Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 25.1 (William Blake)

Selected Poetry
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Blake, William
Selected Poetry

If I seemed to be giving short shrift to Blake in the previous entry, I apologize. That particular edition of his poems is the kind of edition that makes people (like me) hate reading poetry. There's so much scholarly interference -- like inserting a note every five lines indicating that in the original there was an illustration [here]. Like we didn't know that. Like your stupid note is going to call to mind the image of Urizen in chains. Fat chance, pedant!


When poetry feels like homework, it is dead. Which is why I love this light little selection of Blake's poetry from Penguin. I bought it for almost nothing at the discount book store in the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall. In addition to selling Library of America hardcovers for nine dollars, they also sell Penguin Classics paperbacks for somewhere between three and seven dollars. I usually leave with a bagful. I can't help myself.

I bought this book a couple of years ago because I love to read and re-read the 'Songs of Innocence and Experience,' but I found that the activity of trying to do so in a three inch thick tome was, to say the least, unfulfilling. I can carry this one around with me and read it in comfort pretty much wherever I like. And I do like.

Around the time I bought this book, I had developed a peculiar, yet pleasurable habit* of coming home on my lunch break to read poems by the romantics. I even started memorizing them. At one point I could recite three or four of Keats Odes, Coleridge's "Kublai Khan," and most of the "Songs of Innocence and Experience." I even memorized all of "Tintern Abbey." Keats and Blake were my favorite to recite. Their rhythms are so complex and unpredictable that it's a thrill to read them every time.

Blake's visionary work is a little above my head, so I can only claim having read the longer poems in school. I suppose I love the Songs of I & E for their compactness, as well as for their ability to create amazingly rich rhythmic structures that accomplish so much in such little space. "The Sick Rose" is one of my all time faves for just this reason.

The Sick Rose

O Rose, thou art sick;
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life de

*Sadly, the invisible worm that flies in the night found out my lunchtime habit, and broke it.


Brian said...

Funny coincidence--I have the same edition and was reading it just a day or two ago. Can't say Blake is a favorite, but there are moments in the longer poems where I sit up and take notice. I definitely agree about the copious notes in some editions.

rdeming said...

That's my favorite Blake poem--I have it memorized. By the way, there's a dover edition of _Songs_ and so that's even more compact and portable.