Spring Blake (1): Is the World a Friendly Place?

Once again I must apologize for the lack of consistency in posting.  The last two weeks, students have been on spring break, which means a great deal of busyness for me.  I expect to return to a normal posting schedule next week.  But for now, I thought I would re-post something I wrote in October of 2009 – on my other blog that no one read =).  It is longer than usual, so I have broken it up over two posts to conform to my word limit.  It is also literary, and I hope you enjoy if you are so inclined.  Otherwise, pass on by.

So lately I’ve been reading the poetry of William Blake.  Specifically, a set of poems he wrote called Songs of Innocence, which he followed up a few years later with a companion volume called Songs of Experience.

  • The first volume (Innocence) is written from the perspective of a child, filled with simplicity and repetition, innocence and joy.
  • The second volume (Experience) is written from the perspective of a man who has experienced the world.  Blake writes about identical topics as the first volume, but his tone is dark, mysterious, and often violent.

In the first set, Blake’s most famous poem is called “The Lamb”; in the second, “The Tyger.”  What kind of a world do we live in?   The kind with lambs and tigers, Blake responds.

A lamb is a picture of innocence; it is safe, unthreatening – downright cute and cuddly.

Not so a tiger: no one in his or her right mind would cuddle with a tiger.  Experience has taught us that there are things in this world that can tear us to pieces.

So which is the exception and which is the rule?  What kind of a world do we live in?  Is it friendly or fearful?  Is it lamb-like or tiger-like?

Here’s what I think Blake is saying: We come into this world in a state of innocence: life is simple, full of simple joys.  But as we grow older, we learn that life is not so pristine: it is full of dark mysteries and cosmic questions.  The lamb, with its soft wool, gives us comfort.  We believe that the world is a friendly place.

But the world also has tigers whose eyes burn with fire. Tigers devour lambs and children if given the chance.  Perhaps the world and its maker are not so friendly after all.

Almost every day, in the news and in our lives, we experience the lamb’s wool and the tiger’s teeth, and we ask: which is the exception and which is the rule?

Is the world a friendly place?

(To be continued)

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