A land of men and women too,
And heard and saw such dreadful things
As cold earth wanderers never knew.
For there the babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe,
Just as we reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow;
And if the babe is born a boy
He’s given to a woman old,
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.
She binds iron thorns around his head,
And pierces both his hands and feet,
And cuts his heart out of his side
To make it feel both cold & heat.
Her fingers number every nerve
Just as a miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries—
And she grows young as he grows old,
Till he becomes a bleeding youth
And she becomes a virgin bright;
Then he rends up his manacles
And pins her down for his delight.
He plants himself in all her nerves
Just as a husbandman his mould,
And she bcomes his dwelling-place
And garden, frutiful seventyfold.
An aged shadow soon he fades,
Wandering round and earthly cot,
Full filled all with gems and gold
Which he by industry had got.
And these are the gems of the human soul:
The rubies and pearls of a lovesick eye,
The countless gold of an aching heart,
The martyr’s groan, and the lover’s sigh.
They are his meat, they are his drink:
He feeds the beggar and the poor
And the wayfaring traveller;
For ever open is his door.
His grief is their eternal joy,
They make the roofs and walls to ring—
Till from the fire on the hearth
Alittle female babe does spring!
And she is all of solid fire
And gems and gold, that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band.
But she comes to the man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor;
They soon drive out the aged host,
A beggar at another’s door.
He wanders weeping far away
Until some other take him in;
Oft blind and age-bent, sore distressed,
Until he can a maiden win.
And to allay his freezing age
The poor man takes her in his arms:
The cottage fades before his sight,
The garden and its lovely charms;
The guests are scattered through the land
The senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat earth becomes a ball,
The stars, sun, moon, all shrink away—
A desert vast without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink
And a dark desert all around.
The honey of her infant lips,
The bread and wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving eye
Does him to infancy beguile.
For as he eats and drinks he grows
Younger and younger every day;
And on the desert wild they both
Wander in terror and dismay.
Like the wild stag she flees away;
Her fear plants many a thicket wild,
While he pursues her night and day,
By various arts of love beguiled.
By various arts of love and hate,
Till the wide desert planted o’er
With labyrinths of wayward love,
Where roams the lion, wolf and boar,
Till he becomes a wayward babe
And she a weeping woman old.
Then many a lover wanders here,
The sun and stars are nearer rolled,
The trees bring forth sweet ecstasy
To all who in the desert roam,
Till many a city there is built,
And many a pleasant shepherd’s home.
But when they find the frowning babe
Terror strikes through the region wide;
They cry, ‘The Babe! the Babe is born!’
And flee away on every side.
For who dare touch the frowning form
His arm is withered to its root,
Lions, boars, wolves, all howling flee
And every tree does shed its fruit;
And none can touch that frowning form,
Except it be a woman old;
She nails him down upon the rock,
And all is done as I have told.
William Blake, from the ‘Pickering Manuscript’ (?1803)