O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:

Here is a seasonal poem, in which William Blake celebrates or rather laments the impact of winter, in the spirit of the Grinch, Jack Frost, General Winter or any other personification of the coldest and most desolate season. Winter has taken over the northern hemisphere and there is no escape until the last two lines of the poem.


It is a desolate, but kind of magnificent vision.


To Winter

 William Blake


O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:

The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark

Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs,

Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.’

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep

Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathèd

In ribbèd steel; I dare not lift mine eyes,

For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.


Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings

To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:

He withers all in silence, and in his hand

Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.


He takes his seat upon the cliffs,–the mariner

Cries in vain. Poor little wretch, that deal’st

With storms!–till heaven smiles, and the monster

Is driv’n yelling to his caves beneath mount Hecla.

William Blake


From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-winter/>


First, two explanatory  notes may be needed. In the first line, the meaning of “adamantine” is unbreakable (well I had to look it up…). And in the last line of the poem, Mount Hecla is not a place in Greek mythology, it is a real place, the most active volcano in southern Iceland, and presumably the last refuge of winter when spring forces him back to his lair. (Those who remember Jules Verne’s story, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” will remember that the route to the center of the earth also started from a volcano in Iceland.)


So for most of this poem, winter is depicted like some giant monster, bringing frozen desolation everywhere he goes, dreadful but impressive. Mere mortals, like the poet, must lower their eyes, hunker down and just wait for that moment when heaven smiles and Winter starts to retreat to his cave.




The Poetry Dude

When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,

There is plenty of research to say that laughing is good for you. It tones the muscles of your face, it relieves stress, it makes you feel good, it brings people together, it makes the world go round. Well, it turns out that none of that research was needed, because William Blake already told us all that in this poem.


Laughing Song
When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,
And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;
When the air does laugh with our merry wit,
And the green hill laughs with the noise of it;

when the meadows laugh with lively green,
And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene,
When Mary and Susan and Emily
With their sweet round mouths sing ‘Ha, ha he!’

When the painted birds laugh in the shade,
Where our table with cherries and nuts is spread:
Come live, and be merry, and join with me,
To sing the sweet chorus of ‘Ha, ha, he!’
William Blake

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/laughing-song/&gt;

So when the world is laughing, don’t be a curmudgeon, join in, laugh and be merry.

The Poetry Dude

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

This is a very familiar poem from William Blake, probably one of his best-known, along with Jerusalem. A strong part of its appeal is the strong rhythm which comes through when reading it aloud, adding to the sense of excitement associated with the image of the tiger. This poem is often accompanied by a fairly fearsome image of a tiger stalking through the long grass, presumably hunting for prey. A bit like Shere Khan in Kipling’s Jungle Book, the original rather than the Disneyfied, not-so-fearsome version.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

From <http://www.poetrysoup.com/famous/poems/best/william_blake&gt;

The first stanza (which is also the last except for one word changing) draws attention to the exceptional nature of the tiger – burning bright against the dark backdrop of the night, both literally and metaphorically, this is a noteworthy animal.

Lines three and four begin the lengthy series of questions which make up the rest of the poem. The poet wonders what human or perhaps superhuman power or intellect could imagine a creature as magnificent as a tiger if it were not already there. In reality, the questions are expressions of wonder at the beauty, strength, proportion and other attributes of the tiger. We get the sense that the poet sees the Tiger as truly an impressive beast in every sense. And the poet muses about whether there was some Creator who put all this together and was happy with his work.

The poem finishes with the same stanza it begins with, except that the word “could” is replaced by the word “dare”, emphasising the fearsome reputation of the tiger and even giving the impression that the poem itself can bring you uncomfortably, and even dangerously, close to the animal.

Better run….

The Poetry Dude

The sun does arise,

This poem from William Blake is about as happy a poem as you could find – a jolly scene on a village green, somewhere in the English countryside where old people and young people are all enjoying themselves playing sports and games all day from sunrise to sunset. It is a poem which seems to come from that growing 18th century English sense of confidence and prosperity, stability and progress.

William Blake : The Echoing Green

The sun does arise,
And make happy the skies.
The merry bells ring
To welcome the spring.
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells’ cheerful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the echoing green.

Old John with white hair
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say:
‘Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls and boys,
In our youth-time were seen
On the echoing green.’

Till the little ones weary
No more can be merry;
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end.
Round the laps of their mother
Many sisters and brothers,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest;
And sport no more seen
On the darkening green.

