Tuesday, September 4, 2018

On William Blake’s “Ah, Sun-Flower”

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time, 
Who countest the steps of the Sun: 
Seeking after that sweet golden clime 
Where the travellers journey is done. 

Where the Youth pined away with desire, 
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: 
Arise from their graves and aspire, 
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Actually there is no split between the poem’s voice, a “speaker,” and Blake. Blake as such really doesn’t come into it. It’s one voice, the voice of the poet emerging from the poem. It mimics and mocks a view of the sun flower as aspiring towards death. The poem is shot through with sardonicism. The poem takes on and explodes any view idealizing suppressed passion for sake of afterlife eternal. The poet (not Blake as such but the Blake of the poem) increases that attack by showing that what’s death- creating is that suppression for the sake of nothing. What’s death-creating reaches its heights in the youth pining away with desire—with the intimation of a withering unto death and a pine coffin—and the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: the aspiration for the sweet golden clime inverts itself: the longing for life-everlasting by denying desire is a death-in-life for nothing.  The speaker’s tone is sardonically complex in mocking what it mimics. And so the view of the sun-flower as symbolizing an ideal in inclining toward death, a “sweet golden clime” in following the sun till it sets—a mythologizing of the sunflower’s diurnal “journey:” what it was thought sunflowers do, follow the path of the sun each day—gets exploded. 

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