Opression, Poverty, William Blake

William Blake wrote his poem, Auguries of Innocence, more than two centuries ago, but much of it seems quite current. I have always thought that the first four stanzas might help encourage people to abandon mindless travel to escape boredom or the cold in favour of staying home and paying attention to what is close at hand:


To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour


   The next eight lines speak to the horror of confinement, slavery, hunger, and suffering, conditions which Blake says enrage heaven, frighten the regions of hell, and call for reparation. The lines should frighten many politicians.


A Robin Red breast in a Cage

Puts all Heaven in a Rage 

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons

Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions 

A dog starvd at his Masters Gate

Predicts the ruin of the State 

A Horse misusd upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for Human blood


Auguries of Innocence is very long and complex and I am not a Blake scholar, so I would not attempt to give an analysis of the poem, but in addressing oppression and poverty it is quite clear that he sees them resulting in grave reprisal:


The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath

Writes Revenge in realms of Death 

The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air

Does to Rags the Heavens tear.


At the end, the poem acknowledges inequity — although it suggests that it might change each morning, each evening: 


Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born 

Every Morn and every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to Endless Night 


Finally, it warns that we will be led to believe a lie unless we see through the eye of some larger light, which for Blake is God and only when we see through that light is a Human Form is displayed:

We are led to Believe a Lie

When we see not Thro the Eye

Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 

God Appears & God is Light

To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 

But does a Human Form Display

To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

For Blake, this Human Form would be Jesus, the ideal human being. I am not a religious person, so I do not see this poem in religious terms, but to me it proposes that one can understand larger issues through the small things that are close at hand. Indeed, maybe Blake is telling us that we can only grasp the meaning of large ideas by seeing them through what is immediate and nearby.

All of this, without my even having to refer to the climate crisis, seems testimony to the value to be found in simply staying home. Or as Ram Dass would say …being …here… now.




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