery rhymes, ballads and singing games. The unpretentious themes of childhood are recorded in simple, crystal-clear lyrics and enhanced by pastoral Christian images. Blake’s decorations are painted in light colours and filled with flowers and leafy vines, dancing children, lambs and tiny angels. In the decorations of “Experience”, although the language remains simple and direct, they are often bleak, dark, filled with dead leaves, wilting flowers, dead or dying figures, graves and tombstones.2
The ‘Introduction’3 to the Songs of Innocence demonstrates Blake’s intent to write songs that “Every child may joy to hear.” His very inspiration has come from a child situated upon a cloud who has at first requested, “Pipe a song about a Lamb”, then repeated:
“Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read.”
The child weeps with joy at hearing the songs, as the poet, at the child’s request, devotes himself to writing such a collection of lyrics.
The spirit of “Innocence” can be seen in ‘The Lamb’.4 This poem deals with the figure of Jesus and Blake’s belief at this time that abiding by divine law is essential to stay a child in spirit. All questions in the poem are intended to lead us to the existence of a loving God who looks after his lambs, his children. The child and lamb in all of us, Blake suggests, will continue to find love and protection in God as long as we keep this innocent relationship with the one who made both lamb and child. The Shepherd-Lamb and Father-Child loving relationship results in a divine blessing.
Blake feels that the child’s “Innocence” is shown in his lack of knowledge of racial differences. Blake’s humanitarian views and support for racial equality and the abolition of the slave trade are well expressed in ‘The Little Black Boy’.5 During the 1780s the injustices of negro slavery received much public debate. The establishment in 1787 of “The Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade” was followed by long and acrimonious debates in Parliament.6 In this lyric Blake shows that in the light of God’s love the souls of black or white are not different and that man must also bear an equal love similar to God’s. Together, black and white, “we may learn to bear the beams of love.” Blake addresses the problem to man himself in the words of the Black Boy’s mother:
“For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish; we shall hear his voice,
Saying: ‘Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.’”
The ultimate goal of blacks and whites should be the freedom from this hovering “cloud”, a symbol of the confusion of racial prejudice, slavery and inequality. Blake is saying that each race has its functional weaknesses and strengths - especially the whites, who cannot bear the intense heat of the tropical sun. But with the help of the Black Boy, the White Boy shall be able to grow accustomed to his surroundings and the two shall stand together in the love of God, each alike, and loving each other.
In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’7 Blake calls attention to one of the blind-spots of the “enlightened” English society. Chimneys had to be swept and often their flues were like narrow tombs. Children as young as four were hired to contractors who used them to brush soot from caked flues and carry it away in bags. In 1788 Parliament passed a law to prohibit the use of children under the age of eight as chimney-sweepers, to allow them to wash once a week and to prevent their being sent up into burning chimneys where they might be, and too often were, burned to death.8 Blake looks hopefully to better days for the innocent young chimney-sweepers:
“And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he open’d the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the Sun.”
Besides the concept of equality in ‘The Little Black Boy’, of protective love that we find in ‘The Lamb’, and of the wickedness and cruelty of child labour in ‘The Chimney Sweeper’, there are other characteristics that Blake associates with “Innocence”. The poem ‘The Divine Image’9 captures Blake’s humanistic idealism that man is endowed with an inherent divinity if only he will share the poet’s vision. The child, for Blake, has this kind of vision, and by the manifestation of mercy, pity, peace and love, becomes divine. God dwells in that child. ‘Holy Thursday’10 with the pictures of children gathered for prayer at Saint Paul’s Cathedral speaks of the divine image in children. ‘Nurse’s Song’11 recreates the state of protection and providence. While children play, the hills echo their affirmation of serene order and perfection.
The mystical and spontaneous joy transmitted in Songs of Innocence becomes a searing damnation in Songs of Experience. The child’s laughter has been silenced and his body has been exploited by excessive labour, resulting in fear, misery and degradation. Emphasis in the poems is now on the adults who have caused such a disgrace through their own loss of “Innocence” by alienating themselves from divine laws which do not equate with institutionalised religion. Blake, therefore, condemns church and state institutions, hypocrisy, doctrines and regulations for suppressing the natural and free human spirit of the child. To Blake the world of “Experience” carries with it disillusionment, the cruelty of man, the harshness of nature and the wickedness of human institutions. To emphasise the differences between the two contrary states, Blake composed at least one Song of Experience for each Song of Innocence. Some of the latter poems are parodies of the earlier ones. In many cases the corresponding verses bear identical or obviously contrasting titles.12
The “Experience” lyrics too grew out of Blake’s sense-experience, far removed from eighteenth-century objectivity and rationalism. The child of innocence becomes the victim of experience, his laughter silenced, his body fouled and exploited, his joys crushed, and the freedom turns to slavery to a society hostile to childhood itself. The visionary lyrics reverberate the intensity of the poet’s outrage whilst the symbols scorch and condemn the social, religious and political bigotry and injustices which Blake regarded as a national disgrace.
