begin page 147 | back to top

“The Garden of Love”

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

Most writers on Blake appear to find the stanza too simple to need much comment, but R. B. Kennedy, editing for Collins’ Annotated Student Texts, remarks: “The joys and desires seem almost personified as children.”

This suggests that few, if any, readers know that binding with briars was to be seen in graveyards in Blake’s day and up till Victorian times. A writer in Notes and begin page 148 | back to top Queries, 20 August 1932, mentioned “the binding of briers round and over the turfs (or turves) of graves to keep them in position . . . .” He had noticed them on Charles Lamb’s grave. On August 6 of that year another correspondent had quoted Chatterton’s “Song from AElla”:

With my hands I’ll dent the briers
Round his holy corse to gre.
Thus the buried “joys and desires” were literally bound with briars. Indeed, at the foot of the plate a grave is shown briar-bound, but this seems to have been taken as purely symbolical.

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