Infinity on the Anvil: A Critical Study of Blake's Poetry

By Stanley Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE EDGE OF EXPERIENCE

THAT Blake himself was thoroughly aware of his way of thinking in symbols is clear from the letter to Butts, dated November 22, 1802, where Blake gives a more than usually explicit account of his methods. He is faced with a 'frowning thistle' across his path--that the symbol is intrinsic in Blake's thought is intimated in that participial adjective, used before he becomes explicit--and he explains:

before my way
A frowning Thistle implores my stay.
What to others a trifle appears
Fills me full of smiles or tears;
For double the vision my Eyes do see,
And a double vision is always with me.
With my inward Eye 'tis an old Man grey;
With my outward, a Thistle across my way.1

This is Blake's habitual way of symbolizing what he sees, and its essentially poetic quality is inescapable. And while the symbolism is constant in its references, it is never static, and is always set in its dramatic context. The method appears early in the poetry, as has been shown; and Blake is incomprehensible if the symbolic method is unrecognized.

Thus in the Proverbs of Hell we have these two assertions, neither of any absolute poetic worth, but interesting in their relationship to Blake's symbolic method. Each is thorough in its symbolism. First:

The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbet watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant watch the fruits;

and then, a few lines further on:

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Wright comments on these two proverbs2 that ' Blake had evidently forgotten that . . . he had put the horse among the creatures of Impulse and desire'. But the excuse is not needed. Here is the symbol dramatically developed. The horse in the first quotation is impulse, desire, imagination, in freedom and unrestraint; in

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Infinity on the Anvil: A Critical Study of Blake's Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction on the Nature of Poetic Symbolism 1
  • Chapter I The Beginnings in Innocence 15
  • Chapter II The Edge of Experience 31
  • Chapter III The Conflict in Experience 46
  • Chapter IV Infinity on the Anvil 77
  • Chapter V Songs of Experience 100
  • Chapter VI Disintegration 132
  • Notes 153
  • A Short Reading List 156
  • Index 157
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