Three Short Poems by William Blake
And three short responses by Melody
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged thing destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
I have been crushed with sadness at the fleeting nature of beautiful things; they all pass. The sky amazes me, but it is soon covered in darkness as the sun sets; an evening full of sweetness ends, and I part with my loved ones; I say goodbye to people and places and things I would like to grip tightly to me forever.
The wisdom of Blake is to hold these precious things tenderly, as if they were butterflies, adoring them as they sit in your hands, and then accepting their flight away. The transience of our ‘joys’ adds to their beauty. And we must have faith, that even though these ‘joys’ fly from our hands, there will yet be others that alight there in time.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
It was lovely to read Blake’s “World in a Grain of Sand”, which is not unlike an idea I convey in my poem Textures. It encourages me not to despise the small-scale, despite our culture’s taste for the mega, the colossal, the enormous and the up-size. Blake seems to say that there is so much minute-beauty, which inspires me to be more present as I live, and to see complexity in the ordinary around me. I am thinking not merely of my environment, but also of the people I encounter – Blake encourages me to marvel at their beauty too.
There is something haunting about the last two lines…. as if we could do something so impossible. In a sense, I feel empowered. The hours that make up my life are part of the whole song of the universe. We can dignify our days and our Small Things by recognising them as part of Infinity. And we can be content with and fulfilled by them, as if we really had all of time in our grasp. We can see them as complex and beautiful and significant, despite their small-scale.
Great things are done when men and mountains meet;
This is not done by jostling in the street.
In only a rhymed couplet, Blake manages to express my sentiments about city life and immersion in the natural landscape. What are the “great things” done when we are in nature?
Far from being great in size or renown or prestige, I think these “great things” are the authentic things one does; things done with great love, great compassion, great openness, great honesty, and great integrity.
And why does separating ourselves from the “jostling” of city-life allow these “great things” to be achieved? I think the reasons for this are manifold, but here are a few:
a. nature offers solitude. There you find a place to converse with yourself, separated from the current of culture.
b. nature offers silence; so you can hear yourself, hear truth, hear the ‘still, small voice’ which is otherwise covered over by busy noises.
c. nature offers stillness; so you can rest, and from the place of rest, you can see more clearly.
d. nature offers simplicity; so the complexities which clutter your life can be washed away and leave the smooth, white core of things.
I do not think Blake’s “mountains” need to be literal. Instead, I think they are those places or circumstances, or experiences, or things which lead us to solitude, silence, stillness and simplicity; and thus to “great things”.
Let us find our “mountains”, meet them, and see “great things” done within ourselves.