Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Poems I Journey With 28

T.S. Eliot said in “Burnt Norton,” the first poem in the sequence of poems called “Four Quartets,” that “human kind cannot bear very much reality.” Reality here, I contend, can be interpreted as all that wears us down as human beings as we try to negotiate our way through life, as we try to cope with its many highs and lows and make some meaning of our own journey through it. Again, I repeat this great poet’s words merely to highlight our need for some form of escapism from time to time: a good holiday, an inspiring read, celebrations of all kinds, concerts, drama, plays, music recitals, and all the cultural conventions and traditions that attempt to help human kind cope with the “jagged edges of existence” or “reality” as T.S. Eliot puts it in the above quoted poem.

Here, I’d like to return to two poems from the pen of our great national Nobel Laureate for Literature, W.B. Yeats and reproduce here for the readers of these musings two lovely refreshing poems that quite soothe my drooping spirits in these stressful days after a traffic accident.

Poem 1: The Lake Isle of Innisfree (1888):

Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Poem 2: The Song of Wandering Aengus

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Source: The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

Briefest of Commentaries

Yeats was born in 1865 and so he was only 23 when he wrote “Lake Isle of Innisfree” while he was 34 when he wrote the second poem. Eleven years is a long time in anyone’s life, and the second poem is obviously a far more mature and far deeper poem than the first. However, they are both written against the background of the nourishing and sustaining power of nature for us humans. In short, a good walk out in nature can heal many a broken heart and lift many a depressed spirit. These poems help me cope with life then at this first level, that is, at the level of the balm, the comfort and the healing that nature can offer us if we are open to her charms.

As Yeats grew older he became much more interested in what we in Ireland call the “Celtic Twilight” period, namely that Romantic turning back not alone to nature, but also to mythology and the strong links that mythology had with nature as it developed.  Also Yeats as a poet became far more enchanted with anything to do with mystery, mystique and, indeed the mystical. To commune with nature was to commune with the sustaining power behind that universe – the pagan Celtic gods as represented in that wonderful body of Gaelic Celtic mythology that he himself did much to preserve and to promulgate.

The “fire” that was in his head is a very potent line because it shows the passion for nature that is in Aengus’s mind and indeed in that of the poet himself. Again, Aengus cuts and peels a “hazel wand” and we are immediately enchanted with a magical act that brings us into a more mystical world to which we can escape from the harsh reality around us.  Everything around Aengus is magical and mystical and shot through with the powers of the gods of nature. There are moths on the wing there while the very heavens contain the mystical “moth-like stars” and the repetition of words serves to enchant us further as this is indeed the song of a wanderer through nature with all its healing attributes – indeed it yields up a “silver trout” to feed us on our journey.

Then we are invited into Aengus’s company as he lights a fire on the forest or wood floor, and then some mysterious person calls Aengus, or indeed us the reader, by our name. For sure, we are now in the mythical and mystical woods of the Celtic imagination, of the Celtic Twilight.  Indeed, we are so enchanted that we want to stay there with Aengus.  Like a fairy presence, this female voice changes into a beautiful girl who enchants Aengus and us the readers:

It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Reading the final verse, this commentator writing these few reflections feels old like Aengus in the poem: “old with wandering” or old and worn out from looking for meaning in an often sad and painful world.  But this final verse is full of promise and hope; full of beauty and truth; full of wisdom and inspiration, for we truly can live in an enchanted world when we read those wonderful final lines of this second poem:

I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Poems I Journey With 27

Sketch of John Keats
As a young student of English literature at college in the late seventies of the last century when I was 19 or 20, I discovered the wonderful poems of John Keats (1795 – 1821).  There was romance written in the face of the young poet depicted in whatever copies of sketches or paintings that were then available.  To add to the romantic mystery and intrigue was the fact that he had perished from TB, or consumption as it was then called, at just 25 years of age. He was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, despite his work having been in publication for a period of only four years before his untimely death. Coupled with this, his devotion to his craft, to nursing his younger brother Tom and to his sweetheart Fanny Brawne also added to the romanticism that surrounded this great poet.  To add further to his mystique, we were to learn that in 1816, when he was just 21, Keats received his apothecary's licence, a qualification which made him eligible to practise as an apothecary, physician, and surgeon. Further as a qualified doctor he was to know that his death was imminent when he coughed up blood during his sleep – indeed, he recounts this sad fact in one of his letters.  However, before the end of 1816, he announced to his guardian that he was resolved to be a poet, not a surgeon.

