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Auguries of Innocence -- William Blake

(Poem #368) Auguries of Innocence
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.

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill'd with doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro' all its regions.
A dog starv'd at his Master's Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus'd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing,
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipp'd and arm'd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.
Every Wolf's & Lion's howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul.
The wild deer, wand'ring here & there,
Keeps the Human Soul from Care.
The Lamb misus'd breeds public strife
And yet forgives the Butcher's Knife.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won't believe.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbeliever's fright.
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belov'd by Men.
He who the Ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by Woman lov'd.
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spider's enmity.
He who torments the Chafer's sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night.
The Caterpillar on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mother's grief.
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly,
For the Last Judgement draweth nigh.
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar.
The Beggar's Dog & Widow's Cat,
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat.
The Gnat that sings his Summer's song
Poison gets from Slander's tongue.
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envy's Foot.
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artist's Jealousy.
The Prince's Robes & Beggars' Rags
Are Toadstools on the Miser's Bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy & Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro' the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The Babe is more than swaddling Bands;
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made, & born were hands,
Every Farmer Understands.
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity.
This is caught by Females bright
And return'd to its own delight.
The Bleat, the Bark, Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heaven's Shore.
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death.
The Beggar's Rags, fluttering in Air,
Does to Rags the Heavens tear.
The Soldier arm'd with Sword & Gun,
Palsied strikes the Summer's Sun.
The poor Man's Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Afric's Shore.
One Mite wrung from the Labrer's hands
Shall buy & sell the Miser's lands:
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole Nation sell & buy.
He who mocks the Infant's Faith
Shall be mock'd in Age & Death.
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne'er get out.
He who respects the Infant's faith
Triumph's over Hell & Death.
The Child's Toys & the Old Man's 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.
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesar's Laurel Crown.
Nought can deform the Human Race
Like the Armour's iron brace.
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.
A Riddle or the Cricket's Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply.
The Emmet's Inch & Eagle's Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile.
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you Please.
If the Sun & Moon should doubt
They'd immediately Go out.
To be in a Passion you Good may do,
But no Good if a Passion is in you.
The Whore & Gambler, by the State
Licenc'd, build that Nation's Fate.
The Harlot's cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old England's winding Sheet.
The Winner's Shout, the Loser's Curse,
Dance before dead England's Hearse.
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.
Some are Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro' the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.
-- William Blake
Blake, even more than Milton, is the poet of Righteous Fury: at times,
his indignation with all that is corrupt in his coutry and his religion
spills unchecked into the pages of his work. Coupled with his vivid,
often hallucinatory imagery and his deceptively simple syntax, this has
resulted in a number of wonderful poems which are unparalleled in their
power and honesty. So much so, in fact, that certain critics have
bestowed upon him the title of 'Greatest Poet Ever'.

While I think this is probably overstating it a bit (if for no other
reason than that all such epithets are a waste of time, imho), I do
agree that he can be absolutely amazing.

'Auguries of Innocence' is Blake at his most, errm, Blakean, so to speak
- all his usual themes are stated, with a passion which would border on
self-parody if it were not for the absolute firmness of his convictions,
the strength of his beliefs. The language is simple, yet powerful; the
thoughts are direct enough to make an impact, yet subtle enough to avoid
being trite moralizings; the poem as a whole is a moral masterpiece.



Several of the couplets in 'Auguries of Innocence' have achieved
immortality, one way or another.

   "The Caterpillar on the Leaf
    Reminds thee of thy Mother's grief."
was published as a standalone poem by Blake (note the slight change in
syntax - 'repeats to thee' becomes 'reminds thee of'; I prefer the
latter version myself), and has been the subject of endless critical
analysis (ranging from scriptural to Freudian to deconstructionist).

   "Some are Born to sweet Delight,
    Some are born to Endless Night."
features in a 'End of the Night', a brilliantly hallucinatory song by
the Doors, on their eponymous first album.

   "The Bat that flits at close of Eve
    Has left the Brain that won't believe."
gave rise to
   "The Bat that Blocks at Close of Play
    Stays on to Score another Day.'
which brilliant parody is (I think) due to Wendy Cope (though I could be

   "The Harlot's cry from Street to Street
    Shall weave Old England's winding Sheet."
has resonances with
   "But most, through midnight streets, I hear
    How the youthful harlot's curse
    Blasts the newborn infants tear,
    And blights with plagues the marriage hearse."
from another famous Blake poem, 'London'.

[Minstrels Links]

There's a biography and critical assessment accompanying 'Jerusalem', at
poem #26

One poem that _everybody_ knows is 'The Tyger', at poem #66

Another much-anthologized Blake is 'The Fly', at poem #26

21 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

S Oliff said...

The meaning of some of Blakes proverbs are not easily understood without a knowledge of his mythology or times. If people would add their comments on what they believe particular proverbs mean, it would help one enjoy the poem more. For instance, what is the interpretation of these lines: The gnat that sings his Summer's song
Poison gets from Slander's tongue.

