William Blake – The Little Black Boy

AG: Does anyone know (William) Blake’s “Little Black Boy”? – with a funny similar, similar little metaphor in that. Anybody here know that?  Does everybody here know “Little Black Boy”? Anyone not? Who knows it..?
Student: I don’t know it.
AG: ……or know of  it, know of it.
Student: I heard it was sung.

AG: Yeah, maybe I’ll sing that..while we’re at it, at that  – not that it’s that relevant but the tune is (also important)….Just for a similarity of theme I’ll get right to that song

Student: Page five-hundred-and-forty-seven.

AG: What.. is it in here? – “Black Boy”?.. “The Little Black Boy”? –  page five-forty-seven…..

I once sung this at a Martin Luther King memorial and everybody got mad. In front of Ralph Ellison and LeRoi Jones [sic] and Ted Joans. They really got.. (It) pissed everybody off.
Why don’t I just do it – five-forty-seven?
No, actually, I didn’t realize it. I thought it was a big metaphysical shot about..  I don’t know,  the homosexuals or something…

[At approximately twenty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in AG sings William Blake’s “Little Black Boy”,  with harmonium accompaniment  – “My mother bore me in the southern wild..”]

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O, my soul is white!
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissèd me,
And, pointing to the East, began to say:

Look at the rising sun: there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives His heat away,
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Are but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish; we shall hear His voice,
Saying, “Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.”‘

Thus did my mother say, and kissèd me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father’s knee;
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.

Student: Did they consider hear a kind of oreo crack in that opening verse or something?

AG: Well, you know.. No, it was, the “I am black, but O, my soul is white” was suddenly seen as a racist remark by the black people. It was considered the soul should be better being white rather than  black (which, actually, it probably was, somewhat, not entirely, but it was (hardly a line to shock) because, he was.. in his time, Blake was, like, an Anti-Slavery prophet, and one of the people who got in danger fighting the establishment on slavery, and wrote prophetic books (The Visions of the Daughters of Albion), the book The Visions of the Daughters of Albion is about the enslavement of women and blacks, the slave-trade and the enslavement of women in his name, taking off from the ideas of early feminists, Mary Wollstonecraft.
But anyway, getting back to Campion

[Audio for the above may be heard  here, beginning at approximately twenty-six-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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