1. S. Eliot


The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

Four Quartets

East Coker


the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.


So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
. . . each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.

These citations from Eliot capture the issue I will be discussing in this talk.  By way of introduction, I’d like to recount the circumstances under which the idea for this talk came about.  A few of us were driving from Edmonton to Salt Lake City to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions.  We drove the 18 hours straight through.  At about 3 AM we were on a dark mountain freeway somewhere in Montana, I would guess.  I got to talking about Emanuel Swedenborg with Len, an Eckankar friend of mine.  I said that Swedenborg claimed to talk with angels.  And when Swedenborg tried to put into earthly language the ideas he heard from the angels, language failed.  The word ineffable comes up again and again in Swedenborg’s works.  I expected Len to say something like, “So, Swedenborg talked with angels, eh?”  But instead, Len said something quite different.  He said, “But isn’t that the perennial poetic problem—putting the inexpressible into language?”  The discussion then turned to dream symbolism, myth, archetypes, and metaphor.

We said the myth, metaphor, and symbolism often are able to express the ineffable when discursive argument fails.  There are aspects of human experience that don’t lend themselves to discursive language.  We struggle with ways to express the inexpressible.

After talking about Swedenborg’s correspondences, dream symbolism, myth, allegory, and metaphor, Plato immediately came to mind.  We think of Plato as a master of argument, as a father of logic and reason.  But even Plato found himself confronted with ideas for which he couldn’t use logic and argument.  This master of reason resorts to metaphor and myth for some of his most important ideas.  I thought about Plato’s difficulties in talking about “The Good” and his myth of the cave in The Republic.  And I thought about the myth of the charioteer in Phaedrus.

When Plato tries to talk about “The Good,” he immediately resorts to metaphor.  For Plato, “The Good” is beyond knowing for humans on this plane of existence—or at least beyond his capacity to explain.  But Plato can talk about “the child” of The Good.  So already we are dealing with metaphor.  The child of The Good is truth.  Still talking in metaphor, we can “see” truth.  We can intuit The Good by looking at its operation in the generation of truth.  The Good causes the soul to know and “see” truth.  This relationship is described by an extended metaphor—that of the sun.  The sun gives light.  But it is the eye that sees, and what the eye sees is the light from the sun.  So Plato compares the relationship between sight, the eye, and the sun to knowledge, the knower, and The Good, I think.

Plato, Republic (Book 6):

No, sweet sirs, let us not at present ask what is the actual nature of the good, for to reach what is now in my thoughts would be an effort too great for me. But of the child of the good who is likest him, I would fain speak. . . .

Neither sight nor the eye in which sight resides is the sun?


Yet of all the organs of sense the eye is the most like the sun?

By far the most like.

And the power which the eye possesses is a sort of effluence which is dispensed from the sun?


Then the sun is not sight, but the author of sight who is recognised by sight?

True, he said.

And this is he whom I call the child of the good, whom the good begat in his own likeness, to be in the visible world, in relation to sight and the things of sight, what the good is in the intellectual world in relation to mind and the things of mind:

Will you be a little more explicit? he said.

Why, you know, I said, that the eyes, when a person directs them towards objects on which the light of day is no longer shining, but the moon and stars only, see dimly, and are nearly blind; they seem to have no clearness of vision in them?

Very true.

But when they are directed towards objects on which the sun shines, they see clearly and there is sight in them?


And the soul is like the eye: when resting upon that on which truth and being shine, the soul perceives and understands, and is radiant with intelligence; but when turned towards the twilight of becoming and perishing, then she has opinion only, and goes blinking about, and is first of one opinion and then of another, and seems to have no intelligence?

Just so.

Now, that which imparts truth to the known and the power of knowing to the knower is what I would have you term the idea of good, and this you will deem to be the cause of knowledge, and of truth in so far as the latter becomes the subject of knowledge; beautiful too, as are both truth and knowledge, you will be right in esteeming this other nature as more beautiful than either; and, as in the previous instance, light and sight may be truly said to be like the sun, and yet not to be the sun, so in this other sphere, knowledge and truth may be deemed to be like the good, but not the good; the good has a place of honour yet higher.

