August 23, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas

Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy AA, 1826 (The Fitzwilliam Museum) object 18 The Divine Image.jpg
The Divine Image[1]
By: William Blake (1789)

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
All pray in their distress,[2]
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is God, our father dear, 5
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine, 10
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace. 15

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.

Notes & Commentary

  1. From Songs of Innocence, 1789. Compare this poem to its contrary, the “The Human Abstract” from Songs of Experience.
         In “A Cradle Song,” Blake dramatizes a mother’s love for her child and writes that “we come to know God by ‘honouring his gifts/In other men”; this theme is developed further here by presenting values that humans should strive to embody (Tomlinson 1987, pp. 38, 41). The human qualities of “Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love” are esteemed by us, so they would be important in God who, in turn, might bestow them upon the devout, as in the third stanza. Blake wrote “Think of a white cloud as being holy, you cannot love it; but think of a holy man within the cloud, love springs up in your thoughts, for to think of holiness distinct from man is impossible to the affections” (quoted in (Tomlinson 1987, p. 39).
  2. These virtues are longed for by those in distress—or those suffering from a lack of them. The idea seems to be that empathy is a key component of the desire to do what’s right.

Bibliography

  • Ackroyd, Peter (1995). Blake: A Biography. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Battenhouse, Henry M. (1958). English Romantic Writers. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.
  • Bloom, Harold (2003). William Blake. Bloom’s Major Poets. New York: Chelsea House.
  • Frye, Northrup (1947). Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Gardner, Stanley (1969). Blake. Literary Critiques. New York: Arco.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. (2018). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. The Major Authors. 2 (Tenth ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Makdisi, Saree (2003). "The Political Aesthetic of Blake's Images". In Eaves, Morris. The Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. pp. 110–132.
  • — (2015). Reading William Blake. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Paulin, Tom (March 3, 2007). "The Invisible Worm". Guardian. Retrieved 2021-09-04.
  • Thompson, E. P. (1993). Witness Against the Beast. New York: The New Press.
  • Tomlinson, Alan (1987). Song of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake. MacMillan Master Guides. London: MacMillan Education.
  • Wolfson, Susan J. (2003). "Blake's Language in Poetic Form". In Eaves, Morris. The Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. pp. 63–83.

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