5. Europe iii: 18
In examining copy H of Europe at the Houghton Library, I found that line 18 of the prefatory poem reads “The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.” The third word is usually printed as “where,” but there is only one other copy of Europe with this plate extant (K, in the Fitzwilliam Museum), and David Erdman informs me that he has examined his slide of the Fitzwilliam plate iii and found the reading to be “when.” The line makes perfect sense as Blake etched it; in fact, “when” ties in more closely with the theme of the prefatory poem.
At the beginning of the poem, Blake hears the Fairy singing about the senses: “Five windows light the cavern’d Man” etc. The fifth sense, touch, could admit man to the joys of Eternity if his hypocritical morality did not restrain him:
Thro’ one, himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;
For stolen joys are sweet, & bread eaten in secret pleasant.
After the Fairy is caught by the poet, he promises to write a Blakean illuminated book (“on leaves of flowers”) and to
shew you all alive
The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.
Thus the line as Blake etched it continues the theme of erotic mysticism introduced earlier in the poem, “when” referring to the ecstatic moment at which the life of the universe is perceived.[e]begin page 18 |
How “when” came to be printed for “where” in editions of Blake is not clear. Perhaps Ellis and Yeats started the tradition. Sampson (1905) printed “when,” but Sloss and Wallis (1926) reverted to “where.” Keynes printed “when” in 1925, but afterwards substituted “where”; the Erdman-Bloom edition has “where.” There appears to be no textual authority for any reading but “when.”