Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Poem of the Week 4/24/2012: London


I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

William Blake 1790

Not sure why I've been enjoying these political poems so much; "London" is an early sister-poem to Shelley's "England in 1819." Though nearly thirty years apart, both describe in prophetic voice (thanks Mr. Lehmann-Haupt for that one) the state of the political climate and the personal climate. It is as if the voice, in booming about the state of things as it is, begins to weave together the micro and macro cosms at play. In London, especially, Blake reveals that the slavery people experience is, indeed, internal rather than merely external. External forms, instead, result from the internal.

Indeed, Blake is the master of writing how internal processes like repression swing back out into our social forms and institutions. For example, marriage as the slavery of love results in the curse of the harlot in the final stanza. If humans were more free with their loving, their laws, and their possessions of one another, of thoughts, of their susceptibility to laws and law-making, command and control forms of power, or perhaps even more intelligent with these laws, internally, then perhaps we would create a more free world.

I have a LOT more ranty thoughts here about the nature of change, but I do want to note quickly how the cycle of Romantic poetry may register a past inability to change in historical consciousness, and link the French Revolution to that in Tahrir as well. With the French Revolution, for example, the country went from an idealistic, screaming freedom to the sudden blood-drenched Terror to Napoleon's reign. Rebecca Comay reads Hegel as interpreting France's revolution as failing as such because it never went through a spiritual revolution; the political and social forms changed, but the internal forms did not. What will happen with Tahrir Square? Will we have a similar problem of a revolution without a heart, or a heart without a revolution?

Indeed, I think of the first stanza as I walk through Harvard Square sometimes, perhaps because it looks something like London, and perhaps because that particular square, out of many in the city, brings together the most powerful and the most bereft. It punctures the divisions established around each and instead reveals the mind-forged manacles at play in each. The ennui and pain of the bourgeoisie, the hunger and addiction of the homeless... And in this strange time warp, still nothing changes in the world. Nothing, nothing changes in all the world...


counterfeiter said...

The first stanza reminds me of T.S. Eliot's Waste Land -
'A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.'

J. C. Phalene said...

Hello Sara, I read this with interest as I recently posted a poem by William Blake on my site. I particularly liked your paragraph: ‘Indeed, Blake is…’
My favourite line of his is, ‘For the eye altering, alters all’.

If you'd like you can view my post here: http://writenowhow.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/auguries-of-innocence.html

Thanks for sharing. J.C.

Andy said...

Thank you for sharing some of your experience and wisdom.
i like nice post

Andy said...

Thank you for sharing some of your experience and wisdom.
i like nice post