‘The Human Abstract’, one of two companion pieces to ‘The Divine Image’ from Songs of Innocence, begins by describing a moral condition in which the performance of morality depends upon systems of impoverishment and inequity, pity requires forced deprivation and mercy can only exist as long as there is suffering in the world. The first stanza consists of two couplets, in which the first lines name a Christian virtue and indicate its contingency upon the anti-Christian condition stated in the second. It ends with a semicolon after the final ‘we’, which suggests that the second stanza will continue in the same spirit as the first, describing the paradoxical position of morality in lapsarian existence. At first glance, this seems to be the case, for line 1, stanza 2 reads: ‘And mutual fear brings peace’ (1.5; E27). The conjunction ‘And’ suggests that this couplet will provide a third instance of virtue depending upon vice. The couplet does in fact do this, but it deviates from the couplets in stanza 1 by condensing its moral paradox into the first line. It does this by describing a paradoxical activity — ‘mutual fear brings peace’ — rather than presenting a contingent virtue followed by the condition upon which it paradoxically depends.


Biblical Text Solid Fibre Outward Form Narrowing Perception Divine Wisdom 
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© Matthew JA Green 2005

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