(Post originally published April 22, 2015)
by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
It is no secret that artists, poets and writers are continually influencing and being influenced by other creative minds and their work. It has happened for millennia, one new movement after another springs forth from the innovative experiments of the previous generations that came before them, consequently receiving recognition as the latest styles of their age.
Just as in real life, characters in novels experience the same ‘aha!’ moments and find themselves inspiring and inspired by others, but then that is hardly surprising: even fictitious stories for the most part burst forth as imaginative flourishes from the soil of real life occurrences and observations, or the narratives wouldn’t have the ‘ring of reality’ about them, (unless the story is really ‘out there’ in the woolly realm of La-La Land!)
Naturally, my characters in Brushstrokes of a Gadfly experience the same pattern of innovation or they wouldn’t be realistic, especially as many of them are supposed to be artists. Of course, the author undergoes the same process with them as the story develops, the characters and what inspires them can also lead to episodes of philosophical soul-searching in return, a cyclical process of creativity ever renewing itself!
One of those ‘philosophical’ moments occurred this morning. First, I was greeted with some very disturbing news on Sky International from Britain. We, the faceless mass of the public, have been told over and over these last few months or so how well Britain is doing and that the UK economy is steadily growing out of the Great Recession, (God forbid we should actually tell the truth and state we are in a global Great Depression!) Yet, the news just reported this morning (April 22, 2015) that the food banks have received an unprecedented number of people searching for aid like never before. So, who is actually ‘doing better’ in the United Kingdom? Certainly not the average British family! Reading between the lines it is easy to see that only the mega-rich are doing better, while the economic climate is still just as dire if not getting worse for the general populace like never before, but the media keeps lying to everyone about that. To cap that off, in the same news segment there was a disturbing report about the rise of cruelty to animals in Britain, and the national Prevention to Cruelty to Animals charity has received a record number of calls and reports; every thing from woeful neglect to outright torture of innocent creatures that can’t defend themselves. One story was appalling, a dog was locked for months on end amidst her own excrement in a car outside her master’s home. Furthermore, she was expecting a litter of puppies and was obviously undernourished. What a demonic, yes demonic, way to treat man’s best friend. Thankfully, she was spotted and rescued and now has a new loving owner. Is there a link between dire poverty and this ghastly display of cruelty? Are people taking their frustration and stress out on the animal kingdom and their once-beloved pets? This is certainly are a disturbing sign of our times.
While hearing this on the TV, or the ‘telly’ as they say in the UK and Ireland, I was multitasking and conducting some practical research for my next novel, a continuation of Brushstrokes of a Gadfly. One artist that barely received a ‘hello, how are you?’ in the first novel is currently receiving some additional development in the second. (Nope, I’m not revealing the new title of the sequel yet! You’ll just have to wait.) The artist in question is inspired by the opening lines of a poem by William Blake (1757-1827) who was also an artist, and since I had only paraphrased Blake’s lines in the draft so far, I thought I had better go over them again to make sure I quoted them correctly. They belong to Auguries of Innocence, however, I couldn’t stop at the opening verses and continued to read the entire poem to refresh my memory. Immediately Blake’s other lines struck me as markedly relevant to the report I was hearing repeated over and over in the background:
“A dog starved at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.”
