Blake and the tree

William Blake was a poet and artist living in the 18th–19th century. He was trained as an engraver and his poetic work developed alongside his artistic endeavours, resulting in a beautiful symphony of art and words. He late transitioned into relief etching in addition to engraving. Just look up an image of any one of him poems to see the accompanying art he produced.

In his writing, Blake believed in leaving some things unsaid, so that the reader was pushed to use their imagination to interpret the work: “That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care” (Blake). Although, he did want to produce work that was accessible to the general public, an idea that influenced his poetic vision. He could see a poem for it’s artistic merits, for his person needs, and also for how the reader would interpret the words.

Often involved in politics, Blake held strong and vocal opinions. He disliked the traditional figures of English society and resented the necessary commissioning of art that providing a living wage for him. He believed in being “just & true to our own Imaginations” (Blake).

Perhaps these views brought Blake his fair share of enemies. Or perhaps the poem below is inspired by a strange incident in which Blake’s gardener hired a soldier to help out on some garden work without Blake knowing. Resulting in this surprise encounter, and an accusation of sedition:

I desired him, as politely as possible, to go out of the Garden; he made me an impertinent answer. I insisted on his leaving the Garden; he refused. I still persisted in desiring his departure; he then threaten’d to knock out my Eyes, with many abominable imprecations & with some contempt for my Person; it affronted my foolish Pride. I therefore took him by the Elbows & pushed him before me till I had got him out; there I intended to leave him, but he, turning about, put himself into a Posture of Defiance, threatening & swearing at me. I, perhaps foolishly & perhaps not, stepped out at the Gate, & putting aside his blows, took him again by the Elbows, &, keeping his back to me, pushed him forwards down the road about fifty yards–he all the while endeavouring to turn round & strike me, & raging & cursing, which drew out several neighbours…. (from PoetryFoundation.org)

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Emily in the balance

Emily Dickinson lived a solitary life in the mid-1800s, communicating through letters and spending her time writing poetry. Her poems experimented with a style that was beyond her time and she was hardly recognized for it. In reading her work, there is a simplicity to her many (often short poems) that is easy to embrace at first but difficult to really evaluate and get a hold everything that’s there. They are poems that demand re-reading.

Emily penned around 1,800 poems in her lifetime. There were poems about liquor, there were poems about ecstasy, and of course, there were many, many poems about death. I think this poem falls somewhere in-between, weighing a balance between the ecstasy and joy of life with the inevitable sadness that levels it all out—but of course, there is probably more to it than that.

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