Because Blake Could Paint Such A Portrait With Words

I’m sure you recognize the Divine Mercy image. Seen in a vision by Sister Faustina in 1931 she was disappointed in the original painting of what she had described.  She thought it would be impossible for any painter to depict Jesus as beautifully as she had seen him.

Long before Sister Faustina’s vision in the 20th Century, the English poet William Blake painted the following image with words instead of paint. I came across it in the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books.  Published in 1789 in his collection entitled Songs of Innocence,  it describes four virtues that are both Divine and Human. Which, of course, is true especially since they became one and the same in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Take a look at these simple yet magnificent verses,

The Divine Image by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

That collection of the Harvard Classics I purchased for a song at my local library’s used book sale just keeps returning dividends.  How elegantly simple are these words and yet how true.  I read them now and they seem as fresh today as if they were written yesterday.  The true mark of a classic is that its beauty is timeless. Wouldn’t you agree?

And isn’t it uncanny that he writes these words long before Sister Faustina’s vision and yet they seem to paint the same portrait? Maybe it’s just me but re-read the third stanza. I can’t help but wonder if Blake had a similar vision.

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26 Responses to Because Blake Could Paint Such A Portrait With Words

  1. Tommy says:

    There are many great works of religious, Christian, Catholic art. That is far from being one of them.The Blake is one of the greats of literature, though. Yes, especially the third verse.


  2. Webster Bull says:

    I took a course in English Romantic poetry in college, read Blake, never understood a word except something about a burning tiger. It took a retired Marine and the Catholic Church to wake me up to him. Thanks, Frank.


  3. Turgonian says:

    Blake was definitely not a Catholic. He was raised as a Dissenter and incorporated concepts from the Christian faith into his own private mythology. I don't think he wanted to be understood by just anyone, but only by those who were willing to make the effort to piece his mythology together from the poems he wrote.


  4. Frank says:

    I never said Blake was a Catholic. Perhaps the title of this post should have been different. Again, though, Our Lord works through anyone to get His message across.We'll just keep advancing behind the shield of faith, right behind one of Blake's biggest fans. Thomas Merton, aka Father Louis.


  5. MUJERLATINA says:

    @ Frank: Love your post on Blake today. What you are referencing is the concept of "Anonymous Christianity", a notion first proposed by Jesuit Theologian Karl Rahner (1904-1984), and embraced as a central tenet of Vatican I. Our own Pope BXVI has been an ardent proponant of this theology. I have often re-read Rahner's article Anonymous Christinity, now through the lens of the Communion of Saints. His thesis has proved very helpful to me, especially during my college and post-college years after the death of some friends who were non-believers.


  6. Allison Salerno says:

    @Turgonian:You have a very cool blog. Are you a convert? A seminarian? I hope you enjoy this YIM Catholic blog as much as I have; lots of good ideas and conversation.Blessings to you.


  7. Webster Bull says:

    Allison, Don't know how soon Turgo will get back to this. He's a Dutch student studying in the Netherlands, who has spent some time Stateside. His blog is Epigone's Eloquence, one of our "favorites" on the list to your right. Don't know if he's a convert. Don't think he's a seminarian. But he's 19-20, so who knows? Turgo? You there?


  8. Frank says:

    MUJERLATINA,I have been reading the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I was reading this just yesterday,c. The disciple of Christ as a new creation41. Personal and social life, as well as human action in the world, is always threatened by sin. Jesus Christ, however, “by suffering for us … not only gave us an example so that we might follow in His footsteps, but He also opened up a way. If we follow this path, life and death are made holy and acquire a new meaning”[Gaudium et Spes, 22: AAS 58 ]. Christ's disciple adheres, in faith and through the sacraments, to Jesus' Paschal Mystery, so that his old self, with its evil inclinations, is crucified with Christ. As a new creation he is then enabled by grace to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). This “holds true not for Christians alone but also for all people of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal Mystery”[Gaudium et Spes, 22: AAS 58].I took that as my cue. ;^)


