Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Garden of Love by William Blake

My favourite poem and a work of effortless-seeming genius:

I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dankblake
Weeping, weeping.

Then I went to the heath and the wild,
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And "Thou shalt not," writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

The poem lends itself to over-analysis, perhaps because it is so well crafted. I don’t think there’s much meaning to look for other than what is baldly and simply stated right there in the text, which is one of the reasons I like it so much.

There are two things that make this poem great.

First, it’s a triumph of showing instead of telling.  The overwhelming tone is one of sadness and long, slow-burning frustration, but the only complaint comes from the thistles and thorns.  Blake is merely observing things as they are without comment and yet sadness weeps from every line.

Second, those last two lines. I don’t think I’ve seen anything more powerful. They could stand as a poem by themselves.  They seem to amplify the sadness with a rising fury.

I wish I could use language and craft words that way.  And I wish I could read the damn thing without crying.

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