On the first anniversary of the tragedies that took place on September 11, 2001 I was given the assignment for a class I was taking on Romantic Poetry to write about William Blake’s “Visions of the Daughters of Albion.” What I turned in was a piece in which my topic sentenced forwarded a very simple question: What meaning does William Blake’s hopelessly obscure poem carry for me on the anniversary of September 11? I had read this poem several times and in between I had been watching the memorials held in New York City, the Pentagon and in the field in Pennsylvania. It was difficult for me to grasp the meaning of the poem, but oh so easy for me to grasp the significance of the terrible loss of life suffered one year previous.
As I watch the memorials and retrospectives, and relived in my mind my own memories from that day in 2001, I began to ask myself these questions: Why should I even care about Oothon and Theotormon? What possible significance does this almost impenetrable work carry for me? What significance does poetry of such seemingly obscure content hold in today’s world? And my answer was and remains, I’m sad to say, I don’t know. I’m really not sure why it’s important for me to understand William Blake’s poetry or the films of David Lynch beyond the fact that understanding these things will make me sound more intelligent. I’ve read “Visions of the Daughters of Albion” several times since then and I don’t understand it any better than I did the first time. In light of the events that have taken place since I first read the poem for a class assignment, I simply find it hard to care that I don’t understand it and, frankly, I find it hard to care that I’m ill prepared to answer any questions that were and will be asked of me regarding William Blake’s work.
On the first day of class my professor, one of the foremost William Blake scholars in the world, David Baulch, informed the entire class that if we didn’t like the questions he came up with that we could come up with our own if they were valid. I wasn’t entirely sure that my topic question presented a truly valid inquiry, but I wondered then as well as now how poetry of such seemingly unnecessary difficulty can have relevance in today’s world. William Blake seems to be purposely abstruse in this poem especially, as if he doesn’t want you to understand what he’s talking about, almost as if he’s making it up on the spot, perhaps with the help of hallucinogens. There’s so much about today’s world that is difficult to understand that at that point in time I questioned the value of art which seems to have the burning need to be deceptive.
Of course, I know much better today; I have grasped the significance of literary and cinematic works of art that can take years to penetrate. Even so, I still don’t get just what in the name of William Blake his “Visions of the Daughters of Albion” is supposed to be about or mean.
Read for yourself just how difficult Visions of the Daughters of Albion really is.