A prophetic/poetic book by William Blake.

1

PLATE 1
The daughters of Mne Seraphim led round their sunny flocks,
All but the youngest. She in paleness sought the secret air,
To fade away like morning beauty from her mortal day.
Down by the river of Adona her soft voice is heard,
And thus her gentle lamentation falls like morning dew:

`O life of this our spring! why fades the lotus of the water?
Why fade these children of the spring, born but to smile & fall?
Ah! Thel is like a wat'ry bow, and like a parting cloud,
Like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water,
Like dreams of infants, like a smile upon an infant's face,
Like the dove's voice, like transient day, like music in the air.
Ah! gentle may I lay me down and gentle rest my head,
And gentle sleep the sleep of death, and gentle hear the voice
Of him that walketh in the garden in the evening time.'

The Lilly of the Valley, breathing in the humble grass,
Answer'd the lovely maid, and said: `I am a wat'ry weed,
And I am very small, and love to dwell in lowly vales;
So weak the gilded butterfly scarce perches on my head;
Yet I am visited from heaven, and he that smiles on all
Walks in the valley, and each morn over me spreads his hand,
Saying: "Rejoice, thou humble grass, thou new-born lilly flower,
Thou gentle maid of silent valleys and of modest brooks;
For thou shalt be clothed in light, and fed with morning manna,
Till summer's heat melts thee beside the fountains and the springs
To flourish in eternal vales." Then why should Thel complain?

PLATE 2
Why should the mistress of the vales of Har utter a sigh?'
She ceas'd & smil'd in tears, then sat down in her silver shrine.

Thel answer'd: `O thou little virgin of the peaceful valley,
Giving to those that cannot crave, the voiceless, the o'erfired;
Thy breath doth nourish the innocent lamb, he smells thy milky garments,
He crops thy flowers while thou sittest smiling in his face,
Wiping his mild and meekin mouth from all contagious taints.
Thy wine doth purify the golden honey; thy perfume,
Which thou dost scatter on every little blade of grass that springs,
Revives the milked cow, & tames the fire-breathing steed.
But Thel is like a faint cloud kindled at the rising sun:
I vanish from my pearly throne, and who shall find my place?'

`Queen of the vales,' the Lilly answer'd, `ask the tender cloud,
And it shall tell thee why it glitters in the morning sky,
And why it scatters its bright beauty thro' the humid air.
Descend, O little cloud, & hover before the eyes of Thel.'

The Cloud descended, and the Lilly bow'd her modest head,
And went to mind her numerous charge among the verdant grass.

2

PLATE 3
`O little Cloud,' the virgin said, `I charge thee tell to me
Why thou complainest not when in one hour thou fade away;
Then we shall seek thee, but not find. Ah! Thel is like to thee:
I pass away; yet I complain, and no one hears my voice.'

The Cloud then shew'd his golden head, & his bright form emerg'd,
Hovering and glittering on the air before the face of Thel:

`O virgin, know'st thou not? Our steeds drink of the golden springs
Where Luvah doth renew his horses. Look'st thou on my youth,
And fearest thou, because I vanish and am seen no more,
Nothing remains? O maid I tell thee, when I pass away
It is tenfold life, to love, to peace, and raptures holy.
Unseen descending, weigh my light wings upon balmy flowers,
And court the fair eyed dew to take me to her shining tent.
The weeping virgin trembling kneels before the risen sun,
Till we arise link'd in a golden band and never part,
But walk united, bearing food to all our tender flowers.'

`Dost thou, O little Cloud? I fear that I am not like thee;
For I walk thro' the vales of Har, and smell the sweetest flowers,
But I feed not the little flowers. I hear the warbling birds,
But I feed not the warbling birds; they fly and seek their food.
But Thel delights in these no more, because I fade away;
And all shall say, "Without a use this shining woman liv'd,
Or did she only live to be at death the food of worms?"'

The Cloud reclin'd upon his airy throne and answer'd thus:

`Then if thou art the food of worms, O virgin of the skies,
How great thy use, how great thy blessing! Every thing that lives
Lives not alone, nor for itself. Fear not, and I will call
The weak worm from its lowly bed, and thou shalt hear its voice.
Come forth, worm of the silent valley, to thy pensive queen.'

The helpless worm arose, and sat upon the Lilly's leaf,
And the bright Cloud sail'd on, to find his partner in the vale.

3

PLATE 4
Then Thel astonish'd view'd the Worm upon its dewy bed:
`Art thou a Worm? image of weakness, art thou but a Worm?
I see thee like an infant wrapped in the Lilly's leaf.
Ah, weep not, little voice, thou canst not speak, but thou canst weep.
Is this a Worm? I see thee lay helpless & naked, weeping,
And none to answer, none to cherish thee with mother's smiles.'

