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Flat Earth?

William Blake writes a poem praisng the flat earth. Was he blind to the advances of science? Did he miss the Copernican revolution? How could a man living in this modern world not realize the earth is a sphere?

I am not a student of Blake, but others have suggested that he despises a world reduced to pure mathmatics and drained of all the passion of living. (Blake scholars correct me if I’m wrong.) He equates a world void of passion and living on a mechanical Newtonian realm alone as the lowest level of existance, which he refers to as Ulro. When we speak of the earth as sphere, we are using mathematics to understand our world. We are focusing upon the universal without feasting on the particular.

The flat earth reminds us of the particularity of our existance. It’s not just some tree, it’s the dogwood in front of my house that captures my heart. It’s not just the abstract principe of female that capture my heart, but the particular–women as realized in my particualr wife, Kelly.

In a world of global politics and national grocery chains (not to mention “branded” churches), we lose sight of the value in little things and local places. Blake calls us back to the particular and rejoices over the wonder of a flat earth.

From “Milton”
And every Space that a Man views around his dwelling place
Standing on his own roof or in his garden on a mount
Of twenty-five cubits in height, such space is his Universe:
And on its verge the Sun rises & sets, the Clouds bow
To meet the flat Earth & the Sea in such an order’d Space:
The Starry heavens reach no further, but here bend and set
On all sides, & the two Poles turn on their valves of gold;
And if he move his dwelling-place, his heavens also move
Whe’er he goes, & all his neighbourhood bewail his loss.
Such are the Spaces called Earth & such its dimension.
As to that false appearance which appears to the reasoner
As of a Globe rolling thro’ Voidness, it is a delusion of Ulro.

William Blake
(cited in A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czelaw Milosz)

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  1. May 21, 2005 at 9:43 am

    Blake has always fascinated me. Most of his work is pretty hard to decipher, but what you’ve done here sounds right. And it’s cool, too, that you quoted “Milton.” Peace.

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