In the below lines from “Auguries of Innocence” (written in the first decade of the 1800s) William Blake suggests that suffering and joy are necessarily woven together—and are, metaphorically, the clothing of the soul. But why suffering must accompany joy (and vice versa) the poet does not explain (55-62):
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for Joy & Woe,
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
As Freudian psychology this sounds right (sublimated beneath every yes is a no; behind each pleasure lurks a pain). But as philosophy, I’m less sure of these lines. Blake seems to be suggesting something a bit more than, say, Arthur Schopenhauer, who wrote repeatedly that one should adopt a Stoic attitude toward suffering (for it is inevitable).
Blake, contra Schopenhauer’s pessimism, seems to suggest that suffering is more than just something to exercise resignation towards, but is interwoven with life and joy, and should not be accepted for Stoic reasons, but because “It is right it should be so.” In this, Blake seems to be in sympathy with Liebnitz—the philosopher parodied by Voltaire (in Candide) for insisting that the world as it is, with all its absurdity and suffering, is, nevertheless, “the best of all possible worlds.” He also anticipates Nietzsche somewhat, in that Nietzsche asserted that a life of virtue and creativity entails working with pain–even embracing it–rather than avoiding it.
Blake also sits well with Buddhism. If you accept (rather than resist the fact) that life is tied up with suffering, you’ll go “safely” through the world.
Still, I wonder how Blake might have responded, were he alive today, to the horrors of the 20th century. How, for example, could the Holocaust possibly be part of the “right” functioning of the universe and the soul?