The Clod of Clay heard the Worm's voice, & rais'd her pitying head;
She bow'd over the weeping infant, and her life exhal'd
In milky fondness; then on Thel she fix'd her humble eyes.

`O beauty of the vales of Har, we live not for ourselves.
Thou seest me the meanest thing, and so I am indeed;
My bosom of itself is cold, and of itself is dark,

PLATE 5
But he that loves the lowly pours his oil upon my head,
And kisses me, and binds his nuptial bands around my breast,
And says: "Thou mother of my children, I have loved thee,
And I have given thee a crown that none can take away."
But how is this, sweet maid, I know not, and I cannot know;
I ponder, and I cannot ponder; yet I live and love.'

The daughter of beauty wip'd her pitying tears with her white veil,
And said: `Alas! I knew not this, and therefore did I weep.
That God would love a Worm I knew, and punish the evil foot
That wilful bruis'd its helpless form; but that he cherish'd it
With milk and oil I never knew, and therefore did I weep;
And I complain'd in the mild air, because I fade away,
And lay me down in thy cold bed, and leave my shining lot.'

`Queen of the vales,' the matron Clay answer'd, `I heard thy sighs,
And all thy moans flew o'er my roof, but I have call'd them down.
Wilt thou, O Queen, enter my house? 'Tis given thee to enter
And to return; fear nothing; enter with thy virgin feet.'

4

PLATE 6
The eternal gates' terrific porter lifted the northern bar.
Thel enter'd in & saw the secrets of the land unknown.
She saw the couches of the dead, & where the fibrous roots
Of every heart on earth infixes deep its restless twists:
A land of sorrows & of tears where never smile was seen.

She wander'd in the land of clouds thro' valleys dark, list'ning
Dolours and lamentations; waiting oft beside a dewy grave
She stood in silence, list'ning to the voices of the ground,
Till to her own grave plot she came, & there she sat down,
And heard this voice of sorrow breathed from the hollow pit:

`Why cannot the Ear be closed to its own destruction?
Or the glist'ning Eye to the poison of a smile?
Why are Eyelids stor'd with arrows ready drawn,
Where a thousand fighting men in ambush lie?
Or an Eye of gifts & graces, show'ring fruits & coined gold?
Why a Tongue impress'd with honey from every wind?
Why an Ear a whirlpool fierce to draw creations in?
Why a Nostril wide inhaling terror, trembling & affright?
Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy?
Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire?'

The Virgin started from her seat, & with a shriek
Fled back unhinder'd till she came into the vales of Har.

Thel's Motto

Does the Eagle know what is in the pit,
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod,
Or Love in a golden bowl?

This is a great poem, easily one of my favorite of Blake's works. I was cleaning up my computer and found an old paper on this, so in the spirit of node your homework, here goes.


William Blake, born November 28, 1757 was the first of the great Romantic writers. Although Blake saw himself as a great prophet, he was widely unknown and unpublished throughout his life. Today, Blake is considered to be one of the greatest and most prophetic authors of his time. The majority of his work dealt with the concept of duality in life and nature. He believed that in order to truly experience anything, you must also experience its opposite. The best known duality was presented in The Songs of Innocence and The Songs of Experience, two complimentary works dealing with the differences between the innocence of a child and the experience of an adult. This theme is also presented in one of Blake’s earlier works, The Book of Thel.

The Book of Thel, written in 1789, begins with Thel’s Motto, a 4-line introduction to the themes presented in the play.

Does the Eagle know what is in the pit,
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod,
Or Love in a golden bowl?
As with many of Blake’s other works, animals are used to symbolize contradictions in life. The eagle is a wise, soaring bird. It has excellent eyesight, and has seen far more of the world than the lowly mole. Yet perhaps it is the mole, nearly blind and confined to live in the pit, that has experienced more of it. Is it the eagle, with its knowledge gained from seeing into the pit, or the mole, with its knowledge gained through experience, that truly knows the pit? Next he asks if wisdom can be put in a silver rod, or love in a golden bowl. Wisdom is usually thought to be gained through experience, while love is an innocent joy. Blake asks if these should be put into a bowl, or a rod, both physical, earthly objects. Should love and wisdom be trapped by the physical, or left alone to experience on a different level?

