Since today is the Thursday before Easter and (though that means nothing to an atheist such as myself) that makes today “Holy Thursday”, also known as Maundy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great & Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries.
I think “Thursday of Mysteries” is my favourite. Reminds me of when Kojak and Columbo were on the air.
And just what is Holy Thursday? Well according to Wikipedia (because I have no intention of typing all this shit out when I can just cut and paste) “the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles (I always confused Apostles with Disciples). It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Holy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.”
Who the hell knew there was a Holy Wednesday?
But this blog is not about the stupidity of religion or the filthy blood sacrifice that is joyfully commemorated each spring.
Instead this blog is about William Blake.
By the way, did you know that Rhodes Scholar and country singer, Kris Kristofferson did his Master’s Degree on William Blake while at Oxford?
Anyway, William Blake wrote two poems titled “Holy Thursday”. The first was in his Songs of Innocence and the second from his Songs of Experience.
Both poems allude to Maundy Thursday and the charming little Christian ritual where orphan children pulled from various orphanages and workhouses, cleaned up (not to offend the delicate olfactory senses of the faithful), dressed in cheerful clothes and marched into Saint Paul’s Cathedral in a great procession where they then sang hymns of thanks to the delight of the sanctimonious before being fed.
This great act of Christian charity and pageantry would end with the orphans being tossed back into the orphanage to starve for another year.
Blake’s “Holy Thursday” from Songs of Innocence:
Blake’s illustrations (he drew them himself) can be a little hard to read but the latent (and sardonic) irony is not:
‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames’ waters flow.
Oh what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.
Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.
Later, Blake wrote another “Holy Thursday” for his Songs of Experience. Here Blake did not bother to hide his contempt:
Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?
Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!
And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.
For where’er the sun does shine,
And where’er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.
Happy “Holy” Thursday!
Jeffrey, The Gay Groom