Songs named "Song" and the bind of self-conscious lyricism in Blake.
In the aftermath of Robert Gleckner's 1983 study of Blake's Prelude, the importance for the rest of Blake's career of his earliest poems, collected in Poetical Sketches, is hard to deny.(1) Still, as Irene Chayes points out in her review, Gleckner's book leaves untouched the question of "pairs or suites" amon the poems, an omission that is strange, since Gleckner elsewhere talks about Blake's poem sequences "as not merely a collection of poems but as, in a sense, one poem."(2) Paul Youngquist feels on the whole that "critics have tried but generally failed to find some principle of order among the scattered pieces of Poetical Sketches."(3)
The eight "Songs" in question, capped by an envoi "To the Muses," would seem as likely a candidate for such an ordered sequence as the volume's much more famou four seasons group.(4) As Zachary Leader points out, the designation "Songs" without any article ("the Songs," "a Song") signifies "careful organi[zation and] a larger artistic unity," although even Leader in his study of Blake's "Song" form barely mentions the group in Poetical Sketches and certainly does not treat it as a group. Some critics who take the "Songs" as a suite, like Joh Ehrstine and James D. McGowan, do so on loosely thematic grounds related to Blake's later poetry and do not emphasize the "Songs"' own sequence in the collection. The sole critic to propose the poems as an independent group to be "taken together"--L. C. Knights--ends his account self-dismissingly as a mere inspiration to future study.(5)
Given the self-conscious reference of a lyric poem to itself by its generic name--a song simply named "Song"--the reader has to wonder to what extent this group forms a unified statement about lyric poetry and its potentials, especially since, in Mark Schorer's phrase, the collection as a whole displays "lyric triumphs... an exquisite form of its own." Precedent exists for finding such genre statements in the collection: Geoffrey Hartmann sees the collection' more famous seasonal poems as "about ... poetry's higher destiny"--the prophecy.(6) Might the songs named "Song" not correspondingly concern poetry's "lesser" destiny--the lyric?
That the group should be read as a group emerges fairly clearly, in spite of th collection's spottily known printing history.(7) In most general terms, the whole group opens with a pair of happy, then sad love poems and closes with a pair of happy, then sad love poems. The poems in between trace the descent from happiness to sadness in a way that is much more gradual and less shockingly contrastive. The sequence, that is, has a noticeable balance: an opening illustration of erotic unhappiness suddenly entering the speaker's experience, an intervening segment slowly retracing and expanding on such emerging unhappiness, and a closing redramatizing of the sudden unhappiness.
To start with the opening and closing "Song" pairs, "Song" 1 explicitly links t "Song" 2 through the "silken net" in which the love god catches the speaker ("Song" 1, line 11) and the "silks" that "by love are driv'n away" in "Song" 2 (lines 1 and 3); "Song" 6 links with "Song" 7 through the common figure of the "black-ey'd maid."(8) Moreover, these opening and closing song-pairs seem to establish their own sequences. The grim "loss of liberty," with which "Song" 1 ends, is a fitting prelude to the "mournful lean Despair" with which "Song" 2 begins (line 4). So the strolls with the "black-ey'd maid" of "Song" 6, during which "nothing impure comes near" (line 14), seems a stage prior to the couple' more advanced affair in "Song" 7, with its "bitter grief and woe" of obsession, frustration and jealousy (line 15). This continuous progress of love tends to set up a parallel with the collection's acknowledged seasonal series, in that the season poems too are a "cycle of love."(9)
Furthermore, taking the two pairs of "Song" 1-"Song" 2 and "Song" 6-"Song" 7 as the opening and closing of a series makes sense from a standpoint of symmetry. Both pairs project a fall from a position, in "Songs" 1 and 6, of Edenic bliss with latent ominous overtones to overt, suicidal depression in "Songs" 2 and 7. "Song" 1 portrays "how sweet [the speaker] roam'd from field to field" toward "the prince of love" (lines 1 and 3), a conflation through the prince's name of Cupid and Christ. The threat of the situation itself appears in superficially positive terms with the silken net, the "golden" cage (line 13), and the "laughing" "play" that shades into "sport" and "mock[ery]" (lines 15 and 17). A one critic says, "Song" 1 "is remarkably free from bitterness" for a poem ostensibly about being trapped.(10) The poem feels too exaltedly happy, in preparation for a too exaggerated collapse. "Song" 6, too, is apparently "merry on a "dewy lawn" (lines 1 and 5), with a mixture of Classical "feet... wing'd" and Christian "angels' feet" (lines 5 and 7), and ends with only a hint of danger as the "black-ey'd maid" appears "beneath night's shade" (lines 17-18), surely resonating with poison "nightshade." In parallel positions, "Song" 2 plummets instantly to a desire for "my grave" and "a winding sheet" (lines 5 an 14), and "Song" 7 ends with a desire to "die in peace, and be forgot" (line 21)
The intervening "Songs," bracketed by these corresponding pairs, create a connecting series and love story elaborating on the opening-and-closing descent from superficial beatitude to exaggerated despair. "Song" 3 builds optimistically from "Song" 2's closing suicidal desire to be buried in infertil "clay" (line 17) to a regenerative image of growth from fertile ground "while thy branches mix with mine, / And our roots together join" (lines 3-4). "Song" 3's conceit of the speaker and beloved as growing "fruit" and "flower" trees (lines 9-10) produces in "Song" 4 a situation in which the speaker and his beloved can again be happy as people, now literally savoring the "bow'r" and "fruit" (lines 10 and 12) that had been only metaphorical in "Song" 3. In "Song 5 and "Mad Song," however, "memory" appears ("Song" 5, line 15), and produces again the speaker's desire
with night [to] go; I turn my back to the east, From whence comforts have increas'd; For light doth seize my brain With frantic pain.
