Songs of Innocence and Experience, Song 9, (E 9)
Little Black Boy
"And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,"
Title page Book of Thel
Book of Thel
In Thel we have the story of a young woman uncertain about her future, considering several possibilities and retreating to the safety of the status quo. Thel is not in this world nor in the Eternal world. She resides in a potential state, incomplete, embryonic - the seed of possibility.
She consults with the lily, the cloud, the clod and the worm seeking to learn their roles in existence. Each feels fulfilled in a limited but purposeful role. Thel has already awoken to herself as a transient illusory entity so the answers of the others are not hers. Thel passes through the northern gate and observes the generated world. Seeing her open grave she questions the conditions which define mortal life and withdraws in horror. She refuses to enter the world of Generation.
A persistent theme in Blake's poetry is that the path to Eternity goes through materiality and mortality. As stated in Little Black Boy, we must 'learn to bear the beams of love.' Thel's refusal was to that option.
We who have been born into materiality are asked to perform tasks also. Just as Thel goes through experiences which lead to her opportunity to make a choice of going on or going back, so are we offered options. Progress for us is to move in the direction of Eternity, disregarding materiality. Turning back is always Death; Life is moving on. The Eternal, Spiritual world looks like Death to those who have not developed the ability to perceive the infinite. Thel's crisis of seeing a threatening world and refusing to enter is metaphoric of our fearing to turn loose of our investment in the physical world for the promise of Eternity.
Near the end of The Four Zoas, Blake returns to the worm, flowers, clay, the veil and seed and weaves them together to generate the 'New born Man'.
You may read this Passage from The Four Zoas in our post the Web of Life.