Needless to say, given these brief biographical details one could not be faulted for concluding that John Keats lived with dying and death on a daily basis. The first poem I offer the reader for reflection is his beautiful sonnet “When I have Fears” which is suffused with this ultimate concern, to use the current language of Existential Psychotherapy.

When I Have Fears - Poem by John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love; - then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink. 

The second poem I should like to offer the readers of these pages is a less well-known one named “Sonnet: Written on the Top of Ben Nevis.” 

Sonnet: Written on the Top of Ben Nevis

Read me a lesson, Muse, and speak it loud
Upon the top of Nevis, blind in mist!
I look into the chasms, and a shroud
Vapourous doth hide them, -- just so much I wist
Mankind do know of hell; I look o'erhead,
And there is sullen mist, -- even so much
Mankind can tell of heaven; mist is spread
Before the earth, beneath me, -- even such,
Even so vague is man's sight of himself!
Here are the craggy stones beneath my feet,--
Thus much I know that, a poor witless elf,
I tread on them, -- that all my eye doth meet
Is mist and crag, not only on this height,
But in the world of thought and mental might! 

A pensive John Keats
I love this sonnet for its mysticism and also for its rather “misty” attempt at naming the mystery at the heart of life. In fact, the poem is all about our incapability of grasping this strange mystery, this rather cloudy or unclear life that we live.  The absurdist writer Albert Camus often ended up in despair at life as it was so full of contradictions and unclarity while he was obsessed with finding confirmation and clarity. His book The Myth of Sisyphus is all about the sheer absurdity of the human project which he likened to that of Sisyphus having to eternally roll his great rock up the steep hill of life.   Keats admits in this poem that his own insight into himself, or that his own knowledge of his self is simply shallow to say the least, or foggy or misty to use the imagery of this very poem:

Even so vague is man's sight of himself!
Here are the craggy stones beneath my feet,--
Thus much I know that, a poor witless elf,
I tread on them, -- that all my eye doth meet
Is mist and crag....

Friday, October 14, 2016

Poems I Journey With 26

The car I escaped uninjured from
Life surely challenges us; everyday brings one or other crisis. That is seemingly the way we grow and mature. However, it is hard to see that from the depths of a problem or of a tragedy or from any event that brings us face to face with our fragility and mortality. I have just walked free, totally unscathed physically from crashing my car having fallen asleep momentarily at the steering wheel. However, existentially I am shaken to the foundations of my being. This is surely what the Existential Psychotherapist and Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom has in mind when he speaks of death/dying/mortality as being one of the major ultimate concerns we encounter in life.  It is at times like these that I like to turn to poetry and music in the quiet corners of my soul when my friends and family have gone their busy way as they must. The poems of Wendell Berry are a wonderful comfort to me today as they are gentle, sublime and profoundly touching. I’d like to share several poems from the pen of this great author with the reader today as I grapple to make sense of what has happened to me the day before yesterday. Berry is 84 years old and still alive and writing prolifically. He is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. He is a recipient of many prestigious awards for writing, for the humanities and for his advocacy of environmental issues. Anyway, the first poem that is quieting my troubled soul today is this one:

The Peace of Wild Things - Poem by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The great Wendell Berry
The second poem is equally as simple and pure and touches me deeply where I need to be healed. This little poem calls me to be deeply present in what I do and to live in the blessed NOW.  I remember an old Dominican priest once telling me that “Now is the sacrament of the present moment.” I thought that was a lovely statement and a deep truth expressed theologically and poetically. The second poem reminds me of that truth, that healing truth.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here. 

Once again the third poem I wish to share with you here is equally as simple and pure and once again touches me deeply where I need to be healed. When we get in touch with the deep peace that lies in natural things, even though nature can be violent and cruel at times too, we can be healed. When the calm after a storm touches our soul we can be healed. I’m sure survivors of natural disasters have often been healed in spirit thereafter by the healing power of the peace in nature. Anyway, I deeply need the healing power of the following beautiful lyric:

Woods - Poem by Wendell Berry

I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Poems I Journey With 25

Introduction: Poems and characters from Elizabethan Times 1

Shakespeare’s plays – written in Elizabethan times, that epoch in English history marked by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603, born 1533) – are highly popular and constantly studied and reinterpreted in performances with diverse cultural and political contexts for some few centuries now though there was an period when his work lay undiscovered or unpopular. The genius of Shakespeare's characters and plots are that they present real human beings in a wide range of emotions and conflicts that transcend their origins in Elizabethan England. His themes, then, are truly universal and transcend time and place.

