Tiriel (libretto)

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Tiriel. Opera by Dmitri Smirnov
Источник: Personal archives


An opera in three acts after a poem by William Blake


TIRIEL, old blind king — baritone
HAR, his father — tenor
HEVA, his mother — soprano
IJIM, his brother — tenor
ZAZEL, his brother — bass
HELA, his daughter — soprano
MNETHA, nurse of Har and Heva — contralto
MYRATHANA, the wife of Tiriel — super
SONS OF TIRIELS (and daughters ad lib.) — men’s (or mixed) choir
SONS OF ZAZEL — men’s choir

The action takes place at the beginning of human history.


Symphonic Prologue

The First Act

Tiriel plate1.jpg

William Blake: Tiriel Supporting Myratana

Scene I

Old blind King Tiriel stands before his former palace,
supporting in his arms the dying wife Myratana

TIR: Accursed race of Tiriel! behold [, behold] your father
Come forth and look on her that bore you! come you accursed sons!
In my weak arms I here have borne your [poor] dying mother
Come forth sons of the Curse, come forth! see the death of Myratana!

The gates open. Enter sons of Tiriel.
SONS: Old man! unworthy to be call’d the father of Tiriel’s race!
For every one of those thy wrinkles, each of those grey hairs
Are cruel as death and as obdurate as the devouring pit!
Why should thy sons care for thy curses thou accursed man
Were we not slaves till we rebel’d. Who cares for Tiriel’s curse

TIR: Serpents not sons, wreathing around the bones of Tiriel!
Ye worms of death, feasting upon your aged parent’s flesh!
[O] listen! and hear your mother’s groans. No more accursed Sons
She bears; she groans not at the birth of Heuxos or Yuva.
These are the groans of death, ye serpents These are the groans of death
[the groans of death, death!]
What, Myratana! What, my wife! O Soul! O Spirit! O fire!
What, Myratana! art thou dead? [Look, look here,]
look here, ye serpents look!
The serpents sprung from her own bowels have drain’d her dry as this.
Curse on your ruthless heads, for I will bury her even here!

Tiriel begins to dig a grave with his hands.
At the signal of Heuxos enter the sons of Zazel in slave clothing.
SONS: Old man [accursed, still] and let us dig a grave for thee
Thou hast refus’d our charity thou hast refus’d our food
Thou hast refus’d our clothes our beds [and] houses for thy dwelling
Why dost thou curse? is not the curse now come upon your head?

Zazel’s sond carry away the dead body of Myratana.
TIR: There take the body. cursed sons! and may the heavens rain wrath
As thick as northern fogs around your gates to choke you up!
That you may lie as now your mother lies, like dogs cast out,
The stink of your dead carcases annoying man and beast
Till your white bones are bleach’d with age for a memorial.
No! your remembrance shall perish; for when your carcases
Lie stinking on the earth, the buriers shall arise from the East,
And not a bone of all the sons of Tiriel remain!
Tiriel exit. Curtain down

Tiriel plate2.jpg

William Blake: Har and Heva Bathing

Scene II

The dawn in the vales of Har. The dance of the Nightingale.

The morning mist lifts. Har, Heva and Mnetha are on stage.
Har occupies the great cage and puts a reed-pipe to his mouth.
Heva settles in the stage cloud.

HAR: Piping down the valleys wild[1]
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child.
And he laughing said to me.

HEVA (Hanging out of the cloud):
Pipe a song about a Lamb;

HAR: So I piped with merry chear,

HEVA: Piper pipe that song again—

HAR: So I piped, he wept to hear.

HEVA: Drop thy pipe thy happy pipe
(Har plays the pipe)
Sing thy songs of happy chear,

HAR (Casts away the pipe):
So I sung the same again
While he wept with joy to hear

HEVA: Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read—

(Heva descends from the cloud)

HAR: So he vanish’d from my sight.
And I pluck’d a hollow reed.

