pp, Dies Irae, Richard Crashaw, Austin Warren, Crashaw, William Blake, Paraphrase, Thomas of Celano, Roy J. Pearcy Blake, Dies Irae Roy J. Pearcy
NOTE Blake's Tyger & Richard C
rashaw's Paraphrase of Thomas of Celano's Dies Irae Roy J. Pearcy
Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, Volume 7, Issue 4, Spring 1974, pp. 80-81
80 Roy J. Pearcy Blake 'sTyger & Richard Crashaw's Paraphrase of Thomas of Celano 's Dies Irae
Within the past several years, c r i t i c s have become
increasingly aware that Blake may have known and been influenced by the poetry of Crashaw,J whose
rks, availabl 1648, 1652,
e in and
s publis growing
e ei and
ceonmt umr ye,ntaanryd.2
p a r t i c u l a r poem often singled out f o r praise was
his "Hymn of the Church i n Meditation of the Day
of Judgment," a paraphrase of Thomas of Celano's Dies Irae, o r i g i n a l l y composed i n the t h i r t e e n t h century.as a pia meditatio, but popularized
through i t s incorporation into the burial service
of the Roman Church
as a sequence i n the requiem
mass, and through i t s eventual adoption as an
advent hymn by the Protestant churches
. By Blake's
time the L a t i n poem had achieved fame as a
nondenominational masterpiece, lauded by Anglicans
and Catholics a l i k e f o r the s u b l i m i t y of i t s theme
and the splendid "hammer strokes" of i t s t r i p l e
rhymes.4 Crashaw's translation of 1646, the second i n E n g l i s h , 5 takes great l i b e r t i e s with the L a t i n t e x t , 5 changing the form and paraphrasing
the sense to achieve a d i s t i n c t i v e sublimity of
expression that reappears i n Blake's "The Tyger,"
a poem generally supposed'to be concerned with
the same themes of divine wrath
and the punishment of sins.7
For example, Josephine M i l e s , Eras and Modes in English
Poetry (Berkeley: Univ. o f C a l i f o r n i a Press, 1957),
pp. 48-49; and Morton D. Paley
, Energy and the Imagination:
A Study of the Development of Blake's Thought (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1970), p. 104.
2 B i b l i o g r a p h i c a l d e t a i l s i n The Poems of Richard Crashaw, ed. L.C. Martin (Oxford: Clarendon, 1957), pp. x l i i i l x x x v i . Quotations o f Crashaw's poem are from t h i s e d i t i o n , pp. 298-301. The f i r s t a l l e g e d l y complete e d i t i o n o f Crashaw, Robert Anderson
's A Complete Edition of the Poets of Great Britain
(1793), IV, 707-54, appeared a year a f t e r "The Tyger" had e s s e n t i a l l y achieved i t s finished form.
3 See Austin Warren, "The Reputation of Crashaw i n the Seventeenth and Eighteenth C e n t u r i e s , " SP, 31 (1934). 385-407.
4 Text o f the poem and a commentary on i t are given by F. J .
E. Raby, A History of ChristianLatin
Clarendon, 1927), pp. 443-52. A w r i t e r i n the Christian
Magazine of 1760 made the claim t h a t the Dies Irae
"savoureth more o f Protestantism than o f Popery."