  9. Frank says:

    If artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image? — for man is the image of God. When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving— all attributes of God, to be generous, to love their neighbor, to regard this present age as nothing, we install virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them. This, then, is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness; otherwise what answer will we have before Christ’s judgment seat? Let us be greatly concerned for our wives and our children, and for ourselves as well. The good God Himself will bring this work to perfection, so that all of us may be counted worthy of the blessings He has promised. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 21, “On Ephesians 6:1-14”


  10. Maria says:

    Frank: Great post!!!Oh, I how I , love Blake. He had the MIND of a Catholic. This is such a beauty, by Blake:And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time And did those feet in ancient timeWalk upon England's mountains green?And was the holy Lamb of GodOn England's pleasant pastures seen?And did the Countenance DivineShine forth upon our clouded hills?And was Jerusalem builded hereAmong these dark satanic mills?Bring me my bow of burning gold!Bring me my arrows of desire!Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!Bring me my chariot of fire!I will not cease from mental fight,Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,Till we have built JerusalemIn England's green and pleasant land. Frank: I am going to leave the url for Paul Robeson's rendition of this under Music Monday. The poem above is sung with the title "Jerusalem" by Roberson. It is DIVINE.


  11. Frank says:

    Very nice Maria! I made the link "hot" over at M for M.


  12. Maria says:

    Frank: Get Webster to put it up. He has been loafing around a little, hasn't he???


  13. Maria says:

    Sorry. Paul Robeson * not Roberson* –wish I could type–singing "Jerusalem".


  14. MUJERLATINA says:

    Excuse me, Frank. I meant to say that Carl Rahner's notion of "Anonymous Chistianity" was a central tenet of VATICAN II (I wrote Vatican I). Please excuse my typo. It is relevant to know Rahner was a 20th century Jesuit — and that he would likely be clapping for your conversion, and your post… Pax Christi


  15. Frank says:

    Hey Bones, I had you covered on that one.


  16. Turgonian says:

    Blake wrote some beautiful things, but it's a stretch to say he had the mind of a Catholic. I've been reading a bit about him for my Honor Thesis about St. Augustine and Wordsworth. When Blake talks about "Jesus", he means the salvific human imagination; he identifies the "Human Imagination" with "the Divine body of the Saviour". It is this Jesus and no other that builds Jerusalem, which transcends Nature, though it is built with the aid of Nature (think Abolition of Man). Then "The dark Religions are departed & sweet Science reigns." This is not simply empirical science, but science made alive by the transforming human imagination. Jerusalem doesn't descend from Heaven here; man's spirit is sufficient unto itself.In other words: yes, Blake wrote beautiful poetry, especially if you read it with the eyes of faith. When you try going back to the intentions of the author, however, the message is very subversive. Blake's fictional artist cries out: "I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's."(Source: Natural Supernaturalism, M.H. Abrams, p. 256-263)As for me: I am not a seminarian, but I am a convert. On Pentecost 2008, I was received into the Church. Praise God.


  17. Maria says:

    Oh Turgonian: School ruins delights of the Divine. Poetry is the province of the souls's imagination. Mine is Catholic.


  18. Frank says:

    Turgonian,"When you try going back to the intentions of the author, however,…"you risk trying to be a mind-reader. Tell your prof that Frank said that. Don't think, Turgo, it's bad for the ball club(quote from the movie Bull Durham, if I lost you). ;^)


