TO BEAR THE BEAMS OF LOVE

Standard

And we are put on earth a little space
that we may learn to bear the beams of love.”
—William Blake

After all, wasn’t it the wanted thing,
this sudden basking in a golden beam,
being one on whom the sun would seem
to rise and set?  For whom whole choirs sing?

In those long hours of heaven’s opening
only to pour upon each cherished dream
bleak rain, or that grey dampening stream
of dullness, dim and witless threatenings—

what was the hope, the hap, so striven for?
Simply to see the end of suffering?  Or was it
something more?  These beams of love burn,

smooth as lasers, loosen the stuck door;
delicate, precarious gold haze fuzzes
the soul—reveals a whole world to unlearn.

.

TO BEAR THE BEAMS OF LOVE

26 responses »

  1. I keep reading this Cynthia and want to read it some more. Your sonnet seems to turn with the question “what was the hope” and then suggests possible answers, such as to loosen the stuck door. My word, I love that phrase. There’s a lot of compact feeling in your lines, and a great deal for a reader to think about. Beautifully crafted too, of course.

    • You’re exactly right about the turn in this sonnet, John, and its question. How could I not have a “stuck door” in a poem, since I’ve been fighting with one all this winter, every morning when I let my dog Chloë out?….glad you love the phrase! Maybe the feeling here is too “compact”….I’m hoping it’s not too obscure. Thank you for your kind attention and encouraging words, as always.

  2. I enjoyed this sonorous sonnet immensely, and agree with all your prior commentators as I read and re-read. It is also a tad happier than some of your poems this year and this also warms my heart. Of course, at our age, the throws of love are not as deeply emotional as they are in the youth but may still get “poured upon” , perhaps with less associated pain? Am I rambling, this sonnet certainly doesn’t – keep ’em coming.
    Cheerio,
    Jane

    • Dear Jane–I’m glad you’re glad that I’m a bit gladder here! Never fear, though, my resident sadness will probably creep back into a poem or two. I like your rambling, if that’s what it is….especially appropriate in springtime. As always, I thoroughly enjoy your comment and am heartened by your cheerio-ing!

  3. As I read what is a magnificent Petrarchan sonnet, Cynthia, I am struck by how you constructed it. The quote by Blake about the beams of love is really the start of the poem and, if I am not wrong, from “The Little Black Boy,” which is an exploration of how racial differences can create problems in life, leading to the idea that many have to bear, rather than bathe in, the beams of love, God’s love, even though, if I read the poem right, in the end both blacks and whites end up in Blake’s conception of heaven. Starting out with this allusion is particularly powerful and carries a ton of baggage inside the contemporary world, especially as we walk up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act inside the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
    Within this context you write,
    “After all, wasn’t it the wanted thing,
    this sudden basking in a golden beam,
    being one on whom the sun would seem
    to rise and set? For whom whole choirs sing?”
    The reference to “being one” would be the little black boy as he sits in his mother’s lap and hears her conception of God in the southern wilds. The choirs I would take to be the traditional choirs of angels, although choirs of angels in Blake’s universe bore a Swedenborgian mysticism.
    The middle of the sonnet asks a question that should resonate with all contemporary society in the context of the racial challenges we are now facing:
    “In those long hours of heaven’s opening
    only to pour upon each cherished dream
    bleak rain, or that grey dampening stream
    of dullness, dim and witless threatenings—

    what was the hope, the hap, so striven for?
    Simply to see the end of suffering? Or was it
    something more?”
    In the little black boy’s case, both on his mother’s lap, and later as he lived his life in a world where the white boy was above him in society, the hours of heaven’s opening would have been the universe as described by his mother, but which was drenched in rain and the “grey dampening stream/of dullness, dim and witless threatening…” Life as a black man in the southern wilds was not always filled with the grace of heaven. What was the hope, the hap, so striven for? Was it simply to see the end of suffering? Or was there something more to it?
    In the contemporary context this question rings with force after the experience in recent politics. What was the hope? The happiness so striven for? Was it simply to see the end of suffering? Or something more, something at the heart of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the courage of the marches and those who died in the south?
    The sonnet finishes with a declarative sentence:
    “These beams of love burn,

    smooth as lasers, loosen the stuck door;
    delicate, precarious gold haze fuzzes
    the soul—reveals a whole world to unlearn.”
    In Blake’s poem the little black boy suggests to the white boy that he will provide shade to the white boy in heaven, meaning that he will get to heaven, first, and that, once there, he will be generous with his gifts of who he truly is to the white boy.
    In your sonnet the beams of love (still God’s love?) loosen the stuck door, the door to a better world, as I read this, as “delicate, precarious gold haze fuzzes/the soul,” and then reveals to those who perceive the beams “a whole world,” our contemporary world and the world built from our collective past, to unlearn.
    Part of the interest of the sonnet is that it can be read a couple of ways. It can be taken as a straightforward song about the beams of love, of course, or it can force the reader to construct its meaning from Blake’s original poem. It changes then into a tour de force commentary (revelation) about one of the still-central troubling of our time.
    The construction of this really strikes to what masterful poets can achieve if they are clever and gifted enough.

    • This comment, Thomas, is a work of art in itself. You are spot-on with your instinct that the source of the Blake quotation is significant preamble to the sonnet. “To bear,” in “The Little Black Boy”, means both “to carry”, and “to suffer”, I think, which gives the quotation itself its ambiguity. ( I have heard interpretations of it that made me wonder what the interpreter could possibly be thinking.)But you are a scholar and go to the source before puzzling your way through. I so very much love that. As the maker of this poem I am thrilled by your line-by-line, careful exegesis. It is also true that I wanted this to work in more than one way, especially for a reader coming to it on face, with no previous knowledge of the William Blake story. I’m so glad you see that too! Many, many thanks for the attention given, and the wonderful commentary!

  4. Reveals a whole world to unlearn…

    each day I feel this tension of learning anew and peeling something back, each day.
    I enjoyed this poem a lot and all the comments, too!

    • It does seem to me on some days as I grow older that unlearning is a worthy thing..like giving away all the stuff we don’t need anymore…Thank you so much for your kind words, Betty

    • I love it when you pop in, Natalie, and happy to hear you’ve been reading/chewing this one…hoping it shouldn’t, thinking it couldn’t, cause indigestion in a poetry connoisseuse such as yourself. Have been thinking of you lately, and hoping all is well.

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