W.B.

(1)

If on forever...
Hit it!

You've heard about mad Blake (2)
Went down the hill
In Chepstow
In London (3)
He was broke
But it was oke (4)

Rome didn't matter or come off
But Heaven and Hell did (5)
And look up
The fire, the fire is falling
And look up, look up

Flaming hair shot through the streaking sun over him
Oh merchant leave thy oil and Nebuchadnezzar (6)
Never knew there'd be times like this

Rome didn't matter or come up
But Heaven and Hell did
And look up
The fire, the fire is falling
Look up, look up

Oh citizens of London
Enlarge thy countenance
From the flaming wind-hairs of thought
In his forehead (7)

Rome didn't matter or come off
But Heaven and Hell did
And look up
The fire, the fire is falling
Look up, look up.

Notes

1. "W.B." is WIlliam Blake (1757-1827), the great English poet, painter and engraver. Many of the lyrics are adapted from Blake's "A Song of Liberty":

 

1. The Eternal Female groan'd! It was heard over all the Earth.

2. Albion's coast is sick, silent. The American meadows faint!

3. Shadows of Prophecy shiver along by the lakes and the rivers, and mutter across the ocean. France, rend down thy dungeon!

4. Golden Spain, burst the barriers of old Rome!

5. Cast thy keys, O Rome! into the deep, down falling, even to eternity down falling,

6. And weep.

7. In her trembling hands she took the new-born terror, howling.

8. On those infinite mountains of light, now barr'd out by the Atlantic sea, the new-born fire stood before the starry king!

9. Flagg'd with grey-brow'd snows and thunderous visages, the jealous wings wav'd over the deep.

10. The speary hand burnèd aloft, unbuckled was the shield; forth went the hand of Jealousy among the flaming hair, and hurl'd the new-born wonder thro' the starry night.

11. The fire, the fire, is falling!

12. Look up! look up! O citizen of London, enlarge thy countenance! O Jew, leave counting gold! return to thy oil and wine. O African! black African! Go, wingèd thought, widen his forehead!

13. The fiery limbs, the flaming hair, shot like the sinking sun into the western sea.

14. Wak'd from his eternal sleep, the hoary element, roaring, fled away.

15. Down rush'd, beating his wings in vain, the jealous King; his grey-brow'd counsellors, thunderous warriors, curl'd veterans, among helms, and shields, and chariots, horses, elephants, banners, castles, slings, and rocks,

16. Falling, rushing, ruining! buried in the ruins, on Urthona's dens;

17. All night beneath the ruins; then, their sullen flames faded, emerge round the gloomy King.

18. With thunder and fire, leading his starry hosts thro' the waste wilderness, he promulgates his ten commands, glancing his beamy eyelids over the deep in dark dismay,

19. Where the son of fire in his eastern cloud, while the morning plumes her golden breast,

20. Spurning the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to dust, loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night, crying Empire is no more! and now the lion and the wolf shall cease.

 

Chorus

Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn no longer, in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the sons of joy! Nor his accepted brethren -- whom, tyrant, he calls free -- lay the bound or build the roof! Nor pale Religion's lechery call that Virginity that wishes but acts not!

For everything that lives is Holy!

 

 The protagonist of the poem, whom we first meet in the form of a "new-born terror," is elsewhere called "Orc" by Blake. Orc, who sometimes appears as a serpent ("Orc" means "hell" in Latin), is an avatar of revolution, an enemy of law and tradition, and a prophet of imaginative renewal and individual freedom. These, for Blake, are all more or less good things, but Orc is in later works recognized as somewhat limited; the spirit of rebellion is to a certain extent reactive, as it gets its meaning, at least in part, from that which it opposes. This, however, doesn't diminish the sublime thrill of reading Blake's magnificent account of Orc stamping the tablets of the law to dust; with Blake, as with MES, there is usually a twist of irony in the anthems, but the surface read is always accomodating if one wants to pump one's fist. Orc's primary antagonist is Urizen, who, in part, symbolizes rationalism and arid legalism.