  19. Maria says:

    Rfank: ROFLMAO!Turgonian:I thought you might be interested in this. Chesterton wrote a book about William Blake in 1908 called, surprise, William Blake. The American Chesterton Society Has a piece up Dale Ahlquist about the book:Many William Blake fans dismiss this book. They conclude ahead of time that Chesterton and Blake are pretty much oil and water and cannot be mixed. If they do read the book, they do so with a focused determination that Chesterton doesn’t understand Blake. But they’re wrong. This book reveals – once again – Chesterton’s strengths as a critic. And with Blake he does double duty as both an art and literary critic. He explains what is good about Blake – and what isn’t. And why what is good is good and why what isn’t, isn’t. The bonuses in this book include one of the best explanations of the 18th century that you will ever find. And shortest. Also a deft skewering of freemasonry and secret societies. The artist and poet William Blake continues to hold great appeal because of his strong simple rhymes, his wildly imaginative paintings and prints, and the lush mystical qualities in his art. Chesterton appreciates the poetry and the art and mysticism. But as he says, “Blake could do so many things. Why is it that he could do none of them quite right?” For Chesterton the answer lies in some basic flaws in Blake’s philosophy. “Blake’s mistake was not so much that he aimed at sin as that he aimed at an impossible and inhuman sinlessness.” He tried to do away with modesty, which is unnatural. He also tried to do away with the very human fear of death, which according to Chesterton is even more indecent. “There is more real mysticism in nailing down a coffin lid than in pretending, in mere rhetoric, to throw open the doors of death.”END PART I


  20. Maria says:

    It is Chesterton’s discussion of madness and mysticism that is most penetrating. The mystic goes about with a magnifying glass and exaggerates truths that really exist. He cannot exaggerate a truth that isn’t true. “To call a man mad because he has seen ghosts is in a literal sense religious persecution. It is denying him his full dignity as a citizen because he cannot be fitted into your theory of the cosmos.” Chesterton says that the critics of Blake say that his visions were false because he was mad. “I say he was mad because his visions were true.” However, the closer Blake came to God, the more solid, the more real, the more personal God became to Blake. And the more lucid became his art. No pure mystic ever loved mere mystery. The mystic does not bring doubts or riddles: the doubts and riddles exist already. We all feel the riddle of the earth without anyone to point it out. The mystery of life is the plainest part of it. The clouds and curtains of darkness, the confounding vapours, these are the daily weather of this world. Whatever else we have grown accustomed to, we have grown accustomed to the unaccountable. Every stone or flower is a hieroglyphic of which we have lost the key; with every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand. The mystic is not the man who makes mysteries but the man who destroys them. The mystic is one who offers an explanation which may be true or false, but which is always comprehensible – by which I mean, not that it is always comprehended, but that it always can be comprehended, because there is always something to comprehend. The man whose meaning remains mysterious fails, I think, as a mystic. END PART II


  21. Maria says:

    Chesterton says that Blake’s mind “was like a ruined Roman arch; it has been broken by barbarians; but what there is of it is Roman.” What is rescued and salvageable in Blake is his understanding of the goodness of God’s creation, the forgiveness of sins, the hope for resurrection. This places Blake squarely in the Western camp and against the despair offered by the Eastern mystics who simply see a comfortless melting of everything into the same chaos from which it once emerged. This is one of Chesterton’s most important points, expounded on by many Western thinkers who followed him in the 20th century, including C.S. Lewis. In philosophy and religion, there are ultimately only two choices: East and West. Chesterton says, “If every human being lived a thousand years, every human being would end up either in utter pessimistic scepticism or in the Catholic creed.” Blake didn’t quite live long enough to become a Catholic. Chesterton did, eighteen years after writing this book.END PART IIIInteresting, hmm? Welcome to our Catholic Church. Welcome to our world where all this seems Catholic.


  22. Frank says:

    Turgonian, if you are on the mat and seeing stars at this point it is because everyone has a Catholic mind. Many just don't realize it yet… U.N.C.L.E.


  23. Maria says:

    Frank: ROFLMAO,again.


  24. Maria says:

    Frank: Do I need to get my Catholic eyeglasses fixed?


  25. Frank says:

    No, but your keyboard my need a tune up! ;^)


  26. Turgonian says:

    Alright…very interesting. Thank you for the Chesterton reference. I love Chesterton and will read his work on Blake.And while it may be true that everyone has a Catholic mind, we need to remember what Chesterton's King Alfred says to everyone:"Over our white souls alsoWild heresies and highWave prouder than the plumes of grassAnd sadder than their sigh."


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