Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Poem of the Week 8/20/2007: The Angel

The Angel

I Dreamt a Dream! what can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen:
Guarded by an Angel mild:
Witless woe, was ne'er beguil'd!

And I wept both night and day
And he wip'd my tears away
And I wept both day and night
And hid from him my hearts delight

So he took his wings and fled:
Then the morn blush'd rosy red:
I dried my tears & armed my fears,
With ten thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again;
I was arm'd, he came in vain:
For the time of youth was fled
And grey hairs were on my head.

William Blake 1790

This poem speaks of the human drive to self-concealment. The queen does not want to be made vulnerable, and so she hides both the real reason for her suffering and later must guard that out of her fear. In doing, she loses what could have saved her--an angel.

Of course, Blake cannot be shortened and simplified so extremely. There is a question as to the angel's role in her self concealement; could his comfort have actually enabled her suffering? In other works, Blake has written, "Opposition is true friendship;" our friends ought not enable every vice we have, but challenge us to stay our course, to keep pushing ourselves. To the angel's credit, his presence does seem to symbolize some kind of innocent state--not only does he, like a parent, wipe away her tears, he is associated with youth. When he returns, she is old, implying that his earlier comradeship occurred in youth.

So, though perhaps enabled by the angel, the Queen's reaction was violent and dualistic. Rather than opposition, which holds two forces agaist one-another, she wishes to cut off any chance of vulnerability, of being challenged internally.

I believe that Blake puts us in an uncomfortable position within the poem, for self-concealment is obviously something to which all people are prey. If one has any grain of self-knowledge, one cannot judge this woman, but only ask what might have happened had she not hidden so much from a being that loved her.

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