The Fly - William Blake

Blake's 'The Fly' is one of his Songs of Innocence and Experience, first published in 1789. Here is the poem:

The Fly


Little Fly Thy summers play, My thoughtless hand Has brush'd away. Am not I

A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me? For I dance And drink and sing: Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing. If thought is life And strength and breath: And the want Of thought is death;


Then am I A happy fly, If I live, Or if I die.

Blake's Songs are divided in pairs between Innocence and Experience. He called these 'two contrary states of the human soul' and his poems reflect this position - the radically Innocent poems are childlike and pure while the Songs of Experience dramatise the corruption of the world. As a Song of Experience 'The Fly Forms' a diagnosis of a psycho-cultural sickness Blake sees in man turning himself into a fly with logic.

Blake performs this diagnosis through structural inversion. ‘The Fly’ forms a metaphoric model for the process of self-miniaturisation through logic. Blake’s illustration indicates poem and syllogism can be read both in parallel and sequence through twin ‘voices’. Here is his illustration:








The first three verses offer a sick Cartesian proof to set man as fly to wanton God while the second column reverses terms to transform false conclusion into deeper interrogative:

Then am I
A happy fly
If I live
Or if I die.

The apparently symmetrical language and meter between action and abstract theology from verse two forms an ontological reversal with ‘Am not I’ meaning poetically ‘I am not’ victim of external ‘blind hand’ but able to enact particular happiness in live-die choices where verbs opposing life-death abstractions. The division of poetic and logical registers create a symbolic fusion where ‘the want of thought’ as absent desire equals self-negation and energetic death. Then-if-if reverses the syllogistic thought form to declare belief is the primary power of imaginative creation. ‘The Fly’ uses questions as revelations of spiritual knowledge in dialogical enquiries into sickness while simultaneously containing a counter-narrative that offers imaginative theory of mind as cure.


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