Category Archives: William Blake

I would be very pleased were it said of me

 

“He [William Blake] was a man without a mask; his aim was single; his path straight-forwards  and his wants few … His voice and manner were quiet, yet ALL AWAKE WiTH INTELLECT. … He was gentle and affectionate, loving to be with little children, and to talk about them.”

Samuel Palmer

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

in a semi-inebriated state

from my favorite pub, NYC, March 19, 2022

with a nod to my mentor (the man who said that the life of the mind is “like breathing”) Dr. Ralph Colp Jr.

“in minute particulars”

 

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.

— William Blake, Jerusalem

 

Some train of thought today got me to recall a memory that I haven’t recalled for a long time.

I was thinking about people who are self-righteous about rectifying what they see as wrongs, in general.

Amway, the memory is as follows. I will probably be seen as trying to portray myself in a positive light, as a saintly figure. That’s not my wish or intent. It’s just that a certain action I recall seemed relevant and brought to mind the quote from Blake.

And, I do feel that I have a large capacity for empathy, which I undoubtedly got from my mother And that, along with writers such as Blake, the teachings of Christ in the Bible, mostly gotten by me in Sunday school, had a major influence on what I perceive as right or desirable when I am acting at my best.

It was a very cold winter night during the period when I was newly married. My wife and I were living on a first floor apartment on the East Side. I was walking home from the 86th Street subway station. It was a ten or fifteen minute walk to our apartment.

I passed a sleeping man on the sidewalk of a side street. He was insufficiently protected against the cold. No blanket. I don’t recall what he was wearing.

I went home. My wife and I had a blanket which I valued highly. It was old. My wife had had it for I know not how long. An old, thick brown blanket. Woolen. It always kept us warm.

I hated to part with it, but I thought to myself, that homeless man needs it. Now. I took the blanket back to the spot where he was sleeping, draped it over him, and left. He didn’t stir.

Something else that may have stirred this memory. Late tonight, I wrapped a blanket around my wife, who was sleeping on the couch. It makes me feel good to do this for her.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 16, 2022

“What have you done for others?”

 

“You probably know that I am [doing volunteer work]. _______ has done numerous, exceedingly generous activities to help the disadvantaged. Can you name one thing you have ACTIVELY done to help the needy? …What have your contributions to society been? … What have YOU done for others?”

— email to me from a relative, July 2018

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And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. ….

— Matthew 5-6 (The Sermon on the Mount)

 

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.

— William Blake, Jerusalem

 

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The full Blake passage reads:

Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones;
And those who are in misery cannot remain so long,
If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.…
He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer;
For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars,
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power:
The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity.

T. S. Eliot (who, unaccountably, found fault with this passage) wrote that “Blake was endowed with a capacity for considerable understanding of human nature.” (T. S. Eliot, “Blake”; in The Sacred Wood: Essays On Poetry And Criticism). So true. And, in my opinion, Blake never said anything more true than He who would do good to another must do it in minute particulars. These words are seared into my consciousness, and they greatly influenced my thinking.

 

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I do not have a preference for organized charities (or charity). Though I do not, and one should not, find fault with them a priori, or with those who volunteer or donate. They may be supported for reasons, partly, of self-interest, or to make someone look good, say, in their public profile or on a resume or college application. Note that I said they “may be.”

I prefer to do good in minute particulars. In little ways. I am always trying to. In my immediate environment. Where I live. Among friends and friends of friends or relatives. And, mostly, for people whom I encounter anonymously in the City.

There is no point in my giving particulars — it would not be true to the spirit of what is said above.

And, by the way, I fully agree with what Blake wrote – the thrust of the entire passage quoted above — developing his idea of particular versus general good more fully: “General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer; … / And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power: / The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity.”

Much of what is done by social engineers and reformers – supposedly for amelioration of conditions of the oppressed – actually is done with the most mean spirited intentions one can conceive of, and actually does harm to individuals, as I have shown in many of my posts.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2019

the particular matters; quotes from famous authors

 

“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.”

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

 

“To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit — General Knowledges are those Knowledges that Idiots possess.”

— William Blake, Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses

 

“AND many conversèd on these things as they labour’d at the furrow, Saying: ‘It is better to prevent misery than to release from misery; It is better to prevent error than to forgive the criminal. Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones; And those who are in misery cannot remain so long, If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.… He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer; For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars, And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power: The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity. Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falsehood continually, On Circumcision, not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion!”

