I travell’d thro’ a land of men,
A land of men and women too;
And heard and saw such dreadful things
As cold earth-wanderers never knew.
For there the Babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe;
Just as we reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow.
And if the Babe is born a boy
He’s given to a Woman Old,
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.
She binds iron thorns around his head,
She pierces both his hands and feet,
She cuts his heart out at his side,
To make it feel both cold and heat.
Her fingers number every nerve,
Just as a miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries,
And she grows young as he grows old.
Till he becomes a bleeding Youth,
And she becomes a Virgin bright;
Then he rends up his manacles,
And binds her down for his delight.
He plants himself in all her nerves,
Just as a husbandman his mould;
And she becomes his dwelling-place
And garden fruitful seventyfold.
And agèd Shadow, soon he fades,
Wandering round an earthly cot,
Full fillèd all with gems and gold
Which he by industry had got.
And these 1 are the gems of the human soul,
The rubies and pearls of a love-sick eye,
The countless gold of the aching heart,
The martyr’s groan and the lover’s sigh.
They are his meat, they are his drink;
He feeds the beggar and the poor
And the wayfaring traveller:
For ever open is his door
His grief is their eternal joy;
They make the roofs and walls to ring;
Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring.
And she is all of solid fire
And gems and gold, that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band.
But she comes to the man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor;
They soon drive out the Agèd Host,
A beggar at another’s door.
He wanders weeping far away,
Until some other take him in;
Oft blind and age-bent, sore distrest,
Until he can a Maiden win.
And to allay his freezing age,
The poor man takes her in his arms;
The cottage fades before his sight,
The garden and its lovely charms.
The guests are scatter’d thro’ the land,
For the eye altering alters all;
The senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat earth becomes a ball;
The stars, sun, moon, all shrink away,
A desert vast without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink,
And a dark desert all around.
The honey of her infant lips,
The bread and wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving eye,
Does him to infancy beguile;
For as he eats and drinks he grows
Younger and younger every day;
And on the desert wild they both
Wander in terror and dismay.
Like the wild stag she flees away,
Her fear plants many a thicket wild;
While he pursues her night and day,
By various arts of love beguil’d
By various arts of love and hate,
Till the wide desert planted o’er
With labyrinths of wayward love,
Where roam the lion, wolf, and boar.
Till he becomes a wayward Babe,
And she a weeping Woman Old.
Then many a lover wanders here;
The sun and stars are nearer roll’d;
The trees bring forth sweet ecstasy
To all who in the desert roam;
Till many a city there is built,
And many a pleasant shepherd’s home.
But when they find the Frowning Babe,
Terror strikes thro’ the region wide:
They cry ‘The Babe! the Babe is born!’
And flee away on every side.
For who dare touch the Frowning Form,
His arm is wither’d to its root;
Lions, boars, wolves, all howling flee,
And every tree does shed its fruit.
And none can touch that Frowning Form,
Except it be a Woman Old;
She nails him down upon the rock,
And all is done as I have told.
[AG begins reading the whole poem] – “I travell’d thro’ a land of men/A land of men and women too:/And heard and saw such dreadful things/As cold earth-wanders never knew” (“cold” meaning unvisioned, unvisionary, the “cold clay”) – “I traveled through a land of men..”…”And all is done as I have told” – It’s really mind-blowing!
– Well, nobody could figure that one out, not even W.B.Yeats who edited Blake’s texts, and everything. Later on, S Foster Damon figured out that the burning baby is Orc, the figure of Revolution and the “Frowning woman” here that nails him down on a rock and takes nourishment from the energy of the Revolution is (are) bureaucratic institutional social forms, or you could say, Imagination getting born, liberated, and then suddenly finding its limitations in Nature itself. And so, in Blake’s system, the male is Orc, the male revolutionary is Orc, the figure of Orc, mythological figure in Blake’s system of legend and the Frowning Woman is Vala, (veil, like maya, illusion of Nature). It’s just an interesting image – the Burning Baby. And probably Blake got it from…. If you go back now to The Burning Babe of Robert Southwell..
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately five-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twelve-and-a-quarter minutes in]