Geoffrey Babbitt

Blake's Fairy Funeral

Alone in his garden, the walker
              pauses to note a stillness
                            among the branches—a low

sound. The sound is
              flowers, petals’
                            humming through thin fog.

The fog gleams as if
              lit from underneath. Under
                            a broad frond, a procession 

of figures small as
              grasshoppers, bears a diminutive
                            body laid out on a rose 

leaf. The green figures
        bury the leaf
                            and the body, which is—the walker 

can tell—a fairy. Music issues
              from petals as the procession
                            disappears into song of Beulah.


On Why William Blake Was James Basire’s Engraving Apprentice

William Wynne Ryland—leading
engraver of the day, who was, 
at the time “at the zenith
of his reputation,” as Gilchrist says, “engraver
to the king” even, and the pioneer
of stippling, pupil of Ravenet
then of Boucher—would have been the more
obvious choice for master, and Blake
did indeed meet with him first
but walked from Ryland’s studio and explained
to his father why it would be
impossible to study with Ryland: “I do not like
that man’s face; it looks as if he will live to be hanged!”

Despite the impossibly long
odds of such a prediction, Blake
apprenticed himself instead
to Basire, who went on
to engrave the meticulously detailed
Field of the Cloth of Gold, which marks
the lavish meeting of Francis I and Henry VIII.

Twelve years later, guilty
of committing a forgery
on the East India Company, Ryland lived to be
hanged—a mark of the gallows
clear as day
upon his hanged face.


Gilchrist Paints Felpham

Blake’s cottage still stands
on the seaward side
of Felpham: long, 
shallow, white-faced—one room
deep, six in all—latticed windows
to the front—at back
thatched roof sweeping down almost
to the ground—wooden verandah,
paved with red brick—in front,
a slip of garden enclosed by a low,
flint wall—a private way, shaded with evergreens
to the large red brick mansion. Beyond,
cornfields stretch to the sea—the coast
low and crumbling—two laborers’ cottages
with garden patches—further seaward, two
windmills on a tongue of land. Blake’s
upper windows: far-stretching
sea with many a white sail gleaming at sunset
betwixt the Downs and the chops
of the Channel. Blake would speak of shifting lights
on the sea—waves rippling in
to the shelving, sandy beach
—when rough, with force to eat away
mouthfuls of the coast. For walks,
the sands stretch below the shingle—
ever the same, ever varying
with shifting lights—by the sounding shore,
conversations with many a majestic shadow
from the past—Moses,
Homer, Dante, Milton—shadows
grey but luminous.


Song to Anna Flaxman's Joy

blossom all that you can
—entice to Felpham and away,
away to sweet Felpham—

the Ladder of Angels descends
through the turret spiral, through
the village winds—at my cot does

the village look up
to heaven—precious stones
glitter—on flight seventy-seven

my brother with bread
and wine—the bread and wine
feed the village of Felpham

and the bless’d hermit dispensing
all the wide land

Geoffrey Babbitt’s poetry has appeared in Colorado Review, Barrow Street, Octopus, TYPO, CutBankNotre Dame Review, Word For/Word, Diagram, and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Professor at Hobart &William Smith Colleges, where he is a newly appointed editor of Seneca Review.