'The Human Abstract' by William Blake
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Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be.
If all were as happy as we;
And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.
He sits down with holy fears.
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.
Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Caterpillar and Fly
Feed on the Mystery.
And it bears the fruit of Deceit.
Ruddy and sweet to eat:
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.
The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Human Abstract by William Blake
Oh, how I love the works of William Blake! The depth of his poetry, the vivid images, and the way he brings to life abstract concepts in a manner that is accessible to everyone. In this particular piece, The Human Abstract, Blake takes on the concept of the human psyche and delves deep into the nature of human vice and virtue.
The poem starts with a description of a tree that is stripped of its branches, leaves, and bark. This bare tree is then used as a metaphor for the human mind. Blake says that this tree/mind produces both good and evil fruit. The poem then goes on to describe two forces that govern this mind: Reason and Emotion. The speaker argues that both of these forces are ultimately destructive in nature as they lead to the suppression of the divine within human beings.
Blake's use of the tree metaphor is particularly powerful. Trees are often used in literature to symbolize growth, strength, and stability. However, in this case, the tree is stripped of its leaves and branches, leaving it barren and vulnerable. This is a perfect representation of the human mind, which can be stripped of all that is good and noble through the influence of Reason and Emotion.
The two forces of Reason and Emotion are presented as opposites. Reason is seen as cold and calculating, while Emotion is seen as passionate and irrational. In the poem, Reason is associated with the abstract concept of Law, while Emotion is associated with the concept of Lust. This dichotomy of Reason and Emotion is something that is still relevant today. We often struggle to balance these two forces within ourselves, and this can lead to inner conflict and turmoil.
Blake's use of the terms Law and Lust is interesting because it brings to mind the idea of morality. Law is often seen as a force for good, while Lust is seen as a sin. However, Blake challenges this notion by suggesting that both Law and Lust are ultimately destructive. Law strips us of our freedom and individuality, while Lust blinds us to reason and leads us down a path of self-destruction.
The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful. Blake suggests that the only way to overcome the destructive forces of Reason and Emotion is through the cultivation of the divine within us. He argues that this divine force is the only thing that can truly bring balance and harmony to our minds. The speaker uses the metaphor of a garden to describe this process of cultivation. It is through the conscious tending of this garden that we can overcome the destructive forces of Reason and Emotion and find inner peace.
One of the most striking things about The Human Abstract is the way that Blake subverts traditional ideas of morality. He challenges the notion that Law is always good and Lust is always bad. This is something that was very radical for Blake's time, and it is still relevant today. Blake's message is that we need to look beyond our traditional notions of good and evil and strive for a higher understanding of the world.
Another interesting aspect of the poem is the use of the tree metaphor. Trees are often seen as symbols of growth and strength, but Blake flips this idea on its head by using the tree as a metaphor for the human mind. The barren tree represents the mind that has been stripped of all that is good and noble. This is a powerful image that underscores the destructive forces of Reason and Emotion.
The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful. Blake suggests that the only way to overcome the destructive forces of Reason and Emotion is through the cultivation of the divine within us. This idea of the divine within is something that is prevalent in Blake's other works as well. The cultivation of the divine within is a common theme in many spiritual traditions, and Blake's message is one that is still relevant today.
In conclusion, The Human Abstract is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that challenges traditional ideas of morality. Blake's use of the tree metaphor and the dichotomy of Reason and Emotion are particularly powerful. The message of the poem is one that is still relevant today. We need to look beyond our traditional notions of good and evil and strive for a higher understanding of the world. We need to cultivate the divine within us in order to overcome the destructive forces of Reason and Emotion. Blake's poetry is timeless, and his messages are ones that we can all learn from.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The Human Abstract: A Poem of Contradictions and Paradoxes
William Blake, the renowned English poet, painter, and printmaker, is known for his visionary and mystical works that challenge conventional wisdom and religious dogma. One of his most enigmatic and thought-provoking poems is The Human Abstract, a short but dense piece that explores the nature of human virtues and vices, and their relationship to social and political structures.
At first glance, The Human Abstract seems to be a simple allegory that contrasts two abstract concepts: Mercy and Pity. The poem begins with a rhetorical question that sets the tone for the rest of the piece:
"Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor: And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we."
This opening stanza suggests that Mercy and Pity are not innate qualities of human nature, but rather social constructs that depend on the existence of inequality and suffering. In other words, if everyone were equally happy and prosperous, there would be no need for either Mercy or Pity. This paradoxical idea challenges the conventional view of these virtues as universal and absolute, and implies that they are contingent on the social and economic context in which they arise.
The second stanza of the poem further develops this theme by introducing two more abstract concepts: "Tyger" and "Lamb". These two animals represent opposing forces in human nature: the fierce and aggressive instincts of the "Tyger" and the gentle and innocent nature of the "Lamb". The poem suggests that these two forces are not only complementary but also interdependent, and that they both contribute to the complexity and richness of human experience:
"He who made the Lamb made thee, Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
This stanza raises several questions about the nature of creation and the relationship between the Creator and the created. It implies that the same divine force that created the innocent and vulnerable "Lamb" also created the powerful and dangerous "Tyger", and that both are equally valid expressions of the divine will. This idea challenges the traditional dichotomy between good and evil, and suggests that there is a deeper unity and harmony in the universe that transcends human moral categories.
The third and final stanza of the poem brings these various themes together in a powerful and provocative conclusion:
"When the stars threw down their spears And watered heaven with their tears: Did he who made the Lamb make thee? Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"
This stanza suggests that the ultimate source of human virtues and vices is not human nature or social structures, but rather the divine will that governs the universe. It implies that the same force that created the stars and the heavens also created the "Lamb" and the "Tyger", and that all these entities are part of a larger cosmic drama that transcends human understanding. This idea challenges the anthropocentric view of the world and suggests that human beings are not the center of the universe, but rather a small and insignificant part of a larger whole.
Overall, The Human Abstract is a poem of contradictions and paradoxes that challenges conventional wisdom and invites the reader to question their assumptions about human nature, morality, and the divine. It suggests that human virtues and vices are not absolute and universal, but rather contingent on the social and economic context in which they arise. It also suggests that the traditional dichotomy between good and evil is too simplistic and that there is a deeper unity and harmony in the universe that transcends human moral categories. Finally, it suggests that human beings are not the center of the universe, but rather a small and insignificant part of a larger cosmic drama that is beyond our comprehension.
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