(Har gets out from the cage and comes near to Heva)

HAR and HEVA: And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear

Enter Tiriel. Mnetha, armes, stops his way.

TIR: [Peace,] peace to these open doors!
Let no one fear, for poor blind Tiriel hurts none but himself .
Tell me, O friends where am I now and in what pleasant place?

MN: This is the valley of Har and this the tent of Har
Who art thou poor blind man. that takest the name of Tiriel on thee?
Tiriel is king of all the West. Who art thou? [Who art thou? Who art thou?]
I am Mnetha; and this is trembling like infants by my side — Har and Heva.
TIR: I know Tiriel, King of the West, and there he lives in joy
No matter who I am O Mnetha! if thou hast any food
Give it me, for I cannot stay; my journey is far from hence
[is far from hence, my journey is far from hence]

HAR: O [mother, O mother!] my mother Mnetha venture not so near him
For he is the king of rotten wood and of the bones of death;
He wanders without eyes, and passes thro’ thick walls and doors
[O blind man], thou shalt not smite my mother!

TIR: A wanderer. I beg for food. You see I cannot weep
(He drops his staff)
I cast away my staff the kind companion of my travel
(Kneels down)
And I kneel down that you may see I am a harmless man.
MN: Come Har and Heva [, come Har and Heva], rise!
He is an innocent old man and hungry with his travel!

Har plays his pipe All dance around Tiriel.

God bless thy poor bald pate. God bless thy hollow winking eyes,
God bless thy shrivell’d beard. God bless thy many wrinkled forehead!
[God bless, old man, God bless, old man,
God bless, God bless, God bless, old man, God bless, old man!]
Thou hast no teeth old man and thus I kiss thy sleek bald head
Come, Heva kiss his bald head, for he will not hurt us Heva.
[O kiss his head, O kiss his head,
O kiss, O kiss, O kiss his head, O kiss his head!]
Bless thy poor eyes old man and bless the father old of Tiriel!
Thou art my Tiriel’s father old. I know thee thro’ thy wrinkles,
Because thou smell’st like the figtree, thou smellest like ripe figs [like ripe figs].
MN: Come in ag’d wand’rer tell us of thy name.

Why shouldest thou conceal thyself from those of thine,
[those of thine own flesh, thine] own flesh?

TIR: I am not of this region — an aged wanderer [and] once father of a race
Far [, far] in the North; but they were wicked and were all destroyed,
I, their father, sent an outcast. I have told you all
Ask me no more…

MN: O Lord! are there then more people
More human creatures on this earth beside the sons of Har?
TIR: No more but I remain; and I remain an outcast.

Har blessing Tiriel.jpg

William Blake: Har blessing Tiriel

Scene III

Mnetha gives milk and fruits to Tiriel. All sit down to the meal.

HAR: Thou art a very old old man, but I am older than thou
How came thine hair to leave thy forehead how came thy face so brown
My hair is very long my beard doth cover all my breast.
God bless thy piteous face! to count the wrinkles in thy face
Would puzzle Mnetha: bless thy face for thou art Tiriel!
TIR: Tiriel I never saw but once I sat with him and eat
He was as chearful as a prince and gave me entertainment.
But long I staid not at his palace for I am forc’d to wander.
HEVA: What wilt thou leave us too [my son]? thou shalt not leave us too,
For we have many sports to show thee and many songs to sing;
And after dinner we will walk into the cage of Har
And thou shalt help us to catch birds and gather them ripe cherries
Then let thy name be Tiriel and never leave us more.

HAR: [O] if thou dost go, I wish thine eyes may see thy folly .
My sons have left me. Did thine leave thee O, it was very cruel!
TIR: No venerable man, [no,] ask me not such things,
For thou dost make my heart to bleed; my sons were not like thine
But worse. O never ask me more or I must flee away.

Har plays the pipe, Heva plays the harp.

