- Luke 12:48
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Lately, I have been reading my Blake. The poems, yes, and the parables and Prophetic Books, but only in connection to the thread of narrative about his life. It is a story prettied up by Romantic notions of the difficulties inherent in being a genius. Tell me if you've heard this one before: an artist, a thinker, a revolutionary toils in anonymity, is considered barking mad by contemporaries then dies penniless only to be recognized a hundred years later as, well, a genius. Ta-da!
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The beauty of biography is in the construction of it's fable. From here, at this distance, I, mere I, can detect the flowing contours of X's life far better then he could have. Look there, the impoverished childhood, and over there the love lost, the love that would haunt him and so be the true impetus of his work. And finally, the squalid death, the pauper's grave.
Except it isn't like that. Even if the details are correct, it isn't like that.
Life, as you live it, has none of that fatalistic charm (even if you are a fatalist). No, instead, life hurtles forward presenting you with a succession of tasks that you have to answer. You may fail to answer. You may hit it out of the park, but the succession does not cease until you cease. The concussive, successive choices are the ebb and flow of your life's work: living. The external circumstances are all anybody really sees, but isn't the living first the choosing?
You choose, in the moment, how you will act and respond to each element in your life. It may be unconscious, an ossified habit, or a moment's clarity, but you will choose and that has none of the sweep of Romantic tragedy required in the biographies of geniuses. No, if you are awake at all, you recognize Luke 12:48 as just another way of saying unfuck your life.
Blake did not work because he wanted others to call him a genius. His genius was to work with the vision he had before him. These were his capacities and so he used them, often breaking the bonds of his limits and creating new forms to contain his vision, make it evident to others. The fact that he sold little did nothing to dim the tide of his commitment to his work. He worked, man. He worked all the time, and no doubt the money would have come in handy, but he had his work, his vision of man freed of all limits - social, religious, private - and that was his life. Whether it was enough for him, only he could say.
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And you, my fucked fucker, what of you?
Do you know what you have been given? Do you know what is required of you?
In Blake's most famous poem, The Tyger, William refuses to answer the question he asks: What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry? Awe was in the creation, not the creator. When I ask if you know what you have been given I am not asking you to believe or even consider a Creator, the one who gives, only that you consider the gift: your life. And the requirement is not to pay off some debt for having been born. No, the requirement is something closer than that. It is being who you are - completely.
William will tell you, For everything that lives is holy. You are a holy thing, you fucked sonofabitch. What is holy in you is what is holy in any of us - the chance to be who we are. If you fail this, if you allow an impoverished childhood, a lost love, economic trial or any other such thing to turn you away from your life's work, the vision only you can possibly bring to life, well, then I don't want to know you. Life is hard and unfair and unjust. William should have been a king, but he never traveled more than 60 miles from London. His work was shit on by lesser minds and yet he worked and worked and worked and because of that almost 200 years after his death I can read him and tell you if he could bear it, so can you.
You don't have to be a poet or an artist, just live by the vision you have. Order your life to feed that vision and you'll have met the requirement Luke was aiming at.
Live. It is all we're here to do.
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