A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Poem of the Day: William Blake

Mock on, Mock on Voltaire, Rousseau; 
Mock on, Mock on, 'tis all in vain. 
You throw the sand against the wind, 
And the wind blows it back again. 

And every sand becomes a Gem 
Reflected in the beams divine; 
Blown back, they blind the mocking Eye, 
But still in Israel's paths they shine. 

The Atoms of Democritus 
And Newton's Particles of light 
Are sands upon the Red sea shore, 
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.
--William Blake 

For some reason, I can never read this poem without thinking of A Hard Day's Night: 
Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo: Um, no. I'm a mocker.
Being somewhat of Voltaire's and Ringo's disposition, I take a little offense at Blake's mockery of mockers. Yes, what he's getting at is the sterility of Enlightenment materialism and, more in Rousseau's case than in Voltaire's, the negativism of revolutionaries. But in Candide Voltaire turned his mockery on Leibnizian rationalism, and Rousseau's valorizing of the natural seems right in line with Blake's own way of thinking. Still, when you get into prophetic mode the way Blake did, it's hard to maintain nuance. As for Democritus's atoms and Newton's particles, I have a feeling that Blake would have been gratified by the advent of quantum physics, in which things turn out to be both particles and waves.

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