("Mad Song," lines 19-23)
Two pairs of poems about a rapid fall from superficial joy and optimism to emphatic despair bracket a series of poems that sketch the same course much mor gradually. Indeed, the title of the final poem in the gradual, intervening series--"Mad Song"--stands apart in the otherwise homogeneous stretch of "Song-Song-Song" and underscores the fact that these poems are investigating an unsettled mind. Blake, as L. C. Knights says, "uses a rapidly maturing poetic power in the service of psychological exploration."(11) The investigation, however, reveals itself as one the reader can follow only by integrating "Mad Song" into the rest of the series; Alicia Ostriker notes that "'Mad Song' does not explain itself."(12) The series' inquiry performs a unified probe into one mind in one deliberation, and these poems are far from the "rhapsodic experiments" they have often been taken to be, just as "Mad Song" is not the "exception" Harold Bloom sees in an otherwise unconnected sequence of "technica exercises."(13)
The series sketches a love narrative in three versions and two speeds. The aim of this love narrative, however, is less to say something about love problems than it is to critique the frame of mind that produces lyric poetry. This is no to say that the choice of love as a topic is arbitrary, and that Blake could be making the same statement about lyricism if he had haphazardly chosen some othe subject. What has to be said about lyricism is closely related to concerns of love, as will be established. Still, the prime intent of the series is to meditate on a mode of poetry, not to provide advice to lovers.
That this series of songs reflects a problem of writing lyric poetry emerges from the poem that caps the "Songs," the brief "To the Muses." The poem describes the muses as "forsaking Poetry" (line 13), especially that of the lyre: "The languid strings do scarcely move!" (line 15). Moreover, the opening of the poem ties its lack of lyric and melic powers directly into the self-destructive reflections of the "Songs." By recalling the mute hiding place in "the chambers of the East, / The chambers of the sun, that now / From antien melody have ceas'd" (lines 2-4), the speaker refers to the "eastern" sunrise he had forsaken in "Mad Song" and links this forsaking specifically to his sense that "melody ha[s] ceas'd." As the envoi suggests, the series becomes a farewel to lyricism.
Evidence internal to the "Songs" also suggests that they concern a problem in "singing," not the celebration of song G. J. Finch detects in "Song" 1's title.(14) This first "Song," for instance, does suggest an evolution of the mouth to singing, from a stage in line 2 where the speaker merely "tasted" to a later stage in which he turns "vocal" (line 10). The singing produced, however, appears in two unfavorable forms. The song stage constitutes a "vocal rage" tha apparently leads to the speaker's being "caught" (lines 10-11). Once caught, he no longer "rages" but becomes a caged bird that Christ/Cupid patronizingly "loves to sit and hear... sing" (line 13). "Song" 2, then, and its parallel "Song" 7 are fittingly the only ones to present no singing at all as a dramatized event. Instead, the speaker is left twice "curs[ing]" in the silence ("Song" 7, lines 10 and 15)--recalling the "rage" of "Song" 1--just before "To the Muses" announces a general silencing of lyric poetry.
The series of "Songs," then, would seem a statement of what can go wrong in writing lyric poetry, or, put positively, what would have to go right to produc lyric poetry successfully. The great danger of lyric expression, as the series establishes it, is that it is caught in the extreme and extremely paradoxical position of both having a restricted, subjective producer and of not having one at all. "Song" 1 establishes this position by claiming "Phoebus fir'd my vocal rage," a claim that blends possessiveness ("my rage") with an exculpatory lack of responsibility ("Phoebus fir'd it"). This same blend appears again in the parallel "Song" 6, in which the "laurel" of Phoebus once more turns the speaker into a passive poet by "wreath[ing]... around [his] head" only to produce "my song" in "my soul" (lines 3-4 and 20). The conflict of passive and active roles in singing begins to usher in the silence that will characterize "Song" 7. The only human, dramatized singer in "Song" 6 "stops" his song (line 11); when the beloved talks, the speaker does not hear her but rather "the voice of heaven" (line 13). The poem's presented figures either lapse into silence or lose the power of direct speech, instead mediating "heaven's" voice.