Christopher  Marlowe
It is, I find, very fruitful to place Shakespeare in his era by listing several of his many contemporaries, those who lived at any time during his life span: Shakespeare’s own dates are 1564 – 1616 and he was 39 when Elizabeth died, and some of his contemporaries are Christopher Marlowe (1564 –1593), a brilliant young playwright and poet killed in a tavern brawl; James I of England 1566 – 1625, formerly James VI of Scotland who translated what is known as the famous King James Bible,  Sir Walter Raleigh 1554 –1618, one of whose poems I have already reproduced in these pages; Dr. Simon Forman (1552 – 1611) the astrologer, occultist and herbalist, much maligned and persecuted during his lifetime because of his heretical and unorthodox beliefs, yet he is credited with having saved many patients during the London plagues (1592 and 1594); and, of course, the famed actor, theatre owner and artist Richard Burbage (1567 –  1619).

Poems and songs appear in many of Shakespeare’s plays. They are often profound. One universal theme, of course, is that of death and dying, that is, one of the four ultimate concerns outlines by the Existential Psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom. Mortality and the sheer unpredictability, even the pure random chance of life are uppermost in my mind as I write these lines.  Firstly, I was in a car smash yesterday where I wrote the vehicle off, or totalled it, as those of you who are from the USA would say. Thankfully I was uninjured and no one except me was involved as I nodded off at the wheel after an exhausting day at work. How I got out of the car in one piece I’ll never know. Having to spend 12 hours in A & E or ER was in itself a wonderfully mind-concentrating experience. I witnessed much that I care not to dwell on much here, yet it was a “wake up call,” to live whatever remains to me on this earth as fully and as profitably as I can as indeed we are fragile and brittle creatures that can literally be snuffed out at any time. Meditating on death and mortality is good for the soul as it enables us to value life all the more and to live in the moment or in the NOW. 

William Shakespeare
With this in mind, I have been leafing through and pondering poems that I love on line.  I quite like the following poem or song from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline (Act IV, Scene ii, lines 2656 to 2680). The first two stanzas are spoken (not sung) alternately by the two brothers, Guiderius and Arviragus. Then, they take it in turns to recite each line of the remaining two stanzas alternately, except the final two lines of each stanza, which they recite together. Guiderius and Arviragus are the sons of Cymbeline, abducted as babies by Belarius, and brought up as woodsmen. They recite the song over the corpse of Fidele, who they think is a man, but who is in fact Imogen, their sister, who they have never seen, and who is actually not dead, but who has drunk a draught of a poison the effect of which puts her into a state which resembles death. Cymbeline is often called a "problem play" because it defies traditional categories of genre. Many Shakespeare critics settle on calling it a "tragicomedy" since the first three acts of the play feel like mini-tragedy, while the play's second half feels like a comedy. In this sense, it is a play that incorporates many existential themes as well as humour as a way to cope with those problematic themes. In short, this beautiful song speaks much to me after my recent escape from the swing of the “Grim Reaper’s” indifferent scythe.

Fear No More

Fear no more the heat o' the sun;
Nor the furious winter's rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust.

Fear no more the frown of the great,
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dread thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Poems I Journey With 24

Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh (or Ralegh) was a most amazing man – a wonderfully alive, creative and swashbuckling Elizabethan who was a soldier, a sailor, a land-owner, a courtier, an explorer as well as being a poet, a writer and a historian. Again, when he was writing his The Historie of the World in the Tower of London he used sources written in some six different languages. It was maintained by some historians that Raleigh was responsible for the introduction of the potato or spud into Ireland. However, this is disputed by other historians. However, he is widely regarded as the one who introduced tobacco and pipe smoking into England. To add to all these accomplishments the fact that he was also a good family man is actually quite astonishing. In short, he was a courageous and ambitious Elizabethan who was truly a Renaissance man, though he rejected the high-flowing style (loaded with classical allusions) of the Italian Renaissance poets in favour of a more direct unornamented fashion of writing known simply as “plain style.”  This was why the critic C.S. Lewis called Sir Walter one of the foremost “Silver Poets” of the seventeenth century.

The poem from Raleigh that I’d like to offer to the reader this evening is one called “The Lie” which, I should imagine, he composed in the Tower of London some time before his execution. That his execution was unjust is the verdict of history. One of the judges at his trial later said: "The justice of England has never been so degraded and injured as by the condemnation of the honourable Sir Walter Raleigh." Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618. The accounts of his last comments before his death are indeed very brave and noble: "Let us dispatch", he said to his executioner. "At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear."  It is also reported that after he was allowed to see the axe that would be used to behead him, he mused: "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries." Further, according to biographers, Raleigh's last words (as he lay ready for the axe to fall) were: "Strike, man, strike!"

