Week 5 Literature Entry - Blake & Sexuality - Ostriker's Essay


For this entry I am going to look in to Blake and Sexuality aided by Alicia Ostriker’s essay extract which can be found on page 560 of our Blake Book.

Ostriker is a wonderfully logical and clear writer – and she puts forward with great clarity and cohesion her argument about Blake’s four attitudes to sexuality. With a bit of jest she refers to these different takes on sexuality as “The Four Blakes” which I suppose is some intellectual witticism referring to “The Four Zoa’s” and so I immediately like her style. It is such a breath of fresh air to read the written word that I can understand – and that might be my reason for dipping in to these twentieth century perspectives this week instead of focusing on Blake’s works, but I am actually trying to understand Blake’s writings by getting a larger view of him, through the criticisms and essays written by others.

Another thing that pleases me about Ostriker’s essay is that, in explaining the Four Attitudes to Sexuality, she aligns them with modern-day Psycholo-Analysts, which for me makes the whole thing that little bit more easy to understand – which shows you what a nut-job I must be! In my exploration of The Lyca poems, I referred to them as a little Freudian – and Ostriker uses this analogy as well. I always like to see my own ideas in other’s writing – it’s an ego thing, and makes gives me an ounce of confidence about my own interpretation of this which I am really struggling with.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t read the essay, I will quickly outline Blake’s four (and contradictory!!!) attitudes to sexuality:

1)      Celebrating sexuality and attacking repression (Freudian)

2)      The feminine element within the man and gender complimentaries & interdependencies (parallels Jung’s anima theory)

3)       Viewing sexuality as a tender trap, not a force of liberation

4)      Viewing the female principle as subordinate to man.

Now if that’s not a complex, contradictory representation of how intricate and inconsistent the human can be, then I don’t know what is!

Ostriker shows that it is the “first” Blake that most people are aware of – and backs his stance up with a wonderful poem of Blake’s which reads:

“What is it in men in women do require?

The lineaments of Gratified Desire

What is it Women do in men require?

The lineaments of Gratified Desire”


WOW! It’s from his Notebook epigrams.


Another really interesting point that Ostriker makes is about Blake’s poem “The Garden of Love”. Here she conveys that the chapel on the green here actually is a subtle metaphor for the female body. I love this reading! She further tells us that Blake also later drew a woman with the doors of the Cathedral where the woman’s genitals would have been...I will come back to that poem next week and interpret it afresh! But so long for now – This essay is really illuminating, well-written and exceptionally interesting.



Literatre Entry Week 4 - Malouf's Remembering Babylon

This book is about the changes that occur in a nineteenth century settler community in Queensland, when a “white man” who had the “mangy, half-starved look of a black” stumbles in to their lives.

Immediately, Lachlan, the boy-child, becomes “incensed”. The notion of xenophobia and fear of the unknown is immediately launched into when Lachlan notes that the “idea of a language he did not know scared him.” Lachlan immediately asserts himself over the man by jerking the stick towards the man’s heart and in his Scottish accent says “Just stick yur mooth”.

As word spreads in the settler town, they all come to view this “specimen”. Here Malouf shows us their curiosity, their fear, simply with the lines “this specimen of – of what? What was he?”

Malouf winds his rolling, mysterious and psychological narrative along, and shows beautifully and tragically, the way the man has become a catalyst for change. Much of this change is scary whilst some of it is truly gorgeous.

As usual, Malouf’s characters are psychologically intricate and lucid. In the opening chapter, it is Lachlan’s character that captured my attention. I really believe that Malouf has a real insight in to the male condition, and seems to portray his male characters with depth, but without going to great pains to do it. We are immediately aware of Lachlan’s masculinity, his need to control, seek power and glory – all this in a twelve year old. Lachlan was “determined to keep hold of the bit of glory he had won.” It is this kind of language that Malouf uses to so vividly create his characters.

