Monday, May 25, 2020

That Fearful Symmetry

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake wrestled that metaphorical Tiger with his bright menacing eyes and the beauty and terror it signified. Call it Evil as opposed to the Lamb in his Song of Innocence. Call it Coronavirus. Or call it mankind in the garden of good and peril. Welcome to the forest of the night and the Song of Experience. We’ve got to take the good with the bad.

The Lamb and the Tiger are the fearful symmetry in whose midst we have come to live or die. Lamb chops and fleece or a carnivorous meal? From the point of view of the virus this is The Golden Age. They are just doing what we do; as their tribes increase so they survive.

Why would God do such a thing? A temper tantrum?  Punishing us for our transgressions? Just showing off? Reminding us we share this orb with other tenants invisible even in this year of 20-20 vision?  I wouldn’t know; I’ve been truant from houses of worship since I was thirteen though I have vivid memories of stale wine and sponge cake.

Maybe this is the reckoning. We are at the tollbooth paying the price for shrinking geography and hyper connectivity via the information highway. Add to this the search for cheap labor to supply an insatiable appetite for consumer goods. Erase China from your map and gone is Costco, Amazon and life as we know it.

It took the First World War to bring us the previous pandemic as if the colossal stupidity of European monarchs wasn’t enough to fertilize Flanders Fields. God is reputed to act in mysterious ways. Does he/she really ask us to congregate? Does the great puppeteer require the hymn on page 37 and the top of page 38? To get through the night?  I doubt it. Faith is an inward many splendored thing. No edifice complex. No checks in the collection box. No Hail Marys or Baruch’as.

William Blake was an early Romantic. He lived with angels and Satanic figures in his head which he etched and engraved. I’m not so sure I’d have wanted my sister to marry a man like him. But, then again, I never had a sister. He regarded the imagination as the greatest gift of human existence which would have endeared him to me and made him a good lunch partner as long as he doesn’t order roast tiger, medium rare.

I take him to mean that our lives are precarious, a fragile marriage of heaven and hell, beauty and terror, innocence of the sheep and ferocity of the feral cat even when it is no longer visibly reduced to droplets. In our mindless rapacity we must make room. Call it symmetry. I call it the human predicament.

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