Wednesday, April 4, 2012

RE: Holy Thursday By: William Blake

In commemoration of Holy Week, William Blake has prepared a pair of poems for us. The first one is called Holy Thursday, and gives a nice, cute little depiction of some orphans singing about Jesus.

Holy Thursday (Song's Of Innocence) By William Blake

‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,

The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,

Grey headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames’ waters flow.

Oh what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.

The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,

Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.

Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

The second is also called Holy Thursday, and it calls shenanigans on the first poem.

Holy Thursday (Song's Of Experience) By William Blake

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.

For where'er the sun does shine,
And where'er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

William Blake wrote in London in the 1700s, a time when the poorest peoples, the widows and orphans, were not treated especially well. It is to a society of inequality that Blake wrote these Holy Thursday poems. Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, is the day Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples. Before the meal he washed their feet, a servant's task meant to set an example of service for all Christians. Since then Christians have traditionally used the day to perform humble acts of service for the poor and needy. Over time, acts of true service were warped and replaced with more symbolic acts. One such act was to bring the orphans of London's Foundling Hospital to sing at St. Paul's Cathedral. Allowing the orphans to sing for the parishioners was considered as a treat for such poor children. Blake didn't think, “allowing the poor to sing to you” was quite on par with Christ's example of humble service.

I don't think Blake's 1700s criticisms are irrelevant. I think we have just as much temptation today to engage in symbolic acts of service and neglect real ones. We “like” causes on Facebook, we attend Christian rallies, and Christian concerts, and post Christian articles. There's no inherent problem with any of these activities, just like there's nothing wrong with orphans singing in a cathedral. My challenge to you today is to find a way to serve your neighbor in a tangible way. After all if one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?(James 2:6)

Song's of Innocence and Song's of Experience are for sale on Amazon, and free at Project Gutenberg.

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