The Book of Thel is one of William Blake’s early “Prophetic Books,” illustrated and printed by Blake himself on eight plates, in a process he invented. The poem itself consists of a motto followed by four sections of blank-verse paragraphs of varying lengths.
After the motto has posed some cryptic questions about how knowledge and wisdom might be acquired, the reader is introduced to Thel, a young girl wandering in a mythological pastoral setting, the vales of Har. The unhappy Thel is asking many questions about the purpose of her life. She is particularly distressed about the transience of existence. Why must everything in creation, including Thel herself, fade and die?
Various nonhuman aspects of nature, appearing to her in human form, try to answer her questions. First, a “Lilly of the valley” explains that although it is small and weak, it receives continual blessings from heaven during its brief span of life. When it fades away it flourishes again in “eternal vales.” The Lilly tells Thel that she has no reason to complain. Thel replies that although she can see how the Lilly plays a useful part in nature—providing nourishment for the lamb and, with its perfume, reviving the cows after milking—she cannot see that her own life has any useful function. The Lilly tells her to ask the Cloud.
Thel asks the descending Cloud why it does not complain, even though it fades away so quickly. The Cloud replies...
(The entire section is 567 words.)