English Poetry

William Blake: Tiriel

1757-1827, English poet, artist and engraver. London.

'Let snakes rise from thy bedded locks & laugh among thy curls!'

'Tiriel is a nasty piece of work,' said Miranda.

'Being a bit harsh on Blake there I think,' said Quintin.

'No, I don't mean the poem, I mean the character,' Miranda replied. 'Twisted old man. Used to getting his own way, used to being in charge and having his laws obeyed. He sees his own death approaching as he watches his sons burying his dead wife. Obviously a bit of a patriarchal figure. He disappears into the wilderness issuing threats and curses. Obviously traumatised. Human mortality is at the forefront of his mind. He needs to come to terms with his own impending death.'

'Quite likely,' said Quintin.

'Tiriel wanders into a region where he finds his own mother and father still living,' continued Miranda. 'It's surprising that they are still alive. After all, he's a white-haired, blind old man, and death for him seems to be very near. And there is something odd about the place. Something very odd indeed – so odd, in fact, that Tiriel tries to disguise his identity and seeks to leave as quickly as he can, But the ploy doesn’t work. His brother Ijim recognises him immediately and carries this blind old tyrant back to his palace, on his back.'

'What's so odd about the vale of Har?' Quintin encouraged.

'Tiriel’s parents,' replied Miranda. Har and Heva like two children, sat beneath the Oak, she read. 'Looked after by their nurse: Mnetha, now aged, waited on them and brought them food and clothing... Playing with flowers and running after birds they spent their day, and in the night like infants slept, delighted with infant dreams... Soon as the blind wanderer enter'd the pleasant gardens of Har, they ran weeping, like frightened infants, for refuge in Mnetha's arms.

'They're children,' said Quintin.

'Tiriel is carried back to his palace,' continued Miranda, 'where he curses his sons and daughters, causes all sorts of ill-tempered manslaughter, like the Old Testament God...'

'Or like Oedipus,' said Quintin.

'...and disfigures one of his daughters who then leads him back into the vale of Har where he finally meets his end.'

'How disfigured?' asked Quintin.

'Snakes in her hair,' replied Miranda, cautiously.

Story recounted from: Keynes, Geoffrey, 1966. Blake: The Complete Writings. Oxford University Press. Tiriel: written in 1789, pp 99–110.

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Tiriel – Wikipedia

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