The Annotated Proverbs of Hell

A Memorable Fancy

As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity, I collected some of their Proverbs; thinking that as the sayings used in a nation, mark its character, so the Proverbs of Hell, shew the nature of Infernal wisdom better than any description of buildings or garments.

When I came home: on the abyss of the five senses, where a flat sided steep frowns over the present world, I saw a mighty Devil folded in black clouds, hovering on the sides of the rock, with corroding fires he wrote the following sentence now perceived by the minds of men & read by them on earth.

                    How do you know but ev�ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
                    Is an immense world of delight, clos�d by your senses five?

                                          � William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, ca. 1794

Author�s Note: The following proverbs are taken from the 1994 Dover edition of William Blake�s
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; the accompanying �annotations� are my own.   � W.M.

Proverb 1

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

     So I describe the course of a day;
     For the body encompasses all seasons;
     And, like chaff, the intellect rises,
     Blossoms, and is dispersed.

     We are the seed, the harvest, & the teaching;
     We are the winter, arrived to comfort grain-spent fields.

     There resides in us an ocean of sound;
     A desert of threatening calm;
     Strong hands poised above a village drum;
     The triumphant entrance of bride & groom;

     And still the leaves fall,
     A riddle of upturned palms.

Proverb 2

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

     Make their cries your song;
     Grind them into flour;
     Know them as you would know bread;
     Take up their dreams as vessels;
     Drink to their good fortune;
     Drink deep; drink long.

Proverb 3

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

     Where eyes shine like windows on the world;
     Where blind flowers imagine the sun.

     And then, the road winds on,
     Defined by the precipice.

Proverb 4

Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

     They gaze at each other across the table,
     Hands cold, candles unlit, servants standing by;
     And though they never eat, they never die.

Proverb 5

He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

     And this he calls leading by example.

     But he is followed only by his kind:
     Dwindling flames, enamored of the pan,
     Brittle limbs, scratching on the pane.

     Threat by threat, they recite dead psalms,
     Verse in verse entangled;

     By which he who claims to understand,
     Is arrogant and disabled.

     There is a famine in the land:
     He who acts but desires not, heralds death.

Proverb 6

The cut worm forgives the plow.

     But the plow cannot forgive itself;

     Out of the ground, it rusts in the rain,
     Without purpose waiting to be cleansed.

     It knows what the worm knows:
     To work is to live.

     Says the worm, �To bleed is to multiply.�

     Says the plow, �I have no family tree,
     And so I dream of spring.�

     And the earth smiles to hear such things.

Proverb 7

Dip him in the river who loves water.

     And be refreshed by the spray.

     The dam is running over;
     Up he comes, roaring,
     Moss and trees in his hair.

     The jagged rocks receive him;
     They already know
     What the valley is waiting to hear.

Proverb 8

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

     A wise fool closes his eyes, listens to the leaves;
     That is when peace is born.

Proverb 9

He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

     The night sky is a graveyard of dead faces;
     Veiled in black, they beg solace from afar;
     The galaxy grows and grows;
     Let it be their answer;
     May it be the hope they�re looking for.

Proverb 10

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

     She has three children:
     Myth, Legend, & History.

     The father of Myth is shepherd of the clouds;
     He plays his flute and leads them across the sky.

     The father of Legend plied the ancient waters;
     He sailed his ship into her mind.

     The father of History was her only
     Flesh and blood liaison;
     When he died,
     Nations warred to claim the spoils.

Proverb 11

The busy bee has no time for sorrow.

     Pollen heavy on his wings,
     His death is the sweetest honey of all.

Proverb 12

The hours of folly are measur�d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.

     One man�s folly is another�s wisdom;
     Their shadows have lives of their own.

Proverb 13

All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap.

     I came upon a farmer dredging carrots from the earth;
     The potatoes, he said, were already in the barn;
     His poor wife was pinned beneath them;
     For he had warned her, the crop was good this year,
     And the onions had taken the lives of all their children.

Proverb 14

Bring out number weight & measure in a year of dearth.

     But let generosity test the scale,
     That you may not become misers in times of plenty.

Proverb 15

No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.

     The higher the mountain, the greater the avalanche;
     The nearer the sun, the deeper the lines on its face;

     From a distance it fills the embrace,
     And that is why we sing.

Proverb 16

A dead body, revenges not injuries.