5 The f i r s t was made by Joshua Sylvester i n 1621.
Crashaw's treatment of eschatological wrath i s not only i n verse, but i n the same quatrains (rhymed aabb) as "The Tyger," and close scrutiny reveals a s t i l l more detailed metrical correspondence between the two poems. Both alternate catalectic trochaic tetrameters with iambic tetrameters, although there i s an 18:6 preponderance of the former i n Blake's poem, a 16:8 preponderance of the l a t t e r i n the f i r s t six stanzas of Crashaw's seventeen-stanza poem
. In stanzas 1 and 5 of the "Hymn," which most closely resemble Blake, are found exactly the same patterns of iambic and trochaic lines as i n stanzas 1 , 5, and 6 of "The Tyger": II 0 that fire! before whose face Heaun & earth shall find no place. 0 those eyes! whose angry light Must be the day of that dread Night. V 0 that Book! whose leaues so bright Will sett the world in seuere light. 0 that Iudge! whose hand, whose eye None can indure; yet none can fly. 6 A stanza by stanza comparison w i t h the L a t i n o r i g i n a l i s given by S i s t e r Margaret Claydon, Richard Crashav's Para phrases of the Vexilla ·',.·'. . . . lies Irae, O Gloriosa Domina (Washington: Catholic Univ. o f America Press, 1960), pp. 78-99. 7 As, f o r example, i n Paley, Energy and the Imagination; S. Foster Damon, William Blake
: His Philosophy and Symbols (Boston: Houghton M i f f l i n , 1924); Jesse B i e r , "A Study of Blake's 'The T y g e r , ' " Bucknell Univ. Studies, 1 (1949), 35-46; and Hazard Adams, William Blake: A Reading of the Shorter Poems ( S e a t t l e : Univ. o f Washington Press, 1963). Roy J. Pearcy, an Associate Professor
of English at the University of Oklahoma
, has taught at UCLA and the University of Kent in Canterbury. He teaches Chaucer, Chaucer's contemporaries, and History of the English Language
, and does research on Chaucer, Old French
fabliaux, and medieval popular narrative. Articles on these topics have appeared in such journals as The Chaucer Review," Revue beige de philologie e t d ' h i s t o i r e , Fabula, RomancE Note
s, and Notes & Queries.
Both poets have strong caesural pauses i n catalectic l i n e s , although the caesura follows the fourth s y l l a b l e i n Blake, the t h i r d in Crashaw. S u b s t i t u t i n g "What the . . . ?" phrases from Blake f o r "0 tha t . . . !" phrases i n Crashaw conveniently i l l u m i n a t es the resemblances, and while f i n a l Meaning
i s c e r t a i n l y affected by one poet's preference for rhetorical questions
over the other's exclamations, the poems are nevertheless alike in their incantatory repetition of the respective figures chosen, and both employ the same cadences to evoke a s i m i l a r sense of r e l i g i o u s awe. This sense is i n t e n s i f i e d by both poets' use of s i m i l a r d i c t i o n . The word dread occurs three times i n each poem, "dread hand," "dread f e e t , " and "dread grasp" i n Blake, "dread N i g h t , " "dread Lord," and "dread Ite" in Crashaw. Blake's "deadly t e r r o r s " is matched by Crashaw's "Horror of . . . Death," and the word horrid i t s e l f appears as " h o r r i d r i b s " i n an e a r l i e r d r a f t of "The Tyger."5 Josephine Miles has discussed Blake's use of the imagery of cosmic passion and sense impression, designed to evoke a sense of the sublime of t e r r o r , and Morton Paley has applied her observations s p e c i f i c a l l y to "The Tyger." Blake's practice i n t h i s regard could be modelled on Crashaw's i n the "Hymn." Blake's cosmos of "Distant deeps or skies" and s t a r - f i l l e d heaven is matched by the "Heaun & e a r t h , " the "round [ o f ] the c i r c l i n g sun," and the " h e l l . . . beneath" of Crashaw. As Blake's cosmos i s penetrated by an immortal hand
or eye, and traversed on aspiring wing, so Crashaw's world on the Day of Judgment, a l e r t e d by the trump of doom, responds with a universal groan before the inescapable hand and eye of i t s Judge. Crashaw's depiction of divine wrath, while not achieving anything approaching Blake's concreteness, confronts us w i t h a f i g u r e of f i r e possessed of a "face" and eyes which burn with an "angry l i g h t , " closer to Blake's tiger than other manifestations of divine wrath cited to explain this image.5 In Blake the t i g e r stalks the "forests of the night," and the image of the f o r e s t sometimes appears i n the Bible in conjunction with visions of divine r e t r i b u t i o n . In the Dies Irae the trump of doom resounds through