William Blake’s Manuscript Lyrics:
For Discussion in Commemoration of Blake’s 250th Birthday
(28 November 1757 - 12 August 1827),
November 2007

Compiled by Ralph Dumain

If Blake could do this when he rose up from shite
What might he not do if he sat down to write

— “When Klopstock England defied” (concluding verses; Poems from the note-book, 1793; Keynes: 187)

Two and a half years ago our group discussed selected poems from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, for which I produced these notes:

Notes for Discussion of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (27 April 2005)

As Blake’s 250th birthday (28 November) approaches, a commemoration in the form of another Blake discussion is in order. The Songs are Blake’s most popular and accessible original engraved (illuminated) works. They were preceded by two non-illuminated collections, Poetical Sketches and An Island in the Moon. Though containing striking quotable passages, Blake’s prophetic works, saturated with his personal mythology, are largely impenetrable to the average novice reader. (A few of these quotable passages are linked from my William Blake Study Guide. Note: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, an illuminated work, is accessible and popular.) There, are, however, standalone literary gems from manuscripts Blake left behind that can be discussed without prior knowledge or preparation. David V. Erdman, in his authoritative The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, grouped Blake’s oeuvre by general categories. The Blake poems as well as a Concordance and other material can be found on the Blake Digital Text Project.

I remain psychologically bound to the most authoritative edition preceding Erdman’s work, Blake: Complete Writings, edited by Geoffrey Keynes (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), arranged chronologically. Poems reproduced below are accompanied by page references to Keynes.

The poems I have selected can be found, with a multitude of others, on two web pages:

http://www.english.uga.edu/nhilton/Blake/blaketxt1/satiric_verses_and_epigrams.html

http://www.english.uga.edu/nhilton/Blake/blaketxt1/songs_and_ballads.html

I reproduce a subset of these poems for discussion, in roughly chronological order except for the first, below. Other personal favorites include “The Mental Traveller”, “Mary”, “The Grey Monk”, and “Auguries of Innocence”, from the Pickering Manuscript.

If you are interested in my commentary on “The Smile”, which former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky selected and butchered for an anthology of America’s favorite poems, see:

William Blake’s “The Smile”: Commentary by Ralph Dumain


The Poems

The Angel that presided oer my birth
Said Little creature formd of Joy & Mirth
Go love without the help of any King on Earth

(Epigrams, verses, and fragments from the note-book, 1818-11; Keynes: 541)


Never pain to tell thy Love
Love that never told can be
For the gentle wind does move
Silently invisibly
I told my love I told my love
I told her all my heart
Trembling cold in ghastly fears
Ah she doth depart

Soon as she was gone from me
A traveller came by
Silently invisibly
O was no deny

(Poems from the note-book, 1793; Keynes: 161)


I asked a thief to steal me a peach
He turned up his eyes
I ask’d a lithe lady to lie her down
Holy & meek she cries

As soon as I went
An angel came.
He wink’d at the thief
And smild at the dame

And without one word said
Had a peach from the tree
And still as a maid
Enjoy’d the lady.

(Poems from the note-book, 1793; fair copy, 1796; Keynes: 163, 261)


I feard the fury of my wind
Would blight all blossoms fair & true
And my sun it shind & shind
And my wind it never blew

But a blossom fair or true
Was not found on any tree
For all blossoms grew & grew
Fruitless false tho fair to see

(Poems from the note-book, 1793; Keynes: 166)


Thou hast a lap full of seed
And this is a fine country
Why dost thou not cast thy seed
And live in it merrily

Shall I cast it on the sand
And turn it into fruitful land
For on no other ground
Can I sow my seed

Without tearing up
Some stinking weed

(Poems from the note-book, 1793; immediately precedes first draft of “Earth’s Answer”; Keynes: 168)


If you trap the moment before its ripe
The tears of repentance youll certainly wipe
But if once you let the ripe moment go
You can never wipe off the tears of woe

(Poems from the note-book, 1793; Keynes: 179)


Eternity

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise

(Poems from the note-book, 1793; Keynes: 179)


Motto to the Songs of Innocence & of Experience

The Good are attracted by Mens perceptions
And Think not for themselves
Till Experience teaches them to catch
And to cage the Fairies & Elves

And then the Knave begins to snarl
And the Hypocrite to howl
And all his good Friends shew their private ends
And the Eagle is known from the Owl

(Poems from the note-book, 1793; Keynes: 183)


Mock on Mock on Voltaire Rousseau
Mock on Mock on! tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind
And the wind blows it back again

And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye
But still in Israels paths they shine

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newtons Particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore
Where Israels tents do shine so bright

(Poems from the note-book, 1800-1803; Keynes: 418)


The Smile

There is a Smile of Love
And there is a Smile of Deceit
And there is a Smile of Smiles
In which these two Smiles meet

And there is a Frown of Hate
And there is a Frown of Disdain
And there is a Frown of Frowns
Which you strive to forget in vain

For it sticks in the Hearts deep Core
And it sticks in the deep Back bone
And no Smile that ever was smild
But only one Smile alone

That betwixt the Cradle & Grave
It only once Smild can be
But when it once is Smild
Theres an end to all Misery

(Poems from the Pickering Manuscript, circa 1803; Keynes: 423-4)


The Crystal Cabinet

The Maiden caught me in the Wild
Where I was dancing merrily
She put me into her Cabinet
And Lockd me up with a golden Key

This Cabinet is formd of Gold
And Pearl & Crystal shining bright
And within it opens into a World
And a little lovely Moony Night

Another England there I saw
Another London with its Tower
Another Thames & other Hills
And another pleasant Surrey Bower

Another Maiden like herself
Translucent lovely shining clear
Threefold each in the other closd
O what a pleasant trembling fear

O what a smile a threefold Smile
Filld me that like a flame I burnd
I bent to Kiss the lovely Maid
And found a Threefold Kiss returnd

I strove to sieze the inmost Form
With ardor fierce & hands of flame
But burst the Crystal Cabinet
And like a Weeping Babe became

A weeping Babe upon the wild
And Weeping Woman pale reclind
And in the outward air again
I filld with woes the passing Wind

(Poems from the Pickering Manuscript, circa 1803; Keynes: 429-30)


On this site:

William Blake’s “The Smile”: Commentary by Ralph Dumain

Notes for Discussion of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (27 April 2005)

William Blake’s 250th Birthday

William Blake Study Guide

Excerpt from “William Bond”: in memory of my beloved Evelyn

On other sites:

Blake Digital Text Project

The William Blake Archive


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Uploaded 24 October 2007

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