The Book of Thel is Blake’s first illuminated book written in lines of fourteen syllables, a measure used in most of his subsequent books. Thel, a virgin shepherdess burdened by her sense of mortality, seeks meaning for her life by talking with several creatures—a lily, cloud, worm, and clod of clay. These speaking symbols of life’s transience are satisfied with their lot because all believe themselves to be part of natural cycles related through self-sacrifice to a higher purpose. On the final plate, Thel comes to her grave and hears her own unanswered questions redolent with fears of both death and sexuality. This voice, and Thel’s flight from it, indicate either her failure to accept the harsh facts of life or the failure of her interlocutors’ philosophy to satisfy the human desire for transcendental truths. (Text from the William Blake Archive, with thanks.)

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mp3 The Book of Thel, read by Josie McQuail and students at Tennessee Tech University
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