     And explains them in a way
     No living body can:
     The sooner I am gone,
     The sooner I begin.

     Cast these limbs into the fire;
     Cleanse the ash of bone;
     Today doth Fate conspire,
     To bear my spirit home;

     Like smoke upon the wind,
     It never seeks the ground;
     And yet I still hear foot-fall;
     I am haunted by the sound.

Proverb 17

The most sublime act is to set another before you.

     How strange, to be misunderstood;
     How strange, the hail of stones;
     How strange, the iron sound of prison doors;
     How strange, the judgment handed down;
     How strange, the prophets in their common clothes;
     How strange, their shrill unwholesome curse;
     How strange, their blade that meets your heart;
     How strange, this tomb in barren ground;
     How strange, the hymn of their remorse.

Proverb 18

If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.

     Near the temple is a garden;
     Near the garden is a window;
     Near the window is a pond;
     Near the pond is a stone;
     Near the stone is a road;
     On the road is their approach;
     They rest upon the stone;
     The fool a pebble casts;
     The pond is thus disturbed;
     The wise man laughs;
     His laughter is a window;
     Near the window is a garden;
     Near the garden is a temple;
     Through the temple is a wind that blows.

Proverb 19

Folly is the cloke of knavery.

     When evil hands grow cold,
     They seek pockets not their own.

Proverb 20

Shame is Prides cloke.

     The longer it is worn, the more painful it is to remove;
     Until one day, Shame becomes Pride itself.

Proverb 21

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.

     When the Great and Lawful Assembly convened,
     The Pornographers brought forth a woman scarcely dressed;
     With their minds, the gray-haired men removed the rest;
     We understand, they said: oh, yes; we understand;
     The idea you present means much to us.

     Hearing this, the woman wept;
     And the old men grew distressed;
     But the Pornographers held fast;
     Fear not, they said;
     For silver makes her laugh;

     And the Great Assembly blessed them with coins.

Proverb 22

The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.

     Its plumage hidden is God lost in thought.

Proverb 23

The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.

     And its face is but one of His masks.

Proverb 24

The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.

     What the lion devours, becomes the lion;
     What God devours, becomes God;
     What devours God, also devours Man.

Proverb 25

The nakedness of woman is the work of God.

     To be possessed, is to paint with a generous brush.

Proverb 26

Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.

     Excess is a reflection no mirror can hold;
     Excess is a painting that overflows its frame;

     When excess washes excess away,
     Excess of emptiness remains.

Proverb 27

The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.

     When Man roars, lions smile;
     When Man howls, wolves gather at the door;
     When Man rages, waves batter the rocks;
     When Man lowers his sword,
     He cuts his umbilical cord.

Proverb 28

The fox condemns the trap, not himself.

     A man runs faster when he leaves his injured leg behind.

Proverb 29

Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.

     Side by side, roses bloom and fade
     On the same thorny bush.

Proverb 30

Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.

     And when day is done,
     Let them lie naked
     Beneath a blanket of stars;

     Let man weep, let woman roar.

Proverb 31

The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.

     Work to build, work to mend, a joy to behold.

Proverb 32

The selfish smiling fool, & the sullen frowning fool, shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.

     Strange and sad, those nights when moths
     Obscure the lantern light;
     Strange, the sound of burning wings,
     The beating heart, a velvet curse.

Proverb 33

What is now proved was once, only imagin�d.

     At birth, old men are possessed of reason;
     When children die into this world,
     They try to describe it with their hands.

Proverb 34

The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbet: watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.

     Each bears evidence of the truth:

     The earth is a moment;
     Where it ends, the sky begins.

Proverb 35

The cistern contains; the fountain overflows.

     Without water, there would be no thirst;
     Without knowledge, there would be no curse;
     All that yearn, love the precipice.

Proverb 36

One thought, fills immensity.

     One cloud, an empty glass;
     One caravan, a winding path;
     One ship, the solemn sea;
     One star, the night profound;
     One shout, eternity.

Proverb 37

Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.

     Hold your tongue, and he will try
     To measure silence with a stick.

Proverb 38

Everything possible to be believ�d is an image of truth.

     The tree has many leaves:

     Which would you deny?
     Which would you discredit?
     Which would you refuse?

Proverb 39

The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

     His foolishness is legend, passed from mouth to mouth.

Proverb 40

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

     Three old philosophers, set in their ways.