Immediately upon completing his metaphor of the sun, Plato launches into his most famous metaphor: The Myth of the Cave (Republic, Book VII).

In Phaedrus, Plato attempts to describe the origins of love (eros).  For Plato, love is a divine madness.  Its origin is in the realm of Being, the Intelligibles (Eikones).  The subject of love opens a “narration” on the relationship between the realm of Being and the realm of Existence, and on the nature of the soul.  When Plato attempts to explain these relationships, he resorts to metaphor—myth, actually.  Hence we have another, perhaps less famous, myth: the charioteer.


Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever a theme of large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly, and in narrative (diegesis). And let it be composite, like a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. . . . the human charioteer drives his in a pair; and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity gives a great deal of trouble to him.

But of the heaven which is above the heavens, what earthly poet ever did or ever will sing worthily? It is such as I will describe; for I must dare to speak the truth, when truth is my theme. There abides the very being with which true knowledge is concerned; the colourless, formless, intangible essence, visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul. The divine intelligence, being nurtured upon mind and pure knowledge, and the intelligence of every soul which is capable of receiving the food proper to it, rejoices at beholding reality, and once more gazing upon truth, is replenished and made glad, until the revolution of the worlds brings her round again to the same place. In the revolution she beholds justice, and temperance, and knowledge absolute, not in the form of generation or of relation, which men call existence, but knowledge absolute in existence absolute; and beholding the other true existences in like manner, and feasting upon them, she passes down into the interior of the heavens and returns home; and there the charioteer putting up his horses at the stall, gives them ambrosia to eat and nectar to drink.

Plato describes the divine origins of human love almost completely in myth.

But he whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees any one having a godlike face or form, which is the expression of divine beauty; and at first a shudder runs through him, and again the old awe steals over him; then looking upon the face of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if he were not afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god; then while he gazes on him there is a sort of reaction, and the shudder passes into an unusual heat and perspiration; for, as he receives the effluence of beauty through the eyes, the wing moistens and he warms. And as he warms, the parts out of which the wing grew, and which had been hitherto closed and rigid, and had prevented the wing from shooting forth, are melted, and as nourishment streams upon him, the lower end of the wings begins to swell and grow from the root upwards; and the growth extends under the whole soul-for once the whole was winged.

And from both of them together the soul is oppressed at the strangeness of her condition, and is in a great strait and excitement, and in her madness can neither sleep by night nor abide in her place by day. . . . he has forgotten mother and brethren and companions, and he thinks nothing of the neglect and loss of his property; the rules and proprieties of life, on which he formerly prided himself, he now despises, and is ready to sleep like a servant, wherever he is allowed, as near as he can to his desired one . . . . And this state, my dear imaginary youth to whom I am talking, is by men called love . . .

Plato describes the experience of subduing the passions (appetites) with graphic imagery.

And now they are at the spot and behold the flashing beauty of the beloved; which when the charioteer sees, his memory is carried to the true beauty, whom he beholds in company with Modesty like an image placed upon a holy pedestal. He sees her, but he is afraid and falls backwards in adoration, and by his fall is compelled to pull back the reins with such violence as to bring both the steeds on their haunches, the one willing and unresisting, the unruly one very unwilling; and when they have gone back a little, the one is overcome with shame and wonder, and his whole soul is bathed in perspiration; the other, when the pain is over which the bridle and the fall had given him, having with difficulty taken breath, is full of wrath and reproaches, which he heaps upon the charioteer and his fellow-steed, for want of courage and manhood, . . . Then the charioteer is worse off than ever; he falls back like a racer at the barrier, and with a still more violent wrench drags the bit out of the teeth of the wild steed and covers his abusive tongue and-jaws with blood, and forces his legs and haunches to the ground and punishes him sorely. And when this has happened several times and the villain has ceased from his wanton way, he is tamed and humbled, and follows the will of the charioteer, and when he sees the beautiful one he is ready to die of fear. And from that time forward the soul of the lover follows the beloved in modesty and holy fear.

