Friday, 29 April 2011


Jonathan's Token to David
ARTIST: Lord Frederick Leighton
OWNER: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Many gay men believe that Jonathan and David were same sex lovers, based on the way God presents their story in scripture and based on the Hebrew words used to describe their relationship.

Some gay men and many non gays disagree, insisting that the florid language and men kissing men is typical Middle Eastern behaviour, and in no way indicates a homosexual relationship.

Non gays allege that the Bible strictly forbids all homosexual activity therefore Jonathan and David could not be gay. The reasoning is that if they were gay lovers, God would not laud their partnership in such positive fashion.
Gay Christian 101

It’s a simple enough story, the tale of David and Jonathan, yet a debate arises, as to whether the two guys were simply friends, or whether they were lovers. It’s a pretty intense relationship, whatever way you look at it. I loved the story when I was a child, these two handsome, noble men, swearing undying love for one another, despite the disapproval of Jonathan’s father, Saul.

I didn’t understand, as a child what it is that Saul is objecting to. I thought he was just jealous. Now, I do understand and I think when Saul loses it and throws a spear at Jonathan his son, well, it suddenly becomes clear.

In the King James Bible 1769. I Samuel. Chapter 20. V.30 we are told;

“Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do I not know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse (David) to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness?”

The reference to the nakedness of one's parents is one of the methods used in the Bible to refer to a sexual relationship.  Jonathan had chosen David as his lover. 

Here is a 1976 translation of the same passage in the “Good News Bible.

“Saul was furious with Jonathan and said to him, “how rebellious and faithless your mother was! Now I know that you are taking sides with David and are disgracing yourself and that mother of yours!”

It takes away the impact, doesn’t it?

This passage in the Good News Bible, is diluted to the extent you wonder if the translator is talking about the same event. Is the translator trying to manipulate the idea away from physical love, turning what can be seen as a clear case of the passion shared by David and Jonathan in the 1769 translation? He turns the relationship into something watery. They were friends and that is that. And if that is so, what is there for Saul to object to? Is he simply throwing a hissy fit, because Jonathan has misplaced loyalties?

The Good News translation, changes the point of view; here, Saul seems simply piqued, as opposed to livid.

Saul’s anger is reflective of the vile passage in Leviticus, outlying correct behaviour.

In the King James version, Leviticus 18.22 is translated. “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.”

All of the various translations agree with that sentiment.

But there is definitely something going on here that makes the later translators uncomfortable. This passage in 1 Samuel. Chapter 18 v1 of the King James Bible 1769 tells us;

“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

And it continues in v4. “And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.”

The extract is highly erotic. It could be interpreted that Jonathan is not only disrobing, but is turning the symbols of his manhood over to David. 

This clarifies Saul's problem.  One of the most important duties of being a king was producing an heir.  Obviously, Jonathan had no intention of producing an heir, and therefore could not provide the final step needed to make good his claim to the kingship.  He loved David and only David.

The same passage in the Good News Bible 1992, is translated thus;

 “Saul and David finished their conversation. After that, Saul's son Jonathan was deeply attracted to David and came to love him as much as he loved himself.” 1992 Good News Bible

There we go again, they were just good friends.

“And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” - 1769 King James Bible.

And in the Good News Bible.

“Once again Jonathan made David promise to love him, for Jonathan loved David as much as he loved himself.”

In 1 Samuel. Chapter 20.v42 the King James Bible says;

“David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.
 And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.”

Here is the same part of the narrative in the Good News Bible.

“ David got up from behind the pile of stones, fell on his knees and bowed with his face to the ground three times. Both he and Jonathan were crying as they kissed each other; David's grief was even greater than Jonathan's. Then Jonathan said to David, 
         God be with you. The Lord will make sure that you and I, and your descendants and mine, will forever keep the sacred promise we have made to each other. Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.”

As Saul continues to pursue David, the pair renew their covenant, after which they do not meet again. Eventually Saul and David reconcile. Jonathan, however, is slain on Mt. Gilboa along with his two brothers Abinadab and Malchi-shua, and there Saul commits suicide. David learns of Saul and Jonathan's death and chants a lament, which in part says:

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions... "How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women. "How have the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!"
2 Samuel. Chapter 1. V25 -27 New American Standard Bible.

David’s lament comes right out with it; “Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women.”

“The traditional and mainstream religious interpretation of the relationship has been one of platonic love and an example of homosociality. Some later Medieval and Renaissance literature drew upon the story to underline strong personal friendships between men, some of which involved romantic love. In modern times, some scholars, writers, as well as activists have emphasized what they interpret as elements of homoeroticism (chaste or otherwise) in the story. WIKI

“But some modern scholars and writers have interpreted the love between David and Jonathan as more intimate than platonic friendship. This interpretation views the bonds the men shared as romantic love, regardless of whether or not the relationship was physically consummated. Jonathan and David cared deeply about each other in a way that was arguably more tender and intimate than a platonic friendship.

