What the Reading of Blake’s Poetry Awoke in Me

tyger copy

María Evangelina Vázquez, today’s guest blogger, is amazingly well-suited to the topic of poetry and literature.  Not only did she study journalism, but her experience also includes stints at publishers and at leedor.com, a culture site – Spanish-speaking readers can read her articles here.  I think you’ll enjoy the following post as much as I did!

 

When the stars threw down their spears

And water’d heaven with their tears:

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

-William Blake: “The Tyger”

 

Songs of innocence and of experience, by William Blake was a book that touched me deeply when I discovered it back in high school, when I was sixteen, at the same time I first read the short stories by Cortázar and Borges. My English literature teacher, Janet Lenton, taught me Blake for the first time, and for that, among many other teachings, I will always be thankful. The fact that the book explored the two contrary states of the human soul with such craft and clarity was, to me, hugely captivating. Blake, this visionary and mystical poet, retrieved the strongest universal symbols in his poetry such as “the lamb”, representing innocence or God’s love; and “the tyger”, representing experience or God’s wrath.

Portrait of William Blake

The fascination I felt for the simplicity with which Blake depicted both animals with opposite meaning, but both made by God’s hand impelled me to continue reading his works in the following years. At the same time, the musicality of his poems and the precise composition of his rimes made an impact on me. I further studied this author when I was in my early twenties and I also took a course in romantic poets, his contemporaries; but Blake is the one to whom I always return. I think it’s because, through his work, he taught me  what the power of imagination is really capable of. He was the founder of his own mythology and the universes he created through language and images are still alive. His creations show that all the arts can be found together: literature (the texts he wrote), visual arts (the images he painted and engraved) and music (the rhythm and rime in his poetry).

The idea of the artist as a creator of a parallel world or reality where we can escape from everyday life has been an obsession for me ever since. Reading is the vehicle through which one can enter this world created by a writer or artist. Reading helps us readers become artists, as well, as we follow the path marked by the authors we love or admire.

Prometheus and the Fire

I truly believe in the power of inspiration and I think of Blake as an inspired author. When I think of him I think about the image of Prometheus, stealing fire from the Gods to share it with us humans. Maybe there is a divine flame inhabiting those inspiring poems we read. Some texts are able to enlighten us and some of them aren’t. There is a kind of magic which remains latent in words until we read them. We readers can bring words to life while reading, as if we were casting a spell.

Good books have a soul inside them. These souls are looking for a body to incarnate: a good and sharp reader that knows how to understand and interpret the texts will provide it to them. Texts are like a sleeping beauty waiting to be awoken by a kiss, and this kiss is the act of reading: the reader can be the prince chosen to awake the princess who is asleep in the written word. This is what I imagine that happens when I read Blake and other authors that move me.

Today, Blake’s “The Tyger” and “The Lamb” inhabit my mind; they have the same sounds of a childhood lullaby and I often turn to them when I am in distress. They have a soothing quality. Blake’s works have a strong insight on human nature and on the opposite forces that dwell in us. The power of his words can be compared to the warmth of the maternal presence, a protective being that watches over us and teaches us how to know the world, ourselves and the divine forces at the same time.

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