A Reflection on “Auguries of Innocence”

Excerpts from “Auguries of Innocence”
William Black (1757-1827)

A Robin Redbreast in a cage.
Puts all Heaven in a rage.

A skylark wounded on the wing.
Doth make a Cherub cease to sing.

He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be beloved by men.


These three couplets are etched into four places around the Foundation’s property: twice in the Canyon and twice in the Kerrville offices.

The rhymes are separate excerpts from the posthumously published 132-line poem, “Auguries of Innocence,” by English poet and painter William Blake. The full poem is a series of similar couplets and occasional quatrains, with rough rhymes and erratic rhyme schemes, all evoking images and responses to infringements on nature’s innocence. Some lines are suggestive of hope. Many others are warnings or omens. All of them, in their pluralism of symbols and meanings, build towards an ending that describes a unity of God and human with the same paradoxical language that recurs throughout the poem.

Out of the poem’s dozens of natural images and symbols, these three couplets are the poem’s only mentions of birds.  

We don’t see many robins in our parts of Texas, and skylarks are fairly rare in North America in general—but many a wren calls the Canyon home. We even consider its birdsong one of the most memorable sounds of the Frio River Canyon. It’s always an unexpected reminder of the surprise, beauty, and whimsy of nature in a way that’s become special to us as we’ve grown into our space.

Perhaps the takeaway of this makeshift stanza isn’t to preserve natural life because the heavens and earth would grow angry with its abuse. Maybe we should steward nature well because of what, and who, it could bring us closer to.

More from this issue

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Summer Roundup With Laity Lodge Youth Camp

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She Pastors Strong

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Bridging Our Differences

On November 3, the H. E. Butt Foundation hosted a luncheon featuring best-selling author Arthur C. Brooks and his book, Love Your Enemies.