became the perfect amanuensis, to the man even more than to the artist.
even learned to write and draw so much in his
style that her
known contributions to his
work would otherwise be indistinguishable from his
was the ideal wife of his
artistic and intellectual alienation; she
was the perfect helpmeet in his
social and economic desperation.
starved with him, believed in him, and even saw visions for company.
If visitors were shocked by the lack of soap in the Blake household, she
explained that "Mr.
skin don't dirt!
became completely indifferent to the lack of funds, she
would gently remind him of the state of things by putting an empty plate before him for dinner.
was an ideal wife; her
only fault, apparently, was that she
was not a person in her
The fault was most assuredly not in her
but in Blake's annihilating need of her
made an adoring servant out of her
, and then evidently found that he
longed for a woman.
All the stories we have of them add up to very little, and those who drew upon her
and Blake's friends for reminiscences after his
death felt such veneration and excitement before their recovery of a neglected genius that they prettied up his
domestic life as much as possible.
But we do know that he
proposed to her
at their first meeting when, complaining that a girl had spurned him, she
said: "Then I pity you.
"Do you truly pity me?
asked, in pleasure.
found that he
Yeats, who helped to doctor up the truth about Blake's life as much as anyone, thought this a lovely story and that they lived happily ever after.
Unfortunately, Blake's own writing shows that he
was tormented by her
jealousy and that he
thought marriage was the devil.
A liaison between John Wesley and Isadora Duncan would not have been more strange— indeed, Wesley was a worldly and aristocratic figure; Blake
was a lower middle-class drudge, more of a Wesleyan
than Wesley himself.
In this, as in so much else of his
painted not only the immediate consequences of a reactionary morality based on outward conformity—the anxieties, the subtle hostilities, the habit of lying.
also foresaw the danger that is exactly present in our modern eroticism, which has the same relation to the failure of love that totalitarian solutions have to the failure of society.
When we compare Blake
with an artist like D. H. Lawrence, or an oratorical rebel like Henry Miller, we can see how much the obsessiveness, the cringing over-emphasis on sex in the most advanced modern writing is due to the inability of these writers to treat sex naturally in the whole frame of the human organization.
is not free of the characteristic modern obsessiveness; he
was no more free than we are.
always knows exactly what he
theme is always the defense of the integral human personality.
principal virtue is that he
does not make a virtue of "frankness"; he
is concerned with basic human desire, fear, longing, resentment; with the innermost movements of a human being in the world.
describes, in his
great song cycle, the gulf between Innocence and Experience; he
feels an inexpressible solidarity with those who are forever in it.
knows that innocence and experience are not the faces of youth and age, but "the two contrary states of the human soul.
writes as a man, not as an "immoralist.
One of the reasons why he
is so supreme among those who have written of childhood is that he
sees it as the nucleus of the whole human story, rather than as a state that precedes adult "wisdom.
is afraid for the child, he
pities the adult.
In experience there is always the longing for "unorganized innocence: an impossibility"; in innocence there is the poignant foretelling of experience, which is death without the return to confidence and vision.
is utterly without cynicism.
never makes the characteristic modern mistake of devaluating a prime experience; he
never throws out love with the love-affair.
We may not agree with him that desire is infinite; we can never be sufficiently grateful to him for insisting that it is never cheap.
is serious about sex, as he
is serious about the child; and for the same reason.
knows that as sex is the buried part of our civilization, so the child is the buried part of the man.
faith in the creative richness of love has the same source as his
feeling for the secret richness of childhood: his
ability to see through the dead skin of adulthood.
would have understood very well that our "child-psychology" shows the same guardedness toward the child that modern love and marriage reveal between men and women.
The same guardedness and the same fear: for we "handle" children from the same negative fears and out of the same lack of positive participation and sympathy.
would have seen in our pedagogic carefulness the effort of caution to do the work of the imagination.
own time, when children were regarded as miniature adults, or as slaves or pets to those who ruled by their maturity, he
showed that a child is not an abbreviated version of the adult, but a different being.
In our time he
would have seen that the distance between a parent and a child is usually the distance between the parents as lovers.
never deals with history, with the process and its reality; his
search is only for the central and forgotten sources of human feeling, imagination, solidarity.
To be certain of them, he
conceived the world over again in the image of his
But it is like our desire, even if it is nothing like our real world.
And our desire is always a portion of the reality we have, as it is always a shadow on the reality we have not.
That is why Blake
best is enchanting even in the smallest proportions—in fact, it is difficult to read him with the usual continuity, so much does he
fill our minds at each step.
The central subject of Songs of Innocence and of Experience is that of the child who is lost and found.
In its symbolism, it is the great theme of all Blake's work—the "real man, the imagination," that has been lost and will be found again through human vision.
In Innocence, the little boy loses his
father in the night, and God this Father leads him back to his
The child is lost to its guardians, for in Blake's
mind the child's nature is beyond the parents' comprehension, and is alone in a world the parents cannot enter.
The grief of the child is also the loneliness of the soul in its sudden prison of earth; he
is protected by God the Father.
In Experience, however, the little boy who demands of the priest the right to assert his
own thoughts and desires is "burn'd in a holy place.
The little girl who enjoys love, without shame or fear, is suddenly confronted with the earthly father whose "loving look, like the holy book," drives her
One little girl is lost and yet found in Experience, however; for she
enters lovingly into the world of the passions, where she
lives in freedom from the "wolvish howl" and the "lions' growl."
cries, in the most moving single expression in his
does not believe in a war between good and evil; he
sees only the creative tension presented by the struggle of man to resolve the contraries.
What has been created, by some unknown hand, is a fiery furnace into which our hands must go to seize the fire.
"The Tyger" is a poem of triumphant human awareness; it is a hymn to pure being.
And what gives it its power is Blake's ability to fuse two aspects of the same human drama: the movement with which a great thing is created, and the joy and wonderment with which we join ourselves to it.
The opening and closing stanzas are the same, for as we begin with our wonder before the creation, so we can only end on it.
It is the living eternal existence; the fire is, so long as we are.
That is why Blake
begins on the four great beats of "Tyger!
goes straight to the poles; we are in the presence of a creation that can be traced from distant deeps to skies.
What sustains the verse in our ear is the long single tone in which are blended the related sounds of burnt, fire, thine, eyes.
By natural association—from the burning fire to the topmost eyes of the Tyger—and through the swell of the line, these words also form a natural little scale of four notes—a scale that ends in the crash of the question-mark.
Blake's mind is darting between the mysterious unseen he
, the maker of the Tyger, and the fire in its eyes.
The fire is central to his
thought, so much so that it eclipses the maker as a person and turns him into the force and daring with which he
does not write "He
is far more interested in the creation than in the creator.
But so great is this creation that the creator grows mysterious and powerful in its light.
What is so beautiful in the se