It’s summer. Offices are empty; others are under construction. Many of us have been called away on summer business or have fled to more exotic locales. I’m on the road myself, typing from a very fine bagel shop in Ithaca, NY.

I like to travel. I really like bagels.

Unfortunately, an adventurous cosmopolitan spirit and dedication to the most hole-y of rolls doesn’t offer a lot of traction with our man Blake. Readers who are even somewhat familiar with Blake’s biography know that he didn’t exactly “get out” much. Except for a few years spent near the shore in Felpham (way down in West Sussex), Blake never really left London. (Also no evidence that he ever got hold of a really good bagel.)

But perusing the Archive, we know that Blake did appreciate travel. Only, his travel was more the internal, “like, far-out, man,” kind of movement.

I’m referencing, of course, Blake’s poem “The Mental Traveler” from his unpublished Pickering Manuscript. The poem–like a lot of Blake’s stuff–recounts a vision full of artistic and religious symbolism. Here’s a ms. excerpt of the first few lines:

Manuscript excerpt of William Blake's "The Mental Traveler."


I traveld thro’ a Land of Men
A Land of Men & Women too
And heard & saw such dreadful things
As cold Earth wanderers never knew

In a very fine Wikipedia entry on the poem (supplemented with some robust Archive citations), we can also read William Michael Rossetti’s brief but helpful synopsis:

The Mental Traveller indicates an explorer of mental phænomena. The mental phænomenon here symbolized seems to be the career of any great Idea or intellectual movement—as, for instance, Christianity, chivalry, art, &c.—represented as going through the stages of—1. birth, 2. adversity and persecution, 3. triumph and maturity, 4. decadence through over-ripeness, 5. gradual transformation, under new conditions, into another renovated Idea, which again has to pass through all the same stages. In other words, the poem represents the action and re-action of Ideas upon society, and of society upon Ideas.

So it can hardly be fair still to think of Blake as a stick-in-the-mud who never wanted to go anywhere. His destinations, like his art, were simply on another level. Pretty groovy.