Ralegh the Soldier
I shall let the poem “The Lie” speak for itself below. One gets a sense of the poet’s nobility, integrity and authenticity in its stanzas. He has little concern, he tells us, for the hypocrisies of either Church or State. We learn that what Raleigh prizes are the virtues of honesty and sincerity.  He also appreciates that we are only pilgrims here on the earth and that our little lives are transient indeed. Like any Elizabethan or Renaissance man he sees the life of the soul as being immortal and imperishable and that of the flesh as mortal and perishable.   This poem will demand that you read it reflectively several times and then perhaps aloud, and then finally you will feel the passion and conviction of a man weighing truthfully and honestly the significance of his life before the axe of execution cuts off his head:

                                                 The Lie

                                Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 –1618)

GO, Soul, the body’s guest,
  Upon a thankless arrant:
Fear not to touch the best;
  The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court, it glows
  And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church, it shows
  What’s good, and doth no good:
If church and court reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates, they live
  Acting by others’ action;
Not loved unless they give,
  Not strong, but by a faction:
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition,
  That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
  Their practice only hate:
And if they once reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
  They beg for more by spending,
Who, in their greatest cost,
  Seek nothing but commending:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
  Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it is but motion;
  Tell flesh it is but dust:
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
  Tell honour how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
  Tell favour how it falters:
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
  In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
  Herself in over-wiseness:
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
  Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
  Tell law it is contention:
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
  Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
  Tell justice of delay;
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
  But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
  And stand too much on seeming:
If arts and schools reply,
Give arts and schools the lie.

Tell faith it’s fled the city;
  Tell how the country erreth;
Tell, manhood shakes off pity;
  Tell, virtue least preferreth:
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
  Commanded thee, done blabbing,—
Although to give the lie
  Deserves no less than stabbing,—
Stab at thee he that will,
No stab the soul can kill.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Poems I Journey With 23

Who amongst us does not at times wish to return to the more innocent and carefree world of childhood as we remember it, if only to escape the monotony of our daily lives or indeed its many troubles? In other words, nostalgia is no bad thing once it does not become an obsession that prevents us from dealing with problems that must be dealt with in our lives. One dictionary definition of nostalgia describes it as a wistful desire to return in thought or in feeling to a former time in one’s life, and in this sense it is mostly sentimental in thrust.  But we are allowed to be nostalgic and sentimental sometimes surely?

As I sit here writing these thoughts, I am travelling back precisely forty-seven years to the autumn days of 1969 when I was in fourth class primary school. We had a wonderful teacher called Seán Ó Sé (John O’Shea) who was an erudite teacher in most subjects, but who loved poetry and gave all of us an appreciation for its form, metre, rhythm and rhyme. I remember well his beating out the rhythm of any poem, whether in Irish or English, with his “bata mór” or “big stick” which he actually rarely used as he was essentially a kind and caring teacher. He would beat his “bata mór” on his old wooden desk.

Portrait of Thomas Hood
After this brief introduction, let me offer the reader a poem called “I remember, I remember” from the pen of Thomas Hood. For me this poem brings me back into that old classroom when I was just a sensitive little boy of eleven years of age. So, I am unapologetically indulging in nostalgia and sentimentality now, and sure why not!  Thomas Hood(1799 – 1845) was an English poet, author and humourist, best known for poems such as "The Bridge of Sighs" and "The Song of the Shirt". Hood wrote regularly for The London Magazine, the Athenaeum, and Punch. He later published a magazine largely consisting of his own works. Hood, never robust, lapsed into invalidism by the age of 41 and died at the age of 45. Other poets that were his contemporaries were the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the many other lesser Romantic poets. Obviously Hood would not have been as famous, yet his work was indeed very popular. The poem “I remember, I remember” needs little or no commentary. It is enough to read it and reflect upon it meditatively and if it is sentimental superficially, I believe that it contains a certain deeper truth worth hanging on to. Enjoy, even for the briefest of moments. 

I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

I remember, I remember
The roses red and white,
The violets and the lily cups--
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,
The tree is living yet!

I remember, I remember
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then
That is so heavy now,
The summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow.