How apropos! Continuing the poem, it was eerie to see just how accurate Blake had pinpointed the omens of decline both morally, financially and politically that now are so evident in our modern nations, and not just in Britain. ‘Auguries’ is another word for ‘omens’ or ‘future signs’ after all. How mankind interacts with other creatures considered less than itself is a tell-tale sign indeed: if you cannot treat defenceless animals with compassion and kindness, how will you treat your fellow human beings? Demonically I say. I shall give an example:
I suppose not many have heard of one frightening story that was recently reported from Greece a few months ago, a country which is beyond doubt like other countries completely mired in a Great Depression rivalling that of the previous century. In the very birthplace of ‘Western Civilisation’ there are families now living for two and three years without electricity as they cannot afford it. One man who was a caregiver for his elderly mother at home could no longer pay the electricity bill, so the company just came and shut the power off, regardless of the fact the elderly woman was on a life support machine. The workers had their orders so they simply turned it off: the man could only stand by and watch as his mother died. Sounds like the Nazis at the extermination camps who claimed innocence when accused of war crimes because they were ‘only following orders’, doesn’t it? The next frightening part of the story was the man couldn’t call the ambulance and have his mother taken to the hospital as the public health system in Greece is only for those who have a job, (which in their crippled economy are non-existent). If this is the current condition of the country that gave us democracy, I fear for the rest of the democratic world. Just look at the crumbling decay of Detroit and the water management debacle: the last time I heard, the poor who could not afford to pay their water bills were cut off from that service, a basic necessity of life. The situation was becoming critical to the point a UN commission went to investigate just like any other third world country experiencing major humanitarian crises. I do not know if the situation there has been resolved or is still in crisis, but what a humiliating downturn for America that prides itself on being one of the most developed nations in the world.
What times we are living in! The poor and the elderly are not the only victims, all those who cannot speak for themselves or are afraid to speak up are also vulnerable. Let us not forget the children. The cases of scandalizing and cruelty to children are woefully on the increase, and have been for the last sixty years. Talk about the loss of innocence. How can we turn our backs and ignore the outright atrocities that are happening in our era? I promise, no more horror stories in this post, but I could not help but jump up on my soapbox ~ a few of my characters are ‘gadflies’ after all, people who cannot help but shake things up and get people to do a little soul-searching too, so I suppose I’m still on topic. Moving on...
Of course, after reviewing Blake’s poem a few more times, I find it has now provided me with several other ideas to develop in the new novel, but again, you shall have to wait to see what, where, how, and with which characters. However, for now I shall share with you Blake’s famous poem below underneath one of his artworks, which you might be familiar with thanks to the ‘Hannibal Lecter’ movie, Red Dragon (2002) starring Anthony Hopkins. What philosophical, soul-searching ideas will Blake’s following verses inspire you with?
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun (c. 1803)
Auguries of Innocence (1803)
by William Blake
(First published in 1863.)
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.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm’d for fight
Does the rising sun affright.
Every wolf’s and lion’s howl
Raise from hell a human soul.
The wild deer, wand’ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.
The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won’t believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever’s fright.
He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov’d by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov’d
Shall never by be woman lov’d.
The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider’s enmity.
He who torments the chafer’s sprite
Weaves a bower of endless night.
The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to the thy mother’s grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgment draweth nigh.
He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar’s dog and widow’s cat,
Feed them and thou will grow fat.
The gnat that sings his summer’s song
Poison gets from slander’s tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy’s foot.
The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist’s jealousy.
The prince’s robes and beggar’s rags
Are toadstools on the miser’s bags.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Throughout all these human lands
Tools were made, and born were hands,
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;
This is caught by females bright,
And return’d to it’s own delight.
The bleat, the bark, the below, and roar,
Are waves that beat on heaven’s shore.
The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Write revenge in realms of death.
The beggar’s rags, fluttering in air,
Does to rags the heaven’s tear.
The soldier, arm’d with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer’s sun.
The poor man’s farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric’s shore.
One mite wrung from the lab’rer’s hands
Shall buy and sell the miser’s lands;
Or, it protected from on high,
Does that whole nation sell and buy.
He who mock’s the infant’s faith
Shall be mock’d in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the infant’s faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child’s toys and the old man’s reason
Are the fruits of the two seasons.
The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.
The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar’s laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to armour’s iron brace.
When gold and gems adorn the plow,
To peaceful arts shall envy bow.
A riddle, or the cricket’s cry,
Is to doubt a fit reply.
The emmet’s inch and eagle’s mile
Make lame philosophy to smile
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne’re believe, do what you please.
If the sun and moon should doubt,
They’d immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.
The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation’s fate.
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave old England’s winding-sheet.
The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Dance before dead England’s hearse.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
We are led to believe a lie
When we see not through the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.
God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.
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