HEVA:Thou shalt not go till thou hast seen our singing birds,
And heard Har sing in the great cage, and slept upon our fleeces.
Go not, for thou art so like Tiriel, that I love thine head,
Tho’ it’s wrinkled like the earth parchd with the summer heat.
TIR: God bless [God bless] these tents!
My Journey is o’er rocks and mountains, not in pleasant vales:
I must not sleep nor rest, because of madness and dismay.

MN: Thou must not go to wander dark alone;
But dwell with us and let us be to thee instead of eyes!
And [we shall] bring thee food, old man, till death shall call thee
[death shall call thee hence, call thee] hence.

TIR: Did I not command you saying
Madness and deep dismay possess the heart of the blind man,
The wanderer who seeks the woods, leaning upon his staff? (Exit)

Tiriel Drawing 6.jpg

William Blake: Tiriel Leaving Har and Heva

The Second Act

Scene IV

The wild forest. Enter Ijim with the Tiger on a leash.

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,[2]
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

[Dare frame thy fearful symmetry,
fearful symmetry, fearful symmetry, fearful symmetry,
fearful symmetry, symmetry, symmetry symmetry?]

Enter Tiriel, Tiges breaks the loose and runs off stage.

IJIM: Who art thou, Eyeless wretch, that thus obstruct’st the lions path?
Ijim shall rend thy feeble joints thou tempter of dark Ijim
Thou hast the form of Tiriel but I know thee well enough
Stand from my path, foul fiend is this the last of thy deceits —
To be a hypocrite and stand in shape of a blind beggar?

TIR: O brother Ijim if it is thy voice that speaks to me,
Smite not thy brother Tiriel tho’ weary of his life.
My sons have smitten me already; and if thou smitest me
The curse that rolls over their heads will rest itself on thine,
[will rest itself on thine, on thine.]
‘Tis now sev’n years since I beheld thy face in my palace.

IJIM: Come thou dark fiend I dare thy cunning! know [,know] that Ijim scorns
To smite thee in the form of helpless age and eyeless policy
Rise up! for I discern thee, and I dare thy eloquent tongue
Come! I will lead thee on thy way and use thee as a scoff.

Tiriel kneels down.

TIR: O Brother [, Brother] Ijim, thou beholdest wretched Tiriel:
Kiss me my brother and then leave me to wander desolate!
IJIM: No! artful fiend, but I will lead thee; dost thou want to go?
Reply not, lest I bind thee with the green flags of the brook.
Ay! now thou art discover’d I will use thee like a slave.

Ijim begins to move off stage, pulling Tiriel.

IJIM: Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

TIR: O Ijim I am faint and weary for my knees forbid
To bear me further: urge me not lest I should die with travel
A little rest I crave a little water from a brook,
Or I shall soon discover that I am a mortal man,
And you will lose your once lov’d Tiriel: alas how faint I am!

IJIM: Impudent fiend! hold thy glib and eloquent tongue!
Tiriel is a king and thou the tempter of dark Ijim.
Drink of this running brook and I will bear thee on my shoulders.

(Carries him on his shoulders.)

Tiriel borne back to the palace on the shoulders of Ijim.jpg

William Blake: Tiriel borne back to the palace on the shoulders of Ijim

Scene V

The yard in front of Tiriel’s former palace.
Enter Ijim with Tiriel on his shoulders.

IJIM: [Heuxos,] Heuxos, come forth! I here have brought the fiend that troubles Ijim.
Look! know’st thou aught of this grey beard, or of these blinded eyes?

Enter the sons of Tiriel.
IJIM: What, Heuxos, [Heuxos!] call thy father for I mean to sport to-night
This is the Hypocrite that sometimes roars a dreadful lion:
Then I have rent his limbs and left him rotting in the forest
For birds to eat; but I have scarce departed from the place,
But like a tyger he would come and so I rent him too.
Then like a river be would seek to drown me in his waves;
But soon I buffetted the torrent: anon like to a cloud
Fraught with the swords of lightning; but I brav’d the vengeance too.
Then he would creep like a bright serpent till around my neck,
While I was Sleeping he would twine: I squeez’d his poisnous soul.
Then like a toad, or like a newt, would whisper in my ears;
Or like a rock stood in my way, or like a pois’nous shrub.
At last I caught him in the form of Tiriel blind and old
And so I’ll keep him! fetch your father, fetch forth Myratana!