David's praise in 2 Samuel 1:26 for Jonathan's 'love' (for him) over the 'love' of women is considered evidence for same-sex attraction, along with Saul's exclamation to his son at the dinner table, "I know you have chosen the son of Jesse - which is a disgrace to yourself and the nakedness of your mother!" The "choosing" (bahar) may indicate a permanent choice and firm relationship, and the mention of "nakedness" (erwa) could be interpreted to convey a negative sexual nuance, giving the impression that Saul saw something indecent in Jonathan's and David's relationship.

Some also point out that the relationship between the two men is addressed with the same words and emphasis as other love relationships in the Hebrew Testament, whether heterosexual or between God and people: 

When they are alone together, David confides that he has "found grace in Jonathan's eyes", a phrase, proponents say, normally refers to romantic or physical attraction. Throughout the passages, David and Jonathan consistently affirm and reaffirm their love and devotion to each other, and Jonathan is willing to betray his father, family, wealth, and traditions for David.” WIKI

The debate often surfaces. It is surprising to me that the case of David and Jonathan is so little discussed. Whenever there is a heated discussion about whether or not God loves homosexuals, the passage from Leviticus Chapter 18. v 22 is always quoted. With Leviticus, the language has simply been brought up to date. The contemporary ear can be in no doubt about what is heard, just as the people did who heard the message long ago.

“No man is to have sexual relations with another man. God hates that.” The Good News Bible

Here’s a reminder of what it says in the King James Bible.

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.”

Whether it’s “hate” or “abomination” the sentiment hasn’t changed.

Concerning David and Jonathan, it seems to me that the translators of the Bible have a lot to answer for. The sentiment has definitely changed.

“We do not control language, it controls us.” I’ve used that quote from Jacques Lacan before. We mess with words, and they have a way of biting us in the foot, or any other extremity. How ironic it would be if language were to have the opposite effect to the effect that the Biblical Scholars were intending.

There’s an opportunity with David and Jonathan’s narrative to see homosexuality in a positive light. But that can’t be allowed to happen.

It is almost as if a slow realisation dawns, as the centuries pass, of what is really going on here. The Bible, which many believe is God’s word, is telling us that David and Jonathan were lovers. Really? They had sex!! Gosh! When guys get naked together -- stuff happens! The translators don’t exactly change the narrative, they turn it into something different, they make it uninteresting, and in doing so, they take away its power.

What is it that the Biblical authorities of all denominations are so afraid of? Perhaps because David and Jonathan’s narrative gives gay men, particularly, young gay men a positive role model. There is no way that the authorities want to lose their power. The power to condemn. The story gives young gay men the awareness, and a power to stop feeling fear, guilt and shame, because of their sexual orientation.

And that would never do. The Biblical translators, really are a piece of work and they want gay men filled with self loathing and repelled by their desires. They want them contrite and eager to be reconciled to Biblical teachings. They can be redeemed by obeying God’s word in Leviticus.

I think that the thought processes must have gone something like this.

Something has to be done -- after all David became a powerful King of Israel. The Bible tells us of how much God loved David. Jesus was David’s descendant. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was of the House of David. There is no way that the authorities can hear it said that Jesus was descended from a homosexual/bisexual. So the translators water the language down. The words lose their impact. The language used, really has taken away the story’s power. And in doing that, they have taken away the essence, the heart of the story too. The beautiful, and yes, erotically charged, love story of David and Jonathan has lost its poetry.

I wish that I could read David and Jonathan’s story in the original Hebrew. I think that must be the language it was written in. Or would it have been an even more ancient language; Sumerian perhaps?

I have a feeling that my emotions would take me over. I would tremble and weep.

Friday, 22 April 2011


“A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed,” by Jonathan Swift


Corinna, pride of Drury-Lane,
For whom no shepherd sighs in vain;
Never did Covent-Garden boast
So bright a batter'd strolling toast!
No drunken rake to pick her up,
No cellar where on tick to sup;
Returning at the midnight hour,
Four stories climbing to her bower;
Then, seated on a three-legg'd chair,
Takes off her artificial hair;
Now picking out a crystal eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Her eyebrows from a mouse's hide
Stuck on with art on either side,
Pulls off with care, and first displays 'em,
Then in a play-book smoothly lays 'em.
Now dext'rously her plumpers draws,
That serve to fill her hollow jaws,
Untwists a wire, and from her gums
A set of teeth completely comes;
Pulls out the rags contrived to prop
Her flabby dugs, and down they drop.
Proceeding on, the lovely goddess
Unlaces next her steel-ribb'd bodice,
Which, by the operator's skill,
Press down the lumps, the hollows fill.
Up goes her hand, and off she slips
The bolsters that supply her hips;
With gentlest touch she next explores
Her chancres, issues, running sores;
Effects of many a sad disaster,
And then to each applies a plaster:
But must, before she goes to bed,
Rub off the daubs of white and red,
And smooth the furrows in her front
With greasy paper stuck upon't.
She takes a bolus ere she sleeps;
And then between two blankets creeps.
With pains of love tormented lies;
Or, if she chance to close her eyes,
Of Bridewell[1] and the Compter[1] dreams,
And feels the lash, and faintly screams;
Or, by a faithless bully drawn,
At some hedge-tavern lies in pawn;
Or to Jamaica[2] seems transported
Alone, and by no planter courted;
Or, near Fleet-ditch's[3] oozy brinks,
Surrounded with a hundred stinks,
Belated, seems on watch to lie,
And snap some cully passing by;
Or, struck with fear, her fancy runs
On watchmen, constables, and duns,
From whom she meets with frequent rubs;
But never from religious clubs;
Whose favour she is sure to find,
Because she pays them all in kind.