 

^

2. Blake was thought by many of his contemporaries to be mad, although the consensus now is that he was sane. According to William Wordsworth, "There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott." In the present age, however, there are few, if any, scholars who think that Blake was mad, and although he was derided and neglected in his lifetime, and in fact lived in extreme poverty ("he was broke"), he is now universally considered to be a major poet.  

^

3. There is a town called Chepstow in Wales, 110 miles west of London. There is, however, both a Chepstow Road and a Chepstow Place in London, as well as Chepstow Villas in the Notting Hill section of town, none of which are associated with Blake as far as I can make out.

Leon points out, however, that there is a Chepstow Way in Peckham. Peckham is where Blake had his first vision (Londonist):

"In 1765 at the age of 8, William Blake saw his first vision while walking on Peckham Rye. 'A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.' In collaboration with the Blake Society and the Forestry Commission, an oak sapling was saved from the eroding margins of England and transplanted to Peckham Rye as an invitation to future generations of Peckham Angels."

^

4. "She was broke, but it was oke" is a line from "The Lady is a Tramp," from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical Babes in Arms.

^

5. Although Blake professed to be a Christian, he belonged to no denomination and displayed an antinomian bent in his writings, most pronouncedly in "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," which is alluded to here. The rough mix has MES saying, "What can an indigenous man do except look up, look up..."

^

6. Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler of the Babylonian Empire who sent the Jews into exile. In Blake's mythos, which draws heavily on the Bible, he is a symbol the bestial side of human nature, bereft of imagination. Blake famously painted Nebuchadnezzar on all fours, with a vacant and miserable expression; in the Bible, he is said to have gone mad and lived like an animal in the wilderness for seven years, and to have survived by eating grass.

^

7. The passage this is derived from would certainly be considered racist today, although Blake, who was no anti-semite and who vehemently opposed slavery, was not consciously a racist, and wouldn't have been considered one by the standards of his time and place: "O citizen of London, enlarge thy countenance! O Jew, leave counting gold! return to thy oil and wine. O African! black African! Go, wingèd thought, widen his forehead!" (see note 1). Note that, although Blake repeats what are now considered to be unacceptable stereotypes, the "Jew" and the "Black African" are understood to participate in the higher, imaginative form of humanity that Blake is always concerned with restoring; thus, whatever else can be said about it, Blake's conception is of a fallen nature, and thus is not "essentialist," to use contemporary jargon. The take included on the bonus disk of The Unutterable contains the lines: "O citizen of London, he thought: enlarge thy countenance! He wrote: the black African wind from whither his forehead expanded, the fiery limbs and the flaming hair; and Blake went down the hill in Chepstow [into the north?]." Here the original is revised so that it is seemingly the African wind that expands the countenance of the Londoner or, perhaps, the "wind-hairs" (itself a pretty weird revision) emanate from Orc's forehead and Africa is out of the picture. For whatever reason, in any case, the phrase "black African" does not appear at all in the version on The Unutterable.  

^

Comments (4)

Iain McCulloch
  • 1. Iain McCulloch | 29/05/2014
I've always thought that the WB could stand for both William Blake and William Burroughs (seeing as how the MES delivery on this track appears to be clearly inspired by Burroughs' many spoken word recitals set to music)
bzfgt
  • 2. bzfgt | 15/06/2014
That's an interesting claim. I don't see anything in the lyrics to make one think of Burroughs, but you may be right about the delivery--I haven't heard a lot of Burroughs' recordings, so I don't feel qualified to say, but I'll look into it at some point.
Tom
  • 3. Tom | 04/12/2016
Re: Chepstow... This might a bit tenuous, but Colin Wilson (who MES admired, and even referenced in 'Deer Park' - "this is where C Wilson wrote Ritual in the Dark") lived in Chepstow Villas in Notting Hill when he was writing both Ritual and his first published book 'The Outsider'. Wilson was equally obsessed with William Blake, devoting a lot of space in The Outsider (and his other books) to him, so maybe 'Down the (Notting) hill, in Chepstow' is some vague reference to Wilson. Maybe Wilson's book was how MES got into Blake in the first place?
Leon
  • 4. Leon | 07/07/2017
Chepstow Way is in Peckham, where Blake saw angels

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