The Human Abstract

We continue our special series of exclusive readings of some of Blake's poems. Like the others, this video of actor Matt Ray Brown reading The Human Abstract -- filmed by Finding Blake's Jonnie Howard -- was recorded in William and Catherine Blake's South Molton Street home in London.

The Human Abstract

 Pity would be no more,
 If we did not make somebody Poor:
 And Mercy no more could be,
 If all were as happy as we;

 And mutual fear brings peace;
 Till the selfish loves increase.
 Then Cruelty knits a snare,
 And spreads his baits with care.

 He sits down with holy fears,
 And waters the ground with tears:
 Then Humility takes its root
 Underneath his foot.

 Soon spreads the dismal shade
 Of Mystery over his head;
 And the Catterpillar and Fly,
 Feed on the Mystery.

 And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
 Ruddy and sweet to eat;
 And the Raven his nest has made
 In its thickest shade.

 The Gods of the earth and sea
 Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree
 But their search was all in vain:
 There grows one in the Human Brain

Finding Blake team member Linda Richardson says of this poem: “The Human Abstract ricochets between dualisms — pity and poverty, mercy and sadness, fear and peace, cruelty and care — and examines how the seed of dualistic cause and effect takes root in the mind, causing the flourishing of a deceitful tree deep within our brain. Grounded in Biblical vision and the natural elements, Blake’s poetry always sips in this ground, delighting and appalling our senses but having the capacity to illuminate corners of our mind and wake us up to our condition if only we have the ears to hear.”


Matt Ray Brown reads eight Blake poems for Finding Blake and appeared in the original film for our Crowdfunder video. You can find all Finding Blake videos, as they are posted, on the Finding Blake Films at a Glance page in our Blakean Archive section. You can explore Matt’s work as an actor, including his showreel at, ‘the world’s largest creative community of actors, film and TV crew, theatre professionals, child actors, voiceover artists, dancers, singers, musicians, models and extras.’

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