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Q: explanetion of a poem ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: explanetion of a poem
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: ratan-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 06 Jul 2002 09:21 PDT
Expires: 05 Aug 2002 09:21 PDT
Question ID: 37056
Can someone please explain the meaniong of the following poem, by
Wiliam Blake:
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.

Also, are there sites where one can search passages of different poems
and have their meanings explained in plain English. In other words,
make their figurative intents clearer?
Subject: Re: explanetion of a poem
Answered By: angy-ga on 06 Jul 2002 22:48 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi !

The lines you quote are the first four lines of "Auguries of
Innocence" 1863, as and point out. The University
of Toronto site recommended by is an excellent site for
researching poetry, among others which I have listed below. However,
the text quoted there is not quite complete. A full text can be found

This text contains no punctuation, which I believe is how it was

To make some suggestions about the first part of your question:

Explaining poetry - like all forms of literary criticism - is partly a
matter of personal opinion and partly one of background: finding out -
if possible - what the author thought he was saying. Blake, though a
mystic, tried to make his work accessible to the ordinary reader, so
he keeps his language simple.

An "augury" is:
"1. the art or practice of an augur; divination. 
2. the rite or ceremony of an augur. 
3. an omen, token, or indication."
( Dictionary at:  )

So I believe that Blake is deliberately making his poem out of a
series of cryptic utterances that could have come from a soothsayer,
leaving the interpretation up to the reader.

The opening lines seem to me to say that if we are to see the beauty
in small things, "heaven in a wild flower" we must learn to "Hold..
eternity in an hour" - that is to hold the moment precious and
experience it in full. Many mystic traditions use meditation
techniques to achieve much the same thing.

Lines 5 to 20, commented on by ethveg-ga, are a series of couplets
most of which indeed comment on man's cruelty to animals. However,
lines 19-20
"   Every wolf's and lion's howl
    Raises from Hell a human soul."
is not so clear, since releasing human sould from Hell is generally
considered a good thing, and the dovehouse/Hell lines are also
ambiguous, since most docecots are open to give the birds free access.
Maybe Blake is trying to make us think !

Blake continues on with more of these deceptively simple statements,
made to seem like proverbsm or folklore. Gradually the concepts become
more complex and philosophical:

"One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands
Or if protected from on high
Does that whole Nation sell & buy
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mock'd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out

He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out "

Some comments seem political in nature. 

"The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate
The Harlots cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse
Dance before dead Englands Hearse "

I get the feeling Blake would not have approved of internet Casinos !

His conclusion to the poem is:

"God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day "

which seems reassuring, until you wonder how "those who dwell in" are going to recognise God? Not so easy.

Blake is uncomfortable to read - the apparently simple concepts hide
some complex ideas which the reader must think about in the context of
his or her own experience; which I suspect is precisely what Blake

Now to the second part of your question:

The Internet Public Library's literary criticism section can be found

"The IPL Literary Criticism Collection contains critical and
biographical websites about authors and their works that can be
browsed by author, by title, or by nationality and literary period."

Using William Blake as an example, searching under "Blake" rather
confusingly pulls up a series of references to Ernest Hemingway, but
the William Blake references are there as well at the bottom !

Some useful links given here to Blake criticism include:


This gives a "lengthy analysis of the author's life and work includes
sections on "Early Career ", "Poetical Sketches", "Beginnings of
Mysticism; Songs of Innocence and Thel", "Songs of Experience", "His
mystical Christianity ", and "Blake and the Romantic Revival."
Contains: Extensive Bio, Criticism, Bibliography 
Author: J. P. R. Wallis 
From: The Cambridge History of English and American Literature Volume
XI: English, The Period of the French Revolution"

(Note that:
has an excellent collections of literary reference material.)

