This page displays Michael Phillips’s reproduction of the Experience poem “Earth’s Answer” from William Blake’s best known collection of poems, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, alongside Blake’s original. Following it is Robert McFate’s Earth’s Answer. Click the link above to read more about the Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Phillips’s reproduction was displayed in the Blake in the Heartland exhibit at Tiffin University, which ran March-April 2015.
“Earth’s Answer” responds to the “Introduction” to Experience in which the Bard says, “O Earth O Earth Return!” The Bard is calling to the Earth to arise from its slumber because dawn is about to break. “Earth’s Answer,” as a response to the Bard from the Earth, explains to the Bard why it cannot: it is still trapped in bonds of darkness because of human selfishness, in a state of despair that refuses to acknowledge the break of day declared by the Bard. The poem in this way indirectly represents a fallen human view of nature: where human beings are cold and selfish, nature seems distant and dark. Conversely, as Blake says elsewhere, “Where man is not, nature is barren.” The poem may also be echoing Paul in Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
Robert McFate’s Earth’s Answer depicts the Earth — with a chain attached — caught between an innocent pastoral setting below and a clock (very likely representing mortality) above. The Earth itself appears to have been cut from scrap metal and its coloring, though natural, may imply rust or decay. The Earth appears to be held in place both by a chain and a twisting vine, the chain perhaps reminiscent of the golden thread from which the Earth hangs in Paradise Lost.
Blake’s originals taken from Wikimedia Commons. See a list of all copies of the Songs available on the internet, with the ability to view different copies of the same page side by side, at The William Blake Archive, which also provides transcriptions of and annotations for each individual plate. You can also read David Erdman’s edition of all of Blake’s works at The Blake Digital Text Project. Images of Michael Phillips’s reproductions and of Robert McFate’s work by permission. Click on the images to enlarge.