William Blake (1757-1827) P. 1789

From <http://www.portablepoetry.com/poems/william_blake/the_echoing_green.html&gt;

It is a poem in three stanzas with a progression through time, almost like a linear narrative. The first stanza has the sun rise, the morning birdsong and the church bells calling the villagers to their sporting activities on the green. The second stanza must be around the middle of the day, with the old folk of the village led by Old John watching the youngsters play and recalling when they were young and playing on the green. The subliminal message is of the stable and continuing wellbeing of life in rural England. In the third stanza the sun goes down, it is the end of the day, the children are tired and go to rest seeking out their mothers before going to bed. The day is done and all is well with the world.

Happy days (but perhaps as Blake would have wished it rather than how it actually was).

The Poetry Dude

Sound the flute!

Here is William Blake, full of the joys of spring – the birds are singing, the children are playing, the new lambs are frolicking, what could be more joyful. I can easily compare this to one of Boris Johnson’s favourite songs, Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley, for its exuberance and vitality.

William Blake : Spring

Sound the flute!
Now it’s mute.
Birds delight
Day and night.
In the dale,
Lark in the sky,
Merrily, merrily to welcome in the year.

Little boy
Full of joy,
Little girl
Sweet and small.
Cock does crow,
So do you.
Merry voice,
Infant noise,
Merrily, merrily to welcome in the year.

Little lamb
Here I am
Come and lick
My white neck.
Let me pull
Your soft wool.
Let me kiss
Your soft face,
Merrily, merrily we welcome in the year.

William Blake (1757-1827) P. 1789

From <http://www.portablepoetry.com/poems/william_blake/spring.html&gt;

However, for some reason, it seems to me that the longer final line in each stanza, ‘merrily, merrily…’ disturbs the pace of the overall rhythm of the piece. When reading this out loud, I found myself tripping up over this change of pace each time it occurs. Or maybe I’m just clumsy.

The Poetry Dude

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

William Blake was living and writing poetry in the late eighteenth century when tremendous social and technological change was sweeping through England with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. A flavour of this is included in his most famous poem, “Jerusalem” when he talks of England’s “dark satanic mills”. Today’s poem, London” takes as its theme the scenes of deprivation and distress which could be observed in the biggest city of the country as people came in from the countryside faster than the city could reasonably absorb them, leading to crowding, unsanitary conditions and all sorts of vices. (Of course, the flip side of this is that equal if not worse deprivation and distress could be found in the countryside, only more dispersed).
Blake’s vision of conditions in London could be described as pre-Dickensian and, of course, writings such as this contributed to the rise of social reform movements and great progress in improving living conditions over the next 50 to 80 years. So this is a great example of poetry as a tool of social progress.


I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172929&gt;

So in this poem, Blake’s vision of London is made up of faces of distress and suffering, neglected and fearful children, the privations of chimney sweeps ( who were usually young children small enough to climb up the inside of chimneys to remove the soot and ash), and then of course poor women driven to prostitution to support their children, women who were probably not married or who had been abandoned by their families. It is a depressing vision of London life at that time, and certainly not a complete picture, but it rings true – similar scenes can probably be found today in rapidly expanding countries in the developing world.

The poem is written with a fairly simple rhyme scheme; and with words truncated in several places to make the poem’s rhythm work better. But the subject matter lifts it above the level of doggerel and I think it is a good example of a poem with a purpose.

The Poetry Dude

Never seek to tell thy love

Here is a poem from William Blake, that outstanding, eccentric pre-Romantic poet and artist, who inspired so many artists, writers and thinkers for a century or more. This poem tackles the conundrum we have all lived through, when we are getting into a serious relationship – should we, or should we not declare our love? Blake comes down clearly on one side of the dilemma in this poem…

Never Seek to Tell thy Love

Never seek to tell thy love
Love that never told can be
For the gentle wind does move
Silently invisibly.

I told my love I told my love
I told her all my heart
Trembling cold in ghastly fears
Ah she doth depart!

Soon as she was gone from me
A traveller came by
Silently invisibly
O was no deny

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172935&gt;

And right away, in the first couple of lines, the answer is revealed – do not declare your love openly, for love is mysterious and works only if like the wind it remains silent and invisible. In the second stanza, the poet describes the experience of declaring his love, only for the girl to take fright and run away. The third stanza is more mysterious, describing a traveller, and using the same words as used for the wind in the fourth line of the poem.

Perhaps the traveller is love itself, looking for a new outlet, but this time a love to be left unsaid, and as so it cannot be denied.

The sentiments in the poem ring true if the two lovers are not at the same stage of their recognition of love. A besotted lover blurting out deep feelings can cause the loved one to take fright if he or she is not ready. So, as Blake implies, the trick is to use all the other non-verbal cues in the relationship to judge when the moment is right to make a declaration. In the end, as most romantic novels would agree, I think, you have to say “I love you”.

But Blake’s advice is good, and the poem brings this out.

The Poetry Dude