references in A Vision
The Mental Traveller

I travelled through a land of men,
A land of men and women too,
And heard and saw such dreadful things
As cold earth wanderers never knew.

For there the babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe,
Just as we reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow;

And if the babe is born a boy
He’s given to a woman old,
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.

She binds iron thorns around his head,
And pierces both his hands and feet,
And cuts his heart out of his side
To make it feel both cold & heat.

Her fingers number every nerve
Just as a miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries—
And she grows young as he grows old,

Till he becomes a bleeding youth
And she becomes a virgin bright;
Then he rends up his manacles
And pins her down for his delight.

He plants himself in all her nerves
Just as a husbandman his mould,
And she bcomes his dwelling-place
And garden, frutiful seventyfold.

An aged shadow soon he fades,
Wandering round and earthly cot,
Full filled all with gems and gold
Which he by industry had got.

And these are the gems of the human soul:
The rubies and pearls of a lovesick eye,
The countless gold of an aching heart,
The martyr’s groan, and the lover’s sigh.

They are his meat, they are his drink:
He feeds the beggar and the poor
And the wayfaring traveller;
For ever open is his door.

His grief is their eternal joy,
They make the roofs and walls to ring—
Till from the fire on the hearth
Alittle female babe does spring!

And she is all of solid fire
And gems and gold, that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band.

But she comes to the man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor;
They soon drive out the aged host,
A beggar at another’s door.

He wanders weeping far away
Until some other take him in;
Oft blind and age-bent, sore distressed,
Until he can a maiden win.

And to allay his freezing age
The poor man takes her in his arms:
The cottage fades before his sight,
The garden and its lovely charms;

The guests are scattered through the land
(For the eye altering, alters all);
The senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat earth becomes a ball,

The stars, sun, moon, all shrink away—
A desert vast without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink
And a dark desert all around.

The honey of her infant lips,
The bread and wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving eye
Does him to infancy beguile.

For as he eats and drinks he grows
Younger and younger every day;
And on the desert wild they both
Wander in terror and dismay.

Like the wild stag she flees away;
Her fear plants many a thicket wild,
While he pursues her night and day,
By various arts of love beguiled.

By various arts of love and hate,
Till the wide desert planted o’er
With labyrinths of wayward love,
Where roams the lion, wolf and boar,

Till he becomes a wayward babe
And she a weeping woman old.
Then many a lover wanders here,
The sun and stars are nearer rolled,

The trees bring forth sweet ecstasy
To all who in the desert roam,
Till many a city there is built,
And many a pleasant shepherd’s home.

But when they find the frowning babe
Terror strikes through the region wide;
They cry, ‘The Babe! the Babe is born!’
And flee away on every side.

For who dare touch the frowning form
His arm is withered to its root,
Lions, boars, wolves, all howling flee
And every tree does shed its fruit;

And none can touch that frowning form,
Except it be a woman old;
She nails him down upon the rock,
And all is done as I have told.
from the ‘Pickering Manuscript’ (?1803)

A Vision A

Blake, in the Mental Traveller, describes a struggle, a struggle perpetually repeated between a man and woman, and as the one ages, the other grows young. A child is given to an old woman and

Her fingers number every nerve
Just as a miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries
And she grows young as he grows old.
Till he becomes a bleeding youth
And she becomes a virgin bright;
Then he rends up his manacles
And bends her down to his delight.

Then he in his turn becomes “an aged shadow” and is driven from his door, where “From the fire on the hearth a little female babe doth spring.” He must wander “until he can a maiden win” and then all is repeated for

“The honey of her infant lips
The bread and wine of her sweet smile
The wild game of her roving eye
Does him to infancy beguile.”
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Till he becomes a wayward babe
And she a weeping woman old”

  When Edwin J. Ellis and I had finished out big book on the philosophy of William Blake, I felt that we had no understanding of this poem: we had explained its details, for they occur elsewhere in his verse or his pictures, but not in the poem as a whole, not the myth, the perpetual return to the same thing; not that which moved Blake to write it; but when I had understood the double cones, I understood it also. The woman and the man are two competing gyres growing at one another’s expense, but with Blake it is not enough to say that one is beauty and one is wisdom, for he conceives this conflict as that in all love—whether between the elements as in Parmenides, “the wanton love” of Aristotle, or between man and woman—which compels each to be slave and tyrant by turn. In our system also it is a cardinal principle that anything separated from its opposite—and victory is separation—“consumes itself away.” The existence of the one depends upon the existence of the other

  Blake and his wife signed in 1789, a document approving the foundation of the Swedenborgian Church, his brother remained a Swedenborgian to the end of his life, his friend Flaxman was a Swedenborgian and a very learned man, and it is possible therefore that he found among fellow-believers a knowledge of gyres and vortexes obtained from Swedenborg himself, though at that time inaccessible in print. Or, on the other hand, those beings which gave that knowledge as it is in “The Spiritual Diary” may have given it to Blake also.

(AV A 133-34)

A Vision B

‘In the symbolism the Celestial Body is said to age as the Passionate Body grows young, sometimes the Celestial Body is a prisoner in a tower rescued by the Spirit. Sometimes, grown old, it becomes the personification of evil. It pursues, persecutes and imprisons the Daimons.*
*See Blake’s Mental Traveller. Neither Edwin Ellis nor I, nor any commentator has explained the poem, though one or another has explained certain passages. The student of A Vision will understand it at once. Did Blake and my instructors drawn upon some unknown historical source, some explanation perhaps of the lunar circuit?    

(AV B 189)

The essay "'Metaphors for Poetry': Concerning the Poems of A Vision and Certain Plays for Dancers," by Wayne K. Chapman in the collection W. B. Yeats's "A Vision": Explications and Contexts, edited by Neil Mann, Matthew Gibson, and Claire Nally (Clemson University, 2012) examines the importance of this poem to Yeats further.
This title is available for free download here or here from Clemson University Press (click here if seems the link may have changed). It is also accessible online via Liverpool Scholarhip Online and University Press Scholarship Online (simplest to search on "Yeats" and "Vision"; direct link functional April 2016), though this is by subscription or through a library.

W. B. Yeats’s reading of William Blake’s The Mental Traveler through his System of A Vision.

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