the sepulohra regionem, which Crashaw renders as "the caues of n i g h t , " l i t e r a l l y the graves of the dead, but perhaps l i k e Blake's image s i g n i f y i n g more generally the f a l l e n world. F i n a l l y , the most i n t r i g u i n g coincidence of images may be that between the reference i n the "Hymn" to the moment "When starres themselues shall stagger," and the reference i n "The Tyger" to the moment "When the stars threw down t h e i r spears." There i s no source i n Thomas of Celano f o r Crashaw's image, an i n d i c a t i o n that Crashaw's version i s the most promising place to look f o r any possible influence of the Dies Irae on Blake, and i f the influence is genuine i t suggests that the image i n Blake may be more conventionally apocalyptic than has generally been supposed. By the late 1700s the Dies Irae was established as the most famous short treatment of the subject matter
of doomsday, and Crashaw's English version
81 of the Latin hymn was also well-known and much admired. I t is therefore quite l i k e l y that the "Hymn" would have come to mind when Blake was composing "The Tyger," and since, through i t s poetic rhythms, d i c t i o n , and imagery much of the d i s t i n c t i v e f l a v o r of the "Hymn" i s recaptured i n "The Tyger," Crashaw's poem may indeed have been q u i t e fresh i n Blake's memory. Whatever his l i t e r a r y indebtedness, Blake certainly wrote poetry of a kind to elude d e f i n i t i v e e x p l i c a t i o n by comparison with other poets' s i m i l a r treatments of s i m i l ar themes. But for the purpose of understanding the material transubstantiated in the crucible of his imagination, some note of the inferences to be drawn from a recognition of the possible influence of Crashaw's "Hymn" on "The Tyger" may l e g i t i m a t e l y be offered in conclusion. That Blake subscribed to Jakob Boehme's doctrine of contraries i s well known, and often c i t e d to explain c e r t a in aspects of the t y g e r, i n whose f e a r f u l symmetry are reconciled beauty and f e r o c i t y , C h r i s t and Yahweh, Divine Mercy
and divine j u s t i c e . The most s i g n i f i c a n t e f f e c t of seeing i n "The Tyger" reminiscences of the "Hymn" i s to focus a t t e n t i o n on Blake's poem as an apocalypse, to fasten c e r t a i n of i t s a c t i v i t i e s i n time, and to make i t a manifestation of divine wrath in aotu rather than in posse. By combining apocalyptic images with the act of creation
conceived as the forging of the t i g e r , Blake has added to the sense of f e a r f u l symmetry a sense of f e a r f u l s i m u l t a n e i t y . In God's (or the visionary poet's) eternal present, a world created to be destroyed is a world at once created and destroyed, the two a c t i v i t i e s b l u r r i n g and fusing i n the f i n e l y appropriate image of the smith at his f o r g e. Blake's poem suggests such a perspective by seeming to speculate on the f u t u r e p o s s i b i l i t y of c r e a t i o n / d e s t r u c t i o n (what hand aould frame, what hand dare s e i z e , what a r t could t w i s t ) , - 2 0 when the stars have already c a p i t u l a t ed to chaos and destruction of the not-yet-create d is complete. This view of time accords with what i s elsewhere known of Blake's imagination. In Jerusalem he says: " I see the Past, Present & Future e x i s t i n g a l l at once Before me." Crashaw's "Hymn" helps us, I t h i n k , to recognize t h a t imaginative power
to fuse time functioning in "The Tyger." 8 Texts of the various d r a f t s and a d e t a i l e d discussion of t h e i r s i g n i f i c a n c e f o r an understanding of the e v o l u t i o n of the poem may be found i n Martin K. Nurmi, "Blake's revisions o f The Tyger," PMLA, 71 (1956), 669-85. 3 Paley, pp. 41-42, cites B i b l i c a l examples of divine wrath conceived " i n images of f i r e and beasts of p r e y . " In most instances, however (Mai. 3:2 and Amos 5:6 are e x c e p t i o n s ) , God i s not i d e n t i f i e d w i t h f i r e but uses i t as His means to destroy the world. In Zephaniah 1:14-18, the source of the opening stanzas of the Dies Irae, there i s reference to the Lord's wrath and "the f i r e of his j e a l o u s y . " 10 The tense and mood o f dare i s already a vexed q u e s t i o n . See Fred C. Robinson, "verb tense
i n Blake's 'The T y g e r , ' " F-'LA, 79 (1964), 666-69; and John E.
Grant and Fred C. Robinson, "Tense and the Sense of Blake's 'The T y g e r , ' " PMLA, 81 (1966), 596-603.