Poem of a Madman? William Blake and the Divine Comedy

In the BBC’s recent Changing of the Bard programme Ian Hislop talked about the Romantics and described Wordsworth as an alcoholic, Byron an adulterer and William Blake a madman.

I like William Blake. For any film buffs wanting to see a good film with William Blake abstract relevance that the great man would probably have admired I recommend Dead Man.

And today we have the second of Blake’s paintings to be interpreted through Folding Mirror poetry.

Explanation and Structure

This is a folding mirror poem inspired by Blake’s Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest (1824-7).

Here, the line word counts (6-8-8-7- 9 -7-8-8-6) and punctuation mirror each other on either side of the middle.

The human heads in the painting are used as the central focus, and the two sides of the poem start from the middle line and spread out to the beginning and end of the poem from the heads.

The middle line connects the two halves of the poem rather than standing alone.

Using this form, the poem draws attention to the similarity of the features at the top and bottom of the painting, while switching words around in the lines to create a reflective mirror effect.

The Poem

Humanity Amongst the Pillars of Creation

Sky blue, sky white, sky grey
blending living colours, on the tree canopy, with
branches reaching, as if preaching, in synchronicity with
human arms expanding upwards, requiring direction, for

heads talking in darkness, as if awaiting collection, for

bodies blending into planet, resembling tree-trunks, with
dresses flowing, as if rooting, communicating with earth
twisting life forms, on the forest ground, with
Earth grey, earth white, earth blue

The Painting

William Blake Interpreting the Divine Comedy
William Blake Interpreting the Divine Comedy

Copied from the Tate Gallery.


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