Corinna wakes. A dreadful sight!
Behold the ruins of the night!
A wicked rat her plaster stole,
Half eat, and dragg'd it to his hole.
The crystal eye, alas! was miss'd;
And puss had on her plumpers p--st,
A pigeon pick'd her issue-pease:
And Shock her tresses fill'd with fleas.

The nymph, though in this mangled plight
Must ev'ry morn her limbs unite.
But how shall I describe her arts
To re-collect the scatter'd parts?
Or show the anguish, toil, and pain,
Of gath'ring up herself again?
The bashful Muse will never bear
In such a scene to interfere.
Corinna, in the morning dizen'd,
Who sees, will spew; who smells, be poison'd.

Yes, it’s funny, it’s meant to be. Yes, it’s nasty, spiteful, horrible -- it’s meant to be those things too. Jonathan Swift’s ironically entitled “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed,” composed in 1731 and sarcastically subtitled “Written for the Honour of the Fair Sex,” reflects the relentless, emphatically unromantic, and savagely satirical vision that marks the later years of Swift’s art. This most unpoetic of poems presents the uproarious process by means of which an eighteenth century London prostitute prepares for sleep -- a process which involves her divesting herself of those various artifices with which she seeks to disguise both her physical and moral character.

Swift’s cruel deconstruction of woman is painful. And if we look at the beauty industry today, nothing has really changed. We’ve just got a lot more sophisticated; we’re so much better at deception. We’ve got airbrushing, cosmetic surgery, more ways to remove hair than you’d think possible. And there are convincing ways to add hair too. Those wonderful hair extensions; they come in every shade you desire. There are lotions and potions that Swift’s, Corrina, pride of Drury Lane, could only dream of.

But we still have Corrina; we see her physical manifestation daily, in the media. The celebrity who has gone too far; her bee stung mouth, making her look as if she has been beaten up, rather than enhanced. And those women who decide to increase their cup size by just a few more inches. Their mutilated breasts have become udders. There are men and women, whose glow in the dark teeth are bordering on the scary.

“A young woman is seen returning home after a night out, and removing her dress, breast-lifting pads, hair extensions, false eyelashes, and a dental plate. The narrator advises that bleeding gums are one of the first signs of gum disease, which is a leading cause of tooth loss. As the woman reveals a missing tooth, she concludes that Corsodyl mouthwash is clinically proven to treat gum disease.”


This is the narrative of a TV ad running here in the UK at the moment. But it could have been based on Jonathan Swift’s satirical poem.

But Swift was one of the many writers who championed the art of satire. Here, he parodies Donne's "On His Mistress Going To Bed". Swift wanted to show the reader "the other side of the coin" and to allow poetry to illustrate everyday occurrence. More than just a parody of the pastoral style, he points out the artificiality of the world around us and challenges the reader to look below the surface.

Here is John Donne’s poem, written in 1669.

Come, madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labor, I in labor lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th' eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown, going off, such beauteous state reveals,
as when from flowry meads th' hill's shadow steals.
Off with that wiry coronet and show
The hairy diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven's angels used to be
Received by men; thou, Angel, bring'st with thee
A heaven like Mahomet's Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
By this these angels from an evil sprite:
Those set our hairs on end, but these our flesh upright.
License my roving hands, and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,
My mine of precious stones, my empery,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views,
That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus arrayed;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see revealed. Then, since that I may know,
As liberally as to a midwife, show
Thyself: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first; why than,
what needst thou have more covering than a man?

 John Donne’s poem is intensely erotic; he is demonstrating a new explicitness about sexual desire and experience. Throughout Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed, Donne's presumably male speaker tries to coax his mistress into bed. Donne's speaker fervently describes undressing and caressing his mistress; a poetic striptease. At the end, the speaker reveals that he is fully unclothed; however, it is unclear whether or not the mistress is undressing throughout the poem, or if she has remained clothed and the speaker is merely describing what her disrobing might be like.

