Something to Ponder

I’ve slowly been making my way through a collection of William Blake’s poetry. Other than the standards foisted upon most of the planet’s English-speaking high school students (“Tyger tyger, burning bright,” etc.), I really had no additional familiarity with the guy’s work, and could only vaguely appreciate Dead Man‘s character of the same name confirming his moniker by asking, “Do you know my poetry?”

So far, there’s a lot of blah in rhyme, with a few wonderfully, darkly unexpected endings. And detached oddities such as the following:

When a Man has Married a Wife, he finds out whether
Her knees & elbows are only glewed together. (1)

510px-William_blake_ten_virginsI’ve been puzzling over this two-line poem for a couple of days now, letting it sit and toy with me before I go in search of answers in anthologies, discussion groups, and the like. Could Blake mean that only when roping one’s life to another’s does one discover what sort of strengths or weaknesses, etc., that other is made of– as opposed to setting up dream spouses on pedestals? Why knees and elbows– because those bony extremities might be used in defense or aggression?

It’s a fascinating couplet, and I’m also a bit uncomfortable with it, since I’m getting the feeling that Blake might have been one of those guys who’s very sly about making girls with crushes on him feel uncomfortable or stupid in a way those poor admirers can’t quite describe– and then they go home feeling bad about themselves, while still, inexplicably wanting to grab and hold his positive attention. Thankfully, it’s not a problem I’ll have to deal with, unless I come across the poet’s ghost– and so until this particular apparition shows up, I’ll count the confrontation with these brain teasers as pleasant.

(1) William Blake, Selected Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. Northrop Frye (New York: Random House, 1953), 70.


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