Sendak on Blake

I have nev­er been a fan of Mau­rice Sendak. I was eight when Where the Wild Things Are was pub­lished, but I do not think I ever heard of it or Sendak until I was in col­lege. I am not sure I have ever read any Sendak, but I know I have at least paged through Wild Things and looked at the pic­tures (the only way to read a book, right?). The pic­tures nev­er did any­thing for me. Clips from the movie do noth­ing to make me want to see it.

Over the past year, I have come to under­stand that Mr. Sendak, what­ev­er his tal­ents as a writer, is quite a char­ac­ter.  There is a won­der­ful inter­view with NPR’s Ter­ry Gross on Fresh Air.

Now I notice this bit of video on YouTube in which he says some­thing that makes me feel bet­ter about myself. At just around the 1:54 mark, he dis­cuss­es the poet William Blake. He has a whole shelf devot­ed to Blake and has read a lot of and about Blake. He loves Blake, espe­cial­ly as an illus­tra­tor (which makes sense). But the part I love is

I don’t under­stand him. I still can’t read through one of his illu­mi­nat­ed ma…I can’t. I don’t know what the hell he’s talk­ing about.

I have tried read­ing Blake on many occa­sions, but I have nev­er got­ten very far. I do not under­stand him. It is good to know that it is not just me.

I have, as I have aged, begun to sense that much poet­ry does not yield under­stand­ing with­out repeat­ed read­ing. But who wants to read with­out under­stand­ing? I sup­pose that is what the rhythm and lan­guage is for, to pro­vide plea­sure while wait­ing for under­stand­ing. I just made that up, but I can’t believe that (hav­ing majored in Eng­lish Lit) I have nev­er been told it.

At some point I plan to read Blake again. And I will read him aloud and will plow through even when I’m lost.

Maybe that plan should apply to read­ing Sendak.….