Spontaneous Poetics – (William Blake and the French Revolution)

William Blake (1757-1827)

AG: We’ll leave (William) Wordsworth for a moment. There was another mind dealing with revolution – (William) Blake, also disillusioned – and there are a couple of brief comments that he made, summaries, of his political changes – that are not too well-known  (The longer, “prophetic books” are difficult to get into, and I haven’t mastered them, so I won’t deal with those, but some brief comments on the French Revolution by Blake. Since we had Wordsworth’s disillusion, this is Blake’s) – A generalization – [Allen recites William Blake’s “The Grey Monk”, in its entirety] – “”I die, I die” the Mother said,/”My children die for lack of bread./What more has the merciless tyrant said?”…”For a tear is an intellectual Thing/And a sigh is the sword of an Angel King/And the bitter groan of the martyr’s woe/Is an arrow from the Almighty’s bow/  “The hand of Vengeance found the bed/To which the purple tyrant fled/The iron hand crushed the tyrant’s head/And became a tyrant in his stead”” –  (Talking, I guess, about the same thing as Wordsworth – about Napoleon having “crushed the tyrant’s head”, or the revolution having “crushed the head of the tyrant”, becoming “a tyrant in his stead”. As I mentioned the other day, Blake, when Napoleon took the crown, jumped up on his tri-corn(er hat).

Student: He’s advising we all become Buddhist monks or something?

(Another) Student:  Or widows?

AG: We are all widows and monks already. (We’re) all “sighing” and “groaning” already. No, first of all, he’s saying it as a definite comment on the French Revolution, (as Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) (now makes a comment on the Cuban Revolution), that the revolutionary has become a tyrant. Or as, say, the CIA makes its comment on the Russian Revolution.. (but you’ve got to remember, all the Capitalist lies about Communism are true, just as all the Communist lies about Capitalism are true – no way around it). So he’s just pointing out that, “the iron hand crushed the Tyrant’s head/And became a Tyrant in his stead”.

As to what to do about it, he thought.. he was an eager beaver also, in the beginning, in a sense of.. he got mad at .. he thought that pity for the King and Queen of France was misplaced, for instance. When Lafayette was a revolutionary but a sensitive, he, apparently, took somewhat the part of the King and Queen of France, and didn’t want to see them executed. The thought that (the) blood-letting was going too far – and there’s a very odd poem about that called “The Brothels of Paris”. So this is an earlier and more pitiless view… [Allen to Student]  I was continuing to answer your question – There’s an earlier, more pitiless view by Blake, blaming Lafayette (for) having a kind of reactionary pity for the King and Queen of France – [Allen reads William Blake’s “..The Brothels of Paris”] – “Let the Brothels of Paris be opened/With many an alluring dance/ To awake the Physicians thro’ the city/Said the beautiful Queen of France.”…”O who would smile on the wintry seas/& pity the stormy roar?/Or who will exchange his new born child/For the dog at the wintry door?” – (So there’s a real put-down of empathy there. That’s much more powerfully revolutionary. But then, an actual event, for Blake as well as Wordsworth, (and), to some extent, with ourselves, (has) foiled our own, maybe ego-centric notions of revolution, political or spiritual).

[Audio for the above may be heard here, starting at approximately two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding approximately ten-and-a-half minutes in]

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