In G. J. Finch's words (if not exactly his sense), Blake feels an "unspoken pressure of the lyric situation."(15) Blake imagines the relation between internal and external control over lyric production differently from Shelley, who feels "delight[ ] beyond expression" when he describes "the interpenetratio of a diviner nature through our own."(16) Rather, Blake seems to imagine a tension between what Northrop Frye in his discussion of the lyric considers the two extremes of poetic process: the "oracular," in which the lyricist is in a god's power, and the "rhapsodic... where the poet feels taken possession of by some internal and quasi-personal force."(17) When these two extreme forces behind lyricism converge, selflessness and self-possession collide, and the series' speaker experiences his most intense discomfort, appearing "howling" ("Mad Song," line 18) in an isolated "rage" ("Song" 1) at the same time he is divinely "driven" from without. The speaker is agonizingly located at that poin where the "rhapsodic" is cyclically, in Frye's formalistic terms, about to collapse again into the "oracular." (As recent synoptic studies of Frye's caree have emphasized, it is important that Frye is equal parts theorist and Blakeist.)(18) Being "caught" in this bind leads instantly to literal imprisonment in the "prince of love's" "golden cage" of "Song" 1. The tension between these extreme models of lyric inspiration perhaps explains the conflation of secular and sacred love imagery that is so striking in the parallel "Songs" 1 and 6. The god of oracular poetry is inextricable from the intensely personal love object of rhapsody, so that one name refers both to Cupid and Christ ("Song" 1), and the "holy feet" of "Song" 6 are simultaneously those of "my maiden" and an "angel" (lines 6-7).
The attempted solution to this genre problem of being self-driven and selflessly-driven appears in the drop to instant despair in the parallel "Songs 2 and 7, in which the speaker tries to project himself as driven solely from without. His "languish'd air/... [is] driv'n away" ("Song" 2, lines 2-3), and i "Song" 7 he portrays himself as under the control of "stars... / That made my love" (lines 15-16). The problem with such a solution comes clear from the "Songs" in which it appears. By jettisoning any self-originating influence on the lyric, the speaker also cannot sing: these are the two "Songs" that do not dramatically present anyone singing. When the speaker says something else has "driv'n" away his "air" in "Song" 2, the primary meaning of "air" is happy manner, but the line also conveys at least a pun on "air" as melos, melody, if not on "air" as the medium of breath and life for the speaker as poet.
In a recent essay on Blake, Freud, and Lacan, Brian Tottle provides some suggestions about the more mature Blake that might explain why the young Blake might experience more agony than Shelley at the cross-over from divine to internal inspiration and back again. According to Tottle, Blake's narrative manner dramatizes a paranoiac state, during which the speaker first confronts a god directly, and then feels entrapped and reduced to near death. The speaker's act of self-preservation is to turn the tables: realizing that the god has "played the part of accomplice" in the speaker's own near destruction, the paranoiac originates his own "order of things" to which the god himself is subordinate. Such a view adds a complex twist to Stuart Peterfreund's sanguine reading of originality as plain desideratum in Poetical Sketches.(19) In its general lines, this model parallels (without mentioning) Frye's sense of circularly connected "oracular" and "rhapsodic" inspirations while adding to them a psychologically plausible explanation for why this cycle might hurt. The model also noticeably parallels specific observations here about the opening an closing "Song" pairs: entrapment or enthrallment by a god or holy figure does indeed lead close to death. The speaker's response after "Songs" 1 and 2 is to produce a counter scheme of creating one's own poetry.
The difficulty for lyric expression remains one of how to retain song without being caught in the painful and puzzling bind of dual origination, the dash of Frye's "oracular" and "rhapsodic," of being possessed by a god and subjectively possessing a god. "Songs" 3 and 4 represent a strategy for escaping this bind, an experimental effort to circumvent both entrapment and entrapping. Song appears, but it appears as a form the speaker merely appreciates as outside himself. "Harmony," the speaker says, "around our souls intwine[s]" ("Song" 3, lines 1-2) as the "singing" birds "upon our branches sit" ("Song" 3, lines 5-6) The speaker's only described activity, as he claims, is that "I hear" ("Song" 3 line 16). This image of the lyric subject as receiver rather than sender obtain emphasis in "Song" 4, in which the speaker merely hears "the softly-breathing song" (line 2) and does not present himself as singing at all. Song appears an objectified feature of the world, a feature with which the speaker is pleasantl allied, but which he neither rhapsodically creates nor oracularly channels. Neither does he create it, nor does it possess him.
