NOTE: At Think in the Morning we are writing and posting a novel, The Frolic Cafe, in real time. We will edit, add, and subtract from each post as we go so what you read at first may change over time. This post, The Tigers of Wrath, is a short interlude in the writing of that novel based on some ideas that have been recurring while we write.
In my novel (Behind the Locked Door) you will find a few lyrics from Moonshadow by Cat Stevens. It is expensive and time consuming to legally print lyrics in a novel. Never the less, I went through the proper channels to do it because the lyrics were important to me and to the novel. At the top of this blog there is a photo of Cat Stevens on a stairway “posing in front of a wall with some graffiti, a William Blake quote: The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” The quote, one of my favorites from Blake, explains a point I made (or think I made) in my novel. The decision of the main character to seek treatment in Mexico was emotional, not intellectual.
Notice that Blake uses the word wiser, not better or truer. Passion is a stronger motivator than reason. The philosopher David Hume wrote reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. I made this observation indirectly in an early post on this blog, The Trolley Problem, in an effort to explain the appeal of Donald Trump to the American electorate. Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow provides another example of how the emotions can trump reason. Kahneman, a psychologist, won the Nobel prize in economics in 2002 for reminding economists of this insight that Blake had over 200 years ago.
Blake’s aphorism comes from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93). The tiger, wild and untamable, represents the imagination while the horse, trainable and compliant represents a useful tool. One of Blake’s most famous phrases (also from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell), Exuberance is Beauty, leaves no doubt where his sympathies lie. To make sure readers understood he echoed the point in a second passage from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: the wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
Wrath appears in Blake’s earliest poems. When hidden, wrath can have dangerous effects. For example:
A Poison Tree
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I water’d it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
Blake did not advocate that you surrender to your passions nor hide from them but that you express them in a healthy way.
To be in a Passion you Good may Do
But no Good if a Passion is in you
(William Blake: Auguries of Innocence)
I think of the famed neuroscientist Oliver Sacks. In reacting to the mild-mannered way in which philosopher David Hume described his own terminal condition, Sacks wrote, “I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.”
According to S. Foster Damon in A Blake Dictionary when the Wrath breaks forth, it is Revolution. The “Tyger” is to be revered because without the “Tyger” there will be no “Lamb”: without a “Revolution” there will be no return of paradise.
Passion gets the juices flowing but reason guides them to productive ends.
Los rag’d and stamp’d the earth in his might & terrible wrath!
He stood and stampd the earth! then he threw down his hammer in rage &
In fury: then he sat down and wept, terrified! Then arose
And chanted his song, labouring with the tongs and hammer:
Blake’s Jerusalem (plate 6)
Blake’s perceptive aphorisms are among the most oft quoted lines in his poetry.
Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. (William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). These lines succinctly express the long second stanza of the Tao Te Ching.
People through finding something beautiful
Think something else unbeautiful.
Through finding one man fit
Judge another unfit.
Life and death, though stemming from each other, seem to conflict as stages of change.
Difficult and easy as phases of achievement.
Long and short as measures of contrast,
High and low as degrees of relation;
But, since the varying tones gives music to a voice
And what is the was of what shall be,
The sanest man
Sets up no deed,
Lays down no law,
Takes everything that happens as it comes,
As something to animate, not to appropriate,
To earn, not to own,
To accept naturally without self-importance:
If you never assume importance
You never lose it.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 2, Witter Bynner version
Of course, Blake was of a wildly different temperament than the sanest man as described by Lao Tzu although the two seem to agree on the importance of contraries.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. (William Blake: Proverbs of Hell)
This line expresses the age-old wisdom that to avoid mistakes you must make mistakes, something Think in the Morning expounded on HERE.
Or, expressed with a slight difference: The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. (William Blake: Proverbs of Hell)
Think again of the inimitable Oliver Sacks who says that psychedelic drugs “taught me what the mind is capable of.”