The poem begins with the speaker calling to the mistress, encouraging her to come to bed. The speaker then goes on to talk about how he cannot be content until he engages in some sexual activity with the mistress. Several lines are then dedicated to the actual undressing of the mistress, piece by piece. The speaker makes several comparisons in relation to her clothing. For example, he compares her girdle to astronomical elements in the heavens. Their bed is compared to a "hallowed temple", and the speaker's physical exploration of the woman's body is compared to the exploration and subsequent settlement of the America's. While the mistress removes her clothes the speaker speaks of how beautiful her body is. He explains how he gets great pleasure in seeing the naked female body. In the conclusion of the poem instead of the speaker reiterating his remarks about the mistress's beauty, he speaks of embarking on a sexual adventure and sexual satisfaction. 

Throughout the poem, Donne has incorporated words or lines that could be perceived in more than one way. These double meanings add a hint of mystery to the poem. In line 2, he does not use labour to just mean work, but to work sexually. He makes many mentions and comparisons to heaven and things that are out of this world. This in a way alludes to the fact that he feels that this woman, or mistress, that he has lusted over, described, and conquered is out of this world. To him, she is like a heaven that he has discovered here on earth.

But back to Swift’s poem. It’s not enough to argue that we must read Swift’s poem in the context of its time. As far as I can see, we’ve always “enhanced” ourselves. Both men and women. It just depends which part of our bodies we want to draw attention to.

Eyes, lips, breasts, tight jeans, baggy jeans. I sprained both ankles in the same day staggering along in those 1970’s platform shoes. The desire for long, long legs. It’s dangerous trying to be beautiful and cool.

Corrina, pride of Drury Lane, is alive and well. She is everywhere. In every city, and small town that you can think of.

Friday, 15 April 2011


William Blake  lived from 1757–1827. He was a Revolutionary Poet, an Artist, but before anything else, he was a Visionary. Because if Blake hadn’t had the visions, we wouldn’t have the Poetry and the Art.

From Wiki.

“Considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of both the Romantic movement and "Pre-Romantic", for its large appearance in the 18th century. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to theChurch of England - indeed, to all forms of organised religion - Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French andAmerican revolutions, as well as by such thinkers as Jakob Böhme and Emanuel Swedenborg.”

From Poetry

“William Blake was born in London in 1757, one of six children of a hosiery merchant. He was an imaginative child, “different” from the beginning, so he was not sent to school, but educated at home. He talked of visionary experiences from a very early age: at 10, he saw a tree filled with angels when he was wandering the countryside just outside town. He read Milton as a child and he began writing “Poetical Sketches” at 13. He was also interested in painting and drawing in childhood, but his parents could not afford art school, so he was apprenticed to an engraver at the age of 14.”

Except for a few years in Sussex, his entire life was spent in London. Its streets and their names took on spiritual symbolism in his writings, much as the place names of the Holy Land did in the writings of the biblical prophets whom Blake always regarded as his spiritual progenitors. If Blake’s visions were not true mystical visions, it is probably best to regard them not as hallucinations but as the artist's intense spiritual and sensory realization of the world.”

I had what I would call a vision when I was a child. It didn’t mean anything to me then, other than that I had seen something that wasn’t really there. I’m sure that a lot of people have those sort of experiences as children. I can see it before me now, just as I saw it then. It still doesn’t make any sort of sense to me. I believe those people who saw God, when they took LSD. Their visions were mystical, transcendental; as I think that Blake’s were. Who can say that they were not real? Who can question another person’s reality?

From Open Democracy. Net

Yes, William Blake was a visionary (but not a dreamer), aware of the realities and complexities of experience, particularly the poverty and oppression of the urban world where he spent most of his life. He had an amazing insight into contemporary economics, politics and culture, and was able to discern the effects of the authoritarianism of church and state as well as what he considered the arid philosophy of a rationalist view of the world which left little scope for the imagination. His critique was carried out by means of the language of the Bible, his own specially created mythology and the extraordinary juxtaposition of text and image in his illuminated books, by means of which he intended (as he put it) to "rouze the Faculties to act".

He abhorred the way in which Christians looked up to a God enthroned in heaven, a view which offered a model for a hierarchical human politics, which subordinated the majority to a (supposedly) superior elite. He also criticised the dominant philosophy of his day which believed that a narrow view of sense experience could help us to understand everything that there was to be known, including God. Blake's own visionary experiences showed him that rationalism ignored important dimensions of human life which would enable people to hope, to look for change, and to rely on more than that which their senses told them.

From “Masterworks of British Literature”.

“No poet of all the poets, was quite as enigmatic, visionary and, well, as far-out as William Blake. Although he ranks as one of the most important and influential of all Romantic poets, he had very little (if any) contact with romantic poetry or philosophy. In fact, from a very early age, Blake felt that he had a “Divine Vision,” a spiritual calling which meant for him a life of isolation in which to pursue poetry and art. Throughout most of his life, his brilliant poetry and illustrations gained little, if any, public recognition, and he lived in loneliness and abject poverty. He is, in many respects, one of the first British individuals to choose writing and art as a profession, and, therefore, one of the first stereotypical “starving artists,” someone who sacrifices a social and material life for the sequestered life of creation.

