Saturday, April 30, 2016

William Blake

To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.

What can one say about William Blake? That one of the greatest poets in English lived nearly unknown in his own age? True, but ultimately this matters not. That he was a man of contradictions, at once the creator of vast mythological schemes and names that boggle the mind of the common reader, as well as of poems so deceptively simple that they would be at home both in a child's nursery and a scientist's laboratory? It seems impossible to know where to start.

But Songs of Innocence and Experience is as good a place as any, and a perfect primer for Blakean method. Many of the poems (but not all) have their correspondent versions in both, one framed by "innocence" and one by "experience" (see especially The Chimney Sweeper and Nurse's Song). Some poems exist only in one or another, and each collection has its heraldic animal (the Lamb of Innocence and the Tyger of Experience). But whose innocence is this? And is innocence innocent? Blake of course revelled in the notion that the child's eye view disclosed the truths of a corrupted adult world; this was a common Romantic notion and is embodied in Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes," among other works. And yet he knew, all too well, that in the world of early industrial Britain, where many children were born not into "sweet delight" but rather into "endless night," there was little or no time for innocence to take root.

Christianity, too, for Blake had these two aspects. In its righteous indignation, its distrust of authority, and its embrace of the humble and downtrodden, the early essence of Christianity was a fountain from which Blake often and gladly drank. And yet the institutional Christianity of his day repelled him, the one which declared that the suffering of the poor was no problem, since the good among them would have a heavenly reward, the one which offered only a dry husk of restraint and repression, "binding with briars my joys and desires."

So read -- and look! -- at this remarkable book. Far more than Wordsworth and Coleridge's too-self-conscious production of Lyrical Ballads, this marks the dawn of the Romantic age.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Welcome to English 206

Welcome to our course blog for English 206, English Literature from 1800 to the Present, for the Fall 2014 semester. This will be our online home for class discussions, links to readings, viewings, and listenings, an ever-available syllabus, advice on your papers, and many other resources. Every week, I'll be posting a brief account of some issue, theme, or question about that week's readings, and everyone will post their responses here. Be sure to bookmark this page for ready reference! If you have any difficulty with posting, be sure you are logged on using a Google, Yahoo, or other online identity; there is online help available via the Blogger menu at any time. To be on the safe side, I recommend you compose your posts offline and cut and paste them to the blog; that way you can't lose any text. I look forward to lively discussions here on our blog, and hope you will find this site inviting and engaging!