Here are the last fourteen lines of William Blake’s “The Everlasting Gospel”:
The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine;
Mine has a snub nose like to mine.
Thine is the friend of All Mankind;
Mine speaks in parables to the Blind.
Thine loves the same world that mine hates;
Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates.
Socrates taught what Melitus
Loathd as a Nation’s bitterest Curse;
And Caiphas was in his own Mind
A benefactor to Mankind.
Both read the Bible day & night,
But thou readst black where I read white.
Often, when you see this passage of Blake’s quoted, the last six lines are cut off, and we get only the first eight, which are perhaps a bit more obviously lyrical, and are readily comprehended.
But if we read these fourteen lines of Blake’s as a pseudo-sonnet, then we recognize that the last six lines really cannot be lopped off from the first eight without damage to the author’s didactic intent, for they constitute an important shift in the poem.
What the first eight lines portray as almost comic differences of perception concerning Jesus, the last six lines show as not funny at all, but turning murderous. Freud’s “narcissism of small differences” becomes, in Blake, the pretext for persecutions, trials, gross injustice, and deadly violence.
The trials of Socrates and Jesus are Blake’s exhibits A and B.
Miletus, one of the “prosecuting attorneys,” or accusers, at Socrates’s trial, asserted that Socrates, by teaching his peculiar brand of reasoning to the young, corrupted the youth, and so should be forced into silence.
In turn, Caiphas, the interrogating high priest before whom Jesus appears in the gospels, believed that he was protecting normative Judaism against a sectarian fanatic.
Blake depicts both persecutors as pious men, reading “the Bible day & night.” (Of course, Miletus’s “Bible” would have been Homer and not the Hebrew prophets, and Homer was indeed quoted, and appealed to, in ancient Greece, to settle pagan sectarian disputes. Homer, for example, was used both to defend Socrates as well as attack him.)
As is characteristic of Blake’s poetry elsewhere, if we hold all fourteen lines together, and do not separate them, we get a discomfitting movement from innocence to experience.
In this case, Blake’s lines move from a sophomoric argumentative innocence about the Bible, to a more sobering adult experience, in which intense biblical study leads some to the conclusion that they must, in the name of a higher good, annhilate those who they perceive are the Bible’s enemies.