A Pregenerative Soul’s Fear of Life

A Pregenerative Soul’s Fear of Life William Blake’s poem “Book of Thel” conveys the emotions and ideas that Thel experiences during a process of transformation. While there are a number of images which may suggest that the theme of the poem consists of the transition of a young girl into an adolescent, it seems that a stronger argument could be made for a pregenerative soul on the verge of mortality. Its existence at the precipice between heaven and earth seems to be the cause of a good deal of trepidation; trepidation regarding a purpose in life. The fear of becoming a living being stems both directly and indirectly from a fear of death: “‘Why fade these children of the spring? born but to smile & fall’” (l. 7). In this line, Thel first expresses her lack of understanding of the process of life. She sees it as a futile exercise, or what is worse, she sees it as a task in which she might fail. Thel would consider her eminent life a failure if “‘all shall say, “Without a use this shining woman liv’d, / Or did she only live to be at death the food of worms?”’” (ll. 69-70). As a result, she questions others as to how they cope with their mortality. The responses of those she asks ubiquitously stress the importance of service. The Lilly tells Thel that she rejoices because God, who as the Clod of Clay says, “loves the lowly,” comes to her with a promise that, even though her life seems small and insignificant, she is not forgotten. She serves the lamb in nourishment and her perfume spreads across the grasses. Because of these and other services, she will someday “flourish in eternal vales.” The Cloud expresses a similar opinion when asked about the seeming futility and brevity of its life. The Cloud questions the veracity of both of Thel’s suppositions: “‘O maid, I tell thee, when I pass away, / It is to tenfold life, to love, to peace, and raptures holy’” (ll. 57-58). The Cloud explains to Thel that even in passing, he serves a purpose in the water that quenches the thirst of a horse, or in his union with the dew that settles on and nourishes the flowers. And in the end, with the rising sun, the Cloud arises with the dew he has joined, and moves up into the heavens. The most convincing argument occurs when Thel encounters the Worm and the Clod of Clay. The Worm, while helpless, is protected by the earth, or in this case, the Clod of Clay, and nourished by God’s generosity in the bounty of the earth itself. The advice that the Clod of Clay gives seems to move Thel deeply: “‘But how this is, sweet maid, I know not, and I cannot know; / I ponder and I cannot ponder; yet I live and love’” (ll. 95-96). With these words, Thel is moved to tears as she realizes the scope of God’s love and grace. The Cold of Clay essentially tells her that trepidation and hesitation will do no good. Only action in service and faith will give her life purpose and a means by which she can defeat her fear of death and mortality.