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”

 

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”Dear Hugo, you must write to me often as you can, & not delay it, your letters are very dear to me. Did you see my newspaper letter in N Y Times of Sunday Oct 4? About my dear comrade Bloom, is he still out in Pleasant Valley? Does he meet you often? Do you & the fellows meet at Gray’s or any where? O Hugo, I wish I could hear with you the current opera – I saw Devereux in the N Y papers of Monday announced for that night, & I knew in all probability you would be there – tell me how it goes – only don’t run away with that theme & occupy too much of your letter with it – but tell me mainly about all my dear friends, & every little personal item, & what you all do, & say &c.”

— Walt Whitman, letter to Hugo Fritsch, dated Washington, DC, October 8, 1863; from Selected Letters of Walt Whitman

 

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“[I]n these lives of ours, tender little acts do more to bind hearts together than great deeds or heroic words. …”

— Louisa May Alcott, Work: A Story of Experience

 

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“… I particularly liked your manner of explanation when you lowered your voice and spoke quietly of the elements that interest us both, the humane particulars of realization and communication.”

— William Carlos Williams, letter to Kenneth Burke, November 10, 1945

 

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“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.”

— Henry Miller, Plexus (New York: Grove Press, 1965, pg. 53)

 

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“In the ordinary is the extraordinary. In the particular is the universal.”

— Frank Delaney (1942–2017), Irish novelist, journalist and broadcaster; blog post re James Joyce’s Ulysses

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2015; updated June 2018

Benjamin Britten, “Elegy”

 

 

The Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31, is a song cycle written in 1943 by English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) for tenor accompanied by a solo horn and a small string orchestra. Composed during World War II, it is a setting of six poems by British poets.

It is comprised of eight movements, including “Elegy”, set to the poem “The Sick Rose” by William Blake.

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017

 

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The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

The Ecchoing Green

 

Central Park, April 10, 2017

photo by Roger W. Smith

 

Central Park 6-02 p.m. 4-10-2017

 

The sun does arise,
And make happy the skies.
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring.
The sky-lark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells’ cheerful sound.
While our sports shall be seen
On the Ecchoing Green.

— William Blake, “The Ecchoing Green”

William Blake, “A Poison Tree”

 

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

 

— William Blake, “A Poison Tree”; from Blake’s Songs of Experience

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

 

 

Anger Management 101

 

I have had occasion to be thinking a lot in the past week about anger.

Having been under considerable stress for various reasons, I have lost my temper on several occasions.

I found myself doing this over trivial things. For example, I was in a Dunkin’ Donuts/Baksin Robbins store and ordered ice cream for me and my older son. The guy behind the counter said, “That’s two ice coffees, right?” I answered angrily and loudly, “No! I said ice CREAM.”

There were other, more serious incidents this week of me losing my temper or expressing displeasure. One was with a company for messing up the shipment of items I had ordered, so that they didn’t arrive on time (it was totally their fault); another one was with a professional person whom I know on a provider-client basis; and I had disagreements with members of my immediate family.

Usually, people find me to be mild mannered and not prone — in public at least — to annoyance or anger. My behavior this week was not the norm.

I have been thinking, about anger: when is it appropriate and when is it not?

William Blake’s insights, expressed in his poem “The Poison Tree” come to mind:

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

(“A Poison Tree,” from Songs of Experience)

I would say that anger is appropriate and can’t be avoided in intimate relationships — e.g., a marriage.

If spouses did not argue (frequently), that would be abnormal.

My parents used to make this point to me and my siblings. They got along well. And, they tried to present a unified front when it came to issues related to parenting, so that we children would not see them bickering over what measures to adopt when it came to disciplining us or setting rules of conduct, say.

At the same time, they told us that couples who pretended that their relationship was one of perfect harmony and bliss and who hid conflicts from their children were fostering an untrue, picture perfect image that was actually harmful, because it would not prepare their offspring to deal with issues that would arise when they became adults and married. (This was a shared belief, but I seem to recall that it was my father who actually said this to me.)

It seems that the situation regarding “anger management” is different when it comes to NON-intimate relationships: e.g., a professional and client; teacher and student; employee and boss; relationships between professional or academic colleagues or businesspeople; and so on.

A few observations and illustrative examples from my own experience.

Honesty is a cardinal virtue I was raised on and believed in.

