Have you ever considered who inspired you to write? The writers and poets who paved your way, connecting with your inner muse and launching your innards all over the page?
Well, through this post over at Hugh Views and News, I was reminded of how William Blake inspired me back at school. That was when my hair was in plaits, my teeth were in braces and I was well and truly stuck in that teenage, ugly duckling phase.
It was also well before Dead Poets’ Society brought poetry out of the shadows, even giving it an edge of cool.
As a poet, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time before Dead Poet’s Society. The movie inspired an awe, a magic and a sense of crossing over into something raw, innate and at the very essence of the soul.
However, by the time Dead Poets’ Society came out in 1989, I’d left school and in that very same year (perhaps no coincidence), I attended and performed my poetry at my very first poetry reading. It was held at the Reasonably Good Cafe in Abercrombie Street, Chippendale a stone’s throw from Sydney University and if you threw the stone the opposite direction, it would’ve landed at Redfern Station, which was pretty much a no go zone back then after dark. That said, we students were made of stronger stuff!
However, although Dead Poet’s Society had an Australian Director in Peter Weir, it was an American movie featuring American poets. Growing up on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia we studied English poets, the odd Australian poet and absolutely no indigenous poets whatsoever.
So, when I picture myself in a school scene studying and falling in love with poetry, I am thinking along the lines of William Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats and this love affair began with Blake’s Tyger, with its primal drumming beat and graphic imagery:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
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?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
I encourage you to read it out loud. It has a such a strong, striking rhythm like the pounding of a drum or the beating of your heart (especially if you’re being chased by the Tyger!!)
Like much of Blake’s work which is highly symbolic and devoutly spiritual, Tyger isn’t just about a Tiger but about God the creator and who he is. Could the same God who made the meek, innocent and gentle lamb also make the tiger, and both Jesus and the the devil?
Most of the poetry I write doesn’t have this strong sense of rhythm and while rhyming can be a bit twee, in this poem it really creates a sense of theatre and I think it really would’ve fitted in well to Dead Poet Society’s readings by candlelight out in the bush late at night. I could feel the tiger running towards them now.
However, it’s been sometime since I was studying Tyger at school and my son is roughly that age and the doors of my perception have widened.
I am now grappling with Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell…a complex, baffling and incredibly humbling work, not unlike Revelation in The Bible. I came across this work while researching Jim Morrison from The Doors. Indeed, The Doors take their name from these lines:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.
Moreover, back when I visited Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, I found these words graffitied nearby: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” I’d thought someone had made them up and the “palace of wisdom” referred to the cemetery after all Morrison’s years of wild excess. I didn’t know it was a quote from William Blake.
I have also started delving into William Blake’s art which seemingly shows something from beyond those doors of perception and I suspect this is the beginning of another chapter with Blake and I’m curious to know where it leads me. Yet, I have little doubt that I will be taking the road less traveled. Indeed, I suspect we’ll be ploughing through the bush!
Have you read any of William Blake’s works? Or, perhaps another poet has inspired you way back when? Please share.
Meanwhile, the the doors of my perception are about to shut. It’s after midnight and it’s long past time for bed.