"Song" 5 slips in its attempt to continue this state of gently receiving but no producing song by personifying "memory" and enjoining it to "tune your merry notes" and create "your music" (lines 1-4). Having the "notes" belong to a "you repeats the pattern of objectifying song, as does the image of the stream as book, over which the speaker "pore[s]" (line 6). Poetry does not come from within or through the speaker but is rather played from without and finally, by implication of the book metaphor, written down--the suggestion of physical letters implying poetry in its most objectified form. Choosing a stream as the pages of this externalized book proves, however, treacherous. Water by its nature mirrors, and in "poring" over the book of the stream, the speaker is actually facing a "watery glass" leading back to an image of himself.
The treacherous choice of book underscores an even greater mischoice of "memory as metaphorical singer. "Memory" can be extensively personified and projected a a "you," but the personification remains an elaborate artifice, a version of th subjective only decoratively located in the object world. "Your notes" when applied to memory necessarily means "my notes." While he has been trying to locate poetry as an object outside the self in "Songs" 3 and 4, the speaker has of course, been producing those poems himself, and the return to personal memor in "Song" 5 acknowledges the futility of trying to sing without singing, of creating a purely receptive, self-uninvolved lyric subject. Not coincidentally, memory is precisely that "principle within human beings" that, according to Shelley, makes the "harmony" of lyric poetry distinct from the mere "melody" of wind sweeping over the strings of a lyre.(20) Blake's speaker in "Song" 7, just before his general envoi to lyric poetry in "To the Muses," thus fittingly desires memory's converse: to be "forgot" (line 21).
Predictably, with the reintroduction of the productive lyric subject in "Song" 5, the speaker's thoughts decline again to "Melancholy" (line 16); and in the following "Mad Song," discomfort over the dual origin of the lyric returns: "My notes are driven," the speaker reports, and "make mad the roaring winds" (lines 12 and 15), a description combining the possessiveness of "my notes" with an indecision about whether the wind "drives" the song or the song drives the winds.
The major question arises of why lyric poetry's dual origin poses such a proble for the "Songs'" speaker, when so many canonical statements, like Shelley's quoted several paragraphs ago, extol this duality. The answer for the "Song" series seems to be that being "caught" between the two inspirational extremes renders the speaker both humanly inactive and asocial. This concern for sociability informs the choice of love narrative for the series, since courtship, marriage, and family establish the basis of community to begin with. Bad love makes for bad or void community and becomes an apt correlative of the asocial danger Blake discovers in lyricism. From a historicist standpoint, Blake's anxiety about sociability is in keeping with that of his generation. Recent sociologists point to the late Enlightenment culture of the French Revolution as particularly engaged with moving from the "closed person" to "the social configuration of interdependence," an important phase in the production of post-feudal culture.(21)
For this and undoubtedly other reasons, the lack of human involvement and interchange, associated with lyric production, presents an especial problem for Blake. As Steven J. Rosen claims, Blake's later lyrics in Songs of Innocence privilege a "crowd consciousness," a concept Rosen develops from Elias Canetti. Rosen intriguingly suggests that even nature imagery of flocking or swarming in Blake represents a deeply seated desire for social "tendencies to organization, a desire Michael Ferber emphasizes in his study of Blake's social vision.(22)
Suiting such an instinct to community, "Songs" 3 to 5 and "Mad Song," which intervene between the opening and closing "Song" pairs, project the growth and decline of a social utopia. "Song" 3, with its emphasis on "our souls intwin[ing]," depicts the relation of self to other, and the long account of th dove that "feeds her young" upon "our branches" (lines 13, 5, and 20) suggests an extension beyond pairing to family. Hazard Adams notes, for instance, the contrast between these happy birds in this tree with the more sinister birds that inhabit Blake's trees elsewhere.(23)
"Song" 4 pursues this development by going beyond the family to a more extended group at "the jocund dance" (line 1), where the speaker is aware of a fairly differentiated society. He distinguishes the "innocent eyes" of the youngsters from the "old villagers" (lines 3 and 15) and the "mid-day hour" of recreation (line 12) from presumably other hours of work. Not only is this group extended and varied, but the speaker also identifies the figures as "neighbors" whom he "love[s]" (line 17); and, for the only time in the series, he refers to his beloved by her proper name, "Kitty," suggesting everyday human interchange (lin 18).
