He Doth Sit By Us and Moan

Daniel Bonnell, "Jesus Wept"

Daniel Bonnell, “Jesus Wept”

Last week I was honored by my friend Jean Yeatman when she asked me to sit with her at her mother’s deathbed. We talked about childhood excursions that our families took together and also about the importance of ritual in our lives. Today’s William Blake poem is for her and her brother Clay.

Blake finds something heavenly in the sorrow we feel for another. We know God grieves for us because we see something holy within the sadness we ourselves feel in the presence of human suffering. Blake’s poem reminds me of a line from “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” a 19th century hymn and one of my favorites: 

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven…

In the shortest sentence in The New Testament, we are told that “Jesus wept” over the death of Lazarus. Blake’s poem reminds us that we are not alone:

On Another’s Sorrow

By William Blake

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear —

And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.

Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

I like the reference to the wren as both Jean’s mother and father were biologists and bird lovers and wrote a weekly nature column for the local newspaper. They would not, however, approve of Blake eliding wrens with sparrows (or so I believe). Blake surely has in mind Jesus’s assurance of Matthew 10:29-30:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.

A note on the artist: Daniel Bonnelli’s art can be found in two books: The Road Home by Garth Hewitt and The Christian Vision of God by Alister McGrath and can be seen on his website www.BonnellArt.com. More information can be found at http://www.liturgyplanningimages.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=188&Itemid=134.


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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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