I remember, I remember
The fir-trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Poems I Journey With 22

Portrait of William Blake by Thomas Phillips
History has always thrown up amazing geniuses. There can be few more talented and extraordinary than William Blake (1757-1827). The list of his accomplishments is wide and varied: poet, artist, engraver, mystic and prophet. We are all acquainted with his simpler lyrics and even with his more popular engravings from our school days. However, behind these seemingly effortless and simple verses lies a complex and talented man of vision. Behind the popular engravings lurks a restless soul and talented artist.

Reading his poetry and studying his paintings and engravings can bring much pleasure and not a little insight into Blake's mystical and prophetic vision, both dimensions of which were so sui generis as to make his work in poetry and engraving individual and non-derivative to a fault. 

Before setting out to read Blake, one should realize that he was almost completely self-taught. This would probably account for much of his unconventional spelling and punctuation, and for his inconsistent use of terminology in his longer and more complex works. Also it is important to bear in mind that he was rebellious in spirit and just did not like to conform. He was original to a fault. Having spent seven years as an apprentice engraver, he progressed to study art at the Royal Academy but quit after a year because he rebelled against the aesthetic doctrines of its president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. 

In writing his poetry, Blake also broke with convention by rejecting the high neoclassical style and modes of thought then current, preferring a simple and direct style – the language of the ordinary people that prefigures by some twenty years Wordsworth’s pursuit of the same goal – as exemplified in his lyrics. He was a nonconformist in religion, being born into a Dissenting tradition that encouraged extemporary hymn-singing. Hence, much of his religious thoughts were unorthodox and even heretical by the standards of the more orthodox Christian churches. However, having borne these preliminary qualifications in mind, we can still find his writings inspiring and personally enriching.

This evening I wish to offer the reader a copy of William Blake’s wonderful and much anthologized lyric "The Tyger" to read and to reflect meditatively upon.  Immediately, if you are a lover of Blake’s poems you will be struck forcefully by the strong contrast with the poem "The Lamb." ("Little Lamb, who made thee? //Dost thou know who made thee?" The answer is, of course, God, who became incarnate as Jesus the Lamb.) Here in this lyric "The Tyger," Blake asks the rhetorical question, "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" And the answer is, of course, "Yes, God made the Tyger too."

A copy of the original engraving of Tyger by Blake

If we are to appreciate and understand "The Tyger" as fully as we possibly can, we need to know Blake's symbols. One of the central themes in his major works is that the Creator of the world is a great blacksmith. This is both God the Creator (personified in Blake's myth as Los) and Blake himself (again with Los as his alter-ego.) As an engraver and as an artist, Blake identified God's creative process with the work of anyone engaged in any artistic pursuits.

Blake's story of creation differs from the Genesis account – as I’ve already pointed out he is totally unorthodox in his personal beliefs, and this is something that endears him to the present writer as he had the courage to be wholly different at a time when it was simply anathema to be so. The familiar world was created only after a cosmic catastrophe according to Blake. The longer books that Blake wrote describe Los's creation of animals and people within the world of nature after that catastrophe. One particularly powerful passage in "Milton" describes Los's family weaving the bodies of each unborn child.

In believing that creation followed a cosmic catastrophe and a fall of spiritual beings into the atoms of matter, Blake recalls the early heresy of Gnosticism, a multi-faceted religious movement that had run parallel to mainstream Christianity. Unlike most other Gnosticizers, Blake considered our own world to be a fine and wonderful place, but one that would ultimately give way to a restored universe. Blake believed that his own visions, which included end-of-the-world or apocalyptic images and sometimes a sense of cosmic oneness, prefigured this restored world, and that his art would help raise others "to the perception of the infinite." For Blake as for St. Irenaeus, the purpose of creation is as a place for our own growth, where we are allowed to mature through our encountering very rough experiences of evil in its many manifestations in preparation for the beginning of our real lives. On the one hand, while the natural world contained much that is gentle and innocent (which we read about in the wonderful lyrics of "Songs of Innocence"), those who are experienced with life ("Songs of Experience") know that there is also much that is terrible and frightening. In other words, what I am getting at here is that the "fearful symmetry" we read about in “The Tyger” is the paradoxical contrast between the gentleness of the lamb and the fierceness of the  tiger – in other words we have here the paradoxical mix of innocence and experience in the one poem.
The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

In what distant deeps or skies 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 
On what wings dare he aspire? 
What the hand dare seize the fire? 

And what shoulder, & what art, 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 
And when thy heart began to beat, 
What dread hand? & what dread feet? 

What the hammer? what the chain? 
In what furnace was thy brain? 
What the anvil? what dread grasp 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 

When the stars threw down their spears, 
And water'd heaven with their tears, 
Did he smile his work to see? 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?