William Blake once wrote that “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” I hope he’s right about that, though I can’t tell for sure, since I’m still in the persisting part of things.
Blake was a teenage hero of mine. I think I ran across him from two directions, and I’m not entirely sure which was first. My parents had a bookcase of books, some perhaps from their youth, some old enough to have been from my grandparent’s time. There were some odd lots in there. I remember at least one book that was devoted to William McKinley, and another was titled “The Beautiful Life of Frances Willard.” One of them was some kind English poetry textbook, with a section in the back about minor English poets. Its paragraph or two about Blake included a summary: “Wrote some charming short lyrics as good as any in English, but his later, longer works seem evidence of madness.” That intrigued me. Around the same time I read that, I was able to use some gift money to buy three LPs, one of which was “The Doors,” a record with a track called “End of the Night” where the singer crooned a pair of lines: “Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night.” I read that the singer had kyped that from Blake.
There are nearly no poets today who will say a good word for Jim Morrison or the Doors, because there is so much foolishness associated with them. I’m wise enough not to go up against that. Please do not note the number of pieces here with shaky guitar, boogie piano, or weird organ—some of these pieces even without electric bass.
Unlike my attraction to the poetry of Sandburg, it’s easy to see what I liked about Blake. Stubborn iconoclasm. A belief that one’s own internal vision of things was more valid than the common view. A DIY ethic which had Blake creating his own books that he engraved on plates himself. What’s more punk rock than that? If Blake had been an indi-rock band, he wouldn’t have just made his own record; he would have cut the damn master on his own vinyl lathe.
What’s a teenager not to like in all that?
If I live a few more years, that teenager is a warning to me that there are things I believe now that will seem foolish to me then. Of course that teenager was foolish, but he also knew some things I don’t know now, so that teenager and I talk all the time.
William Blake wrote down what the Angels told him, but what did Blake tell the Angels?