William Blake (The Sick Rose – 2) 

 Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” continues from here, Allen quoting from The Illuminated Blake by David V Erdman)

(Erdman):  The “living color of the full blossom and her human form with arms flung free have a message of life.”  A “worm hidden in secret may be reborn as a boy or girl found.  Rose is another lost girl, in a clime where sweet love is thought a crime, but her winging arms indicate her potential as ‘a newly hatched butterfly rising on its first flight’.”

Well, there’s a border of vines that’s really spiky.  There are seventeen or twenty copies of Songs of Innocence and Experience, and if you look at a number of them, Blake’s illustration for each one is slightly different, or the expression on the girl’s face coming out of the rose, or the expression of the worm – sometimes it’s a funny, cute worm, and sometimes it’s a real horrific worm, and sometimes it’s a doll-like little girl, and sometimes it’s a creature coming out in desperation.

William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” from the copy of “Songs of Innocence and Experience” in The Huntington Library

William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” from the copy of “Songs of Innocence and Experience” in The British Museum

William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” from the copy of “Songs of Innocence and Experience” in The Yale Center For British Art

In this case, it looks like the creature at the end of Kafka’s Trial  the lady that leans out of the window.  Do you know (that image)?  Has anybody read The Trial  by (Franz) Kafka?

Student:  Um-hmm.

AG:  She leans out of the window just as this guy’s getting executed and his last vision is some woman leaning out of the window with her arms out, calling for someone.

Anyway, I had a visionary experience with this poem, but the impression it left on me I can’t explain, and I don’t remember what it meant anymore.  But it seemed to me that the universe was being eaten up by its own needs, or something.  I guess almost (that) life means death, that birth leads to death.  So the dark secret love is (that) in order to have birth you would have to have death.  Or death couldn’t exist without birth, but birth is dependent on later dying.  So the dark secret love is actually the born being’s awareness of the fact that his whole state is dependent, ultimately, on disappearing and dying.  So it’s like a statement that everybody knows that they’re going to die, everybody has that dark secret awareness and understanding, and that understanding is actually ultimate reality and wisdom, so that dark secret love does thy life destroy.  Or maybe that ultimately that wisdom, or that attitude of awareness of death and acceptance, takes over any other thought form and takes over any other idealism or hope of rosy ambition, and that ultimately the fate of the mind is to realize its own death.  Not only realize it but accept it and go to it.  But it’s sort of horrifying to think in advance that “dark secret love does thy life destroy”.  I think I was interpreting it as though when I first heard it as a sort of commanding beckoning hint from death to start preparing, rather than thinking I was going to live forever.  So it seemed like a sort of secret message of death.

Student:  That’s like in (Carlos) Castenada, he has death is always over your left shoulder.

AG:  Um-hmm.

Student:  It’s there because it could step in.

AG:  And here, it gets more and more, bigger and bigger.  His “dark secret love” does “thy life destroy”.  Of course, the work, the rose is really big in this picture, and that rose head is so heavy it’s fallen to the ground where it could be got at by worms.  In other words, the very weight and heaviness of the rose dooms it.  The fatness of the rose, the maturity of it.  It’s reached maturity and it’s already going back to the ground.  And other lives are feeding on it.  So the other lives would be the worms.  So the “dark secret love” would be the hunger of the worm to eat up the pretty rose.  So you could take it on a very literal ecological level.

Student:  It says for “rose” in (the Blake Dictionary) that it’s the lowest and weakest form of animal life.  The worm, rather.

AG:  Um-hmm.  Yeah.  Remember, there is a lot of worm in (the Book of) Thel. The clod and the worm.  It’s interesting (how) this does follow. Remember we had that thing a little while back (where) there was the clod of clay and the pebble of the brook?  The funny worm. See, the worm is the lowest form.

Student:  Its position is west, which is the body.

AG:  Yeah.  Ah.  Okay.

Peter Orlovsky:  What position?  Whose position?

Student:  The position of the worm is west, which is the body.

AG:  Yeah, you could say the rose was consciousness and the worm was the body.  And the body that “flies in the night in the howling storm” has “found out the bed of secret joy” of pure mind consciousness.  And the body’s going to be the undoing of the consciousness that it supports, sort of.

Student:  So that’s the …

AG:  That’s one way.

Student:  … temporal or the, you know, the passing.

to be continued

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