William Blake - The Chimney Sweeper
I don't know what it is, but I've always been a sucker for this particular rhyming scheme, a simple AABB throughout. In the hands of Blake, though, it is interesting to contrast the lilt and playful way the words bounce out with what is being said, for this is a poem of young boys forced into endentured service, their small bodies able to get inside old chimneys and clear out the soot.
Paglia pointed out the narrator's lisp, which I missed, probably forgetting the time in which the poem is set and such a world where people would be out shouting about their work offerings. The doublespeak of his inability say sweep all the more tragic when his cries of weep tell society what their proper response to his condition ought to be.
The optimism of his dreams of heaven are quickly doused when it's time to work again, although (once again) I missed the slightly ill-fitting rhymes being used as a way to similarly unbalance the reader as we come out of the dream state, as Paglia indicated.
William Blake - London
For some reason, I found it hard to focus on this poem because I kept thinking how I've heard in the past that Paglia believes history can be told through art (my horrible paraphrase of what she says so much more intelligently). In any event, this scathing indictment of "progress" in the London of the late 1700s makes me wonder about today.
Many of these issues exist today, capitalism run amok, a weary citizenry, doubts of religion and state, and most of the criticism against these things are hectoring left-wing blogs pointing fingers, full of moral superiority, to the extent that as much as I agree with what many of them say, they superior tone, armchair quarterbacking of society, while doing nothing but stating their opinion make them devoid of usefulness. It is so easy to point at a problem, and then sit back waiting for it to change.
However, to read such a fantastic piece of art capture a place and a time and a frustration like this poem, both illuminates its moment of time beyond a boring, linear history book. The London streets are alive in this verse, at least the interpretation of all of these sounds and visions through someone disenchanted with the trajectory of society. But, while I am typically quick to dismiss the bloggers for pointing at a problem and doing nothing, I do not fault Blake for doing the same.
And, the only difference is he took his emotion and crafted something that has remained alive for more than 300 years now. I fear that we are a culture that, for all of our advances, is not reacting in the same way. I don't think the Camille Paglia of the 2400s is going to be citing the delicate prose of an early 21st century blog.
That said, I do not follow the poets of today. So, the question is whether I wouldn't know who is doing this work in a similar fashion that many of these Londoners perhaps did not know of Blake in the moment this was written.
In any event, this poem raised a lot of question about the power of art to serve as a historic time capsule, and my fears we are filling ours with nonsense.