The Human Abstract

Something happened earlier today that made me think of this rather frightening poem by William Blake, from his Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

     The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we:

And mutual fear brings peace:
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpiller and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat:
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain;
There grows one in the Human Brain

                   by William Blake

Why frightening? Well Blake often uses the term Mystery to describe, in his view, an oppressive system that enslaves people by abstracting or supernaturalising real natural and cultural forces in order to make slaves of them … “And at length they pronounced that Gods had ordered such Things. Thus men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast“.

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