22 July 2008

Transcending time

Once upon a time I contemplated taking a master's course on William Blake. There were so many aspects to his work that my undergrad English classes inspired me to explore, and I wanted to keeping learning about him. His theories on art and the imagination seemed to link him more closely to the metaphysical poets than the Romantics (in my humble opinion), and having been lucky enough to see an exhibit of his work at the Tate, I wanted to understand more about his holistic vision of reality.

I bought a used copy of Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake a few years ago, but have only now begun reading it.

Holy crap.

I'm only on page 68, but my mind has been officially blown. Frye is examining everything I've ever suspected about Blake, offering a refreshing look at one of the most misunderstood poets in the English language. The timeliness of Frye's work is also compelling. As he says in the preface,
I wrote Fearful Symmetry during the Second World War, and hideous as that time was, it provided some parallels with Blake's time which were useful for understanding Blake's attitude to the world. Today, now that reactionary and radical forces alike are once more in the grip of the nihilistic psychosis that Blake described so powerfully in Jerusalem, one of the most hopeful signs is the immensely increased sense of the urgency and immediacy of what Blake had to say.
Frye penned this passage in 1969. There's a special urgency to what he has to say as well, and this beautifully wise work of literary criticism (that also encompasses philosophy and theology) deserves a wide readership today. I look forward to continuing my journey through this spectacular book.

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