Particularly in his later career, Blake’s poetry grows in tremendous length as he creates phantasmagorical epics in which he creates a Byzantine and fantastic world that allegorises Christianity, creating poetic narratives out of the Fall of Man, the Passion story, the struggle between good and evil. He follows in the shadow of his precursor, John Milton and Paradise Lost. Blake, however, suffuses the Christian narrative with his own wild, visionary, allegorical and, quite often, bizarre poetry”.

No less important than his Poetry was Blake’s Art. In fact, the illustrations and prints that he created for all of his volumes of poetry are as influential on Romanticism (if not more so) than his poetry itself. He created wild, swirling illustrations of angels, devils, scenes from the Bible and brilliantly colourful prints showing scenes from his own poems. Blake’s poetry is meant to be read with their accompanying illustrations.

Blake’s two collections; “The Songs of Innocence”, and “The Songs of Experience,” are companion pieces. Blake writes the poems in the former from the point of view of childlike innocence, and generally represents both a perspective that has not gained knowledge and experience concerning evil, that is poems that derive from experience before the Fall of Man and Original Sin. Blake writes poems in the latter from the point of view of adult experience in the world, or, more aptly, adulterated experience, the perspective from human experience with sin; that is poems that represent experience after the Fall of Man, and when sin becomes wrapped up in life.

Generally, each poem in each collection has its counterpart. In other words, a poem from the Songs of Innocence has its companion poem in the Songs of Experience. The most clear and famous example of this poetic dichotomy is “The Lamb” from Innocence, and “The Tyger” from Experience. The first mirrors a sort of nursery-rhyme voice of a child (of course, really, an adult creating the world as it might be seen by the child). “The Lamb” explores the Christian mystery of God’s unconditional love evidenced through Christ with complete and simple closure. All of the poem’s questions in stanza one, are answered with Christian but child-like affirmation in the second stanza. “The Tyger,” from Experience, however, is a comparatively dark and terrifying experience. In contrast to the innocent cuddliness of the Lamb, and the sweet question-answer between the child and the lamb, the Tyger depicts a fiery, powerful and dangerous creature. There is evident imagery of fire, darkness and hell. Whereas “The Lamb” answers all of the questions posed, “The Tyger” consists entirely of unanswered questions. Of course, the majority of the theological questions posed in the poem do not have answers.”

I want to look a little more closely at two of Blake’s poems from “Songs of Experience”.

In “The Sick Rose”, here Blake is the Revolutionary. He is talking about unacceptable desires: “his dark secret love” is a euphemism for corruption; not such a surprising idea in Blake’s day in a London rife with prostitution and where marriage was the socially acceptable surface that covered a multitude of other less socially-acceptable “sins”. This is, after all, about experience.

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

While the rose exists as a beautiful natural object that has become infected by a worm, it also exists as a literary rose, the conventional symbol of love. The image of the worm resonates with the Biblical serpent and also suggests a phallus. Worms are quintessentially earthbound, and symbolize death and decay. The "bed" into which the worm creeps denotes both the natural flowerbed and also the lovers' bed. The rose is sick, and the poem implies that love is sick as well. Yet the rose is unaware of its sickness. Of course, an actual rose could not know anything about its own condition, and so the emphasis falls on the allegorical suggestion that it is love that does not recognize its own ailing state. This results partly from the insidious secrecy with which the "worm" performs its work of corruption--not only is it invisible, it enters the bed at night. This secrecy indeed constitutes part of the infection itself. The "crimson joy" of the rose connotes both sexual pleasure and shame, thus joining the two concepts in a way that Blake thought was perverted and unhealthy. The rose's joyful attitude toward love is tainted by the aura of shame and secrecy that our culture attaches to love.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

In what distant deeps or skies 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 
On what wings dare he aspire? 
What the hand dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art. 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 
And when thy heart began to beat, 
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain? 
In what furnace was thy brain? 
What the anvil? what dread grasp 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears, 
And watered heaven with their tears, 
Did he smile his work to see? 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

To go to someway to understanding “The Tyger”, we need to know Blake's symbols. One of the central themes in his major works is that of the Creator as a blacksmith. This is both God the Creator (personified in Blake's myth as Los) and Blake himself (again with Los as his alter-ego.) Blake identified God's creative process with the work of an artist. And it is art that brings creation to its fulfilment -- by showing the world as it is, by sharpening perception, by giving form to ideas.


Blake's story of creation differs from the Genesis account. In Blake’s story, the familiar world was created only after a cosmic catastrophe. When the life of the spirit was reduced to a sea of atoms, the Creator set a limit below which it could not deteriorate farther, and began creating the world of nature. The longer books that Blake wrote describe Los's creation of animals and people within the world of nature.