The dark or “lapsed” side of human nature can be seen in ‘The Tiger’,13 the antithesis of ‘The Lamb’. The origin of the wrath and fearsomeness of the beast are implicit in the unanswered questions, perhaps in an attempt to reconcile opposites:
“Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
Did God create, as well as the Lamb of “Innocence”, the Tiger of “Experience”? If so, why? Perhaps to frighten man back into his condition of “Innocence” from which he has strayed. Is the Tiger then a symbol of God’s wrath? The poet questions and leaves the answers to the reader. The questions are not directed to the creator of such awesome force, as if the poet does not have the audacity to argue with God’s intelligence. Instead, Blake speaks to the Tiger and looks upon the beast as the symbol of human energy, fierceness and wrath.
Man has the power to be a Lamb but chooses to be a fiery Tiger “in the forests of the night.” There is yet something powerfully attractive about this Tiger. The “burning bright’ ferocity and strength of the animal-in-man are several times associated with brightness, fire and burning. As the Bible indicates, man is also “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), in comparison to the “fearful symmetry” of the Tiger. Blake seems to suggest that even the stars are filled with a sense of surrender and pity at the awesomeness of the tiger-in-man, for they “threw their spears” and “water’d heaven with their tears.”
On another level, if the Lamb represents God’s love, the Tiger represents his righteous anger. Eternity, the ultimate state, to Blake, is a state of balance between contraries, between gentleness and ferocity, love and wrath. Fire is a symbol of creative energy; forests are associated with darkness and fear and the haunts of error. The blacksmith is the creative spirit at work, forming and moulding man towards his ultimate goal, back to a state of “Innocence”.
The evil in man’s heart, generated through “Experience” and the loss of “Innocence”, is manifest in the cities and institutions he builds. The all-pervasive evil in ‘London’,14 although touching on the cowardice of the church and the guilt of monarchy, crystallises into a common element in “every cry of every man.” ‘London’ may well be the antithesis of ‘Laughing Song’. Its sombre mood contrasts with the gaiety of the former. In this powerful lyric Blake gives an account of the miseries of the working people of the city of London in 1793-4. At that time youths were conscripted into the army. Girls were often forced into prostitution or sold into unwelcome marriages for any price. Blake points not only to social injustice and oppression, which is the real theme of the poem, but also to “manacles” forged by each man’s mind. The “manacles” shackle everything that is able to be free. The miseries of London are perceived as the result of the unregenerate human spirit everywhere. In this representative metropolis there is no standard of justice to appeal to. The poem is an indictment of human society in general.
In ‘London’ it is impossible to define where the evil begins and ends. It seems that the disease is transmitted from one person or institution to another. This is suggested by the “blighting” and “blasting” of the last stanza with its reference to plague and death. Like eternal reminders of man’s degradation, Blake gives us frozen images of life: the soldier’s sigh running in blood down palace walls and the “blasted” infant’s tear as if congealed in the eye for all ages to see. The “charter’d streets” is a symbol of materialism through profit, of restriction and repression. The image of the “black’ning church” suggests that the church itself is the victim of industrial progress and that it is blackening morally through its compromise with society. Weakness, woe, fear “blight” every face and sound through street, church and palace. The plight of the child chimney-sweeper, the grown soldier, the young harlot, outrages the ideals of Christianity, of good government, and of human personal relationships.
The final “marriage hearse” sums up the idea of death-in-life of the picture. Yet behind it all is not only hatred of the callousness of the human heart and the need for compassion for suffering, but a passionate sense of the positive values that these evil things dishonour: freedom, strength, joy and love. Blake’s philosophy was that life cannot be rich unless man learns compassion, love and forgiveness rather than the damnation of his fellows. To him love had to be spiritual, intellectual, emotional and practical. In short. it was the human expression of the law of Christ. Blake criticised organised charity which boasted of helping the poor while keeping them deprived of the necessities of life and human dignity.
