I was thinking about how much he permeates my consciousness today. The response from Dr. Kleine regarding my hypertext essay included, in part, “If William Blake were alive today, do you think he’d be doing what you’re doing?” I suppose in my imaginary construction of him, I believe he would. This whole space of mine owes a debt to him, the title of this blog, for example, comes from him. I was trying to think what sort of “simple” explanation I might offer, regarding this rather complex man, as to why I think of him as my greatest teacher.
Blake was unashamed. He said what was on his mind, forcefully, and without hesitation even when he was wrong. And he paid the consequences.
I was reading Dispatches by Michael Herr yesterday, and I ran across a slight reference that’s still ringing. It was in the form of an observation about the “spooks” behind the Vietnam War, specifically Robert “Blowtorch” Komer.
If William Blake had “reported” to him that he’d seen angels in the trees, Komer would have tried to talk him out of it. Failing there, he’d have ordered defoliation.
The famous incident related by Blake’s first biographer, Alexander Gilchrist, was this:
On Peckham Rye (by Dulwich Hill) it is, as he will in after years relate, that while quite a child, of eight or ten perhaps, he has his “first vision.” Sauntering along, the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars. Returned home he relates the incident, and only through his mother’s intercession escapes a thrashing from his honest father, for telling a lie.
It isn’t the fact that he saw visions that is the key part here, it is Blake’s insistence on telling everyone about it. He was willing to take the heat. I think he saw scientific rationalization as the agent-orange poised to defoliate the human consciousness; there are mysteries to life, mysteries that can’t be explained away through the three-fold vision of the senses.
That’s where I always reach my impasse. Rhetoric is, by its essential nature, a threefold vision. There’s so much more to say here, and another paper is coming together. I think I’m getting to the core of it, by asking myself what would Blake do?
I don’t want to do what Yeats did. He kept it to himself.
In his Autobiography Yeats constructs an account of hearing spirit voices, much like the story Gilchrist told about Blake. In Yeats’s case, he is afraid to tell people he’s heard them: “I had some wretched days until being alone with one of my aunts I heard a whisper in my ear, ‘What a tease you are!”
Mysteries exist to be told, not to be kept to oneself. That’s what drives me to write I suppose, I listen to those internal voices of thought and spill them out over the side for anyone to hear.
Even if it means that some can’t resist the urge to defoliate my trees.