Following the trajectories of “Saint” Plato, Saint Dionysius the Areopagite seeks God in a transcendental experience.  The transcendental experience of God is beyond any human thought, so beyond any human word or linguistic construction.  Yet Dionysius cannot avoid using language taken from human experience.  His solution is to use paradox.  So we find a “Radiance” of Darkness, we see and know that which is above vision and knowledge, and by not-seeing and by unknowing we attain true vision and knowledge.

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (5th-6th C), Mystical Theology,

Ch. 1:

leave behind the senses and the operations of the intellect, and all things sensible and intellectual, and all things in the world of being and nonbeing, that you may arise by unknowing towards the union, as far as is attainable, with it that transcends all being and all knowledge.  For by the unceasing and absolute renunciation of yourself and of all things you may be borne on high, through pure and entire self-abnegation, into the superessential Radiance of the Divine Darkness. . . .

Its incomprehensible Presence is manifested upon those heights of Its Holy Places; that then It breaks forth, even from that which is seen and that which sees, and plunges the mystic into the Darkness of Unknowing, whence all perfection of understanding is excluded, and he is enwrapped in that which is altogether intangible, wholly absorbed in it that is beyond all, and in none else (whether himself or another); and through the inactivity of all his reasoning powers is united by his highest faculty to it that is wholly unknowable; thus by knowing nothing he knows That which is beyond his knowledge.

Ch. 2:

We pray that we may come unto this Darkness which is beyond light, and, without seeing and without knowing, to see and to know that which is above vision and knowledge through the realization that by not-seeing and by unknowing we attain to true vision and knowledge; and thus praise, superessentially, it that is superessential, by the transcendence of all things; . . .

 Saint Teresa of Avila writes just after the golden age of chivalric romance.  We are told that she was an avid reader of romances.  In describing her ecstatic relationship with God, Teresa narrates a vision.  Thus we can say that her description of her experience of God is comprised of symbols, or metaphors.  The metaphor and language of her vision seems to me to be influenced by her reading of chivalric romance.  Her relationship with God in this vision is called a love relationship.  She describes a flaming spear piercing her heart and being withdrawn.  This is suggestive to me of Cupid’s arrows, which inflame the heart with love when individuals are pierced.  The feeling of being pierced by the spear is a sweet pain that causes her to moan.  She is left “on fire” with a love for God.  She says that this is spiritual pain, but adds that it is also bodily, in fact, “the body has its share in it, even a large one.”  I do not think that imagery of chivalric romance in any diminishes the reality of her vision.  I believe that visionary experiences are composed of materials taken from the consciousness of the visionary.  

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), The Life of Teresa of Jesus, Ch 29

  1. 16. Our Lord was pleased that I should have at times a vision of this kind: I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful–his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.
  1. 17. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

Expressing Ineffable Love: Profane

Interpersonal love becomes a virtue in the literature of chivalric romance.  In the beginnings of the modern period, human love increasingly becomes an explicit human aspiration.    Accordingly, a whole body of literature is now devoted to human love.

Early in the modern period, conflict between Christian asceticism and chivalric romance finds expression in literature.  This can be glimpsed in Dante and Malory.  In Dante, the second ring of hell is comprised of lovers.  In it we find Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Iseult, Helen and Paris, Cleopatra and Anthony.  While indeed these lovers are adulterers, the hell doesn’t seem to be called “avowtrie,” but lust.  Then, in the last circle of Purgatory, like book-ends, is again lust.  There we find the great love poet Arnaut Daniel.  With lust at the beginning and end of hell and purgatory, in Paradise we no longer find couples.  The great love between Dante and Beatrice remains unconsummated.  The Divine Comedy ends with Dante and Beatrice gazing at the Beatific Vision separately.

In the hell of the lustful, the passions that drive the lovers into their illicit trysts are symbolized by cyclonic winds.

 Dante: Inferno, Canto V:

I came to a place devoid of light, that moans like a tempestuous sea, when it is buffeted by warring winds. The hellish storm that never ceases drives the spirits with its force, and, whirling and striking, it molests them. When they come to the ruins there are shouts, moaning and crying, where they blaspheme against divine power. I learnt that the carnal sinners are condemned to these torments, they who subject their reason to their lust.

