The Poems of William Blake

The Poems of William Blake Summary and Analysis of The Crystal Cabinet


"The Crystal Cabinet" tells the tale of an unhappy and unsuccessful love affair. It is a crossing of worlds for the speaker, who exists in one world at the beginning of the poem (“caught me in the wild”), is captured and “lock’d up” in a second world (“another England there I saw”) and is finally tossed out and falls into a third world (“a weeping Babe upon the wild”).

In Blake’s mythology, there were three worlds in which one could live (or three levels to one world). Eternity is representative of our natural world as we live in it; in a nutshell, it is reality. Higher up we have Beulah, which is like heaven. In Beulah, there is no conflict and all is at peace, all is one. The lower of the worlds is Ulro. Ulro is the realm of torment, suffering, and death, the material world. Ulro has no contact with Eternity and is where all the fallen souls end up.

In this poem, we have a speaker who becomes the object (victim perhaps) of an erotic possessive maiden. The first two stanzas are fairly simple narrative to follow, with the only real outstanding metaphor is in line 4 (“Lock’d me up”) which is a play on words for copulation (“put me into her cabinet”) as well as a pun on John Locke, the philosopher who related the minds of all newborn humans as empty “cabinets.” It is at line 7 where the poem begins to shed its simple narrative and enter the world of Blake mythology.

The reference to “threefold” in line 15 is how the reader can become aware which world the speaker has entered, the third of Blake’s worlds being Beulah. While in this new world, the speaker makes an attempt to apprehend the essence of his existence there and tries to make his transient moment permanent. This is one of the causes that will lead to his fall to Ulro. The other leading factor to the cause is how the speaker trades places with his maiden and becomes the possessive force in the relationship (“I strove to seize the inmost form / With ardor fierce & hands of flame”).


The speaker of "The Crystal Cabinet" is at fault for his own fall. We watch him as he reacts to his “lock’d up” situation by reaching outward, to the world in which he is placed, instead of inward, towards himself. This causes the speaker to become totally absorbed in his situation and leads him to a state of narcissism and misguided erotic confidence. He is so wrapped up in his situation that he breaks through his “cabinet” of love and finds himself back “upon the wild” (lines 18-23). The cabinet itself is a symbol of the ‘prison’ love can be. It is also a womb, for it gives birth to “a weeping babe.”

In addition, there is a gender theme to be taken from this poem. The lower world is represented by the danger of feminine beauty, while the upper world remains masculine. The speaker is lured into his own fall in the second last stanza by two women (line 15) and this can be interpreted as the account of excitement one has for intercourse and the guilt or disappointment thereafter. After the sexual experience and the banishment from Beulah, the male speaker is left crying like a “baby in the wild,” the “woman is weeping and pale,” and “woes fill the wind.”