In believing that creation followed a cosmic catastrophe and a fall of spiritual beings into matter, Blake recalls Gnosticism, a multi-faceted religious movement that has run parallel to mainstream Christianity. Unlike most other Gnostics, Blake considered our own world to be a fine and wonderful place, but one that would ultimately give way to a restored universe. Blake believed that his own visions, which included end-of-the- world images and sometimes a sense of cosmic oneness, prefigured this, and that his art would help raise others "to the perception of the infinite." For Blake the purpose of creation is as a place for our own growth, in preparation for the beginning of our real lives.

A casual reader or student does not have to understand Blake's mystical-visionary beliefs to appreciate "The Tyger". For the casual reader, the poem is about the question that most of us asked when we first heard about God as the benevolent creator of nature. "Why is there bloodshed and pain and horror?" Well, we’ve all heard various answers that are obviously not true and "The Tyger",in finishing without an answer, is more honest than the unsatisfactory answers we have been given, regarding this essential question of faith.

I think that "The Tyger" is about having your reason overwhelmed at once by the beauty and the horror of the natural world. "When the stars threw down their spears / And watered heaven with their tears" is the most difficult section of "The Tyger". In the creation story in "Job", the stars sing for joy at creation, a scene that Blake illustrated. While Blake greatly appreciated the explosion of scientific knowledge during his era, the beauty and power of the poem illustrates that there is something about seeing a Tyger that we can't learn from science. Perhaps he is saying that we should wonder more; let ourselves go, and permit the sense of awe and fear that defies reason. And Blake's contemporary "rationalists" who had hoped for a tame, gentle world guided by kindness and understanding must face the reality of the Tyger.

The Tyger draws us are into the presence of a transcendent mystery at the very heart of creation. It inspires a certain horror and a sense of awe, that, and a certain terrible beauty.

In his own time, Blake was often ridiculed; whether he cared or not, we don’t know. But it is Fantastic that we have his Art, his Poetry and his Visions -- and that is Fantastic, in the true sense of the word.

I think that you can see most of William Blake's artwork at The Tate Gallery in London.

Friday, 1 April 2011


There seems to have been a run on parents, murdering their children recently. We are shocked, it is such a heinous crime; the tears, the weeping hits us all, when we see on our televisions, the tiny coffins leaving the church. Only last week, in the UK, Christopher Grady was sentenced to life imprisonment, for the murder of his daughter, Gabby, and the attempted murder of his son, Ryan.

Eugène Delacroix. Medea about to Kill Her Children. 1838. Oil on canvas. Louvre, Paris, France

I think that it is always the case, that when something is so horrible, so difficult for us to comprehend, we can always find a parallel story in the Greek myths to compound our emotion. I am talking here about the story of Jason and Medea.

From Wiki

“Medea is known in most stories as an enchantress and is often depicted as being a priestess of the goddess Hecate or a witch. The myth of Jason and Medea is very old, originally written around the time Hesiod wrote the Theogony. It was known to the composer of the Little Iliad, part of the Epic Cycle.

Medea is pleased with her revenge thus far; she has successfully murdered Glauce, Jason’s new woman and also Glauce’s father Kreon; but resolves to carry it further: to utterly destroy Jason's plans for a new family, she will kill her own sons. She rushes offstage with a knife to kill her children. As the chorus laments her decision, the children are heard screaming. Jason rushes to the scene to punish her for the murder of Glauce and learns that his children too have been killed. Medea then appears above the stage in the chariot of the sun god Helios; this was probably accomplished using the mechane device usually reserved for the appearance of a god or goddess. She confronts Jason, revelling in his pain at being unable to ever hold his children again:

"I do not leave my children's bodies with thee; I take them with me that I may bury them in Hera's precinct. And for thee, who didst me all that evil, I prophesy an evil doom."

She escapes to Athens with the bodies. The chorus is left contemplating the will of Zeus in Medea's actions:

"Manifold are thy shapings, Providence! Many a hopeless matter gods arrange. What we expected never came to pass, What we did not expect the gods brought to bear; So have things gone, this whole experience through”!”

I was lucky enough to see Fiona Shaw’s performance of Medea, a while ago now. I remember that Fiona Shaw was weeping as she came on stage.

Startling performance as spurned wife By BBC News Online's Helen Bushby. Thursday, 1 February, 2001

“A strong stomach is often needed to sit through Greek tragedy, and Deborah Warner's compelling version of Medea, starring Fiona Shaw, is no exception.
Shaw is terrifying as the woman whose fury at her unfaithful husband erupts like a volcano before a stunned audience.
Written in ancient Greece, the play tells the tale of Medea, whose beloved husband Jason is trading her in for a younger princess.
To add insult to injury, the princess's father, King Kreon, banishes Medea and her two sons from his land. Shaw gives a moving yet repellent portrayal of the grief-stricken wife, whose hurt pride and love for Jason tear her in two. The murderous Medea wreaks havoc. After poisoning her husband's betrothed and the king, she slays both her children to spite Jason, leaving him without family and future. Shaw manages the fine balance of Medea's character with finesse, showing vulnerability and hatred in equal measure.”

Last week Christopher Grady was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his daughter Gabby, and the attempted murder of his son Ryan.
From Worcester News.