And, as their wings carry the starlings, in a vast, crowded flock, in the cold season, so that wind carries the wicked spirits, and leads them here and there, and up and down. No hope of rest, or even lesser torment, comforts them. And as the cranes go, making their sounds, forming a long flight, of themselves, in the air, so I saw the shadows come, moaning, carried by that war of winds,

Although Malory’s Morte D’Arthur is one of the late classics of chivalric romance, a large section in the middle of the work expounds the virtues of chastity: The Noble Tale of the Sancgreal.  In ithe Grail quest, Sir Lancelot, the most worshipful knight of all, fails miserably.  This is because of his love for Guinevere.

Lancelot has a vision of holiness in the tale.  In Malory, connection with God is not mystical union as we have seen in Dionysius, or even Teresa.  Rather, it is imaged in the liturgy of the Eucharist.  Now the symbols of church are a means of expressing the union between God and humanity.  Lancelot has a vision of the Eucharist and how it effects union with God.  In Lancelot’s vision the Trinity is seen above a priest’s hands.  Two Persons of the Trinity put Jesus into the priest’s hands.  This is a symbolic representation of transubstantiation in the wafer.  The priest appears to become so ill that he is about to faint.  Lancelot tried to enter the chapel to help the priest.  However, a fiery breath burns Lancelot’s face and the knight collapses into a coma.  The fire and Lancelot’s failure is due to the passion of his love for Guinevere.

Malory, Morte D’Arthur, Book XVII, Ch. 15:

henne loked he vp in the myddes of the chamber / and sawe a table of syluer and the holy vessel couerd with reed samyte / and many angels aboute hit / wherof one helde a candel of waxe brennyng and the other held a crosse and the ornementys of an aulter And bifore the holy vessel he sawe a good man clothed as a preest / And it semed that he was at the sacrynge of the masse And it semed to Launcelot that aboue the preestes handes were thre men wherof the two putte the yongest by lykenes bitwene the preestes handes / and soo he lyfte hit vp ryght hyhe / & it semed to shewe so to the peple / And thenne launcelot merueyled not a lytyl / For hym thouȝt the preest was so gretely charged of the fygure that hym semed that he shold falle to the erthe / And whan he sawe none aboute hym that wolde helpe hym / Thenne came he to the dore a grete paas and sayd / Faire fader Ihesu Cryst ne take hit for no synne though I helpe the good man whiche hath grete nede of help / Ryghte soo entryd he in to the chamber and cam toward the table of syluer / and whanne he came nyghe he felte a brethe that hym thoughte hit was entremedled with fyre whiche smote hym so sore in the vysage that hym thoughte it brente vysage / and there with he felle to the erthe and had no power to aryse / as he that was soo araged that had loste the power of his body and his herynge and his seynge.

Thenne felte he many handes aboute hym whiche tooke hym vp / and bare hym oute of the chamber dore / withoute ony amendynge of his swoune / and lefte hym there semyng dede to al peple.

Expressing Ineffable Love: Sublime

But most of Malory is devoted to celebrating romantic love on the human plane.  Feelings of love are nearly as ineffable as are those of God-human relations.  In one of the most enduring medieval passages of love, Malory describes love by referring to the seasons of nature.  These symbols are archetypical, and although they may sound cliché now, Malory was one of the very early literati to use them.

In May, herbs and trees flourish and blossom, so lovers call to mind memories of happy times and kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence.  Harshness is compared to winter’s cold blasts.  Infatuation is compared to hasty heat, and when acted upon hastily, dissipates into cold—“Sone hote soone cold.”  Malory, even in this immortal tribute to “vertuous love,” seems to honor ascetic values.  He says that in Arthur’s day couples could love for seven years without “lycours lustes” arising between them.