In this regard, the progression from "Song" 3 to "Song" 4 also implies a development toward a new sort of speaking. "Song" 3 makes the speaker aware of "love['s] tongue" (line 16), and "Song" 4 uses some of the same vocabulary to suggest actual language development. "Soft breathing" in line 2 becomes a "lisp[ing] ... tongue" in line 4 and finally an "echoing hill" in line 6. This new, social sort of speaking--in contradiction to John Ehrstine's reading--seem initially positive, a joining of people into general enjoyment and mutual communication.(24)
The development of a new language on the speakers part is also quite evident. The noun "love" and related noun forms like "lover" have appeared throughout th series. In "Song" 4, for the only time in the series, "love" becomes a verb and only a verb: "I love" the dance (line 1), "I love" the vale and hill (lines 9-10), "I love" the bench (line 13), and "I love" our neighbors, thee, and them (lines 17-19). Like the dance and the increasing speech, love is a socially engaged, active condition.
In "Song" 5, however, this sound and activity die down. "I love" turns to "sighing lovers" (line 6), recalling the "soft breathing" with which "Song" 4 had begun, and returning to love not as an activity but as a substantive, hypostasized state. Attending this decline in social speech and activity, the speaker has just declared Kitty "all to me" ("Song" 4, line 20), restricting th extended group to one, and in isolation he "lie[s] and dream[s] / The day along ("Song" 5, lines 11-12).
These events occur simultaneously with the invocation of memory, the implied return of lyricism's dual origin, and the decline to "Melancholy." Not surprisingly, "Mad Song" begins with an image of "birds" that "the earth do scorn" (line 8). The family birds of "Song" 3, which nest and are happy because the lovers' figurative "roots together join" in the earth (line 4), now "scorn" this earthly source of everyday family and community.
Swinburne's 1868 instinct that Poetical Sketches portrays a retreat from lyricism seems a good one; however, Blake's motive is not "hopelessly inexplicable," nor does the retreat represent an aesthetic misjudgment, an "erratic indulgence in ... bombastic habits of speech" that will produce Blake' "detestable" later style.(25) The sense of lyricism projected by Blake's songs named "Song" evidences an increasing distrust of the lyric genre as a form of language too divergent from a utopian model of "neighborly" communication. The "oracular" lyricist, in Frye's sense, is driven wholly from without and so has no individual self to share; the "rhapsodic" lyricist, again in Frye's sense, drives wholly from within and so neglects others through self-attention; and th lyricist caught at the cyclical crossroads of these modes occupies a position that Blake can call only "mad."
Prophecy, in contrast, offers a position Ian Balfour describes as "the discursive analogue of self-annihilation."(26) Whether driven too much from without or within, the lyric subject draws attention to itself as subject. In Brian Tottle's view of Blake as reproducing an albeit everyday paranoiac speaker, the problem with lyricism is that it concentrates attention on the possessed or possessing person talking. Indeed, lyric fluctuation from external possession to self-initiation concentrates interest specifically on the lyric speaker; and, as Elizabeth Stieg stresses, "complete self absorption" is "disastrous" for the prophet.(27) The lyric poet is akin to Stieg's type of the "false prophet," whose most striking dramatic pose is the curse. As "Song" 7 issues in the ultimate silence of lyricism, the speaker twice "curse[s]" (lines 10 and 15).
Exposing these dangers of lyricism, however, is not to reject lyric poetry. Eve "false prophets remained great prophets," in Stieg's account.(28) If one follow Martin Heidegger's study of Holderlin, lyric poetry is to be taken as a metapho for language's birth to begin with, suggesting both Blake's agonizing lyric state and homely, everyday speech. Heidegger locates the reader in Blake's predicament of dual origins when he claims, "Poetry is the naming of the gods. But poetic language can only receive its naming power if the gods bring us to language." Lyric poetry both produces the gods and is produced by them. As Heidegger admits, this state becomes one of madness for Holderlin, as it does for Blake's speaker in the "Songs." This "inside" of language, however, is a precondition of the "benign outside" of daily talk, just "as the valley belongs to the mountain." Blake cannot discard the lyric without rejecting all language including that of any possible neighborly social utopia. When Heidegger stresse that the lyric "poet's job is homecoming," he means it both in the highly abstract sense of inventing the "ground" of human being, and in the pedestrian sense of coming home to Blake's sometime echoing green.(29)
Work more recent than Heidegger's on the lyric emphasizes the communal role of lyric poetry both in forging a social bond and in threatening social cohesion. Menno Kraan, for instance, points out the theoretical importance of a "reader ... point[ing] backward" at the speaker as a defining element of lyricism.(30) Lyric speech is a model for joining people. At the same time, Ben Belitt remarks, especially in Blake's lyric poetry "the you is confrontational: its intent is infinitely to diversify.... The pronoun is not a collective You," while the speaker remains "the grueling ... First Person Singular: I."(31) The lyric has the form of joining but the effect of separating people. Because it grounds as well as threatens everyday speech, Blake needs in some sense to retain lyricism in his progress to larger forms. As Paul Youngquist says, Blake's transition to epic forms represents "an ongoing personal struggle to adapt a vision of vitality--intensely lyrical to the prosaic conditions of existence," producing a "dramatic expansion of the lyric."(32) Indeed, Blake's attempt to create a utopian language apart from lyric language, in "Song" 4, produces a happy but also eerily uncomfortable non-verbal state. Communication in the song never consists explicitly of words, except in so far as they appear in the speaker's new ability to use proper names. The sounds the "neighbors" make after the "lisping" constitute exclusively non-verbal "laughing" (lines 5, 8, and 16). The final bind of lyricism is that without lyric poetry everyday language becomes as impossible as it becomes with lyric poetry. Blake can be wary of lyricism, but he cannot reject it.
