I’m reading G.K. Chesteron’s biography of William Blake, and it’s a real treat, full of Chesterton’s unique insights and witticisms. The following quote provides a fresh angle on three of the poets we’ve discussed so far in the Culture Club: Blake, Shakespeare and Yeats. Chesterton is commenting on the fact that William Blake’s father, James Blake, was most likely Irish.
Some have found in his [ie William Blake’s] Irish origin an explanation of his imaginative energy; the idea may be admitted, but under strong reservations. It is probably true that Ireland, if she were free from oppression, would produce more pure mystics than England. And for the same reason she would still produce fewer poets. A poet may be vague, and a mystic hates vagueness. A poet is a man who mixes up heaven and earth unconsciously. A mystic is a man who separates heaven and earth even if he enjoys them both. Broadly the English type is he who sees the elves entangled in the forests of Arcady, like Shakespeare and Keats: the Irish type is he who sees the fairies quite distinct from the forest, like Blake and Mr W B Yeats.
Putting aside the controversial racial stereotyping, there is an interesting point here about these authors’ differing approaches to the supernatural.
2 responses to “G.K. Chesterton on William Blake and Mysticism”
Chesterton does not indulge in simple minded “racial stereotypes, ” rather he has the uncommon capacity to see types in national groups, without assigning superiority to one group or another. He admired his own English folks, as well as their Irish brethen, an uncommon feat in his time as well as our own.
Moderation is alas a virtue I do not dream of possessing.