Thursday, August 13, 2009
This monster's a star
This is William Blake's The Ghost of a Flea, 1819-20. I've always liked TGOAF, but never knew he could be read as a cultural commentary until I came across this analysis by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. The idea that Mr. Ghost is Blake's "riposte to the English face-painters," an alter ego of the Gainsborough lady, is pretty delightful. But I can't say I really share Jones' impression of the monster as "evil, gothic, grotesque" and "a colossus come to life." Surely this monster is meant to be comic in the perverse way that Blake loved. The greedy look on his face, combined with the suggestion that he's being watched by an unseen audience, make him absurd, even worthy of pity.
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 his 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 caterpillar 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 through nature to find this tree,
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the human Brain.
From Blake's Songs of Experience, 1794. Text from Nimbi