Ruth Brown said...

its a cool poem 1 of my favs

Adam Wagstaffe said...

can u tell me what this poem means, it's historical context, its application
to life and just general information on it?

thank you very much

Cate Wagstaffe

courtney wickland said...

I need to do a short analysis on this poem and frankly I'm puzzled by the basic themes. could you help me out?

Brenna Gilroy said...

Brenna Gilroy

SSY2K said...

The poem "Auguries of Innocence" is a poem full of paradoxes. It brings up
situations that are unfathomable in our realm of human understanding. Our
minds are capable of many things, but not all things are readily understandable.
One such paradox is the idea of holding infinity in a finite space. Infinity
is also an idea that is not tangible or able to be felt, thus it cannot be
held in side of anything, especially our hands. Another paradox in this poem is
very much alike the above mentioned. It too has to do with a humanly
ungraspable concept. The ability to hold an immeasurable amount of time within an
hour, which can be measured, is in the human mind impossible. This poem presents
many interesting ideas. All of the situations may be possible but are almost
impossible to be understood. This shows that the human mind is not the
ultimate thinking machine. It also shows that not every thing is meant to be
understood. However if we look at this from a different angle one can see that
maybe it takes time for human knowledge to develop and obtain a higher
understanding of life and nature.

Ted adair said...

I think what Blake meant was that nobody is innocent, not even God. And yet the world would be a better place with innocence in it, that is why we search so hard for it and so hard for meaning in this pathetic thing we call life.

Marilyn and/or Ben said...

Relative to Blake's "Auguries..." I believe the first 4 lines are
saying that our globe, the life on it, space and time are all of a
piece - that they are all connected and influence, or at least relate
to, each other. The rest of the poem gives examples of this.

John Graham said...

I dont think Blake looked at the world as negatively as stated earlier by Ted, what he seems to convey is that innocence is something that cannot exist without evil and corruption, without the comparison to evil acts, innocence becomes standard. He also looks at the minds of living creatures as the only place true innnocence can exist, whether human or not we share the same sense of injustice and in our minds we are sheltered from the physical effects of the universe.

Rose Kelleher said...

SSY2K writes that "Auguries of Innocence" is a poem full of paradoxes, and
that the poem "shows that the human mind is not the ultimate thinking
machine." That may be true, but I think it misses the point. The poem is
about Blake's moral beliefs. He's showing how a seemingly small thing can
be deeply meaningful and have widespread ramifications. This was not a new
idea; it's central to Christianity. According to the Christian gospel, even
a sparrow has value in the eyes of God ("Are not two sparrows sold for a
penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's
will.") and even those people who seem least important are important to God
("Whatsoever you do to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do
unto me."). So when Blake writes, "The beggar's rags, fluttering in air /
Does to rags the heavens tear," he means that society's neglect of the poor
is a sin, an abomination, an affront to the heavens; and when he writes
"The poor man's farthing is worth more / Than all the gold on Afric's
shore," he means that it's the little guy, the meek, who will inherit the
earth as opposed to the rich and powerful, who, according to the gospel,
will have more difficulty entering heaven than a camel passing through the
eye of a needle.


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
(This Para explain is about acheiving something. Achievement is a Symbol of human nature )

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
(This describes a person who is in some kind of slavery. God created man with freedom."A Robin Red breast in a Cage" is a sign of slavery)

A dog starv'd at his Master's Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
(Dog is symbol of loyalty . "A dog starv'd at his Master's Gate" -refers to people of the nation starving ."Predicts the ruin of the State'
refers to situation of uprising,violence and war.)
A Horse misus'd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
(Horse is considered to be hardworking . )
This song is about human nature . Different kinf of people and how we should treat them.

V said...

Blake did magic mushrooms, Psilocybe cubensis and what not, and under
influence of those, you can experince time as an eternity, time disappears
or melts together and become you, your closest, the world, love,
understanding and bliss. Ego-loss can occour. And of cause, many problems
with one self and the world can become clear.

Viktor Martini

Anonymous said...

something buddism inside the first 4 lines

maituca said...

I started doing meditation (mindfulness of breathing) a few years ago and when I first read the first four lines of the poem I felt an immediate connection. What I feel when I am meditating is the same that I feel when reading those words, it goes beyond our ego and its infinite.

Anonymous said...

i think that the specific poem refers to the impossibility of human existence without the faith to an external force.God?maybe.......

Anonymous said...

The themes being discussed are the metaphysical/spiritual along with the ethical and moral issues. These ideas are not separate. I agree that the paradoxes in the poem are interesting and give great insight into Blake's thinking. However, I agree with Rose that the main point is in the moral standing. When Blake writes "We are led to Believe a Lie/ When we see not Thro' the Eye / Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night /When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light./God Appears & God is Light" - It seems to me he is hitting his mark and making the point of the poem. He means that every person is made of God, and if the rich are living a lie if they don't see through the eyes of the poor. It is about social responsibility and compassion for all living creatures. Rather than preaching good and evil, being an artist and metaphysical thinker, Blake interweaves his personal philosophy with traditional moral values.

Anonymous said...

All reflects the frustration and sadness that Man is either unwilling or too wrapped in the external to know and live his true nature, which is that he IS God.

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