WILLIAM BLAKE: The Mental Traveller

The Mental Traveller, Blake’s Manuscript (c. 1803)


I travel’d thro’ a Land of Men,
A Land of Men & Women too,
And heard & saw such dreadful things
As cold Earth wanderers never knew.

For there the Babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe;
Just as we Reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow.

And if the Babe is born a Boy
He’s given to a Woman Old,
Who nails him down upon a rock
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.

She binds iron thorns around his head,
She pierces both his hands & feet,
She cuts his heart out at his side
To make it feel both cold & heat.

Her fingers number every Nerve,
Just as a Miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks & cries,
And she grows young as he grows old.

Till he becomes a bleeding youth,
And she becomes a Virgin bright;
Then he rends up his Manacles
And binds her down for his delight.

He plants himself in all her Nerves,
Just as a Husbandman his mould;
And she becomes his dwelling place
And Garden fruitful seventy fold.

An aged Shadow, soon he fades,
Wand’ring round an Earthly Cot,
Full filled all with gems & gold
Which he by industry had got.

And these are the gems of the Human Soul,
The rubies & pearls of a lovesick eye,
The countless gold of the akeing heart,
The martyr’s groan & the lover’s sigh.

They are his meat, they are his drink;
He feeds the Beggar & the Poor
And the wayfaring Traveller:
For ever open is his door.

His grief is their eternal joy;
They make the roofs & walls to ring;
Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring

And she is all of solid fire
And gems & gold, that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her Baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band.

But She comes to the Man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor;
They soon drive out the aged Host,
A Beggar at another’s door.

He wanders weeping far away,
Until some other take him in;
Oft blind & age-bent, sore distrest,
Untill he can a Maiden win.

And to allay his freezing Age
The Poor Man takes her in his arms;
The Cottage fades before his sight,
The Garden & its lovely Charms.

The Guests are scatter’d thro’ the land,
For the Eye altering alters all;
The Senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat Earth becomes a Ball;

The stars, sun, Moon, all shrink away,
A desart vast without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink,
And a dark desart all around.

The honey of her Infant lips,
The bread & wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving Eye,
Does him to Infancy beguile;

For as he eats & drinks he grows
Younger & younger every day;
And on the desart wild they both
Wander in terror & dismay.

Like the wild Stag she flees away,
Her fear plants many a thicket wild;
While he pursues her night & day,
By various arts of Love beguil’d,

By various arts of Love & Hate,
Till the wide desart planted o’er
With Labyrinths of wayward Love,
Where roam the Lion, Wolf & Boar,

Till he becomes a wayward Babe,
And she a weeping Woman Old.
Then many a Lover wanders here;
The Sun & Stars are nearer roll’d.

The trees bring forth sweet Extacy
To all who in the desart roam;
Till many a City there is Built,
And many a pleasant Shepherd’s home.

But when they find the frowning Babe,
Terror strikes through the region wide:
They cry “The Babe! the Babe is Born!”
And flee away on Every side.

For who dare touch the frowning form,
His arm is wither’d to its root;
Lions, Boars, Wolves, all howling flee,
And every Tree does shed its fruit.

And none can touch that frowning form,
Except it be a Woman Old;
She nails him down upon the Rock,
And all is done as I have told.

JACQUES PRÉVERT: Weddings and Banquets

(from the French of Jacques Prévert)

To William Blake

In the ruins of a cathedral
Like a calf a butcher cries
Just because his parrot dies
And lying on the broken stones
A bell that fell and came a cropper
Displays to all its rusty clapper
You’d take it for an obscene priest
His cassock blown up by the breeze
And in the remnants of the vestry
Three or four old rogues in caps
Take the collection
At the marriage of Heaven and Hell

This happens in England
And also in honour of the French Revolution
And even the death of Louis XVI
The Best Man is called William Blake
He is very correct and completely naked
Except that he keeps his hat on his head
Because the Holy Spirit is in it
The Holy Spirit of Contradiction
When anyone asks Spirit are you there
The bird with a slow sweet smile says

When the wedding is over William Blake
Will make a present of it to the butcher
Who will forget his late parrot
And return to killing the animals
With a large mallet
We are not attached to a bird
Thinks William Blake
His mind on something else
That is to say his eyes upon a stunning girl
Invited to the wedding by no one knows who
But she is very beautiful and naked as him
A beauty thinks William, a beauty
Of shattering calmness
Pure as red wine
Innocent as spring
And he stares at her because he fancies her
And she stares too
Perhaps because she also fancies him

Just then a great Muscovy duck
Arrives with his little barrel-organ
And plays a song of all the ages and all the lands
And the wedding begins
The wedding in the strict sense of the term
Clarifies William Blake
For things are so badly phrased
And so incorrectly
Are you referring to the Mass
Demands an old man with the hair
Of a prophet or bishop
And a contrary air
But William Blake is a gentleman
A gentle man as they say in England
And he has no wish to argue with a bishop
On the day of the marriage of Heaven and Hell
And also perhaps who knows
His own wedding day
For the pretty girl is gorgeous
And without a doubt he loves her
And maybe she loves him too
So he contents himself with saying
To the man with the head of
A bishop or a prophet or a safety-pin

As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her
eggs upon, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys

On with the music
The Mass is beginning we’ll speak of this another time
And as he says On with the music
The music moves on
And behind the music the stunning girl
Who smiles at William Blake
Because one day he also said

Prisons are built with stones of Law
Brothels with bricks of Religion

And she gives him her arm
And all the rest is his to take
And who is the happiest of men
It’s William
William Blake