Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Anais Nin

Romanticism – William Blake – Songs of Innocence: the Concept of the Child & Anaïs Nin On An Extraordinary Life

William Blake was a champion of Romanticism, and his work was dedicated to elevating the lifestyles of the people that he believed had been ruined by the Industrial Revolution. He was especially moved to help the children. His poem The Chimney Sweeper, published in 1789, was a reaction against the practice of forcing young children to be chimney sweepers, a practice that caused the children to become deformed and to die young.

Image result for blake chimney sweeper

The Chimney Sweeper:

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved, so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

William Blake is considered to be one of the earliest voices of the Romantic period, and his Songs of Innocence and Experience are characteristic of the Romantic thought that the child was of value and that he deserved to be protected from the greedy of designs of mankind.

Many years ago, I carefully examined the writings and the images created by William Blake, who wrote in the late 1700’s. In a manner of speaking, Blake was one of the earliest people to become preoccupied with aging, but his concern was not that of outward appearances. He was interested in the aging of the spirit. Generally speaking, I would say that the interests of people in the 21st Century are exactly the opposite of those of William Blake. William Blake was a Romanticist. Most people today are Realists. Today, most people are concerned about their outward signs of aging, and they allow their spirits to wither and die.

During the late 1700’s,  the Realists were the people who liked the changes that had been brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The Realists liked mechanization, standardization, and outwardness. The Romanticists were a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, clutching to the Imagination as the key to Inwardness. and the key to inner peace and happiness.

The Romantic viewpoint echoes Taoism, which urges a return to the Way. In his 1955 translation of the Tao Te Ching, Raymond Blakney provided the following definition of the Tao:

“Tao – A road, a path, the way by which people travel, the way of nature, and finally, the Way of reality.”

The Romantics would view the Realists as superficial. The Romantics believe that the Realists limit their life-views to the external or the obvious, like that of reading the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper, People magazine, etc., rather than that of seeking inner wisdom or growth. Linear in viewpoint, the Realists establish a goal early in life, and they spend the remainder of their lives marching or plodding toward that goal. The Realist essentially wears blinders to anything but the outer, and the Realist wants no distractions or changes along the way. He merely wants to move from point A to point B.

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” – James Oppenheim

On the other hand, the Romantic is focused inwardly; and he embarks upon a path toward the inward. The Tao said that this was a seeking of the Way.

In Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching, the following is said:

“There are ways but the Way is uncharted “[in other words, there is no direct line point A to point B–there is not even a map].
“The secret waits for the insight” [What is essential is within]
“Those who are bound by desire See only the outward container.” [If you are moving only from point A to some pre-established point B, you are only looking at the surface–at what can readily be viewed and charted–like statistics].
Again to the first line. “There are ways. . .”

In his later work, William Blake described a type of Heaven and a Hell that he perceived as the lifestyles of the Romanticist versus the Realist. He said that the people who are led by their spirits or their imaginations are in Heaven and that the people who only see the obvious are in Hell. TS Eliot wrote The Waste Land, and it is a similar description of the results of limiting one’s life- view as outwardly and thus, limiting the nourishment of the spirit. William Blake created the Christ-like figure Los, who was the embodiment of the Imagination. The Imagination [Los] leads one to Heaven and away from the Waste  Land experiences of Hell.

So what does this all have to do with the aging crisis?

William Blake’s earlier writings were the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience. In the Songs of Innocence, Blake described an idyllic place where people who are always young reside. They are the people who have not been hardened by life. In the Songs of Experience, he described the hellish place where people who have been hardened by life are trapped. These are the people who, regardless of their physical age, are old. The people who have not been hardened by life’s experiences are  the forever young. [Peter Pan?]

I am definitely a Romanticist, and I know many people who have not reached the age of thirty yet, who are old. Even though they have no wrinkles and even though their hair has not turned gray, they have begun to wither from inside. They no longer feel. They no longer imagine. They no longer see any magic life. In my opinion, that is the true aging crisis. The true crisis is that too many people have allowed themselves to become emotionally old.

Anaïs Nin also wrote about the people who live in Blake’s Experienced World or T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land:

“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

“I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women. To enter ordinary relationships. I want ecstasy. I am a neurotic — in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous. I want to be a writer who reminds others that these moments exist; I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension. But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel I am not living.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Allow Yourself the Time to Walk and to Look and to Simply Jot Some Notes Along the Way

This week, I have begun to realize that I am not allowing myself, my mind,  and my spirit enough time to stop and smell the rose petals that are scattered around my life. William Wordsworth said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of emotions, and I am sure that this was true for him. But it is important to understand that William Wordsworth was an avid walker. and that he made sure that he filled his life with the types of moments that evoke an ever-renewing spontaneous overflow of emotion. I realize that I have not been doing enough of that.

In her Grasmere Journal, William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote that Wordsworth often sat in a crude shepherd’s hut or a writer’s hut to write. Wordsworth’s writing huts  were little more than a roof and a desk that were beneath a covered shelter, and they had no walls that separated him from nature. The huts were situated in places where he had a natural view and a first-hand experience of his natural environment. Wordsworth clearly wanted to write from  a place where he could directly respond to his natural setting, and his intimacy with nature allowed himself to have the fodder needed to evoke his overflow of emotions and to refill his spirit.

