Auguries of Innocence

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"Auguries of Innocence" is a poem from one of William Blake's notebooks now known as The Pickering Manuscript.[1] It is assumed to have been written in 1803, but was not published until 1863 in the companion volume to Alexander Gilchrist's biography of William Blake. The poem contains a series of paradoxes which speak of innocence juxtaposed with evil and corruption. The poem is 132 lines and has been published with and without breaks that divide the poem into stanzas. An augury is a sign or omen.

Subject, structure, language[edit]

A source for further information on these aspects of the poem, as well as on the context in which Blake was writing can be found in the BBC's "Bitsize" material for GCSE exams in England, Northern Ireland and Wales,[2] especially on pages 2 and 3 of the June 2018 version, which discusses them at a secondary student level.[3]

The poem[edit]

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.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house fill'd with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro' all its regions.
A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.

A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.

A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm'd for fight
Does the rising sun affright.

Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand'ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus'd breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher's knife.

The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won't believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever's fright.

He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov'd by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by woman lov'd.

The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider's enmity.
He who torments the chafer's sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.

The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother's grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgement draweth nigh.

He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar's dog and widow's cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

The gnat that sings his summer's song
Poison gets from slander's tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy's foot.

The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist's jealousy.

The prince's robes and beggar's rags
Are toadstools on the miser's bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Throughout all these human lands;
Tools were made and born were hands,
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;

This is caught by females bright,
And return'd to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar,
Are waves that beat on heaven's shore.

The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes revenge in realms of death.
The beggar's rags, fluttering in air,
Does to rags the heavens tear.

The soldier, arm'd with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer's sun.
The poor man's farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric's shore.

One mite wrung from the lab'rer's hands
Shall buy and sell the miser's lands;
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole nation sell and buy.

He who mocks the infant's faith
Shall be mock'd in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.

He who respects the infant's faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child's toys and the old man's reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.

The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.

The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour's iron brace.

When gold and gems adorn the plow,
To peaceful arts shall envy bow.
A riddle, or the cricket's cry,
Is to doubt a fit reply.

The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you please.

If the sun and moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.

The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation's fate.
The harlot's cry from street to street
Shall weave old England's winding-sheet.

The winner's shout, the loser's curse,
Dance before dead England's hearse.

Every night and 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.

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, and 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.

The lost chapter[edit]

Clever indeed is the stead
That seeks to lead others on their knees.
Where dos thou go in times of strife
Surely not towards sounds of delight.

The crow caws same as leaves fall
As so too do people ever wonder.
A dollar to a man, a sheet for the eyes
A sheet is set ablaze by power and knowledge.

To know is the key
To unlock the forever mysterious glee
The fog creepith in sight,
Just as readily as moonlight.

The cries of change are no longer nigh
As we close ours eyes to a slow demise.
Tomorrow is the new day
Same as a blind man choosing another way.

Together there is strength as sticks in a bunch
Steadfast we hold, to hold up another day.
At last we see it the end is in sight
Do not dare to shut off your own light.

When the goal has been reached
The poor man and rich man together may stand.
Forever the head of the beggar held high
As all of mankind stand as one and equals.

In popular culture[edit]

Lines from the poem were set to music in 1965 by Benjamin Britten as part of his song cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.

Three lines of the poem were included in the 1967 song "End of the Night" by Jim Morrison and The Doors.

The Agatha Christie novel Endless Night's title was inspired by this poem. Six lines of the poem were recited in a 1995 film, Dead Man. The lines were recited by the character named Nobody.[4]

The lines of the poem beginning ′A truth...′ are quoted in Chapter 11 of the Phillip Pullman Novel The Amber Spyglass (2000).

The first four lines of the poem were recited in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) by Angelina Jolie.

On May 10, 2015, the first four lines of the poem were recited in Season 2 Episode 2 (titled "Verbis Diablo"[5]) of the television series Penny Dreadful. The four lines were recited by the character "The Creature" better known as John Clare (played by Rory Kinnear) to the character Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green) during a conversation the two were having about theology and philosophy.

In 2016, a verse of the poem is quoted in the E3 trailer for Hideo Kojima's game Death Stranding.

In 2018. the first four lines of the poem were recited in Season 2 Episode 7 (titled "Les Écorchés"), of the television series Westworld by the character Robert Ford, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The first four lines were heavily tied into the main plot of Alex Comfort's novel Tetrarch.

References[edit]

  • The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 1986, 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press