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William Blake’s “The Book of Thel” Essay

William Blake’s contrast between innocence and experience is apparent in another book, aside from those that are named respectively, that was produced in 1789, The Book of Thel. Thel is a maiden who resides in the Vales of Har, which seems equivalent to the sheltered state of peace and innocence in the Songs of Innocence. Feeling unfulfilled and useless, Thel is invited to assume an embodied life by Clay. In doing so, she is exposed to the foreign world of sexuality and experience. This revelation terrifies her tremendously and she flees back to the safe, familiar Vales of Har, never to be enlightened.

The Book of Thel presents the state of innocence confronted by the world of experience. Thel’s innocence is evident by her motto: “Does the Eagle know what is in the pit? Or wilt thou go ask the Mole? Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod? Or Love in a golden bowl” (p. 61)? Thel’s motto is comprised of questions that all have fairly obvious answers, but nonetheless escape her. Thel is a maiden who laments the passing of youth and of innocence: “O life of this our spring! why fades the lotus of the water, “Why fade these children of the spring, born but to smile & fall” (1.6-7)?

Thel questions elements of nature, like the Lilly of the Valley and the Cloud, that are beautiful but have temporary lives. Yet each understands that the transitory nature of beauty is necessary. The Cloud answers Thel’s complaint by saying that “every thing that lives, Lives not alone, nor for itself” (3.26-27). Thel is innocent, but when one is stuck in a state of innocence there can be no growth.

She compares herself to “a watry bow, and like a parting cloud” (1.8) “Like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water” (1.9). These are all transparent things and things that disappear. Thel feels she herself could disappear without much notice or repercussion.

When the Clod of Clay allows Thel to enter into the world of experience, she is startled by a voice from her own grave:

“Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy? “

Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire?” (6.19-20)

The maiden is shocked by this peek into her own sexuality and mortality and runs back to the quiet vales of Har “with a shriek” (6.21). For Thel there will be no blending of the spiritual (Har) and physical (Clay’s land of experience) realms, and therefore transcendence is impossible for her. Her short vision is limited to either innocence or experience. She cannot live in Blake’s world of finding the middle ground between two extremes.

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