Anaïs Nin also talked about the overflow that Wordsworth had mentioned:

 “You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

For the past year, I have written almost every day, but I have  done so from  a comfortable spot in my bed, with my laptop on my lap. Almost every day, I have responded to the WordPress Daily Prompts, and until recently, I have been able to draw upon memories for my writing. I have discovered, however, that I am beginning to repeat myself. Clearly, my emotional well is beginning to run dry, and I recognize that I need to do something more to provide myself with fresh writing material. Very simply, I need to recharge.

Yesterday, I began to read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, and in it, I saw that Dorothy’s journals are nothing more than simple records of what she saw and experienced directly in her life.

“In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills and the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale–of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine and overhung with partial mists, the green and yellow trees and the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 10 October 1800.

There is something alive and fresh about the way that Dorothy Wordsworth captured what she actually saw on October 10, 1800. What she has written is not fancy or elegant or sophisticated, and this is very important: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry is not long and convoluted. It is simply a record of what Dorothy saw that day.

When I blog, I clearly blog with the reader in mind. I try to write in complete sentences, and I strive to write so that other people can make sense of what I have written. I also strive to write an article that I believe is respectably long. In other words, when I blog, I feel some obligation to write full and detailed blog posts. After reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, however, I realize that I also need to be writing some simpler and more immediate notes about what is actually occurring around me and what I actually see day-to-day.

Dorothy Wordsworth was also a walker. On an almost daily basis, Dorothy would walk in some natural setting and she would write simple records of what she saw. Although she was not a poet per se, she closely observed the weather and the flora and fauna around the places where she walked. Afterward, in just a few words, she strove to capture her immediate impressions about what she had seen. Dorothy Wordsworth did not realize that her journals would be made public, and when she took notes on her daily life, she did not bother with grammatical correctness or with trying to write full sentences. She simply blurted a word or a phrase that signified an actual moment in her day. The following is an example of one of Dorothy Wordsworth’s longer entries in her journal:

“After tea we rowed down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild strawberries, and walked up to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking at the lake, the shores all embrowned with the scorching sun. The ferns were turning yellow…here and there one was quite turned. We walked round by Benson’s wood home. The lake was now most still and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky. We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood as we were floating on the water it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above us–it called out and the dome of the sky seemed to echo the sound–it called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre a musical bell-like answering to the bird’s hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo after we could see him no longer.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 27 June 1800.

As I said, the above is one of Dorothy’s longer and more refined entries, and even the above journal entry in not long, as compared to what I have deemed to be a respectably long blog post. I teach a writing class, and the excuse that i most often hear for the student’s not writing is that the student did not feel that he had enough time to write. What they are actually saying is that they did not have enough time to sit down and complete an article that is 400 -1200 words long. Everyone has time to journal the way that Dorothy Wordsworth journaled. On most days, she simply jotted a few words like in the following:

“A very fine day with showers–dried the linen & starched. Drank tea at Mr. Simpsons. Brought down Batchelors Buttons (Rock Ranunculus) & other plants–went part of the way back. A showery, mild evening–all the peas up.” May 22, 1800

Many of Dorothy’s entries are nothing more than an observation of the humdrum activities of her day, and her writing is usually noted in sentence fragments. Occasionally, Dorothy would follow a basic record of the hum-drum proceedings of her day with a simple comment about nature that was almost haiku in quality.

“No fire in the morning. Worked till between seven and  eight, and then watered the garden, and was about to go up to Mr. Simpson’s, when Miss S. and her visitors passed the door. I went home with them, a beautiful evening the crescent moon hanging above Helm Crag.” Dorothy’s Journal May 28, 1800

“A letter from Jack Hutchinson, and one from Montagu enclosing a three-pound note. No William! i slackened my pace as I came near home fearing to hear that he was not come. I listened till after one o’clock….Foxgloves just coming into blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 6, 1800

On June 16, Dorothy wrote that a child stopped by her house on his way home from Hawkhead. He was hungry, and she fed him. In a way that is typical of Dorothy’s writing the final line transforms the entry entirely:

“When I asked him if he got enough to eat he looked surprised and said, ‘Nay’.  He was seven years old but seemed not more than five….Lent three pounds nine shillings to the potter at Kendal. Met John on our return home at about ten o’clock. Saw a primrose in blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 16, 1800

I call attention to the fact that in most of that day’s entry, Dorothy is talking  feeding the poor, but in the final sentence, she attaches a note about a flower that she had seen that day.

I have only read a few pages, but the following is my favorite of these entries that have a natural twist in the last sentence:

“Very cold. Baking in the morning, gathered pea seeds and took up–lighted a fire upstairs. Walked as far as Rydale with John intending to have gone on to Ambleside but we found the papers at Rydale–Wm walking in the wood all the time. John and he went out after our return–I mended stockings. Wind very high shaking the corn.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal August 22, 1800

I can see that Dorothy’s quick sketches of nature have an honesty and a lyricism that is often lost when a more sophisticated record is made. And more importantly, because Dorothy’s daily notes were very short, she did not allow herself the excuse of lack of time to prevent her from journaling. After having read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal, I have created a new writing agenda to add to my other, more finished writing:

  • I need to get back into nature and to allow myself to simply jot down a few words here and there about what I have seen and heard.
  • I need to allow nature to recharge my writer’s well.
  • I need to embrace the fact that not every writing is obligated to be a chapter in the next break-out novel. I need to allow some of my writing to be very short and unfinished–just a word here and there.
  • I need to grant myself the time and the experiences to nourish my soul.

©Jacki Kellum September 11, 2016


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