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William Blake (1757-1827)

The Grey Monk

(excerpt)


              1"I die, I die!" the Mother said,
              2"My children die for lack of bread.
              3What more has the merciless Tyrant said?"
              4The Monk sat down on the stony bed.

              5The blood red ran from the Grey Monk's side,
              6His hands and feet were wounded wide,
              7His body bent, his arms and knees
              8Like to the roots of ancient trees.

              9His eye was dry; no tear could flow:
            10A hollow groan first spoke his woe.
            11He trembled and shudder'd upon the bed;
            12At length with a feeble cry he said:

            13"When God commanded this hand to write
            14In the studious hours of deep midnight,
            15He told me the writing I wrote should prove
            16The bane of all that on Earth I lov'd.

            17My Brother starv'd between two walls,
            18His Children's cry my soul appalls;
            19I mock'd at the rack and griding chain,
            20My bent body mocks their torturing pain.

            21Thy father drew his sword in the North,
            22With his thousands strong he marched forth;
            23Thy Brother has arm'd himself in steel
            24To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel.

            25But vain the Sword and vain the Bow,
            26They never can work War's overthrow.
            27The Hermit's prayer and the Widow's tear
            28Alone can free the World from fear.

            29For a Tear is an intellectual thing,
            30And a Sigh is the sword of an Angel King,
            31And the bitter groan of the Martyr's woe
            32Is an arrow from the Almighty's bow.

            33The hand of Vengeance found the bed
            34To which the Purple Tyrant fled;
            35The iron hand crush'd the Tyrant's head
            36And became a Tyrant in his stead."

Notes

1] This poem was first published by Rossetti in his edition in Gilchrist's Life of William Blake, 1863. It was edited from a MS. in fair draft written by Blake probably during his stay at Felpham (1800-3), and later known as the Pickering MS., from a Mr. B. J. Pickering who bought it and published an edition of it, more accurate than Rossetti's, in 1866.
Another poem closely related to this forms part of the introduction to the third part of Jerusalem.

5] side. Like St. Francis, the founder of the order of grey monks, the monk carries the stigmata or five wounds of Christ.

17] Brother starv'd: a reference to the story of Ugolino in Dante's Inferno, xxxiii, frequently alluded to and illustrated by Blake.


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, Poems, ed. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863).
First publication date: 1863
RPO poem editor: Northrop Frye
RP edition: 3RP 2.295.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/14

Rhyme: aabb


Other poems by William Blake