Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Poem of the Week 1/14/2008: from The Four Zoas

from The Four Zoas
Night the Fourth

Deathless for ever now I wander seeking oblivion
In torrents of despair in vain. for if I plunge beneath
Stifling I live. If dashd in pieces from a rocky height
I reunite in endless torment. would I had never risen
From deaths cold sleep beneath the bottom of teh raging Ocean
And cannot those who once have lovd. ever forget their Love?
Are love & rage the same pasion? they are the same in me
Are those who love. like those who died. risen again from death
Immortal. in immortal torment. never to be delieverd
Is it not possible that one risen again from Death
Can die! When dark despair comes over can I not
Flow down into the sea & slumber in oblivion.

Plate 47: ll. 12-23
William Blake

Scholars Brian Wilke and Mary Lynn Johnson note in Blake's Four Zoas: The Design of a Dream, that this passage ought to sit with the great laments of Western literature. Like Hamlet or Byron's character Manfred, the character here (Tharmas, representative of Instinct, the Bodily Senses, or perhaps Creative Power, as in sex or carpentry) longs for a joy now faded. This passage is a cry of despair, one of loneliness and the continual, cyclic shattering of oneself. "Tharmas simply wants to lose consciousness," the scholars write, but cannot. What is Blake saying here? How does this literature embody a universal cry? It calls to mind ideas of life within death, and the role of suffering therein. When is it better to let a piece of oneself die, and when is it seemingly impossible to encourage that along? But better to read it and perhaps taste the cry all humans share here than to let me unpack or "analyze" it to the best of my abiity.

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