William Langland William Blake, William Blake, and the Poetry of Hope
This 2001 lecture compares the poetry of L and Blake, both of whom are greatly interested the theme of hope and view of poetry as a means of spiritual regeneration. The lecture opens with a summary of PPl for readers who might not be familiar with it, concluding: ‘It is not a poem but a mortal combat with all that threatens the life of the spirit and the imagination’ (p. 203). Blake’s use of The Four Zoas as a resource in writing Milton and Jerusalem, each of which is subject to further revision, renders these three poems his A, B, and C texts. Both Blake and L denounce the analytic power of reason, and distrust the mechanized agencies of priestly exchange as a betrayal of the divine in man. The continuous nature of composition gives these poems an intense connectivity, but also presents challenges to the reader. They draw even closer as they move towards their final climax, which should not be a surprise as both drew their inspiration from the Old Testament prophecies of the Last Judgement, and both foresee the establishment of Christ’s community on earth, not heaven (as Bloomfield noted with regard to L). The functions of Los and Piers the Plowman in their respective poems are identical: to represent the divine potential of human beings. Other points of comparison are the visionary harvests described at the end of all four poems and the intimate combination in each poet’s work of the spiritual and the concrete. Blake’s and L’s hopefulness, although different in many of its details, is comparable because both poets refuse ‘to work by denial and exclusion, or by yes-no syllogistic reasoning’ (p. 214). The lecture concludes by drawing attention to ‘the fact that for both poets the fullest bitterest experience of what man has made of man in the unpitying materialistic world of law and reason is in the suffering visited upon oppressed workers, especially women’ (p. 215).
in Donoghue, Simpson, and Watson, The Morton Bloomfield Lectures, 1989-2005, pp. 201-19.