In the “Experience” version of ‘Holy Thursday’15 Blake presents the ugly conditions behind the annual ceremony at St. Paul’s. He knew what the charity schools were like. Two were situated close to his home at Lambeth. The children were often half-starved, flogged unmercifully, and trained only to be servants or labourers. Older boys and girls were farmed out to work long hours for small wages.16 Blake is appalled by the poverty, misery, trembling, and crying of these unfortunate young people whilst the ecclesiastical institutions boast of their “holy” festivities, and the employers get richer at the expense of child labour in what is supposed to be “a rich and fruitful land”.
The poem ‘The School Boy’17 starts out as the complaint of a youngster forced to stay in the classroom when he would rather be at play. Blake goes on to condemn the education of his day which not only crammed the young mind with error, but suppressed natural energy and genius. In Blake’s decoration, a boy sits in the branches of a tree, happily reading a book. To the poet this is true education; every growing creature should be left free to develop its own potential.18 Further, in ‘The Voice of the Ancient Bard’,19 the bard, like the one of the ‘Introduction’, calls upon humanity, especially upon youth, to embrace the new dawn of “Innocence” and to avoid the error of “Experience’, the “tangled roots” and “bones of the dead” over which rational philosophers and materialist priests “stumble all night”.
In the two groups of lyrics under discussion Blake attempts to plumb the depths of the greatest mystery - man. He sees the possibility of the marriage of “good” and “evil” in human life, “For everything that lives is Holy.” Man divided against himself must be unified through imagination or unimpaired vision for the perception of the Infinite. In this attempt to demonstrate this required balance, many poems of “Experience” have their counterpart in the earlier group. Similar images, symbols and figures are used in both. For instance, the idealistic little chimney-sweeper of “Innocence” is a cynical urchin in “Experience”. The kindly beadle who ushers the orphans on ‘Holy Thursday’ has become the cold, hypocritical priest, and the joyous song of the children’s prayers has become a song of misery which charity cannot change. In all these pictures we can see the dreamlike unreality of childhood and the horrible reality of adulthood. When God and man were one in “Innocence”, they are lost to each other in “Experience”.
The idea of intellectual liberation is relevant to the general spirit of the poems I have chosen for discussion. In these poems Blake is not doctrinaire. With simplicity, emotion and subjectivity he absorbs and records physical sensation but does not determine. He lets the reader interpret for himself. These lyrics are characterised by ecstasy rather than typical excellence. Being the precursor of Romanticism in literature, he consciously rebelled against the dictates of the late eighteenth century rationalism with its formal grace of diction, objective lucidity and dignified beauty. He saw the importance of being individualistic. His emotionalism is seen in his fight for human justice, his fervent opposition to industrial slavery as he tries to show the “Hell” that exists for those who were overworked in factories, the exploitation of children, and orphans sold to factory owners and chained to their machines like slaves. Blake aimed at the liberation of the human spirit from its own “manacles” and prejudices. He protested by endeavouring to make people aware of the suffering caused by adults. What he desired was for man to find his adulthood in the “Innocence” of his own childhood.

* * * * *

1. BRONOWSKI J. (Editor), William Blake, Penguin Books, London, 1978, p. 41.
2.MALCOLMSON ANNE. (Editor), William Blake – An Introduction, Constance Young Books, Melbourne, 1967, p. 54.
3. BRONOWSKI J., op. cit. p.26.
4. Ibid., p. 28.
5. Ibid., p. 28.
6. MALCOLMSON ANNE, op. cit. p. 44.
7. BRONOWSKI J., op. cit. p. 30.
8. MALCOLMSON ANNE, op. cit. p. 46.
9. BRONOWSKI J., op. cit. p. 33.
10. Ibid., p. 34.
11. Ibid., p. 37.
12. MALCOLMSON ANNE, op. cit. p. 55.
13. BRONOWSKI J., op. cit. p. 49.
14. Ibid., p. 52.
15. Ibid., p. 43.
16. MALCOLMSON ANNE, op. cit. p. 62.
17. BRONOWSKI J., op. cit. p.57.
18. MALCOLMSON ANNE, op. cit. p. 68.
19. BRONOWSKI J., op. cit. p. 58.

02 February 2011




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