Malouf also recreates the isolation and the sense of the unknown which surrounds them. He writes “the country he had broken out of was all unkown to them. Even in full sunlight it was impenetrable dark.” He adds “It was disturbing, that: to have unknown country behind you as well as in front”.

It seems for Gemmy, that once he has told the various settlers about his life, his memories are stirred. It seems to trouble Gemmy that his life (or what the settlers have understood of it and made up of it) should be captured on paper. He is bemused and off-put that his life “should be reduced now to what a man could hold in his hand and slip in to a pocket”. But more importantly, it is Willet he is searching for, and he hopes that “if he could only identify where they were among the squiggles, he might find Willett with his bristling red hair, and the rats...”

A particularly touching description follows this:

“ All the events of his life, all that he had told and not told, and more, much more, now that it had begun to stir and move, which he was just beginning to recall, had been curled up in him like an old-man carpet snake. It was awake now. Lifting its blind head it was emerging coil on coil into the sun”.

Malouf’s use here of the wonderful carpet snake simile is really powerful. Again, it is this psychological nature of Malouf’s writing that I adore. Here, Gemmy is awaking the repressed memories of Willet and the final sentence about his past, about this snake inside of him that is lifting its head up, and “emerging” is an amazing way to portray somebody’s lost identity returning slowly. Of course, this mention of Willet makes the reader think “who the hell is Willet? What is this man’s story?” and keeps the reader in suspense, wanting to know more.

Chapter three opens with a disturbing description of Gemmy being washed ashore, and found by the black women. Malouf here mixes beauty with ugliness and the description really is quite disgusting but gorgeous at the same time. What I am trying to articulate here is the way Malouf uses his language in an incongruous way, effecting in the reader a sense of disorientation and an uncomfortable sense of mish-mash. In a way we are forced to marvel at what we might ordinarily feel repulsed by. For example Gemmy’s flesh is described as “...raw, covered with white flower-like ulcers where the salt had got in...” He is covered in tiny crabs which Malouf writes “heaved and glittered”. Further demonstrating the incongruity of language is when the women “lifted the loose husk” that covered Gemmy and found “silvered skin”. We are then assailed with the vision of “the white worm of his prick”.  Malouf really does seem to be able to convey those experiences where there is beauty in the ugly, the strange. In this description, he almost creates an incandescence, a glow to Gemmy the “creature”.

There really is so much ground covered in this book -  but the most touching theme for me is the length to which poor Gemmy will go to find Willett. That, even though he is maltreated and molested by Willet, even though it is a disgusting and gross life he leads with Willet, the sense of love and belonging he gets there drives him on. It is this eternal search and longing for a sense of belonging that most struck me in this book.

The notion of belonging and individuality is also seen in my favourite character in the entire book...Jock. I love this man – the changes that he undergoes through contact with Gemmy are truly amazing. Anyway, I might revisit my lovely Jock later, but for now here is a passage that I think really cuts to the core of what we all crave – Belonging, but also looks at the stage where that need for belonging, when the individual self emerges. Gemmy is Jock’s catalyst for this emergence of his individual self and the following paragraph, I think, really articulates this beautifully:

It was as if he had seen the world till now, not through his own eyes, out of some singular self, but through the eyes of a fellow who was always in company, even when he was alone; a sociable self, wrapped always in a communal warmth that protected it from dark matters and all the blinding light of things, but also from the knowledge that there was a place out there where the self might stand alone.”

Oh, there are so many wonderful parts to this book – I just don’t have the time to put them all down right now.


Just quickly:  I had a little trouble after my first quick reading, coming to terms with the very bizarre life-plot of Gemmy Farrelly, so I will attempt here, for those who didn’t read it – to outline my new understanding of his life.

1)      He lives as a rat-catcher with Willet, where he is maltreated and molested. He loves Willett and has a sense of belonging there. He accidentally burns Willet’s place down, so flees.

2)      He is picked up by someone who places him on a ship.