 Malory, Morte D’ArthurBook XVIII, Ch. 25:

ANd thus it past on from candylmas vntyl after ester that the moneth of may was come / whan euery lusty herte begynneth to blosomme / and to brynge forth fruyte / for lyke as herbes and trees bryngen forth fruyte and florysshen in may / in lyke wyse euery lusty herte that is in ony maner a louer spryngeth and floryssheth in lusty dedes / For it gyueth vnto al louers courage that lusty moneth of may in some thyng to constrayne hym to some maner of thyng more in that moneth than in ony other moneth for dyuerse causes / For thenne alle herbes and trees renewen a man and woman / and lyke wyse louers callen ageyne to their mynde old gentilnes and old seruyse and many kynde dedes were forgeten by neclygence /

For lyke as wynter rasure doth alway a rase and deface grene somer / soo fareth it by vnstable loue in man and woman / For in many persons there is no stabylyte / For we may see al day for a lytel blast of wynters rasure anone we shalle deface and lay a parte true loue / for lytel or noughte that cost moch thynge / this is no wysedome nor stabylyte / but it is feblenes of nature and grete disworshyp who someuer vsed this /

Therfore lyke as may moneth floreth and floryssheth in many gardyns / Soo in lyke wyse lete euery man of worship florysshe his herte in this world / fyrst vnto god / and next vnto the ioye of them that he promysed his feythe vnto / for there was neuer worshypful man or worshypful woman / but they loued one better than another / and worshyp in armes may neuer be foyled / but fyrst reserue the honour to god / and secondly the quarel must come of thy lady / and suche loue I calle vertuous loue /

but now adayes men can not loue seuen nyȝte but they must haue alle their desyres that loue may not endure by reason / for where they ben soone accorded and hasty hete / soone it keleth / Ryghte soo fareth loue now a dayes / sone hote soone cold / this is noo stabylyte / but the old loue was not so / men and wymmen coude loue to gyders seuen yeres / and no lycours lustes were bitwene them / and thenne was loue trouthe and feythfulnes / and loo in lyke wyfe was vsed loue in kynge Arthurs dayes /

wherfor I lyken loue now adayes vnto somer and wynter / for lyke as the one is hote / & the other cold / so fareth loue now a dayes / therfore alle ye that be louers / calle vnto your remembraunce the moneth of may / lyke as dyd quene Gueneuer / For whome I make here a lytel mencyon that whyle she lyued / she was a true louer / and therfor she had a good ende.

             William Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet is Sonnet 18.  It is a remarkable poem and remarkably modern.  The poem seeks to honor his beloved.  Again, nature imagery is invoked to praise the beloved’s beauty.  Somewhat paradoxically, metaphors are brought up only to be rejected.  Yet even in the rejection of metaphor, the metaphors are still invoked.  A summer’s day is beautiful, like the beloved.  But the beloved is more lovely and temperate—sometimes summer is too hot, and as we in Edmonton know only too well, summer is too short.  May’s flowers are shaken by rough winds, so May will not do for a simile.  Summer won’t do because—as we in Edmonton know—it is too short.  Everything beautiful fades in time.  Shakespeare becomes very modern when in the poem he refers to the poem.  So Shakespeare uses language to talk about language.  As the poem’s beauty won’t fade in time, so the lover is immortal when people read the poem and he is invoked through the poem’s “eternal lines.”


William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

 Coleridge writes about humanity’s relation to the Absolute.  In order to find language to express such a transcendent topic, he creates an extended metaphor: that of the aeolian harp.  An Aeolian harp is a harp that sounds a harmonious chord when the wind blows on it.  Philosophically, the harp is the created universe when the “breath” of the transcendental force underlying all reality animates and creates the universe.  All thought, imagination, feeling, and life itself, live because this universal force underlies and animates these powers of the soul.  (Literary critics will say that the harp is the poem itself, when the Creative Imagination blows over the poet’s individual imagination.)  This is a kind of pantheism—“At once the Soul of each, and God of all?”  But Coleridge’s beloved chastens these speculations, reminding him of orthodox Christianity and intellectual humility.  I can’t help but feel that at this point, the lilting iambic pentameters of the speculative part of the poem transforms into harsh, irregular rhythms that are hard to scan.


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

My pensive Sara! thy soft cheek reclined

Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is

To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o’ergrown

With white-flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved Myrtle,

(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!)

And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,

Slow saddening round, and mark the star of eve

Serenely brilliant (such would Wisdom be)

Shine opposite! How exquisite the scents

Snatched from yon bean-field! and the world so hushed!

The stilly murmur of the distant Sea

Tells us of silence.


And that simplest Lute,

Placed length-ways in the clasping casement, hark!

