I read this poem more than a half century ago in a college literature class. Up to then reading poetry was something I didn’t do. I played sports, drank beer on country roads and cemetaries, and, with a little fire water in my belly, acted stupid at record hops. According to my high school yearbook, my favorite saying was, “I find every book to long.” The only reading material I devoured at the time was Sports Illustrated, but not much else, book wise, found it way onto my night table.

Thankfully, and I’m not sure why, but my attitude shifted upon entering college. Perhaps my step mother who told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t succeed in college, I wasn’t coming home, but going straight into the army had something to do with it. In any case, I buckled down upon arrival and became a fixture in the library. In my second semester, I was assigned and read “Augeries of Innocence,” in a literature class. I don’t know how much I understood at the time, but it was hard not to appreciate on some level the beauty, images, and rythmn of Blake’s poem.

Fifty years later, I can’t claim to be any better interpreter of Blake’s poem than I was then. But I still like to read it aloud from time to time.

Like during Blake’s time – early industrializing England – we live in a time of transformation, contradiction, and shakeups in economic, political and cultural life. Life affirming and life denying signs show up in the public square. Morbidity, meaness, and ecological destruction runs up against new visions of freedom and new waves of freedom fighters. What goes unanswered, for now anyway, is which side, which way of life will win out. What fate awaits the Wren?

Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

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 Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd 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 clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers 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