The conclusion to G. J. Finch's "Blake and Civilization" provides a good, if overly optimistic, gloss on Blake's attitude toward lyric poetry. In the personalism of the lyric, Blake "is autonomous but not autochthonous" because "autonomy presupposes relationship [that] is continually coming into being." Lyricism is at the heart of social discourse but, in a way that Finch does not acknowledge, also constantly threatens that discourse. The lyric cannot be Blake's secretly favored form, the object of an "imaginative sacrifice" in the turn to prophecy.(33) Rather, more in Youngquist's sense, the binds evident in Blake's early series of "Songs" may well help explain his mature preference for non-lyric, extended prophetic forms, or shorter narrative, psychological forms like those of "Innocence and Experience" and the Pickering Manuscript, which dramatically present viewpoints of limited speakers.(34)
Margaret Lowery notes "a certain mystery about Blake's [unenthusiastic] attitud toward the Poetical Sketches.... Something had happened to cause him never to publish it nor to bestow it as a gift upon many persons."(35) This "mysterious something" seems quite plausibly Blake's awareness that the volume is partly an expose of the dangers in a form, in spite of that form's importance. If Gleckne is right that the seasonal poems of Poetical Sketches build the case for prophecy, the "Songs" may be parts even of a larger "suite" contrasting the hazards and potentials of the lyric with those of the prophetic.(36)
1 Robert F. Gleckner, Blake's Prelude: Poetical Sketches (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1983).
2 Irene Chayes, review of Gleckner's Blake's Prelude, in David V. Erdman, ed., The Romantic Movement: A Selective and Critical Bibliography for 1983 (New York Garland Humanities Press, 1984), 82. The remark by Gleckner is from "Blake's Verbal Technique," in William Blake: Essays for S. Foster Damon, ed. Alvin H. Rosenfeld (Providence: Brown Univ. Press, 1969), 322.
3 Paul Youngquist, Madness and Blake's Myth (University Park: Pennsylvania Stat Univ. Press, 1989), 55. Youngquist's remarks, especially in the chapter "Lyric into Myth" (45-70), often fit with the present study's concerns; indeed, if he had treated the "Song" series, he might easily have produced the present study' conclusions.
4 Probably one block to seeing the "Songs" as a tightly continuous series is th often-perceived sex change between the first two "Songs" and the rest. If one assumes with John W. Ehrstine that the first "Songs" are spoken by a woman, the series may indeed not seem one continuous mental drama. William Blake's Poetica Sketches (Pullman: Washington State Univ. Press, 1967), 17-19. Sex changes, of course, do not rule out continuous identity in Blake, especially in the earlier "androgynous" phase before his "misogynist" maturity (see Robert N. Essick, "William Blake's 'Female Will' and its Biographical Context," Studies in Englis Literature 31 : 615-30). Room, however, also exists to see the first two speakers not as women at all, as James D. McGowan points out for the first "Song": "It can be read most plausibly under the assumption that the sprite represents the young poet. Males--especially inspired boys--may be decked with flowers, and to be caged in the name of fondness by Love is perhaps a common enough human condition to which young poets are especially susceptible." "The Integrity of the Poetical Sketches: A New Approach to Blake's Earliest Poems," Blake Studies 8 (1979): 134. The same reasoning could certainly extend to the second "Song." Nothing compels the reader to take the "he" of stanza 2 as a human lover, the main argument for the speaker's being a woman. "He" could certainly still be Cupid from the first "Song," a reading that makes better sense of the second "Song's" lines 11-12, "His breast is love's all worship'd tomb, / Where all love's pilgrims come." Finally, if as McGowan suggests an impetus to seeing the speaker as a woman is the delicacy of apparel, the "axe and spade" the speaker calls for in the second "Song," line 13, are hardly conventionally female implements. These poems are acknowledgedly Elizabethan imitations, and in such a setting a man can certainly wear "silks." In discussing the "Songs," the present study calls the speaker "he" throughout.