“During the trial, jurors heard that Grady had warned the children's mother, Kim Smith, she had 10 seconds to say goodbye to them before he drove into the water at Hampton Ferry.

Miss Smith, 37, said he arrived at her house in Abbot's Walk, Evesham, at around 9.15am, telling her to say goodbye, before driving away shouting the word "river". She said his face was "contorted" and "vile" with anger.

The jury of seven women and five men took five hours to find Grady guilty of both counts. He had denied the charges, telling the court it was "an accident".
The judge told Grady: "You took from Miss Smith her daughter, and from Ryan his sister. You left your family to grieve.
"She says that what you did has shattered everyone in her family. She says that what they go through every day is like a recurring nightmare."
The judge read an extract from Miss Smith's victim impact statement to the court in which she said: "I can see his (Ryan's) suffering every day, he lost his best friend in the whole world, his sister who he always thought he would have.
"I miss her so much it hurts every day. The hurt, the pain, it will never go away."

Moments after jailing Grady, the judge praised the "extraordinary and heroic" actions of all the emergency services who rushed to the river.
The judge said police, fire fighters, paramedics and staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital saved two lives and "spared nothing" to save a third.
While the judge conceded that it would be invidious to mention only some of those present at the scene by name, he noted that Inspector Sean Kent and fireman Jason Mayhew had both risked their own lives.

The court heard that Mr Kent entered the water to save Ryan, while Mr Mayhew spent up to five minutes in the Avon, diving to the car in an attempt to attach a hook to the vehicle to save Gabby.

"I commend them and each of their colleagues for everything they did," the judge said. "Such work often goes unrecognised and it should not."
On the court steps after the hearing, Miss Smith said: "I can't say I am wholly pleased with the minimum tariff Mr Grady has received today.”

In the week when one father murdered his four children, and another was jailed for life, Lorna Martin investigates the motives and twisted minds of the men Americans call 'family annihilators'. Are they driven by hatred, revenge or mad, possessive love? Taken from Lorna Martin The Observer, Sunday 5 November 2006. “Fathers who kill their children.”

“It isn't surprising that we tend to recoil in horror at such tragedies and seek comfort in the belief that they are isolated incidents, senseless - and, as a consequence, impossible to avert. But the truth may be slightly less palatable. Although rare, figures show that a child in the United Kingdom is far more likely to be murdered by his or her parent than by a stranger. Even more disturbing is that many experts insist that they are virtually all premeditated.

The most recent crime statistics, for 2002/03, show that 99 people under the age of 16 were murdered in England and Wales, and seven in Scotland. More than half were killed by a parent, another 10 per cent by someone else they knew, and fewer than 20 per cent by a person unknown to them. Further analysis of the figures has shown that it is more likely that your partner is going to kill your children if you leave him than that they are going to be killed by a stranger in the park. In the past week alone, there have been two cases of what American criminologists have dubbed 'the family annihilator'.

In Northampton, 33-year-old Gavin Hall, a hospital radiographer, was jailed for life for murdering his three-year-old daughter, Amelia, known as Millie. After discovering sexually explicit emails sent by his wife, Joanne, to a part-time judge whom she had met on the internet, Hall set out to destroy his family. The night before he murdered Millie, he killed their two cats. Police believe he intended to kill Millie, her one-year-old sister, Lucy, and himself that night, but received a text message from Joanne, who was working nightshift, that led him to believe the marriage might not be over.

The following night, however, after a row with his wife, he realised it was. When Millie woke up during the night, he brought her downstairs and asked her repeatedly whether she wanted to 'come with daddy'. When she said she did, he gave her sleeping tablets and anti-depressants, then covered her nose and mouth with a handkerchief soaked in chloroform, before strangling her.

In August, John Hogan, a 32-year-old businessman from Bristol, threw his six-year-old son, Liam, to his death from a hotel balcony in Crete. Moments later, he jumped from the same fourth-floor balcony with his two-year-old daughter, Mia. Both survived with broken bones. In this case, there were also marital problems: his wife, Natasha, 34, was threatening to leave. Again, the response was to kill his children and himself. Hogan, whose two brothers had committed suicide, has since tried again to take his own life and remains in a psychiatric hospital in Athens, accused of murder and attempted murder.

While the perpetrators of murder-suicides are usually men, in 5 per cent of cases it is the mother who is responsible. On Friday, a court in Hull heard that Angela Schumann, 28, had jumped 100ft from the Humber Bridge with her two-year-old daughter, Lorraine, in her arms. Schumann had written a note on her stomach, blaming her estranged husband. Both survived, but Schumann, who had left a note saying she 'didn't have to be a prisoner ... or his slave', faces imprisonment after admitting the attempted murder of her daughter.

Another case involving a mother as the perpetrator occurred in April, when 40-year-old Alison Davies jumped from the same bridge, killing herself and her 12-year-old autistic son, Ryan.

