Saturday, February 21, 2009

“The Garden of Love”

This week’s Weekly Poem is dedicated to our dear friends Audrey & Cheryl, whose marriage last year is now in jeapordy due to attempts to overturn such unions by backers of California Proposition 8. I realize this is an emotional issue, & that not all people will agree with my beliefs about this—possibly even some regular readers will disagree. I don’t post this to be inflammatory or to stir up controvery for its own sake. I have posted on my opposition to Proposition 8 in the past, & may well do so again in the future. I see it as a fundamental human rights issue. Other people may see it differently. Although I’m a married straight man, Proposition 8 has a very human face to me, & I see its consequences affecting the lives of people I hold dear. Because of this, I can’t in good consience keep silent.

Today’s poem is by the great British poet, William Blake, from his Songs of Experience, published in 1794. The only comment I’d make about the poem—which certainly can stand on its own—is that I don’t see Blake as “anti-religious” in “The Garden of Love.” Those who are familiar with Blake’s work will know that he was a man of profound religious feeling, tho his views were also profoundly heterodox. I do see the poem as “anti-institutional,” which to me is a very different thing. Many people I respect & care deeply about—including my dear wife, Eberle—are religious. I respect the qualities it brings to
their lives, especially when those qualities include peace & tolerance. Tolerance is an extremely important ideal to me—“live, & let live” (understanding that both parts of that adage are important). While this is an ideal we can only strive to attain—I fail too often myself—it seems a crucial one to our individual & collective existence.

Hope you find this poem meaningful.

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 this Chapel were shut,
And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore;

And I saw it was filled with graves,

And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briers my joys and desires.

William Blake

Cheryl, Audrey, Eberle & I in LA in 2000; regular readers here will remember Audrey's wonderful interview with Lesley Gore; I hope to post more of Audrey's writing in the future.


  1. I'm still postponing working in the yard but I will get there soon! That is one of my favorite Blake poems too...although much of Blake gets too mystical for me. I am also straight but have many gay friends and am very comfortable with that. Their unions are as deep, as strong, and as sacrosanct as any others.

  2. B & B:

    Thanks for stopping by! I tend to agree with you on some of Blake's longer works-- they are pretty heavy wading. But I love his lyric poems.

  3. I don't think I've ever seen that poem, either. Thanks, John. My best wishes to Audrey and Cheryl, and to everyone whose marriage is threatened by Prop. 8.

  4. Sandra:

    The poem is from "Songs of Experience" (did I say that in the post?-- can't remember). Thanks for your kind comments-- I know Audrey & Cheryl will appreciate them.

  5. Hopefully the CA Court will uphold the marriage of Cheryl and Audrey and all the others who were legally married here in CA. I, too, believe strongly in tolerance and equality. I was surprised when Prop 8 passed. Maybe next time it won’t. That’s a nice Blake poem that I’ve not read before.

  6. Hi Linda:

    I'm hopeful that over time this particular form of intolerance will fade. My hope is with the younger generations who may not be quite so infused with this prejudice. It's instructive to remember that interracial marriage was also illegal within our lifetime in many states-- was in fact illegal in a number of states when our current president was born of an interracial couple.

    I like B & B's word: "sacrosanct"-- "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments."

  7. Don't you find it a startling ending? Not only does end bleakly, but it is a rhyme that stands solely on its own - well, the rhyme is within the line, I guess serving to illustrate confinement in itself.


  8. Hi Kat:

    Yes, the ending is startling, tho I like it. The internal rhyme starts in the previous line "gowns/rounds."

  9. So it does. (Going to get my coffee now.)



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