“The Mental Traveller,” written in 1803 but not published until 1863, consists of twenty-six long-measure quatrains, a stanza form commonly used in ballads. Since each line has four beats, the measure is considered longer than that found in more traditional ballad stanzas, in which every other line has only three beats. The poem’s title refers to its narrator, a traveler from another mental realm who observes and describes the cycle of suffering in the “Land of Men & Women.”
Perspective is an important element in William Blake’s poetry, and it is important to realize that the traveler’s perspective on human experience differs from the experience of the men and women themselves: The “dreadful things” the traveler hears and sees are things that “cold Earth wanderers never knew.” Thus, rather than narrating the life stories of individuals, the mental traveler describes male and female archetypes that exemplify, in general terms, the nature of existence in the material world.
The narrator begins his description of the cyle of life with a grim recounting of the birth of a baby, “begotten in dire woe,” who, if it is a boy, is nailed to a rock, crucified, and cut open by an old woman. As the boy becomes older, however, the woman grows younger, and their violent relationship is reversed: The male tears off his chains and “binds her down for his delight.” Even at this early stage in the poem, the narrator makes it...
(The entire section is 488 words.)