At the heart of this is a question wrapped in such complexity that it can never be satisfactorily answered. What drives an individual to carry out an act of such unspeakable brutality against his or her own children? Is it hatred or despair, revenge or a madly possessive love? And what - if anything - can be done to prevent it?

The subject has been most widely studied in America, where there are 10 murder-suicides each week. According to Professor Jack Levin, a leading expert from North-Eastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, the most significant factors are family break-up, male sexual jealousy, a need to be in control and extreme possessiveness.

‘The profile of a family annihilator is a middle-aged man, a good provider who would appear to neighbours to be a dedicated husband and a devoted father,' Levin said. 'He quite often tends to be quite isolated. He is often profoundly dedicated to his family, but has few friends of his own or a support system out with the family. He will have suffered some prolonged frustration and feelings of inadequacy, but then suffers some catastrophic loss. It is usually financial or the loss of a relationship. He doesn't hate his children, but he often hates his wife and blames her for his miserable life. He feels an overwhelming sense of his own powerlessness. He wants to execute revenge and the motive is almost always to "get even".'

'To the outside world, these crimes seem to come out of nowhere,' continued Levin. 'The perpetrators have not previously been involved in criminal behaviour. Nor do they tend to be on drugs or drinking heavily when they commit the crime. However, if psychologists had seen them in advance, they would have spotted the warning signs. They would have noticed how the person reacted to things not going his way - the irrational rage and the blaming of others. These people often also regard their partner and children as their own possessions.'

In the majority of cases, if the perpetrator fails in his own suicide, as in the Hogan and Hall cases, they almost always plead some form of insanity.

But Levin rejected this: 'These are executions. They are never spontaneous. They are well planned and selective. They are not carried out in the heat of the moment or in a fit of rage. They are very methodical and it is often planned out for a long time. There are certain people the killer blames for his problems. If a friend came along, he wouldn't kill him or her. He kills his children to get even with his wife because he blames her and he hates her. The killer feels he has lost control. Annihilating his family is a way of regaining control. It is a methodical, selective murder by a rational, loving father. That's why it is so terrifying.'

Although these cases are more common than child murders by a stranger, they often do not receive the same media coverage. Part of the reason is that the perpetrator often takes his own life as well - meaning there is no court case. But Levin said he also felt people were reluctant to think too much about such abhorrent crimes.

'People don't want to think about it because it makes them feel very vulnerable. When most people think of crime, they typically think of something happening in the street, being mugged or robbed or attacked by a stranger. People don't want to think it is more likely to happen in their own home. It's supposed to be a safe haven, an enclave where we can feel secure.'

Dr Alex Yellowlees, consultant psychiatrist and medical director of the Priory Hospital in Glasgow, said there were distinct differences in the minds of men and women who harm their children. Women, he said, tended to be mentally ill, often suffering from postnatal depression. In contrast, men tended to be struggling to deal with feelings of rage, jealousy, revenge and hatred.

'Most men and woman go through life experiencing distressing circumstances such as relationship breakdowns or financial problems, and they have developed strategies to deal with them. Most people, especially women, tend to speak to their friends, perhaps go and get drunk, sometimes chop the sleeves off their partner's suits or destroy his books or favourite CDs.

'But there are people, less functional people, who have not developed those coping skills. They have very low self-esteem. They are almost always very controlling and are less able to handle rejection. They cannot talk about it - it is as if they have failed - and they simply cannot accept it. They feel utterly humiliated and respond with the ultimate act of revenge - if I can't have you, no one can. They know that she will suffer for the rest of her life if he kills the children and leaves her alive.'

As to whether such crimes can be prevented, most experts agree that it is an almost impossible task. It can take years before a woman realises that her husband regards her, and perhaps their children, as his possessions, says Levin. 'Initially, a woman can feel flattered if her partner is jealous or possessive. It can be very hard for a woman to leave a possessive husband. When she does, or even when she tries to, that is when she is at the greatest danger.”

From Slate Magazine Researchers, By Dahlia Lithwick Tuesday, March 12, 2002,

“Building on the work of Phillip Resnick, has shown that women tend to kill their own offspring for one of several reasons: because the child is unwanted; out of mercy; as a result of some mental illness in the mother; in retaliation against a spouse; as a result of abuse. Frequent themes are that they themselves deserved to be punished, that killing the children would be an altruistic or loving act, or that children need to be "erased" in order to save or preserve a relationship. Contrast this with the reasons men kill their children: Most frequently, they kill because they feel they have lost control over their finances, or their families, or the relationship, or out of revenge for a perceived slight or infidelity. The consistent idea is that women usually kill their children either because they are angry at themselves or because they want to destroy that which they created, whereas more often than not, men kill their children to get back at a woman—to take away what she most cherishes.

Women still believe that they have sole dominion over so little property that arson and armed robbery and rape make no intuitive sense to them. But the destruction and control of something deemed to be a woman's sole property sends a powerful message about who's really in charge, and this message hasn't changed since the time of Jason and Medea."