The Garden of Love
I went to the Garden of Love.
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of the Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not, writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.
This is one of the first Blake poems I ever read, and it made an immediate impact on me, though really it was more visual than spiritual or intellectual: I could very clearly see, in the style not of Blake himself (since the copy I read did not include his artwork) but of a medieval illuminated manuscript, the priests in black gowns (actually I pictured them as monks, with long gray beards) wandering around the garden, among the tombstones and occasional remaining flowers, busily tying things up, and that visual image has always stuck with me. Blake was one of the pure-hearted, who thought that the rest of the world was pure-hearted too.
The Garden of Love is also the title track of a CD put out last year by Martha Redbone and the Martha Redbone Roots Project. She had the genius idea of setting some poems by Blake in the style of what is now usually called roots music, a blending of Celtic and African sounds that emerged in the Appalachians, inflected with hymn tunes and country and gospel styles. It's outsider music, and Blake was also an outsider, and a mystic; his simple yet striking words fit right into this musical style. You can easily imagine some of Redbone's settings being sung as hymn tunes in small backwoods country churches. I had never heard of her before last Christmas, when V gave me a copy of the CD. Since then I have listened to it often, pushing aside the ever-growing piles of other, still-unheard, CDs so that I could give it another listen, which is always the ultimate tribute. I recommend it highly. The CD is listed on Amazon, but it looks as if the best way to get it is directly from Martha Redbone's website.
The poem is from the Songs of Innocence and of Experience; I'm linking to the beautiful Princeton edition that reproduces Blake's colored plates, part of a series of Blake's illuminated books that the Princeton Press did a number of years ago, but of course there are many other editions.