5 Zachary Loader, Reading Blake's Songs (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), xvi. McGowan (note 4) finds pairs among the poems that are "obviously companion pieces" (138), but both he and Ehrstine (note 4) treat the "Songs" as repositories of "fundamental themes" that depend very little on the order of th poems (13). While not actually tracing the patterns, critics often have the unconscious "feeling" that the material in Poetical Sketches has a formal unity of organization. Margaret Ruth Lowery claims the "poems are much of a piece" (Windows of the Morning: A Critical Study of William Blake's Poetical Sketches, 1783 [New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1940]), 60; Hazard Adams sees in the collection "group[s] of poems," suggesting "alternation" (William Blake: A Reading of the Shorter Poems [Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1963]), 223. Lowery, however, treats the "Songs" very sparingly, and Adams's book on "the shorter poems" barely mentions these shorter poems at all. In keeping with the present study's contention about the poems' self-conscious genre concern, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., in his brief treatment, feels that the "Songs" are a guide to "Blake's early conception of the lyric mode." His sense that the poems are therefore "purified of all complexity and taint," however, is definitely at odd with the present study. Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1964), 22. L. C. Knights's essay, which is close in spirit to the present study, is "Early Blake," Sewanee Review 79 (1971); quotation is from 378.
6 Mark Schorer, William Blake: The Politics of Vision (New York: Henry Holt, 1946; reprint, New York: Random House, 1959), 351; Geoffrey H. Hartman, "Blake and the 'Progress of Poetry,'" in William Blake: Essays for S. Foster Damon, ed Alvin H. Rosenfeld (Providence: Brown Univ. Press, 1969), 58.
7 No manuscript is extant, and the printer is unknown. See Lowery's chapter on the collection's printing history ([note 5], 27 to 57). The present study's contention that the "Songs" form a sequence should in no way imply that Blake wrote them in their printed order, a possibility Lowery finds "doubtful" (60), but merely that some combination of writing and ordering took place. Noticeably though a few corrections in Blake's hand suggest dissatisfaction with the printing's poor typography (Lowery, 35-39), no evidence exists that he disapproved of, or was not in charge of, the poems' ordering. As L. C. Knights says, "The printed order is not haphazard" ([note 5], 379). Michael Phillips's studies and speculations about the publishing of Poetical Sketches depict a Blake quite involved with the production of his volume. "Blake's Corrections in Poetical Sketches," Blake Newsletter 4 (1970): 40-47; "William Blake and the 'Unincreasable Club': The Printing of Poetical Sketches," Bulletin of the New York Public Library 80 (1976): 6-18.
8 The "Songs" are quoted here from The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (1965; revised reprint, New York: Doubleday, 1970), 404-9. Line numbers appear parenthetically in the text. For sake of economy and for stressing the poems' serial nature, I have numbered the "Songs" according to their sequence in the printing: "Song" 1 ("How sweet I roam'd from field to field"), "Song" 2 ("My silks and fine army"), "Song" 3 ("Love and harmony combine"), "Song" 4 ("I love the jocund dance"), "Song" 5 ("Memory, come hither"), "Song" 6 ("Fresh from the dewy hill, the merry year"), and "Song" 7 ("When early morn walks forth in sober grey").
9 Robert F. Gleckner, "Blake's Seasons," Studies in English Literature 5 (1965) 546. For an alternative reading of the seasonal poems as steps in an approach t originality, see Stuart Peterfreund, "The Problem of Originality And Blake's Poetical Sketches," ELH 52 (1985): 686-700.
10 G. J. Finch, "Blake and civilization," Journal of the English Association 40 (1991): 199.
11 Knights (note 5), 389.
12 Alicia Ostriker, "Blake, Ginsburg, Madness, and the Prophet as Shaman," William Blake and the Moderns, ed. Robert J. Bertholf and Annette S. Levitt (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1982), 117.
13 The first comment is from Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of Willia Blake (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1947), 177; Harold Bloom is quoted fro Blake's Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1970), 19. The verdict is common that "Mad Song" is an isolated satire on the "'Sensibility' poet," as Thomas R. Frosch says in The Awakening of Albion: The Renovation of the Body in the Poetry of William Blake (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1974), 128. Gleckner also sees the poem in isolation as a description of "the lapsed soul, sunk in the abyss of the five senses." The Piper and the Bard A Study of William Blake (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1959), 235.
14 Finch (note 10), 200.
15 Finch, 198.
16 Percy Bysshe Shelley, "A Defense of Poetry," Shelley's Critical Prose, ed. Bruce R. McElderry, Jr. (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1967), 31.
17 Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), 293-95 and 302.
18 See Henning Hagerup, "Veien til Golgonooza: Northrop Frye, William Blake og litteraturens arketyper," Vagant 3 (1990): 32-40.
19 Brian Tottle, "Making a Name for Yourself: Blake and Paranoiac Identity," Oxford Literary Review 12 (1990): 201. Peterfreund (note 9) sees "Blake's program for originality [as] a program to establish the proper priority of speech over phenomena, which is found in the Bible, and which fosters originality" (682). Without calling into question Peterfreund's convincing association of Blakean originality and Hebraism, the present study suggests tha this self-originated "speech" becomes itself problematic.
