“On Anothers Sorrow“: Let’s see. I haven’t sung this in a long time. “On Anothers Sorrow”. I like this particular poem a great deal. I like the repeated rhymes. When I was a kid this was one of the rhymes that stuck in my head most of all. One of the rhythmic patterns and rhyme patterns that stuck in my head permanently and influenced my own poetry quite a bit. I did a paraphrase of this kind of rhyme scheme in a long poem called “September on Jessore Road” in 1971, expanding it to include William Carlos Williams‘s realistic detail, and expanding the line to a slightly longer line, but with more or less the same [scheme] — “millions of children in woe, millions of mothers.” That is, “Millions of mothers in woe, millions of children nowhere to go.”
“On Anothers Sorrow” — so the element of compassion that’s discussed and the basic psychology of it:
Can I see anothers woe,/And not be in sorrow too./Can I see anothers grief,/And not seek for kind relief./Can I see a falling tear,/And not feel my sorrows share,/Can a father see his child,/Weep, not be with sorrow fill’d./Can a mother sit and hear,/An infant groan an infant fear – /No no never can it be./Never never can it be./ And can he who smiles on all/Hear the wren with sorrows small,/Hear the small birds grief & care/Hear the woes that infants bear-/And not sit beside the nest/Pouring pity in their breast,/And not sit the cradle near/ Weeping tear on infants tear./ And not sit both night & day,/Wiping all our tears away./O! no never can it be,/Never never can it be./ He doth give his joy to all./He becomes an infant small./He becomes a man of woe/He doth feel the sorrow too./Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,/ And thy maker is not by./Think not, thou canst weep a tear,//And thy maker is not near./O! he gives to us his joy,/ That our grief he may destroy/Till our grief is fled & gone/He doth sit by us and moan./He doth sit by us and moan./He doth sit by us and moan./He doth sit by us and moan./ He doth sit by us and moan.
Well, he “He doth give his joy to all./He becomes an infant small.” I guess the birth of Christ here interpreted as the birth of any man, then. Or coming from non-being into being and being born, with all the frailty and tenderness and fragility and pain, so (the) crucifixion of anybody. So “He becomes an infant small./He becomes a man of woe.” Which actually is all of us, since we become “infants small” and we become man or woman of woe, since we all die. So “He doth feel the sorrow too.” So the Christ here would be the universal human. The human form divine being all of us, having to experience the same sensitivity and pain and vulnerability of the baby.
And so, “Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,/And thy maker is not by,” which would either be your human parents, (or) you could interpret it as a divine God, but it’s actually ourselves making our own children, or our parents making ourselves. So if you sigh, your maker is by, because you are the maker. You are the maker of your children and your parents are the maker of you.
So the maker is here if you weep or if you sigh – “O! he gives to us his joy,/That our grief he may destroy.” Well, that’s kind of funny. (If “he gives us his joy”, meaning he sacrifices his pleasure to our existence, the parent, you could say, sacrifices his pleasure to our existence, the pain of giving birth, the recognition and awareness and acceptability of getting old and bringing up baby, or going through the same cycle of experience, going through it with you, going through it before you. The parent goes through it before you. The parent goes through death – old age, sickness, death – before you do, so “he gives to us his joy,/That our grief he may destroy.” Probably to lead the way, you could interpret it.
Peter Orlovsky: “He doth sit by us and moan”?
AG: “Till our grief is fled & gone.” – He sits by us and moans with us. So that spirit of the parent. This would still require, I guess.. and it’s still a projection of those emotions of sympathy on a deus ex machine , I guess… I was trying to interpret it as a natural machine, or a natural sympathy – a parent and child, or all-of-us-in-the-same-boat, but “Till our grief is fled & gone/He doth sit by us and moan.” Of course, we sit by ourselves and moan so it’s the same – he or we. That’s the end of Songs of Innocence – the promise that he does sit by us and moan.