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Sunday, November 22, 2015

BLAKE'S POEM - NIGHT



Night - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Night

In stanza one, the speaker looks at the setting sun and sees the evening star. Like the birds now quiet in their nest, s/he, too, must go to bed. S/he sees the moon as shining indulgently on the earth at sleep.
In stanza two, s/he says farewell to the daytime scene of green fields and groves where sheep have grazed. Now, where the lambs grazed angels tread, blessing everything that is growing and sleeping.
Stanzas three and four consider the angels' activities. They check nests; they check on all the animals, keeping them from harm and give sleep to any in distress, keeping watch by their bed. They weep when they find wolves and tigers howling for prey and try to drive away their hunger. If these beasts nevertheless catch their prey, the angels take the dead animals to a new life (heaven).
Stanzas five and six express the nature of this new life (‘new worlds'). It is a place of universal peace in which ‘the lion will lie down with the lamb'. The lion asserts that the gentle humility and wholesome purity of Christ (the unnamed ‘him who bore thy name' i.e. the Lamb of God) has driven out anger and sickness from this new place of endless day. The lion is now no longer the predator but the guard / shepherd. He can lie down beside the lamb and sleep, or think about Jesus' sufferings, full of tenderness towards the bleating, gentle lamb. Now the lion isimmortal (‘wash'd in life's river), he will be a glorious protector of the flock.
The poem draws on pastoral imagery, looking at harmony between nature and human beings. The contrasts of day, followed by night, followed by eternal day, stress only the positive aspects of each (which could be seen as demonstrating the inadequacy of innocence). Blake also employs a wealth of biblical allusion.

Commentary

A positive vision?

In the light of Blake's ideas drawn from Jacob Boehme (see Religious / philosophical background > Philosophical influences on Blake > Blake and Jacob Boehme), this poem can be read as showing the inadequacy of innocence when it is the only vision available to the human being. The perspective of the poem's speaker allows little engagement with the experience of ‘woe':
  • The evocation of the passing day is idyllic, stressing greenness and peacefulness
  • All is growth – ‘green fields and happy groves'
  • Nothing is at risk – flocks ‘took delight', ‘lambs nibbled'
  • The picture of angels visiting, protecting and soothing troubled animals is seductive
  • It is the world of a lullaby.
Night actually neutralises the negatives associated with the image of night. After all, night-time is:
  • The time of human terrors and fears
  • When individuals are most vulnerable to attack
  • When most predators are at work – the only glancing reference to death is that the predators ‘rush dreadful'.
  • Frequently an image of death and oblivion.

A one sided picture

The reality of predation and death is present, and the angels cannot avert it. However, it is presented simply as a precursor to entering a more blissful existence, in which all antagonism is removed. The only values are those of meekness and tenderness. This vision of a world to come, or a world ‘beyond', offers comfort but might also signal an avoidance of the reality of devouring forces within human life (necessary contraries according to Blake). It also presents a vision of life devoid of energy and force:
  • The angels become static in the face of danger, tears the only protection they can offer
  • Lambs become merely ‘mild spirit[s]'
  • The lion lies down with the lamb as a tamed beast, grazing alongside the lamb. The distinctive qualities he brings to creation are channeled merely into guard duties in this ideal, pastoral world.


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