A Reading of ‘There is a Moment’ by William Blake

By Christopher Nield Created: February 24, 2010 Last Updated: February 24, 2010
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There is a Moment

There is a Moment in each Day that Satan cannot find
Nor can his Watch Fiends find it, but the Industrious find
This Moment & it multiply, & when it once is found
It Renovates every Moment of the Day if rightly placed.

We live in a wasteland of distractions. The here and now–the chair we’re sitting in, the feel of the newspaper in your hands—mingles with regrets for past mistakes and fears for the future. Where is the moment in which we are fully present and fully able to take control of our destiny?

Whenever we feel our path in life cannot be found, we should turn to Blake’s poem—a short extract from his longer work "Milton." The magnificent opening line has the force of a saying: an insight handed down from generation to generation in language too dramatic to forget.

Blake suggests that Satan is forever on the prowl, forever looking to disrupt our plans. His evil presence turns hope into misery, good into bad, flesh into ashes. Even if we don’t believe in his literal existence, we can see him as symbolic of the nagging, carping, or prideful voices of our own mind. He is also sloth, the laziness that turns into lassitude and self-satisfied despair.

We are pursued too by Satan’s sidekicks, the mysterious “watch fiends,” whose name suggests they exist solely to look out for our doom. The link with time is powerfully evocative. I see them as creatures from a surrealist painting—demons with clock faces, their hands measuring the brief seconds of our breath, inexorably turning toward midnight and the grave.

Yet there is hope that cannot die. There is a moment that terror and time can never find.

This is a moment that the “Industrious” find and multiply: a moment of creation that transforms everything. We can find it too. As if it were an objet d’art for us to place on a mantelpiece, or plinth, Blake advises us to place it aright in our lives. Placed centrally its light will chase away the darkness of the devil, the one who cannot create but only ape, mock, slander, and destroy.

So what could this moment be? It might involve picking up a pencil and a sketchbook for the first time in years, sitting down to meditate, spending a few hours in the garden after work, or deciding to read a classic novel from cover to cover. It is whatever brings us inspiration.

For Blake, the core of our life is not suffering, but possibility. Even if everything seems to be awry, a glimpse of something better will come. Eternity starts today, at the appointed hour, the appointed moment of happiness. Find, find, find, the poem repeats…. But will we look?

William Blake (1757–1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker.


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