.epigraph

An epigraph is a brief quotation at the beginning of a book which contains some significant thematic connection to the whole work. It serves as a kind of mysterious introduction or teaser to a larger work, such as a novel.

The epigraph for Grendel consists of lines by the English poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827). The entire poem follows. The epigraph is in bold.

The Mental Traveller

I travell'd thro' a Land of Men,
A Land of Men and Women too;
And heard & saw such dreadful things
As cold Earth-wanderers never knew.

For there the Babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe;
Just as we Reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow.

And if the Babe is born a Boy
He's given to a Woman Old,
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.

She binds iron thorns around his head,
She pierces both his hands & feet,
She cuts his heart out at his side,
To make it feel both cold & heat.

Her fingers number every Nerve,
Just as a Miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks & cries,
And she grows young as he grows old.

Till he becomes a bleeding youth,
And she becomes a Virgin bright;
Then he rends up his Manacles,
And binds her down for his delight.

He plants himself in all her nerves,
Just as a Husbandman his mould;
And she becomes his dwelling-place
And Garden fruitful seventyfold.

An agèd Shadow, soon he fades,
Wandering round an Earthly Cot,
Full fillèd all with gems & gold
Which he by industry had got.

And these are the gems of the Human Soul,
The rubies & pearls of a lovesick eye,
The countless gold of the akeing heart,
The martyr's groan & the lover's sigh.

They are his meat, they are his drink
He feeds the Beggar & the Poor
And the wayfaring Traveller:
For ever open is his door.

His grief is their eternal joy;
They make the roofs & walls to ring;
Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring.

And she is all of solid fire
And gems & gold, that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her Baby form,
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band.

But She comes to the Man she loves,
If young or old, or rich or poor;
They soon drive out the agèd Host,
A Beggar at another's door.

He wanders weeping far away,
Until some other take him in;
Oft blind & age-bent, sore distrest,
Untill he can a Maiden win.

And to allay his freezing Age,
The Poor Man takes her in his arms;
The Cottage fades before his sight,
The Garden & its lovely Charms.

The Guests are scatter'd thro' the land,
For the Eye altering alters all;
The Senses roll themselves in fear,
And the flat Earth becomes a Ball;

The stars, sun, Moon, all shrink away
A desart vast without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink,
And a dark desart all around.

The honey of her Infant lips,
The bread & wine of her sweet smile,
The wild game of her roving Eye,
Does him to Infancy beguile;

For as he eats & drinks he grows
Younger and younger every day;
And on the desart wild they both
Wander in terror & dismay.

Like the wild Stag she flees away,
Her fear plants many a thicket wild;
While he pursues her night & day,
By various arts of Love beguil'd;

By various arts of Love and Hate,
Till the wide desart planted o'er
With Labyrinths of wayward Love,
Where roam the Lion, Wolf, & Boar.

Till he becomes a wayward Babe,
And she a weeping Woman Old.
Then many a Lover wanders here;
The Sun & Stars are nearer roll'd.

The trees bring forth sweet Extacy
To all who in the desart roam;
Till many a City there is Built,
And many a pleasant Shepherd's home.

But when they find the frowning Babe,
Terror strikes thro' the region wide:
They cry `The Babe! the Babe is Born!'
And flee away on Every side.

For who dare touch the frowning form,
His arm is wither'd to its root;
Lions, Boars, Wolves, all howling flee,
And every Tree does shed its fruit.

And none can touch that frowning form,
Except it be a Woman Old;
She nails him down upon the Rock,
And all is done as I have told.

This is, as Northrop Frye concludes, a very complex poem in fairly simple language. But Frye gives us a little help:

New life does not begin at birth: it begins as an embryo within the womb of a mother. But all mothers are a part of Mother Nature, and though the infant life may break from its individual parent, it never escapes the shrouding protection of a natural environment. In relation to the whole of nature, therefore, Orc [youth, innocence, the figure of the boy in this poem] is an eternal embryo. But only a small part of nature forms the actual environment of any given form of life, and the latter may gain a good deal of control of that small part, depending on its imaginative vigor. Such vigor is greater in human life than in anything else, and greatest of all in a historical cycle, where extensive and dramatic transformations of nature are made. Whatever the form of Orc, he is born in helpless dependence on Mother Nature: as he grows older he gets more control of her, and she thereupon, if the symbolism is to be consistent, must grow younger, that is, cease to be his mother and become his wife. And, as in infancy there is no imaginative contact with nature, the mother, as long as she is so, is a virgin. (Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1947. 227-228)

A bit later:

Here the infant Orc begins as a rock-bound Prometheus in subjection to an old woman. At puberty he tears loose from the rock and copulates with the old woman, who grows younger as he grows older and becomes his wife or emanation. As Orc declines, his imaginative achievements are completed into a single form as "Female Babe," which is then to be used by other imaginations, just as an appletree sheds its fruit for others to eat. But a plant in its old age begins to scatter seeds, which fall into the fertile ground of another virgin mother and enter the place of seed again. Here the male principle tends to become younger and the female more aggressive and maternal. Orc, now Urizen [age, experience], dies a seed's death as the world becomes "a dark desart all around," and eventually re-enters the world of Generation as a reborn Orc. (229)

A very ambitious scholar might also seek out:

Ackland, Michael. "Blakean Sources in John Gardner's Grendel." Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 23.1 (1981): 57-66.

Selected Poems of William Blake

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