All Must Love the Human Form



For those still feeling bruised by the election results and by the elevation to high positions of an anti-Semite (Steve Bannon), a racist (Jeff Sessions), and an Islamophobe (Michael Flynn), here’s a comforting poem. William Blake’s prayer-like lyric, appearing in Songs of Innocence, calls for loving every “human form,” including “heathen, Turk, or Jew”:

The Divine Image

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
   All pray in their distress,
   And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
   Is God our Father dear;
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
   Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart;
   Pity, a human face;
And Love, the human form divine:
   And Peace the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
   That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine:
   Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
   In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
   There God is dwelling too.

Blake’s vision does not end with this heartfelt prayer, however. In a companion Song of Experience poem, he observes that prayer must also be accompanied by social justice. We wouldn’t even need pity if there weren’t income inequality. We wouldn’t need mercy if we insured that “all were as happy as we.” Peace is not true peace if it arises out of fear of the other.

When Christians don’t condemn social injustice, Christianity becomes a deceitful or a poison tree:

The Human Abstract

Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings Peace,
Till the selfish loves increase;
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears;
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head,
And the caterpillar and fly
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat,
And the raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The gods of the earth and sea
Sought through nature to find this tree,
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the human Brain.

Blake’s tree is institutional Christianity, which in his day counseled the poor to be humble in the face of laissez faire capitalism. The poor were told to practice Christian submission, even as the system forced their boys into chimney sweeping and their girls into prostitution.

To a large extent, Donald Trump owes his victory to rightwing evangelical Christians, perhaps because of his promise to overturn Rowe v Wade and Mike Pence’s attacks on homosexuality. I ask these Christians to remember Jesus’s concern for the poor and to resist if Republicans start shredding the social safety net or massively deporting immigrants, both those who have lived peacefully in this country for years and those who come to this country fleeing oppression.

I ask this, not only because it is what Jesus would want, but because the tree of their faith will become corrupted if they don’t. Even the head of the Southern Baptist Convention worries that his church is becoming twisted by its too close association with Republican politics. Christianity will suffer caterpillar decay and maggot death if it doesn’t remain true to Christ’s message. Dark raven thoughts will nest in its brain.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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