Discovering an Artistic Ancestor

The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb by Mervyn Peake

“Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”

-William Blake

Sometimes a book chooses you. Sheltering from the rain in Black Gull Books in East Finchley, I browsed the poetry section, arranged alphabetically by author, until a familiar surname leapt out at me. I knew Mervyn Peake for his fiction and illustrations, but not his poetry. The opening image from The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb stopped my breath — an infant curled up, crying out into inky blackness. It recalled to me, simultaneously, the earliest images of our son in utero, and our own anguish at his death.

I read the first few musical stanzas about Mervyn’s babe “born in the reign of George”, during the height of The Blitz, down to where “the murderous notes of the ice-bright glass / Set sail with a clink of wings”. It reminded me of one my favourite lines by one of my favorurite poets, the moment in William Blake’s “The Tyger” “when the stars threw down their spears / and watered heaven with their tears”.

The whole poem, and its accompanying illustrations, are Blakean in scope, bringing together images and poetry in a dazzlingly imaginative metaphysical ballad about the resilience and splendour of the human spirit. Continue reading…