William Blake – Anniversaries, Parodies and Assorted Animals

  •  photo credit: Copleys

    This week’s exercise was a little more unusual that most. The brief was to take a favourite poem and then rewrite it, replacing nouns with diffferent nouns, verbs with different verbs etc. Everyone seemed to share the consensus that it is a very difficult task which consumes time rapidly. Of course this is complicated when the chosen poem has a rhyming structure as well! Interestingly the exercise produced a lot of discussion about the merits of such activity. One person believed their work to be nothing short of parody even though as an individual poem it certainly seemed to stand on its own and had recognisbale echoes of the poet’s own style. Another person had been so engrossed in re-discovering favourite poems that they never got past the reading stage to writing their own version!

    For my part I chose Blake’s The Tiger to base the following upon, not realising until afterwards that 2007 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.

    The Zebra

    ZEBRA, zebra, blackened and white blades
    Within grasslands of the day,
    What endless finger or gaze
    Could picture your startled ways?

    In what far-off heavenly plain
    Raged the camouflaged inferno of your mane?
    On what African flight urged his desire’s hopes?
    What touch urged the sooty strokes?

    And what body and what sculptured find
    Could entwine the patterns of your mind?
    And when your mind at first did thrash,
    What frantic touch and what frantic clash!

    What the beat? What the procession?
    In what striping was your thought’s lesson?
    What the athanor? What frantic alchemy
    Urged its lethal startled geography?

    When the rivers threw down their courses dry,
    And tributaries upwards, marked with their cry,
    Did the lion smirk, his opportunity to see?
    Did the lion who chased all others chase thee?

    ZEBRA, zebra, blackened and white blades
    Within grasslands of the day,
    What endless finger or gaze
    Could picture your startled ways?

    My own experience was that it was very difficult to escape the Fires of Blake’s poem. Whilst applicable to The Tiger, I had to search for monochromatic references for my zebra. This poem fails the brief in a number of ways – many of my word choices are synonyms rather than replacements for the original grammar and in places I slip slightly out of the scanning of the original poem. It was noted however that it seems to have a tribal quality to it and mirrors the pace of Blake’s original in that respect. It was also suggested that it might have been more interesting to move away from animals altogether and write something like “The Astronuat”. Maybe I’ll save that for another day.


About The Author

Sean Woodward is a British artist, writer and musician who stands at the crossroads between technology and the arts, between the supernatural and the mundane, the light and the dark. His art is collected internationally and his essays and fiction have been published in a number of newsstand, limited and digital editions.

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