“Heaven in a wildflower”. William Blake, one of the English Romantic poets, was most political in the topics of his verses . In last night’s ABC TV show The Drum, one of the panelists was adamant that the artist was a political animal, as were we all. The 70’s slogan “the personal is political” continues to apply.
In 2001, I was in hospital having an aortic valve replacement and pre-op engaged in conversation with my very personable surgeon. As an agnostic, I made my views felt. “After all”, I said, “god is not palpable”. “Oh but he is palpable”, the surgeon insisted and proceeded to narrate the following. He had gone to China some years earlier to attend a cardiac conference when his hosts asked, no, demanded that he perform complex and urgent surgery on a senior member of the Party. Protestations that he had not the necessary equipment fell on deaf ears; he whittled his surgical requirements down to three items, which one by one mysteriously were found. The surgery was performed and the patient lived to continue to govern. I think the surgeon had prayed and believed that his prayers were answered.
Post-op, I was in and out of the intensive care ward as my condition stabilised. There, I witnessed the slow decline and death of a fellow patient, whose days and nights were filled with a racking cough. He died, the moment was marked with an end to the coughing. The nurses closed the screens round his bed; when the surgeon arrived the staff lined up in two rows and held open the curtains. The surgeon flounced into the room with a magisterial gesture. Father Brown could not have done better.
I related the above because it seems to me that medical specialists and nurses, at least those vitally concerned with the care of others, grow in their psyches a type of determinism. Birth and death are the milestones of existence. By comparison, judgementalism is a disease that some in our species feel the need to inflict on the rest of us: politicians, policemen, judges and pharisees. The USA is currently the unfortunate breeding ground of such self congratulating judgemental religiosity. The type of pastor who feels it appropriate to stand up in a place designated for the worship of the deity and utter obscenities like: “if same sex unions are allowed I’ll eat my own faeces”; how are they to be judged, or rather treated? Another compared gays and lesbians to the children of Satan. Concerning the “naturalness” of gay, an advocate said recently “if god disapproves of us why did he make us”? Meanwhile Blake’s comment on human behaviour was that what we most wanted were “the lineaments of gratified behaviour”. Blake found his in the garden of his cottage, sunbathing nude with his wife and her sister.
William Blake, when he was writing his poetry in an age of revolutions and injustice, chose not to recognise the local church. His complex symbolism included such deliberations as the idea that John Milton was of the devil’s party; Milton’s poem Paradise Lost depicted Lucifer as a valiant hero banished from the luminous regions by a despotic ruler to dwell in fiery darkness. Using the cloak of such imagery Blake was safely able to discuss the independence of the American colonies, the French revolution and injustice at home, all treasonable thoughts.
Finally, he turned away from organised religion, or housed, collectivised religion, to meditations in his garden or in the country. How ironic it is that his poem Jerusalem, “And did those feet in ancient times” is now a hymn much loved by the established church. William Wordsworth roamed the Lake District; Coleridge dwelt in the interior world of opium. A younger generation, namely Percy Bysse Shelley and Lord Byron were post-revolution, Shelley being openly atheistic and Byron: mad, bad and dangerous to know”. Like Qld’s honest police during the 1980 gambling corruption scandals, they might well have written on their lockers: NRMA, “nothing really matters anyway”. William Blake was best, of all of the English Romantic poets, to know the difference between religiosity and spirituality, the latter a formless creative awareness, (see Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spirituality in Art) that finds “heaven in a wildflower”.