Isaac Watts and William Blake

[Isaac Watts ( 1674-1748)]  

[William Blake ( 1757-18270]

AG: Then, the next thing I wanted to pick up is the relation of…   passing on.. to  Isaac Watts  (or back to Isaac Watts, you realize the last week , we’ve taken a long loop from Isaac Watts and are back to Isaac Watts now – second poem of Isaac Watts (in that anthology) is…. what page is that? ..

Student: Four forty-five

AG: Four forty-nine?

Student:  Five

AG; Okay. Did anybody get to read that “Cradle Hymn“?  – third poem. Who likes to read..?

Student: What page?

AG: Four four five – “A Cradle Hymn by Isaac Watts. Remember we started with him, with his Sapphic “Day of Judgment”, and spent a week and a half on Sapphics and then we’re back to Isaac Watts again and back in the middle of English poetics. So – “Hush My Dear…”  Who wants to read that?  – Okay

Student: “Hush! my dear, lie still and slumber./Holy angels guard thy bed!?Heavenly blessings without number/Gently falling on thy head/ Sleep, my babe; thy food and raiment/House and home, thy friends provide;/All without thy care or payment;/All thy wants are well supplied/  How much better thou’rt attended/Than the Son of God could be/When from heaven He descended/  And became a child like thee!/  Soft and easy is thy cradle/ Coarse and hard thy Saviour lay/ When His birthplace was a stable/And his softest bed was hay/ Blessed babe! what glorious features -/ Spotless fair, divinely bright!/Must he dwell with brutal creatures?/How could angels bear the sight?/ Was there nothing but a manger/Cursed sinners could afford/To receive the heavenly stranger?/ Did they thus affront their Lord?/  Soft, my child; I did not chide thee/Though my song might sound too hard;/ ‘Tis thy mother sits beside thee/And her arms shall be thy guard/  Yet to read the shameful story/How the Jews abused their King/How they served the Lord of Glory/Makes me angry while I sing.”

AG:  (that’s pretty good – makes me angry while I sing” –  that’s a really unique line in that. Go on.. sorry

Student:  “See the kinder shepherds round Him,/Telling wonders from the sky!/Where they sought him, there they found Him/With his Virgin mother by./ See the lovely babe a-dressing;/ Lovely infant, how He smiled!/when He wept, the mother’s blessing/Soothed and hush’d the holy child./ Lo, He slumbers in His manger/Where the horned oxen fed,/ Peace, my darling; here’s no danger,/Here’s no ox anear thy bed./ “Twas to save thee, child, from dying,/Save my dear from burning flame,/Bitter groans and endless crying,/That thy blessed Redeemer came./ May’st thou live to know and fear Him/Trust and love Him all thy days;/Then go dwell for ever near Him,/See his face, and sing His praise!.”

AG;  So, what that was reminding me of, ( looking ahead to something we’ll get onto next term). William Blake took a lot of his forms and some of the phrasings of his Songs of Innocence and Experience from Isaac Watts, and Blake sang his songs, as you know, and he was inspired originally by Isaac Watt’s hymns. Do you know anything about the Watts hymn books or Watts’ hymns in England, how they were used or how they were used at all? you folks?

Student: (Do I know any..?)

AG: Do you know of him at all?….Well, Watts…  Pardon me?

Student:  ( those…in the traditional  English hymn book?)

AG: Yes, with (John) Wesley.yeah and I guess Watts.. Watts was before Blake. Blake picked up from Watts, and even stole from Watts, or adapted Watts,  or was inspired by Watts, or paraphrased Watts, paraphrased Watts’ hymns. And one of the ones that he paraphrased was this particular one, Blake’s “Cradle Song” . This is a “Cradle Hymn”,  Blake has a “Cradle Song”, which has similar… language – “heavenly babe”s  and   “gently falling on my head”  “..sleep…sleep, sleep, my babe” – “Lovely infant, how He smiled!/when He wept, the mother’s blessing/Soothed and hush’d the holy child”  – The cadences are also Blakean (from the “Cradle Song”)  The Blake is…

[At approximately twenty-and-a-half minutes in Allen reads William Blake’s ‘”Cradle Song”]   –  “Sweet dreams, form a shade/O’er my lovely infant’s head/Sweet dreams of pleasant streams/By happy, silent moony beams/. Sweet sleep, with soft down/Weave thy brows an infant crown./Sweet sleep, Angel mild,/Hover o’er my happy child./ Sweet smiles, in the night/ Hover over my delight/Sweet smiles, mother’s smiles/All the lifelong night beguiles/ Sweet moans, dovelike sighs/Chase not slumber from thy eyes/Sweet moans, sweeter smiles/All the dovelike moans beguiles/  Sleep, sleep happy child/All creation slept and smil’d/ Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,/While o’er thee thy mother weep/. Sweet babe, in thy face/ Holy image I can trace/Sweet babe, once like thee/Thy Maker lay and wept for me./ Wept for me, for thee, for all/When He was an infant small/Thou his image ever see/Heavenly face that shines on thee./ Smiles on thee, on me, on all/ Who became an infant small,/ Infant smiles are his own smiles/ Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.”

So the terminology’s the same (as Watts),  real similar meter, real similar phrasing. I had music for that

[At approximately twenty-two minutes in (and concluding at approximately twenty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in), Allen then sings the poem, accompanied by the harmonium].  (“Sweet dreams form a shade,,”…”Heaven and earth to peace beguiles”) ]

So,…so it’s alright music – two chords, mainly, or three -. A-major..A minor , B minor and an A next to the A, and then concluding on a B-major)   Anyway ,there’s that similarity between Watts and Blake which is interesting to note. Blake took the Watts and  really refined it

Student: Is that Watts or Blake?

AG: What I was singing was Blake. The Watts would probably be..three chord, I think (I don’t know what they had in those days). Do you know any of the Watts hymns? Anybody?…. I don’t know whether he had two or three, but it would fit this  [Allen turns to the harmonium again, and reads from Watts] …. “Hush,my…”  –  lets see what it would  be like? – “How much better thou’rt attended/Than the Son of God could be/When from heaven He descended/  And became a child like thee!” – (probably like that, something..)  – “Yet to read the shameful story/How the Jews abused their King/How they served the Lord of Glory/Makes me angry while I sing.” – “Makes me angry while I sing,  Makes me angry while I sing.” – (Well, you could do it. The country ‘n western, actually, comes from these kind of hymns, originally)

Student: Have you ever handled the concertina?

AG: That’s totally different, that’s a regular keyboard.

So then, quitting this…

[Audio for the above can be heard here – beginning at approximately fourteen-and-three-quarters minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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