20 Shelley (note 16), 4-6. Shelley does not use the word "memory" for the "principle" in this passage, but memory is at least a large part if not the whole of what he means by the "prolonging" and repeating faculty.
21 The transition in consciousness, in Ulrich Scheck's phrase, is one from the "homo clausus" to "die gesellschaftliche Konfiguration interdependenter Individuen" (my translation in text). Scheck's paper provides a neat summary of this line of sociological thought. "Wider den homo clausus. Asthetische Kodierung von Fremdheitserfahrungen in Ludwig Tiecks Phantasus," Begegnung mit dem "Fremden," Grenzen-Traditionen-Vergleiche. Akten des VIII. Internationalen Germanisten-Kongresses Tokyo 1990, ed. Eijiro Inasaki, Vol. 9 (Munich: Iudicium 1991), 390-91. For an extended treatment of the instinct toward "sociability" i early Romanticism, with especial regard to Emil Durkheim's thought, see Thomas Gunther Ziegner, Ludwig Tieck. Studien zur Geselligkeitsproblematik. Die soziologisch-padogogische Kategorie der Geselligkeit als einheitstiftender Faktor in Leben und Werk des Dichters (Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 1987).
22 Steven J. Rosen, "Canettian Crowd Symbols in Blake's and Wordsworth's Nature Poetry," The Friend: Comment on Romanticism 1.4 (1992): 20-21; Michael Ferber, The Social Vision of William Blake (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985). Ferber feels Blake holds an "extreme form of the classical view of man as naturally sociable." He "seems to say that man is in essence a brotherly being, and when he is alone, alive in some minimal sense though spiritually dead, he i not really an individual at all, not really a human" (72). The whole of Ferber' chapter "Brotherhood" (67-88) is quite relevant to the present study.
23 Adams (note 5), 36-37.
24 Ehrstine's interpretation at this point, that the village is a little London and precursor of Experience's city, seems unconvincing. He deems it sinister that "the old villagers... laugh" ([note 4], 15-16), but then everyone else laughs as well. Nothing in the poem establishes laughter as derisive. As Steven J. Rosen (note 22) says, "Blakean innocence enjoys the crowd spectacle per se" (22). The present study will eventually question how positive these lines from "Song" 4 are, but not on Ehrstine's grounds.
25 Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Blake: A Critical Essay, ed. Hugh J. Luk (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1970), 10 and 13.
26 Ian Balfour. "The Future of Citation: Blake, Wordsworth, and the Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy," Writing the Future, ed. David Wood (New York: Routledge, 1990), 123. The relation of "epic" to social ethics and "lyric" to a subjective "victimary or sacrificial aesthetics" emerges from Thomas Felix Bertonneau's dissertation on lyricism, "Imago hominis, Epic and Anthropology in Stephane Mallarme and William Carlos Willlams" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1990). The quotation here is from Bertonneau's abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 51.12 (1991): 4118 A.
27 Elizabeth Stieg, "Reinterpreting the Old Testament: Blake's Tiriel as Prophet," Studies in Romanticism 20 (1990): 284.
28 Stieg (note 27), 295.
29 The quotations from Martin Heidegger are, in order: "Dichten ist das ursprunglichste Nennen der Gotter. Aber dem dichterischen Wort wird erst dann seine Nennkraft zuteil, wenn die Gotter selbst uns zu Sprache bringen." Holderlin "weiB, daB diese harmlose AuBenseite zum Wesen der Dichtung gehort gleich wie das Tal zum Berg." "Der Beruf des Dichters ist die Heimkunft." Erlauterungen zu Holderlins Dichtung (Frankfurt a. M.: Klostermann, 1963), 41 and 27. Translation mine. Phyllis Zagano presents a sturdy synopsis of Heidegge on lyric poetry in "Poetry as the Naming of the Gods," Philosophy and Literatur 13 (1989): 340-49.
30 Menno Kraan, "Towards a Model of Lyric Communication," Russian, Croatian, Serbian, Czech, Slovak, Polish Literature 30 (1991): 215.
31 Ben Belitt, "Toward a Poetics of Uncertainty," Southwest Review 76 (1991): 183-254.
32 Youngquist (note 3), 53.
33 Finch (note 10), 203. Finch's privileging of the lyric and remonstrance of the prophecies for their "dogmatism" is a latter-day version of Swinburne's nineteenth-century complaint (note 25).
34 In addition to Youngquist (note 3), 55, see Harold Pagliaro, Selfhood and Redemption in Blake's Songs (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1987), 121.
35 Lowery (note 5), 54.
36 Gleckner, "Blake's Seasons" (note 9).
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|Title Annotation:||William Blake|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1994|
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