Life of William Blake (1880), Volume 2/Prose writings/Sibylline Leaves

503602Life of William Blake (1880), Volume 2: Prose writings — Sibylline leavesWilliam Blake


On Homer's Poetry.

Every poem must necessarily be a perfect Unity, but why Homer's is peculiarly so I cannot tell: he has told the story of Bellerophon, and omitted the Judgment of Paris, which is not only a part, but a principal part, of Homer's subject. But when a work has unity, it is as much so in a part as in the whole. The torso is as much a unity as the Laocoon. As unity is the cloak of folly, so goodness is the cloak of knavery. Those who will have unity exclusively in Homer come out with a moral like a sting in the tail. Aristotle says characters are either good or bad: now, goodness or badness has nothing to do with character. An apple-tree, a pear-tree, a horse, a lion, are characters; but a good apple-tree or a bad is an apple-tree still. A horse is not more a lion for being a bad horse—that is its character: its goodness or badness is another consideration.

It is the same with the moral of a whole poem as with the moral goodness of its parts. Unity and morality are secondary considerations, and belong to Philosophy, and not to Poetry—to exception, and not to rule—to accident, and not to substance. The ancients called it eating of the Tree of Good and Evil.

The Classics it is, the Classics, and not Goths or monks, that desolate Europe with wars.

On Virgil.

Sacred truth has pronounced that Greece and Rome, as Babylon and Egypt, so far from being parents of Arts and Sciences, as they pretend, were destroyers of all Art. Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, confirm this, and make us reverence the Word of God, the only light of Antiquity that remains unperverted by war. Virgil, in the Eneid, Book VI. line 848, says: 'Let others study Art. Rome has somewhat better to do—namely, War and Dominion.'

Rome and Greece swept art into their maw, and destroyed it. A warlike State never can produce art. It will rob and plunder, and accumulate into one place, and translate, and copy, and buy and sell, and criticise, but not make. Grecian is mathematic form. Mathematic form is eternal in the reasoning memory. Living form is eternal existence. Gothic is living form.