William Blake 1979 Naropa Lectures continue – 2

Allen’s March 1979 Naropa class on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience continues from here

AG: The Pretty Rose Tree” is next, for singing –  We were singing along in the house.  We might as well do that.

I was interpreting “A flower was offerd to me/Such a flower as May/never bore.”  So that’s the month of May, so that means what kind of flower would that be?  A flower never grown on earth.  A flower that wasn’t born in springtime.  A flower that went beyond the vegetable universe, so a flower of attachment or a flower of contemplation or a flower of meditation or a flower of benevolent, indifferent attentiveness; an etherial flower. There is also an interpretation of that as the rose tree, his earthy marriage to Catherine Blake, (or the rose tree as cunt, or the rose tree as meat-marriage).  So it’s, in a sense, opposition of etherial spiritual to mortal grasping.

“A flower was offerd to me/ Such a flower as May never bore./But I said I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree,/And I passed the sweet flower o’er/ Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree/To tend her by day and by night./But my Rose turnd away with jealousy:/And her thorns were my only delight/ And her thorns were my only delight.”

[Allen repeats the poem]

That’s interesting that the rose turns away with jealousy. Either Blake had apparently had some tiny little affair, which Catherine Blake got mad at, but on another level, subjectively, I’ve been interpreting this recently as getting involved in the rose tree of worldly activity, from Naropa on, to getting gold medals on, to investigating the CIA, to making love with students, and that tends to pass the sweet flower of meditative practice “o’er”.  In other words, the flower of meditative practice or egolessness is offered, in a sense.  “Such a flower as May never bore.”  But I said, “No, I’m very busy here, I’ve got my career,” so “I passed the sweet flower o’er”.  However, the actual rose tree of earthly abundance and activity and delight finally begins to get nasty and show its thorns and jealousy of the etherial, non-attached activity, rises.  And so there’s a constant conflict that, if you stay with the rose of the world, the rose tree of worldliness, anxiety rises, Vajra hells appear in every direction as the egoless, non-attached mind is closed off.  Anyway, that’s how I’ve been seeing it in actual direct, painful practice lately.  So it makes some sense that way, if you were to contrast contemplation and activity.   In Christian terms, contemplation versus activity.  “Such a flower as May never bore.”

Andrew Marvell in his garden poem, “The Garden“, has a similar image:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,/ Withdraws into its happiness;/ The mind, that ocean where each kind/ Doth straight its own resemblance find;/Meanwhile creates, transcending these,/Far other worlds and other seas,/Annihilating all that’s made/ To a green thought in a green shade.

“Such a flower as May never bore,” – “annihilating all that’s made/ To a green thought in a green shade.”

So I would interpret the sunflower then too as maybe, in a sense, the “flower such as May never bore”, an unattainable flower, perhaps, or a flower beyond life.  Some flower of eternity or a flower of eternal life, or a flower of non-attached life, or the flower toward which all men travel brokenly – death itself.  Or death of mind, or death of self.  Death of self.  So those are linked, maybe, in sequence –  the “flower such as May never bore” (and) “the sunflower”.

“Ah….”   Which is appropriate here, contemplating that open egoless clime; the sweet golden clime of total space where the traveller’s journey is done.  The traditional mantra around here for that is “Ah”.

“Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,/Who countest the steps of the Sun:/Seeking after that sweet golden clime/Where the travellers journey is done./ Where the Youth pined away with desire,/And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:/ Arise from their graves and aspire,/Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.”

[Allen repeats this poem]

“The modest rose” (and) “The Lilly”” in this (are similar). We have the same symbolism if you have the “The modest Rose” who “puts forth a thorn:/The humble Sheep, a threatning horn.” – Humility.  The humble sheep puts forth a subconscious threatening horn, so to speak, or has its own thorn.  Humility has its own weapon – aggression.

“While the Lilly white..” (another “flower such as May never bore”, or lily of some kind of purity, I guess). “While the Lilly white..” – (non-attachment, I guess?) -“While the Lilly white, shall in Love delight,/Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.”

It would be interesting to check out the “Lilly” here to see if there are any special (meanings).  Like in the poem(s) of the myrtle tree, the myrtle is generally symbolic of marriage. Anybody got any ideas?  Dan? (sic)
Student :  The flowers of Venus.
AG:  Pardon me?
Student:  The flower of Venus.
AG:  Well, virginity, really.
He (Foster Damon) says here, “Lilly is the flower of innocence.  As the humble Lilly of the Valley,” symbolizing  Thels virginity, “the food of the Lamb.”  In “The Lilly”, however,” –  oh, well..  Here –  Damon’s interpretation for this particular use of the lilly in The Songs of Experience – “”The Lilly represents the freedom of pure love, and is contrasted with the ‘modest’ (originally ‘lustful’) Rose with its thorn.”  – That interesting.  So his first version of this poem he had the lustful Rose.  The lustful Rose puts forth a thorn.

to be continued

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