Nov. 28, 2001

Holy Thursday

by William Blake

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Poem: "Holy Thursday," by William Blake.

Holy Thursday

'Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames' waters flow.

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to Heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

It's the birthday of William Blake, born in London in 1757. Blake was a Romantic poet, a painter, an engraver, and a visionary mystic. He was educated in school long enough only to learn to read and write; after that, his father noticed his knack for drawing and arranged for him to be an engraver's apprentice. He married Catherine Boucher, an illiterate woman, at the age of 25, and taught her to read, write, and help him in his printing work. The two collaborated on his most famous works, his hand-illustrated poetry books Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Blake engraved his words and pictures into copper printing plates, and Catherine printed them and painted the illustrations with watercolor. When Blake was nine years old, he said he'd seen a tree full of angels, and in his adult life he often said that spirits would visit his studio to sit for portraits. He was never rich; he died in poverty and neglect, unnoticed for his work until after his death. William Blake, who wrote: "To see a world in a grain of sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour."

It's the birthday of French-Canadian author Yves Thériault, born in Québec City in 1915. Theriault's masterpiece is considered to be his novel Agaguk, published in 1958, about an Eskimo family who live a nomadic and primitive life in the far north and who struggle against the laws of white men.

It's the birthday of Nancy Mitford, born in London in 1904, the author of satirical novels about upper-class life, including a trio of novels titled The Pursuit of Love, The Blessing, and Don't Tell Alfred.

It's the birthday of Sir Stephen Leslie, born in London in 1832, the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, an essayist, and one of the first serious critics of novels. He edited the first 26 volumes of the Dictionary, as well as writing some important social and philosophical works including History of Thought in the Eighteenth Century, and English Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century. He was also the father of Virginia Woolf.

It's the birthday of Friedrich Engels, born in Barmen, Prussia, in 1820. He was Karl Marx's earliest collaborator in the foundation of modern communism, and co-author of Communist Manifesto. Engels was the son of a wealthy textiles manufacturer, and when he toured the factory at the age of 6, he was horrified by the working conditions of the workers, many of whom were children nearly his own age. When he confided his worries to his mother, she consoled him and told him to thank God that the factory belonged to the family, so he'd never have to work in conditions like those. She said, "Don't trouble your little head about it. No one can change things, even you." The next morning, he said to his mother in response, "Suppose I want to change thing. Then what?" Engels met Marx in Paris in 1944, beginning their lifelong partnership.

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