How by the desultory breeze caressed,

Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover,

It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs

Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now, its strings

Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes

Over delicious surges sink and rise,

Such a soft floating witchery of sound

As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve

Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-Land,

Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers,

Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,

Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untamed wing!

O! the one Life within us and abroad,

Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,

A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,

Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere—

Methinks, it should have been impossible

Not to love all things in a world so filled;

Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air

Is Music slumbering on her instrument.


And thus, my Love! as on the midway slope

Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,

Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold

The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,

And tranquil muse upon tranquility:

Full many a thought uncalled and undetained,

And many idle flitting phantasies,

Traverse my indolent and passive brain,

As wild and various as the random gales

That swell and flutter on this subject Lute!


And what if all of animated nature

Be but organic Harps diversely framed,

That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps

Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,

At once the Soul of each, and God of all?

But thy more serious eye a mild reproof

Darts, O beloved Woman! nor such thoughts

Dim and unhallowed dost thou not reject,

And biddest me walk humbly with my God.

Meek Daughter in the family of Christ!

Well hast thou said and holily dispraised

These shapings of the unregenerate mind;

u    /   u      /    u   /  u    /  u     /

And thus, my Love! as on the midway slope

u   /   u     /   u    / u   /   u   /

Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,

u       /     u     /     /     /   u  /  u  /

Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold

u    /   u       /     u    /    u     /    u    /

The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the





u   /   u   /    u    /     u    /    u    /

But thy more serious eye a mild reproof

/    /  u / u  /    u     /    u        /

Darts, O beloved Woman! nor such thoughts

/   u   u /  u   u    /   /    /  u  /

Dim and unhallowed dost thou not reject,

u    /   u  u   /    /   u    u   u       /

And biddest me walk humbly with my God.

/      /    u  u   u    /  u  u   /

Meek Daughter in the family of Christ!

/    /     /    /    u   /u   /   /

Well hast thou said and holily dispraised

Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break

On vain Philosophy’s aye-babbling spring.

For never guiltless may I speak of him,

The Incomprehensible! save when with awe

I praise him, and with Faith that inly feels;

Who with his saving mercies healèd me,

A sinful and most miserable man,

Wildered and dark, and gave me to possess

Peace, and this Cot, and thee, heart-honored Maid!

Innocence.  We recognize innocence when we encounter it.  We know it intuitively.  But try to describe it!  William Blake wrote a whole collection of poems called Songs of Innocence.  One of the most archetypical poems written about innocence in the English language is THE LAMB.  Blake draws on imagery that the history of Christianity has loaded with connotations.  Using innocent symbols such as childhood, the lamb, and pastoral imagery, Blake finally invokes Innocence Itself, Jesus—but not by name.


William Blake

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Gave thee life & bid thee feed.

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing wooly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice!

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee


Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild,

He became a little child:

I a child & thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

A final poem by Robert Frost captures the modern sensibility in which God seems absent.  THE RUNAWAY uses metaphor to image forth innocence bereft.  The poem is about a colt that is out in the elements all by itself.  The other animals are all in the stall or barn.  This young colt is terrified by the snow it hasn’t encountered in its young life.  The speaker in the poem is indignant, even angry, that this should be happening at all.  Reading Frost beyond the literal imagery, which he invites us to do, we can suggest that the speaker is expressing anger at apparent abandonment by God.


Robert Frost

Once the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
We stopped by a mountain pasture to say, “Whose colt?”
A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall,
The other curled at his breast. He dipped his head
And snorted at us. And then he had to bolt.
We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
And we saw him or thought we saw him, dim and gray,
Like a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes.
“I think the little fellow’s afraid of the snow,
He isn’t winter-broken. It isn’t play
With the little fellow at all. He’s running away.
I doubt if even his mother could tell him ‘Sakes,
It’s only weather.’ He’d think she didn’t know.
Where is his mother? He can’t be out alone.”
And now he comes again with clatter of stone,
And mounts the wall again with whited eyes
And all his tail that isn’t hair up straight.
He shudders his coat as if to shake off flies.
“Whoever it is that leaves him out so late,
When other creatures have gone to stall and bin,
Ought to be told to come and take him in.”