As the poem begins, the reader is immediately introduced to the picture of innocence. Thel is pictured as a young and pale, wandering away from her “flock.” The use of the word flock is of particular interest. In many of his other works, Blake uses the lamb as a symbol of innocence and gentleness. This further emphasizes that Thel is a symbol of innocence. However, Blake quickly introduces the struggle of maintaining innocence for young Thel. Thel is seeking the secret air, “To fade away like morning beauty from her mortal day.” Here the morning beauty symbolizes the simplicity of youth, and Thel is seeking to pass by the morning of her day, into adulthood and experience.

On her journey, Thel first encounters a water lily. She asks, “Why fade these children of the spring, born but to smile & fall?” Why, Thel asks, must she grow older and die? She seems to be dissatisfied with her youthful innocence, seeking to gain the experience of adulthood. At this point, Blake has painted an image of Thel in a beautiful place, with flowing rivers and sunshine, where she hears the gentle voice of him that walks through the garden. Although he makes no direct reference, perhaps Blake is making a religious reference to Eve in the Garden of Eden eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge. The lily answers Thel, saying that even it, a lowly weed full of worldly experience, is still visited and protected by the same God that watches over Thel. But Thel is not satisfied. The lily feeds the milking cow, and tames the fire-breathing steed, but Thel is “like a faint cloud kindled at the rising sun.” Thel is seeking to know the world as the lily does, not sheltered by the cloud as she is now.

Still seeking answers to her questions, Thel next talks to the cloud, asking it why it does not fear fading away at night. Here it is interesting to note Blake’s choice of characters. A cloud can be many things, a soft friendly image in the sky, or a dark and ominous destructive force of nature. It has seen experience much more than Thel. Here again, Thel is seeking comfort against the fear of mortal life. She is worried of fading like the cloud, in other words, of death. Once again Thel is reassured. The cloud speaks of how after it fades, it lives on in eternal bliss. But Thel is worried that she does not share the same fate as the cloud. Unlike it, she has not experienced the world. She is afraid that when she dies, she will be left to feed the worms.

Still seeking comfort, Thel next questions the worm about the meaning of her existence. As she talks to the worm, the clod of clay hears the worm’s voice, and comes over to care for it. The worm is portrayed as a helpless creature, dependent on the care of another. The clod as portrayed as a mother figure to the worm. Again, this is an interesting choice of characters since the earth, of which the clod is composed of, is often depicted as a mother to all life. Thel sees this, and realizes that God to loves the lowly creatures of the earth, and that He must love her as well. The clod (mother earth) invites Thel to enter its house, to experience without fear.

Thel accepts, and suddenly the tone of the poem changes. Until now, the poem was full of wonder, curiosity, and the inquisitiveness of a child. But suddenly Thel has crossed the threshold into the world of experience, and she is terrified. She sees the horror of death, depravity, and the terrible things that happen to man. She comes upon her own grave, full of sorrow and despair. She asks:

Why cannot the Ear be closed to its own destruction?
Or the glist’ning Eye to the poison of a smile?
Why are Eyelids stor’d with arrows ready drawn,
Where a thousand fighting men in ambush lie?
Or an Eye of gifts & graces sho’ring fruits & coined gold?
Why a Tongue impress’d with honey from every wind?
Why an Ear, a whirlpool fierce to draw creations in?
Why a Nostril wide inhaling terror, trembling, & affright?
Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy?
Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire?
Suddenly Thel is overwhelmed by the sensations of experience. She asks question, wondering why it has to be. She is truly afraid for the first time in her life. She asks questions, but no one is there to answer. This is another interesting difference Blake points out between innocence and experience. Just like in The Lamb from Songs of Innocence, the innocent child has many questions, and someone is always there to answer them. Just like a child, who has many questions, and always expects an answer. However, once the child has matured into adulthood, suddenly there are no answers to the questions. Thel, finding no answers to her questions, flees back to the comfortable existence she has known so far.

The Book of Thel is consistent with Blake’s other early works. He presents the simple and innocent life of a child. However, most of Blake’s early works, such as The Songs of Innocence portrayed innocence as a suitable existence. Here, however, he seems to be saying that Thel is weak, and should have chosen to continue into experience. This is more consistent with his later works, hinting at the idea that contraries lead to true knowledge. Possibly the ending could have been added later in his career, when he himself had gained more experience.

Regardless, Blake has presented a brilliant look at the roles of innocence and experience in life. Through imagery and symbolism, he has expressed concepts that that are of timeless value to everyone. Innocence, while simple and safe, can leave you wondering and lonely, just like Thel. Experience, while frightening and mortal, is an essential part of accepting our roles in life. Together, innocence and experience comprise our existence, the reality that we all must face in life.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.