TIR: Serpents, not sons, why do you stand? fetch hither Tiriel!
Fetch hither Myratana! and delight yourselves with scoffs;
For poor blind Tiriel is return’d and this much injur’d head
Is ready for your bitter taunts: come forth, sons of the curse, [of the curse!]


IJIM: Then is it true, Heuxos, that thou hast turn’d thy aged parent
To be the sport of wintry winds, is this true?
It is a lie and I am like the tree torn by the wind,
Thou eyeless fiend and you dissemblers! Is this Tiriel’s house?
It is as false as Matha and as dark as vacant Orcus.
Escape ye fiends! for Ijim will not lift his hand against ye. (Exit)

The sons of Tiriel kneel down slowly.

Tiriel Denouncing his Sons and Daughters.jpg

Tiriel Denouncing his Sons and Daughters

Scene VI

The same without Ijim

TIR: [Where,] where does the thunder sleep?
Where doth he hide his terrible head and his swift and fiery daughters
Where do they shroud their fiery wings and the terrors,
[where the terrors] of their hair?
Earth thus I stamp thy bosom [wide]! rouse the earthquake from his den,
To raise his dark and burning visage thro the cleaving ground,
To thrust these towers with his shoulders! let his fiery dogs
Rise from the center, belching flames and roarings, dark smoke!
Where art thou Pestilence that bathest in fogs and standing lakes?
Rise up thy sluggish limbs and let the loathsomest of poisons
Drop from thy garments as thou walkest. wrapt in yellow clouds!
Here take thy seat in this wide court; let it be strewn with dead;
And sit and smile upon these cursed sons of Tiriel!
[Here, storm,] and fire and pestilence! here you not Tiriel’s curse?

SONS: Aaah…Oooh… Yeeh… Oooh… Yiiih…

TIR. (Shouting with amplifier):
Aye now you feel the curse you cry! but may all ears be deaf
As Tiriel’s and all eyes as blind as Tiriel’s to your woes!
May never stars shine on your roofs! may never sun nor moon
Visit you, but eternal fogs hover around your wa---(a)lls!

All plunged into darkness. Curtain down.

The Third Act

Tiriel led by Hela.jpg

William Blake: Tiriel led by Hela

Scene VII

The figures of Hela and Tiriel lit up in the darkness.

TIR: My daughter Hela, you shall lead me from this [hateful] place
And let the curse fall on the rest and wrap them up together!
Now Hela I can go with pleasure and dwell with Har and Heva,
Now that the curse shall clean devour all those guilty sons.
This is the right and ready way; I know it by the sound
That our feet make. Remember, Hela, I have sav’d thee from death
Then be obedient to thy father, for the curse is taken off thee.
I dwelt with Myratana five years in the desolate rock,
And all that time we waited for the fire to fall from heaven,
Or for the torrents of the sea to overwhelm you all.
But now my wife is dead and all the time of grace is past:
You see the parent’s curse. Now lead me where I have commanded.
HELA: O Leagued with evil spirits, thou accursed man of sin!
True, I was born thy slave! who ask’d thee to save me from death?
‘Twas for thy self, thou cruel man, because thou wantest eyes.
TIR: True, Hela this is the desert of all those cruel ones.
Is Tiriel cruel? look! his daughter, youngest daughter
Laughs at affection, glories in rebellion, scoffs at Love,
I haven’t eat these two days; lead me to Har and Heva’s tent,
Or I will wrap the[e] up in such a terrible father’s curse
That thou shalt feel worms in thy marrow creeping thro thy bones
Yet thou shalt lead me! Lead me, I command, to Har and Heva!
HELA: O cruel! O destroyer! O consumer.! O avenger!
To Har and Heva I will lead thee: then would that they would curse!
Then would they curse as thou hast cursed!

