Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hell's Heaven and Heaven's Hell in Blake's "Clod and Pebble"

The Clod & the Pebble

Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair

So sang a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattles feet:
But a Pebble of the brook,
Warbled out these metres meet.

Love seeketh only Self to please.
To bind another to Its delight:
Joys in anothers loss of ease.
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite.

(William Blake, Songs of Experience)

Selfless love for others creates Heaven in Hell, whereas self love, the love to seeks only self-interest and self-delight, because such occurs at the expense of others, can create Hell in Heaven. This mixture reminds me of the end of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
(trans. William Weaver)

If, as another wise person said, "The Kingdom of God is within/among you," the kingdom it resists does too. If hell exists, it exists here. To make heaven break through, for the Kingdom of God to emerge, one must give space to those who are not of the inferno, one must, indeed, act with selfless love to endure it. Those in the second half of Blake's poem, the love of self that overshadows all else blend into the inferno and no longer recognize it for what it is, at best a coping mechanism. The rub is in recognition: who are they who are not of the inferno but are within the inferno? My guess is the mad and the eccentric.

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