I discovered the poetry of William Blake on a bookshelf in San Francisco. Set beside the works of Charles Baudelaire, and other books I’ve long forgotten, Blake’s poems had rested on the shelf in my grandparents’ home for years. I was unfamiliar with Blake’s work at the time, but, during a visit in high school, I took his poetry from the shelf for some late-night reading. I flipped through the pages of Blake’s work without expectations, and I soon found what became my favorite poem, “The Human Abstract.”

I read through the poem countless times that night, and I found myself thinking about it still the next morning. By the time I returned home from my visit, I was eager to memorize the poem. I told my parents that I wanted to read more of William Blake’s work, and my father seemed somewhat surprised. His surprise wasn’t due to my interest in poetry, but rather in this particular poet. I explained that I’d recently discovered my new favorite poem, and launched into an explanation of what I’d read. My father quickly replied that “The Human Abstract” was his favorite poem, and it had been his favorite poem for many years.

I had unintentionally discovered my father’s copy of William Blake’s work, left in his parents’ home in his old childhood room. I never knew that he had read Blake’s poetry when he was younger, nor did I know that he’d taken a college course focused on William Blake. As it turned out, my brother’s name, William had even been chosen with William Blake in mind. These connections astounded me. My father and I don’t typically enjoy the same literature, and we’d never discussed poetry before that conversation. However, my coincidental discovery of the Human Abstract revealed our connection across generations. We shared the same fascination with the poem, and we found ourselves diving into a discussion of our thoughts on Blake and poetry. “The Human Abstract” has become an enduring topic of conversation for my father and I, and I’m grateful to have stumbled upon this poem on a night when I couldn’t sleep.

– Carolyn A. Levy (PhD Candidate, Penn State University)