There is a scene in Fahrenheit 451 when the protagonist reads a poem to a group of women who find very little need or space in their lives for poetry. These women fill up the empty spaces in their existences much the same way as I attempt to fill up the empty spaces in mine: with TV, gossip, and wine. But he reads them a poem, and upon his finishing it, one of the women begins to cry.
“Why did she cry?” I asked my sophomores. Most of the kids responded in the typical way—that is, they did not respond at all—but one of my goofiest boys shouted “She got hit with the truth!” And I could have run up and hugged him because he was my prophet shouting in the wilderness of 8th period sophomore English.
The poem the protagonist read was not sad, but there was some truth in it that spoke to the soul of a woman who was unconsciously and desperately seeking something Real. She was “hit with the truth” and the truth rattled her. She could only respond in tears.
Has there ever been a time you have cried because you were—in the words of my sophomore prophet—hit with the truth?
Tonight I was assaulted with authenticity. I was reading an article by one of my favorite authors, and she referenced a line from one of William Blake’s poems. I decided to google the poem and a few minutes later I was a weepy-eyed mess. I’ll briefly share why the poem spoke to me tomorrow. But for now I just want to share the poem itself—to see where truth’s punches hit you.
William Blake’s The Little Black Boy
My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:
But I am black as if bereav’d of light.
My mother taught me underneath a tree
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say.
Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.
For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.
Thus did my mother say and kissed me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:
I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.