Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vision and nightmare


In honor of Independence Day, I thought I'd share some fragments from the English poet, artist and visionary William Blake's "America: a Prophecy." In these days of putrefying empire, it is enlightening to recall that the uprising by the good burgers of this continent against the king in the old country (Albion) was once hailed as a portent of human liberation.

The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent,
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore:
Piercing the souls of warlike men, who rise in silent night,
Washington, Franklin, Paine & Warren, Gates, Hancock & Green...

Albion is sick. ...The King of England looking westward trembles at the vision...

And Boston's Angel cried aloud...

He cried: Why trembles honesty and like a murderer,
Why seeks he refuge from the frowns of his immortal station!
Must the generous tremble & leave his joy, to the idle: to the pestilence!
That mock him? who commanded this? what God? what Angel!
To keep the gen'rous from experience till the ungenerous
Are unrestraind performers of the energies of nature;
Till pity is become a trade, and generosity a science,
That men get rich by, & the sandy desart is giv'n to the strong
What God is he, writes laws of peace, & clothes him in a tempest
What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs
What crawling villain preaches abstinence & wraps himself
In fat of lambs? no more I follow, no more obedience pay....

The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk & dry'd.
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing! awakening!
Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst;

Let the slave grinding at the mill, run out into the field:
Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;
Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years;
Rise and look out, his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
And let his wife and children return from the opressors scourge;
They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream.
Singing. The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.

I'm currently in New England where this old vision (1793) of America as a beacon of liberty has slightly more resonance it they might among the malls of most of the country. But here too the yeoman vision of the founders seems mostly a quaint curiosity to be marketed to tourists. And the equation of that uprising with the risen Christ seems a mockery when "Christianity" has been appropriated by war-worshipping apostles of Americanism and repression.

I am particularly struck by Blake's lines
"Till pity is become a trade, and generosity a science,
That men get rich by, & the sandy desart is giv'n to the strong..."

Was he anticipating the non-profit sector?

My rector has pointed out that the collect (prayer) for today urges "a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance" -- that seems about right.

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