So I always thought Blake was right. When you are really angry, disagree with someone strongly — when it is not a trivial matter that can (and probably should, in such instances) be passed over — you should express it, share with the other person what you really feel, no matter how hard this may be.

Presumably, or at least hopefully, they will appreciate your honesty and integrity and will not, in the final analysis, be offended.

Nice to contemplate, but this has rarely been the case, in my experience.

On those occasions when I have allowed myself to express anger at someone, have leveled with them, it has rarely gone well or been taken well. It has almost always seemed to be bitterly resented and often has led to the end of the relationship and/or a “counter grudge” against me.

I should add that, from my experience, it seems that the case is different with really close relationships, such as relationships with a spouse or lover or family relationships (close family relationships, that is). It does seem that anger can and should be expressed, when it is legitimate and truly felt, in such situations, which could be said to be obvious — that it can’t be avoided — and that, while it may lead to bitterness and recrimination (and almost always does, it seems), it is possible to work through such feelings and come to a level of understanding in which the relationship has been in some ways strengthened, so that expressing anger is a NECESSARY thing. It kind of reminds me of when engineers have to shut down a part of a highway or bridge for a while for repairs, but then it reopens, strengthened and improved.

In the case of NON-intimate relationships, I have found that the best policy is to refrain to the fullest extent possible from expressing annoyance or anger, from letting it show. A therapist I was seeing once gave me precisely this advice (by implication, in the form of a question he addressed to me).

Sometimes I have failed to adhere to this self-styled “best policy” — invariably with bad consequences.

For example.

I was experiencing some difficulties once — it’s a convoluted story — with the editor of an academic journal I was associated with. I don’t remember the details of our disagreement. There was some underlying tension between the editor and me over my status as a contributor to the journal, on the masthead of which my name had been recently added.

I had done several book reviews for the journal and a successor publication. They were praised by the editor, along with some of my other writings. Then, I was given the assignment of reviewing a major new book, a biography of an important American writer, by this same person, the editor with whom I was experiencing friction. I gave his book a very thorough review, and a very favorable one (which it deserved).

Sometime not long after, I was given the assignment by the book review editor (not the same person as the one mentioned in the previous paragraph) to review two books for the next issue. One of the books was edited by the same person mentioned above, the journal editor whose biography of a writer I had recently reviewed.

I purchased the two books and started in right away to read them, preparing to review them. Then, a little while later, the book review editor contacted me and informed me that she was assigning one of the two books to a different reviewer. The book she was reassigning was the one edited by the editor of the journal, the English professor with whom I was having some disagreements.

This annoyed me and I wondered what was going on. Had the journal editor (the author) told the book review editor to take the assignment away from me? But I deemed it best to comply and say nothing about it.

Then my irritation got the best of me. I called the book review editor (not a wise move), who called me back the next day. I tried to be nonconfrontational, asked her as politely as I could what was going on. Was there some underlying reason that the decision had been made to take this particular book away from me, so to speak, and give it to another reviewer?

Her answer, in a nutshell, was no, it had nothing to do with me. It had just happened that someone else had come along who was willing to do the review.

I said fine, although I wasn’t completely satisfied with her explanation. Nevertheless, I thought the matter was over and done with.

But, as it turned out, the mere dropping of a hint of annoyance at her doorstep did have negative consequences. I did the other review that I had been assigned, but I never heard from the book review editor again. This despite the fact that I seemed to be one of her best and reliable book reviewers. I have contacted her since suggesting reviews, and she does not answer my emails.

She obviously decided that it was not worth the aggravation to continue dealing with me.

Something similar – in reverse, as it were – happened with me.

Around eight years ago, I was contemplating a trip to Russia and hired a private language instructor, a Russian émigré living in New York, to tutor me in the language, which I had studied, without achieving fluency, in college.

I took lessons with him twice a week in Manhattan at a modest rate, but they didn’t last long.

The instructor was short tempered and didn’t seem to enjoy what he was doing. He was impatient when I faltered with the language, had trouble pronouncing it, and so on. He was even annoyed when I had trouble using a cassette recorder he had advised me to purchase and bring to the lessons with me.

On one occasion, he vented anger openly, for no reason whatsoever. It was a very brief outburst. Not that apparent or vehement, but it was enough for me.

I thought about it and had no trouble reaching a decision. I didn’t need the aggravation. As a client, I was totally at liberty to leave. It wasn’t worth it, so I quit.

I heard from him again — he called trying to get me to start lessons with him again.

He seemed to really need the business.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2016