Proverbs of Hell

By Blake, Lorna Knowles | The Hudson Review, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Proverbs of Hell


Blake, Lorna Knowles, The Hudson Review


-After William Blake

1. No bird soars too high, who soars on his own wings.

But in every generation, it seems, they try,

remembering not the fall, but the heady

lift of flight, the eagle soaring by.

Like wax-winged Icarus, all too ready

to borrow shiny wings and gain the sky,

they risk the fearful plummet to earth or sea,

and stunned like garden birds who cannot see

the plate glass air of windows, unsteady,

numb with yearning, they rise again to fly.

2. Drive your cart, and plow over the bones of the dead.

All afternoon she sat, chain-smoking under a copper beech tree until one by one, the night set out its stars.

At her feet, a cardboard box: letters, harmonica, a fifth of Scotch, reading glasses, medals won during the war.

He was gone, who'd known her less and less, and absence stung no more than salt rubbed in a wound's old scars.

She crumpled the empty pack, carried the box across damp grass and gravel, and stowed it in the dark trunk of her car.

3. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Leave then. Try anything. Perhaps you'll learn

that on a pyre of greed your heart will burn

with pure infant lust, you will squander your

inheritance, become a cliche and a bore.

But when you sicken of that feast and turn

back to the home which you, Prodigal, spurn

for tavern, brothel, games of chance and more-your

father waits to greet you at the door. …

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