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The Divine Image
William Blake (17571827)


TO Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

I post without much comment but solicit your own. Is Blake right? If so, how? If not, in what does he err? What does one make of what he is saying here? I'd love to know what you think, and I picked a poet I think everyone can access. Please tell me what you hear when you read Blake. Thank you.

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12 Comments

Yes, I think he is right.
All are made in God's image.
And we recognize truth and love even before we can name it...

Steven

I've been mulling this poem off and on since early this year. It think Milton is referring to the Christ, God who came in human form, who is "Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love." We share our prayers with Christ and His humanity.

Ron

Wow! Nice one.

I think Blake has it backwards. It's not God who has human characteristics, but we who exhibit God-like ones when we are merciful, pitiful, loving and pacific (pacifying?).

As for the mere human form? We are created physical beings in God's image, so yes, one must love it. But I think that is a different thing from loving the virtuous behaviour that we exhibit in imitation of God.

Even the lowest form of human life (whatever that may be in society's eyes today) is deserving of our respect for the sole reason that it was created in God's image. We care for dead bodies for the same reason, don't we?

So I would have to disagree with Blake: we should love the human family simply because God created it -- although I may be misreading him - Blake may be defining Humans as capable of exhibiting God's virtues, but not necessarily doing so.

My thinking is not very organized this morning, Steven, but there you have it.

:)

Dear Steven,

Little time for reflection, but it's certainly Incarnational. Makes me think of Cdl. Ratzinger's Dominus Jesus, of all things, and his recently-stated desire for the unity of Christians and a conversation with the other civilizations, with an underlying source being a veneration of the divine image in Man. Or something. "Truth and love" as he emphasized in his pre-conclave homily. He knows the truth of man - what man really is and can be - and by all accounts he is a loving gentleman.

Cheers -

Bill

Of course, I didn't directly address your questions :-) There's much "felt truth" there in the poem, but perhaps it's not a rigorous theological statement.

Cheers -

Bill

I'd really like to understand why Blake omitted "Peace" from the last stanza.

'The Divine Image' from Songs of Innocence doesn't stand alone... it has its counterpart in 'The Human Abstract' which replaced a different version of 'The Divine Image' from Songs of Experience:

The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings Peace,
Till the selfish loves increase
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with his holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears;
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head,
And the caterpillar and fly
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat,
And the raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The gods of the earth and sea
Sought through nature to find this tree,
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the human Brain.


The Divine Image

Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy the Human dress.

The Human Dress is forged Iron,
The Human Form a fiery Forge,
The Human Face a Furnace seal'd,
The Human Heart its hungry Gorge.

So yes, Blake is saying God is present in our human form and good deeds, but the broader scope of his poetry reveals a more complex Man... Blake was showing that we cannot just toss in our chips and bank on God's intervention. Each man, each woman must willingly take on the tasks of God.

If it's a matter of transcendence versus immanence, I've always found transcendance much easier to believe.

I'm at work, but keep snatching time to come back to read Blake's poem. At first glance, it was quite charming, but the more I read it, the less I liked it. There is something skewed about the whole thing that I cannot quite put my finger on. For one thing, "obedience" is lacking and, without "obedience", Jesus would not have been conceived by the Holy Spirit, nor would he have suffered under Pontius Pilate. Perhaps not all the angels Blake conversed with were God's Holy Angels.

Dear Psalm 41,

Blake is a lamia, infinitely mutable. Keep reading and you may read yourself back into liking it. One of the reasons I like this poem so much is that it is so mutable. First you read it one way, then you come back and there's an emphasis that seems a little askew, you read it a little later and that emphasis has vanished and you discover something else.

Keep reading with all these other comments in mind and I'm sure you'll find your way to the heart of the poem and the poet. And both are good hearts, I'm convinced. Maybe not perfect, maybe a little askew, but nevertheless, good.

But thank you for saying what I also have felt in this poem. It's one of the reasons I presented it. The surface is so incredibly simple that it can be read and reread and reread many times and take many different shades and shapes.

I guess it is my way of gently introducing the poetry-shy into the possibilities of poetry.

My thanks to all who have commented thus far, and I hope a great many more chime in.

shalom

Steven

Steven

Regarding my comment above,
I said Milton but really meant Blake.
Thus a new rule that follows from Love,
Never comment before I'm awake.

Cheers

Dear Ron,

'Twas clear enough what you meant,
but sincere regrets are heaven-sent.

shalom,

Steven

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 21, 2005 7:04 AM.

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