(Hela and Tiriel sing at the same time:)

HELA: But they are not like thee!
O they are holy. and forgiving [and] fill’d with loving mercy
Forgetting the offences of their most rebellious children,
Or else thou wouldest not have liv’d to curse thy helpless children.

TIR: Look on my eyes, Hela, and see for thou has eyes to see,
The tears swell from my stony fountains: wherefore do I weep?
Wherefore from my blind orbs art thou not siez’d with pois’nous stings?
Laugh, serpent, youngest venomous reptile of the flesh of Tiriel!

TIR: Laugh! for thy father Tiriel shall give thee cause to laugh
Unless thou lead me to the tent of Har, child of the curse!
HELA: Silence thy evil tongue, thou murderer of thy helpless children!
I lead thee to the tent of Har; not that I mind thy curse,
But that I feel they will curse thee and hang upon thy bones
Fell shaking agonies, and in each wrinkle of that face
Plant worms of death to feast upon the tongue of terrible curses!
TIR. (In a mystical whisper growing gradually into a shriek):

Hela, my daughter, list’n! thou art the daughter of Tiriel.
Thy father calls. Thy father lifts his hand unto the heavens ,
For thou hast laughed at my tears and curst thy aged father.
Let snakes rise from thy bedded locks and laugh among thy curls!

Snakes rise from her hair.

HELA: Ah! Ah! Ah!………….
TIR: Ha, ha, ha!……….
What have I done, Hela, my daughter? fear’st thou now the curse
Or wherefore dost thou cry? Ah, wretch to curse thy aged father!
Lead me to Har and Heva and the curse of Tiriel
Shall fail. If thou refuse, howl in the desolate mountains!

Exeunt. Stage lights up gradually.

Scene VIII

Zazel and his sons are in front of their caves.

SONS OF ZAZEL: Cruelty has a Human Heart[3]
And Jealousy a Human Face
Terror, the Human Form Divine
And Secrecy, the Human Dress

SONS: and HELA (off-stage): [Ah! Ah!]

SONS: The Human Dress, is forged Iron
The Human Form, a fiery Forge.
The Human Face, a Furnace seal’d
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge.

Enter Hela and Tiriel.

SONS and HELA: Ah! Ah! Ah!

Zazel’s sons throw dirt and stones at Hela and Tiriel.

(At the same time:)

SONS: Ha! Ha! Ha!………

HELA: Ah! Ah! Ah!

ZAZEL: Bald tyrant. wrinkled cunning, listen to Zazel’s [heavy] chains!
(Jungles his chains.)
‘Twas thou that chain’d thy brother Zazel! where are now thine eyes?
SONS and HELA: Ah! Ah!

ZAZEL: Shout beautiful daughter of Tiriel! thou sing’st a sweet song!
Where are you going? come and eat some roots and drink some water.

HELA: Ah! Ah!

SONS and HELA: Ah!

Zazel and his sons throw stones again

ZAZEL and his SONS: Ha! Ha! Ha!………

ZAZEL: Thy crown is bald old man; the sun will dry thy brains away,
And thou wilt be as foolish as thy foolish brother Zazel!

Tiriel, shaking with rage, strikes Zazal on his breast.
Zazel’s sons throw stones again. Hela leads Tiriel away.

(At the same time:)

SONS: Ha! Ha! Ha!……

HELA: Ah! Ah! Ah!

Curtain down.

Har and Heva sleeping while Mnetha looks on.jpg

William Blake: Har and Heva sleeping while Mnetha looks on

Scene IX

The vineyard in the Valley of Har.

The dance of Birds and Flowers. Dancers enter in groups of three and stand still
after their «pas». After «pas» of group 12 all begin to join in a dance — one group
after another. After the first Grand Pause 4 groups go away; after the second Grand
Pause the next 4 groups leave the stage; then the rest dancers one after another
until only the Nightingale remains.