Blake: His shadowy animals 
"The animals that are invoked rather than described in William Blake's
works are discussed. The 'representation' of the animals is examined.
Contains: Criticism 
Author: David Punter 
From: Studies in Romanticism Vol. 36 No. 2; p. 227
Access Restrictions: NL "

T.S. Eliot on William Blake 
"The text of T.S. Eliot's essay on William Blake from Eliot's "The
Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism." From Project Bartleby.
Contains: Criticism 
Author: T. S. Eliot 
Keywords: poets "
has a short biography and a picture of Blake.
This includes information about his mysticism "in plain English":

"From early childhood, Blake spoke of having visions—at four he saw
God "put his head to the window"; around age nine, while walking
through the countryside, he saw a tree filled with angels. Although
his parents tried to discourage him from "lying," they did observe
that he was different from his peers and did not force him to attend
conventional school. "
"Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading
radical thinkers of his day, such as Thomas Paine and Mary
Wollstonecraft. In defiance of 18th-century neoclassical conventions,
he privileged imagination over reason in the creation of both his
poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be constructed
not from observations of nature but from inner visions. "

His artistic ability developed side by side with his writing and he
illustrated his own works, often integrating text and illustration.

His later works "envision a new and higher kind of innocence, the
human spirit triumphant over reason.

Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by common
people, but he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to
become popular."

(The author of this biography is not credited on the site.)
has many of Blake's illustrations in what is entended as a graphical
interface with the poems, though I found it difficult to navigate.

I hope this is useful - it's been fun to research !

Search terms: Blake , Literary Criticism

Request for Answer Clarification by ratan-ga on 07 Jul 2002 09:07 PDT
Just one thing. Is there a site where you can search for literary
works by author or title and which provides not only the text of the
verse written by the author or poet but also an expalnation of the
intent by the literary critic? In other words, the original poem,
followed by an expalnation for every verse.

Clarification of Answer by angy-ga on 08 Jul 2002 23:32 PDT
Hi !

I'm typing this because a clarification request popped up - but I'm
assuming from your kind response that you don't actually want any more
details on Blake from me?

I've no idea if you are allowed to pay more - but it isn't necessary,
I enjoyed answering your question !
ratan-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Wow, thank you, angry-ga,  for a great answer. The answer deserves a
lot more than $2.00. Can I increase the amount for this answer? Please
Thank you all for your comments. They are highly aprreciated. This is
a wonderful community!

Subject: Re: explanetion of a poem
From: jeeagle-ga on 06 Jul 2002 12:04 PDT
These four lines are actually a part of a much longer poem, " Auguries
of Innocence", the full text of which is available here:
Subject: Re: explanetion of a poem
From: ethveg-ga on 06 Jul 2002 14:26 PDT
Blake is generally considered an immmanent mystic, meaning that he
believed in "magick" as a/the Natural Force.

The opening four lines of the poem in question state the poem's
thesis:  knowlegde/understanding of a small part of the whole reveals
the nature of the whole.

In the lines which follow immediately he explicates this thesis with
multiple examples, each of which states that Man's mistreatment of
other animals (that part of Nature most immediately-recognizable as
also alive, but often regarded by humans as less-than-human) reflects
the state of Man's own existence:  thus locking a robin in a cage
angers Heaven (agains humans), locking doves and pigeons in a
container arouses even Hell, a Man neglecting his own dog's needs
augures that the "state" (Country) as a whole is in trouble, abusing a
workhorse results (karmically) in punishment for humans, huntihg (hare
or skylark) both insults our mind ("brain") and saddens angels, and
using animals for bloodsport is so terrible that even the Sun is
terrified by it.
Subject: Re: explanetion of a poem
From: ethveg-ga on 06 Jul 2002 14:29 PDT
As an afterthought, a modern-day extrapolation of this concept is
found in chaos theory's dictum "pick a flower, move a star," meaning
that the "magickal" (in Blake's terms) cause-and-effect connections in
the universe extend beyond our personal understanding
Subject: Re: explanetion of a poem
From: angy-ga on 08 Jul 2002 23:28 PDT
My pleasure, ratan-ga

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