3)      On the ship is The Irish and Mosey – awful people who treat Gemmy like shit and eventually throw him overboard.

4)      After flailing about in the sea, he is washed ashore and lives for 16 years with blacks in the North scrub country.

5)      Then he makes his way to the Beattie’s settlement, unintentionally creating indelible changes to Lachlan, Janet, Jock and the entire settlement.

6)      He leaves the Beattie’s after recovering the written version of his life.

7)      He possibly gets massacred by white cattlemen. (Though it also seems that Lachlan, 50 years on, is clinging to this as Gemmy’s fate “tying up one of the loose ends of his own life” so we don’t really know what happened to him in the end.)


Bye Bye!


Week 2 Literature Entry - OH MY GOD


Never before  have I ever come up against such a challenge as I am encountering with this semester on William Blake.

This semester is shaking me to my very core: 

Never before have I felt so incapable of understanding the written word.

I don’t get it, I don’t get it, I don’t get it.

It makes me feel
vulnerable and...

Reminds me of that feeling at Retreat when I was surrounded by all these other people who were experiencing  spiritual awakenings – I wept and heaved, not for the love of God, but for this awful, sinking, hollow feeling that I was not privy to this other world, could not fathom it, that there was something dark and awful about me, that separated me from the “chosen ones” around me.

It makes me want to weep right now – it’s a feeling of inadequacy, of deep questioning – WHY? Why can’t I get it? Yes, that’s it – a feeling of complete




As if there is something faulty in me – I feel like the rejected at God’s door – I can’t get it, I am banging but I am left in the rain, watching everyone else walking triumphantly on to better pastures, to something brighter, something exhilarating.

I suppose I feel that if there is a God – I am not good enough – yes, that’s it – it’s a feeling of abandonment. I feel abandoned. I feel lost. I am alone. I am strange. There is something that separates me from the rest.  Why if we are all God’s children am I not capable of faith? What is it that makes me this way?

I see the comfort, I feel the comfort, I can appreciate what it must feel like to feel that there is someone there who will always love you.

But I can’t make that chasm, can’t jump the bridge of faith. Can’t believe it.  

And the lectures at the moment are for me, really quite traumatic. It’s that same feeling.  Everyone else seems to hold the key to Blake – everyone
understands what he is writing about, gets it, feels it, understands it.

And I don’t.

I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I don’t get it.

I leave feeling deflated , dejected and mystified. Left out in the rain, with no way in.

I hate this feeling of the higher plane that everyone seems to be able to access (that is coveting thy neighbour isn't it??)

I’ve had a few planes that others that many haven’t; I’ve been mad, delusional, terrified,  addicted, broken, humiliated, suicidal ; I’ve been hateful, spiteful, angry and vain.  I’ve been giving and loving and caring and sane. I’ve been humbled and hated and beaten and bruised, I’ve had loves, I’ve had losses,  I can empathise with some of the most “dastardly” things – I recognise and see in myself how fragile, how easy it is to fall – I know it in myself – so I am not one  to say “I would never do that” cos I know, that given the right or wrong circumstances, I probably would do it.... but this – Mr Blake - you are completely beyond my level of comprehension–


Oh what a rant – this Blake is shaking the foundations of the Poisoned Tree!

And I am completely ignorant about Christianity and I am vowing to buy a copy of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament during the big long break at the end of this semester and I am gonna read them from cover to cover.



(no subject)

I don't know anything really about William Blake so I have just looked up the list of first lines in the back of a Blake book and one that stood out to me is entitled "On Another's Sorrow".

And yes, it rhymes too!

The poem is about EMPATHY, feeling others pain and I think it brings up a really interesting question as to what extent we can actually feel something that another is experiencing. It reminds me of that advert that is running on TV at the moment for World Vision with the song "Do you see what I see?" playing in the background - We DO see it, but do people really feel for that little child that is sitting there with nothing to eat?