Enter Mnetha, Heva and Har.

Groups of dancers 12, 9, 6, 4 go off stage.
Groups 2, 7, 10, 8 go off stage too.

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,[4]
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart;
[And] Pity, a human face;
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine:
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too

Dancers run on excitedly.
Enter Tiriel and Hela. Dancers scatter in fear.

HELA: Ah! Ah! Ah!

MNETHA: Stand still, [stand still]
or from my bow recieve a sharp and winged death!
TIR: What soft voice threatens such bitter things?
Lead me to Har and Heva; I am Tiriel King of the West [, of the West].

Mnetha leads Tiriel to Har.

TIR: O weak mistaken father of a lawless race,
Thy laws, O Har, and Tiriel’s wisdom end together in a curse.
Why is one law giv’n to the Lion and to the patient Ox?
And why men bound beneath the heavens in a reptile form,
A worm of sixty winters creeping on the dusky ground?
The child springs from the womb; the father ready stands to form
The infant head, while the mother idle plays with her dog on her couch:
The young bosom is cold for lack of mothers nourishment, and milk
Is cut off from the weeping mouth. With difficulty and pain
The little lids are lifted and the little nostrils open’d
The father forms a whip to rouze the sluggish senses to act
And scourges off all youthful fancies from the newborn man
Then walks the weak infant in sorrow, compell’d to number footsteps
Upon the sand. And when the drone has reach’d his crawling length,
Black berries appear that poison all around him. Such was Tiriel
Compell’d to pray repugnant and to humble the immortal spirit
Till I am subtil as a serpent in a paradise
Consuming all, both flowers and fruits, insects and warbling birds,
And now my paradise is fall’n and a drear sandy plain
Returns my thirsty hissings in a curse on thee O Har,
Mistaken father of a lawless race my voice is past!

Enter dancers as Angels with trumpets and fanfares.
HAR, HEVA and MNETHA: To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love…

TIR: (Struggles in convulsions):
Ya-a-o-u! Yi-e-u-y! Yu-o-a-ya! Ya-i-a-u! (Dies.)

Snakes disappear from Hela’s hair.

William Blake Tiriel dead before Hela.jpg

William Blake: Tiriel dead before Hela

MNETHA: Sleep, Sleep, beauty bright,[5]
Dreaming o’er the joys of night;
Sleep, Sleep; in thy sleep
Little sorrows sit & weep.

Sweet Babe, in thy face
Soft desires I can trace,
Secret joys and secret smiles,
Little pretty infant wiles.

As thy softest limbs I feel,
Smiles as of the morning steal
O’er thy cheek & o’er thy breast
Where thy little heart doth rest.

O, the cunning wiles that creep
In thy little heart asleep.
When thy little heart doth wake,
Then the dreadful lightnings break.

From thy cheek & from thy eye
O’er the youthful harvests nigh
Infant wiles & infant smiles
Heaven & Earth of peace beguiles.

Curtain down slowly.


© D.S. 1988


Bentley: "Tiriel has always proved a puzzle to commentators on Blake… All the characters mentioned in Tiriel are members of one enormous family. <...>

[Family relations]

Tiriel relations- scheme.jpg

The relationships between the members of the earliest generations are the most obscure. Mnetha, a protective nurse-figure, is probably the progenitor of all the rest. <...>

[Travelling scheme of Tiriel]


…the tone of Tiriel is an extraordinarily tragic one… Tiriel shows no middle between innocence and experience, no escape for impulsive innocence. Blake’s view of the world was seldom shown darker than it is in the tortured rhetioric of Tiriel."[6]

Erdman: "The evils of inequality and the fallacy of attempting to live for oneself alone are elaborately demonstrated in Tiriel, a murky parable of the decline and fall of a tyrant prince who leams to his sorrow that one law for 'the lion and the patient Ox' is oppression, and under whose visionless dictatorship the arts of life, Poetry and Painting as reprmented in the idle sports of his parents Har and Heva, have not flourished. <...>

