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William Blake (1757-1827)

The Four Zoas

(excerpt)


          1.1"What is the price of Experience? do men buy it for a song?
          1.2Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
          1.3Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
          1.4Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
          1.5And in the wither'd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.

          1.6It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun
          1.7And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.
          1.8It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
          1.9To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
        1.10To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season
        1.11When the red blood is fill'd with wine and with the marrow of lambs.

        1.12It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,
        1.13To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter house moan;
        1.14To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
        1.15To hear sounds of love in the thunder storm that destroys our enemies' house;
        1.16To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
        1.17While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers.

        1.18Then the groan and the dolor are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill,
        1.19And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, and the soldier in the field
        1.20When the shatter'd bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead.

        1.21It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:
        1.22Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me."

          2.1"Compel the poor to live upon a crust of bread, by soft mild arts.
          2.2Smile when they frown, frown when they smile; and when a man looks pale
          2.3With labour and abstinence, say he looks healthy and happy;
          2.4And when his children sicken, let them die; there are enough
          2.5Born, even too many, and our earth will be overrun
          2.6Without these arts. If you would make the poor live with temper,
          2.7With pomp give every crust of bread you give; with gracious cunning
          2.8Magnify small gifts; reduce the man to want a gift, and then give with pomp.
          2.9Say he smiles if you hear him sigh. If pale, say he is ruddy.
        2.10Preach temperance: say he is overgorg'd and drowns his wit
        2.11In strong drink, though you know that bread and water are all
        2.12He can afford. Flatter his wife, pity his children, till we can
        2.13Reduce all to our will, as spaniels are taught with art."

          3.1The sun has left his blackness and has found a fresher morning,
          3.2And the mild moon rejoices in the clear and cloudless night,
          3.3And Man walks forth from midst of the fires: the evil is all consum'd.
          3.4His eyes behold the Angelic spheres arising night and day;
          3.5The stars consum'd like a lamp blown out, and in their stead, behold
          3.6The expanding eyes of Man behold the depths of wondrous worlds!
          3.7One Earth, one sea beneath; nor erring globes wander, but stars
          3.8Of fire rise up nightly from the ocean; and one sun
          3.9Each morning, like a new born man, issues with songs and joy
        3.10Calling the Plowman to his labour and the Shepherd to his rest.
        3.11He walks upon the Eternal Mountains, raising his heavenly voice,
        3.12Conversing with the animal forms of wisdom night and day,
        3.13That, risen from the sea of fire, renew'd walk o'er the Earth;
        3.14For Tharmas brought his flocks upon the hills, and in the vales
        3.15Around the Eternal Man's bright tent, the little children play
        3.16Among the woolly flocks. The hammer of Urthona sounds
        3.17In the deep caves beneath; his limbs renew'd, his Lions roar
        3.18Around the Furnaces and in evening sport upon the plains.
        3.19They raise their faces from the earth, conversing with the Man:

        3.20"How is it we have walk'd through fires and yet are not consum'd?
        3.21How is it that all things are chang'd, even as in ancient times?"

Notes

1.1] First published in The Writings of William Blake, III, ed. Edwin J. Ellis and William Butler Yeats, 1893. A long epic poem left by Blake in manuscript and never engraved or published, it was first called Vala, from the name of one of its chief characters, and then The Four Zoas. The "Zoas" are the "living creatures" of Ezek. 1: 5 and Rev. 4: 6, and in Blake are the four major faculties of the human mind. Three of them, Urizen, Urthona or Los, and Luvah or Orc, are mentioned in the notes above; the fourth, Tharmas, is referred to briefly in the third extract. Like the Icelandic Prose Edda on which it is partly modelled, The Four Zoas deals with the creation of the world, the fall of man, the primeval wars of titanic beings, the Incarnation, and the Last Judgement. It is divided into nine sections called "Nights," in imitation of Edward Young's Night Thoughts (1742), which Blake extensively illustrated, although two complete versions of the seventh night survive. The three extracts given here are, first, part of a speech of Enion, the mother of life in Blake's symbolism, in Night Two; second, part of a speech of Urizen from one of the versions of Night Seven; third, part of the concluding description of the apocalypse in Night Nine.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Blake, The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical, III, ed. Edwin J. Ellis and William Butler Yeats (London: Quaritch, 1893). PR 4141 E5 ROBA.
First publication date: 1893
RPO poem editor: Northrop Frye
RP edition: 3RP 2.296.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/14

Composition date: 1795 - 1804
Composition date note: ca. 1795-1804?
Form: unrhyming, flexible heptameter


Other poems by William Blake