Proverb 41

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.

     Dream with a smile.

Proverb 42

He who has suffer�d you to impose on him knows you.

     What you withhold, keeps you that much apart.

Proverb 43

As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.

     Beyond the plow, the field;
     Beyond the field, the sky;
     Beyond the sky, the breath;
     Beyond the breath, the utterance;
     Beyond the utterance, the sound;
     Beyond the sound, the word;
     Beyond the word, the asylum door.

Proverb 44

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

     But each is wary of the anthill.

Proverb 45

Expect poison from the standing water.

     Where death lurks inside a pond
     And vultures wait upon its shore,
     Listen there, for the sound of war.

Proverb 46

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

     When the highest tides describe the cliffs
     And your house is swept to sea,
     Make an ark of your ravaged dreams.

Proverb 47

Listen to the fools reproach! it is a kingly title!

     A fool approves of a fool,
     And considers himself wise;

     To know the truth,
     See what fools despise.

Proverb 48

The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.

     Child listens at the door;
     Wonders, is it safe to enter?

Proverb 49

The weak in courage is strong in cunning.

     But he never outsmarts the grave.

Proverb 50

The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.

     The minstrel holds his lyre upside down,
     But his music ascends on softly scented wings;
     Take joy in him; and when his last note dies away,
     Show him what you have made.

Proverb 51

The thankful reciever bears a plentiful harvest.

     And when a hand gives pain,
     He bleeds freely to cleanse the wound.

Proverb 52

If others had not been foolish, we should be so.

     Such is our foolish claim,
     Echoed by generations.

Proverb 53

The soul of sweet delight, can never be defil�d.

     The body knows its bounds;
     The spirit never rests;

     When the body sleeps,
     The spirit eyes the precipice.

Proverb 54

When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius, lift up thy head!

     Genius describes what the spirit knows
     And the senses fail to perceive;

     The river wonders where the water goes,
     Man what he believes;

     Genius, is the night with eyes:
     By Genius sown, of Genius conceived.

Proverb 55

As the catterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.

     Without law, what need to conform?
     Without concept, what need to measure?
     Without sin, what need for chains?
     Without hell, what need for heaven?
     Without fear, what need for ritual?
     Without shame, what need for remorse?

Proverb 56

To create a little flower is the labour of ages.

     To give it a name is but a moment�s care.

Proverb 57

Damn, braces: Bless, relaxes.

     To love the salve, one must know the whip.

Proverb 58

The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.

     To wine, a vessel;
     To water, a spring;
     To earth, a cadence;
     To flight, a cloud;
     To thought, the abyss.

Proverb 59

Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!

     Curses sow not! Treasures keep not!

Proverb 60

Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!

     One eye the rose,
     One eye the innermost hell.

Proverb 61

The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion.

     When Man takes flight, he forgets he is made of clay;
     When he plumbs the deep, his wings fall away;
     When he knows his mate, his hands & feet span eternity.

Proverb 62

As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.

     The most painful contempt, contains a measure of praise.

Proverb 63

The crow wish�d everything was black, the owl, that everything was white.

     Moonlight was their compromise.

Proverb 64

Exuberance is beauty.

     Death is beauty�s veil.

Proverb 65

If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.

     If the fox was advised by the lion,
     No one would know him.

Proverb 66

Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.

     The busy road leads to mediocrity;
     The briared path to inspiration;
     The boldest step, the deepest chasm,

     Which even the mountain shall deem high.

Proverb 67

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.

     The sweetest fruit, the sharpest thorns;
     Desire conceived, desire born.

Proverb 68

Where man is not, nature is barren.

     Where man is barren, nature is defiled.

Proverb 69

Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ�d.

     The greatest riddle, is the riddle solved with another riddle.

Enough! or Too much.

Abundance is its own dearth;
Dearth its own abundance;
Truth, an abundance of thirst.

November 21 - December 16, 2007

Previous Entry     Next Entry     Return to Songs and Letters     About the Author

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

Main Page
Author�s Note
A Listening Thing
Among the Living
No Time to Cut My Hair
One Hand Clapping
Songs and Letters
Collected Poems
Early Short Stories
Armenian Translations
Cosmopsis Print Editions
News and Reviews
Highly Recommended
Let�s Eat
Favorite Books & Authors
Useless Information
E-mail & Parting Thoughts

Flippantly Answered Questions

Top of Page