To see the world in a grain of sand.
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
Those are the words of William Blake, Romantic poet, painter, engraver, inspiration for Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, songwriters Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Bono, and Jim Morrison, who many believe named his group The Doors after a line in a Blake’s poem:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.”
Blake was just remembered in Give Us This Day, the daily Catholic prayer periodical, on the anniversary of his death, Aug. 12, 1827. Though not a Catholic and estranged from the Church of England – from any organized religion, in fact – Blake nonetheless was an intense spiritual seeker. He wrote many poems about faith and its paradoxes, and drew fantastical pictures of angels and the figure of Christ. His rebellion was fundamentally “the rebellion of the saints,” Merton once said. “It was the rebellion of the lover of the living God.”
Blake “deplored the moralism that passed for virtue, the hypocrisy, and dogmatism of organized religion, the ugliness and cruelty of industrialism, the pedantry that passed for learning,” This Day wrote. “In some ways he resembled a biblical prophet who looked at the world in light of the coming judgment.”
Among Blake’s most well-known poems are “Jerusalem,” which became a famous hymn, and the collection “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” which contain the poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” The latter is among the most anthologized poems in English and, analysts say, raises the moral quandary. That is, what sort of Supreme Being creates both an innocent lamb (a metaphor for Christ) and a vicious predator, the tiger, to kill it?