English Poetry

William Blake: Thel

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

'Art thou a Worm? Image of weakness, art thou but a Worm? I see thee like an infant wrapped in the Lilly's leaf.'

‘So why do you see Thel as a soul before she is born?’ asked Quintin.

‘Madam Seraphim?’ suggested Miranda. ‘Angelic?’

The daughters of Mme Seraphim led round their sunny flocks, read Quintin, all but the youngest; she in paleness sought the secret air to fade away like morning beauty from her mortal day. Sounds more like a child that has died to me.'

‘But she has been living in the vale of Har and she flees back to it,’ replied Miranda, ‘after she has questioned the cloud and the lily and the worm and the clay – and seen her own grave,’ she added, doubtfully.

‘She runs!’ answered Quintin, triumphantly, thrusting a copy of plate 6, the final plate of Blake’s poem, into Miranda’s hands. ‘She is frightened about suddenly being insubstantial. Oh little Cloud, she asks, I charge thee to tell me why thou complainest not when in one hour thou fade away. I do not fade away – the cloud replies – I fall back to the earth as dew and feed the flowers. Then why should Thel complain? asks the lily. Why should the mistress of the vales of Har utter a sigh? And to the clay Thel says: I complain’d in the mild air, because I fade away and lay me down in thy cold bed, and leave my shining lot. And the clay comforts her, nourishes a worm before her in the form of a new-born infant. Wilt thou, O Queen, enter my house? Tis given thee to enter and to return: fear nothing, enter with thy virgin feet.

'To enter and return,' repeated Quintin.

Thel enter’d in and saw the secrets of the land unknown. Wandring and listening to the sounds of misery and anxiety, she stood in silence, listening to the voices in the ground, till to her own grave-plot she came, and there she sat down, and heard a questioning voice list the human sense organs, ear, eye, tongue, and why a nostril wide, inhaling terror, trembling and affright? Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy? Quintin paused and passed the book to Miranda to read, his finger under the line.

Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire? she read. 'You're blushing, Quintin! The Virgin started from her seat and with a shriek fled back unhinder’d till she came into the vales of Har.

'But do you see what the little children are riding on,' enthused Quintin, 'in the final illustration on plate 6?'

children riding on a snake

Story recounted from: Keynes, Geoffrey, 1966. Blake: The Complete Writings. Oxford University Press. The Book of Thel: the Author and Printer William Blake, 1789, pp 127–30.

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Snakes and dragons

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styalised snake's head from Iron Age Celtic metalwork design
statue of Asclepius

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