The blind aged King, standing before his "beautiful palace", curses his already accursed sons and calls upon them to observe their mother’s death. They bury her but declare they have rebelled against their father’s tyranny, and Tiriel wanders off through the mountains. In the „pleasant gardens of Har“ he comes upon Har and Heva as senile infants, whose imbecility illustrates the fate of those who shrink from experience—and, allegorically, the stultification of poetry and art. Tiriel is invited to help catch singing birds and hear Har „sing in the great cage“ but must wander on „because of madness & dismay“. His terrible brother Ijim seizes Tiriel and carries him back to the palace as an impostor, only to find that both father and sons are „dissemblers.“ With new curses Tiriel calls down thunder and Pestilence upon his children and finally even blights with madness his daughter Hela, his healing sense of touch, or vision, whose assistance he needs to guide him back to the pleasant valley. Tiriel is mocked and pelted with dirt and stunts as he and Hela pass the caves of Zazel, another brother. The tyrant expires at his journey’s end while explaining, like a stage villain, how his mind has been warped and how „Thy laws O Har & Tiriels wisdom end together in a curse“ (T.viii). <...>

And many details suggest that he was drawing upon the living example of King George—as well as the literary example of King Lear—when he composed this story of a king and father gone amok, pulling down the temple like a blind Samson (but no deliverer), cursing sons and daughters, and storming about the wilderness bemoaning his loss of a western empire.»[7]

Frye "Tiriel, as an individual, is a man who has spent his entire life trying to domineer over others and establish a reign of terror founded on moral virtue. The result is the self-absorption, symbolized by blindness, which in the advanced age of people with such a character becomes difficult to distinguish from insanity. He expects and loudly demands gratitude and reverence from his children because he wants to be worshipped as a god, and when his demands are answered by contempt he responds with a steady outpouring of curses."[8]

Damon: "Tiriel is Blake’s best story (though it is somewhat pointless without the inner meaning), so Blake’s commentators have generally expressed a doubt about its being a Prophetic Book at all. This opinion has been strengthened by the fact that the symbolism of Tiriel, being early has not too much in common with the later books. But Blake imagined he had forestalled any such literal interpretation by concluding the poem with a frankly symbol section. <... > The climax bring a direct growth from the esoteric meaning, should lead the thinker back to Blake’s real thought."[9]

Raine: "Tiriel, written about 1789, is the first of Blake’s Prophetic. Books and his first essay in myth-making. This formless, angry phantasmagoria on the theme of the death of an aged king and tyrant-father may be-indeed must be read at several levels."[10]

In Blake’s Tiriel I see an analogy with the history of mankind, which if it isn’t abele to conquer its own vices, may come to self-destruction.

DS 1988

  1. “Introduction” from Songs of Innocence
  2. “The Tyger”. From Songs of Experience
  3. “A Divine Image” from “Songs of Experience” (1794).
  4. “The Divine Image” from “Songs of Innocence”.
  5. “A Cradle Song” from the Rossetty Manuscript (1794).
  6. Bentley, G.E. (ed.) Tiriel: facsimile and transcript of the manuscript, reproduction of the drawings and a commentary on the poem (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967)
  7. David V. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954; 2nd ed. 1969; 3rd ed. 1977, p. 133—135
  8. Frye, Northrop. Fearful Symmetry. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  9. S. Foster Damon. William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols , London, Dawsons, 1969 (reprint of the 1924 original published by Dawsons of Pall Mall).
  10. Kathleen Raine. Blake and Tradition. By. A. W. Mellon. Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1962


Dmitri N. Smirnov: Tiriel, an opera.
Premiere: 28 January 1989, Stattheater, Freiburg (Germany),
Siegfried Shoenbohm, director, Gerhard Markson, conductor.