And to what degree should we feel for others? I mean to really have empathy for every desperate person you see, for every lonely, isolated person that you come across is actually a really exhausting situation because you feel PAINED and sad.

The poem opens with the question "Can I see another's woe, / And not be in sorrow too?". Further it asks "Can a father see his child / Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?" and unfortunately the answer is that in this life there are plenty of people who can see people hurting and not hurt too.

It continues to ask "Can a mother sit and hear / And infant groan, an infant fear?" and Blake answers decisively:

 "No, no! never can it be! / Never, never can it be!" 
(There's that Blake Voice! It really is there isn't it?)

So this shows that Blake, here anyway, was quite romantic and idealistic in his outlook at times, because there ARE mothers and fathers who don't feel their children's pain or fear.

The poem's focus then shifts rapidly and we see Blake turning his questions to God:

"And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small...
Hear the woes that infants bear,
And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity in their breast;
And not sit the cradle near,"

And again, Blakes definitive answer to this is:

"O, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!"

Here I think Blake is saying that God is omnipresent, everywhere, feeling everything that we as humans feel - our joy and our sadness. Which, is a really comforting concept and it reminds me of the article "My Vision of Blake" by (insert name) where the writer speaks of his almost supernatural experience of spirituality. There the author was speaking about (insert quote) which to me is, essentially
the idea of RECIPROSITY which is something that fascinates me and kinda ties in to this idea of empathy.

I personally find Blake so far very inaccessable - Unfortunately I don't have a religious or spiritual bone in my body and so when references to "Holy, Holy, Holy, It's the almighty Lord" my mind seems to rally against it, like a normal person might turn away from a diseased bird dying - I don't know how to relate to Blake's religious poetry.

But the idea of reciprosity that (insert name) conveys is something really appealing. I mean who wouldn't find the idea of unconditional, reciprocal love as something they might aspire to?

What a great image Blake has conjured in just that one line:

"...He who smiles on all"

There is much comfort to be gained from Blake's ideas I think, especially in the following lines which are particularly powerful:

"He doth give His joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too."

Blake sees God as someone who not only feels what we feel but has can destroy our grief as well.

In some ways I find that this poem really personifies God in a way I've not come across before (but I haven't come across much in this domain so excuse my ignorance):

"Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan."

This poem, for me, really evokes a sense of bliss and comfort
Why is it comforting to think that there is SOMEONE ELSE out there feeling OUR pain?

There's a section of the poem which I find really intriguing when you stretch the concept a little further. It seems that Blake was an early ECUMENIST and this can be seen in the title "All religions are One" as well as the following line:

"He doth give His joy to all;"

And this idea is one I have real trouble with, mainly because I have no religious feeling or emotion at all and it is INEXPLICABLE!!! So, on the premise that God is open to all - why do I feel that there is no opening for me? Is it true that my cynicism is somehow linked with an innate evilness that I sought out without knowing it? I don't believe in any way that I am evil - and if God gives his joy to all - why are not all people Godly?

Too many questions for one day really but I am really going to struggle with Blake's religiosity and hope that by the end of the semester I can somehow get a grasp of that strong sense of spirituality that Blake so potently feels, and I so innately seem to recoil from.

Blake's imagery is really simple and beautiful in this poem and there really does seem to be a lyrical or rhythmic quality that lends his peices a whistful, calming atmosphere.

Good Bye and Good Luck.


(no subject)

Have just set up my new and final livejournal account and am really excited about this semester's topic:

William Blake

There are only two things I know about Blake at this stage:

1) He was mad (which means I automatically love him)

2) Tyger, Tyger burning bright / in the forests of the night

I wonder to what degree a poem's memorability effects the poet's success? I mean those first two lines are just so catching.

I've just looked this poem up and it's really amazing - the easy, breezy
rhyming structure is the kind of poetry I really adore and there is something really satisfying about precise rhyming schemes.