Not a critical or
scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar
Changes may include paragraph
spelling updates, bracketed annotations, &
(marked by ellipses . . . )
The Jacob's Ladder
Background: "Jacob's Ladder"
alludes to a vision by the patriarch Jacob
in the first book of the Bible, See illustrations below.
Genesis 28.10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and
went toward Haran.
11 So he came to a certain place
and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the
stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to
12 Then he
dreamed, and behold, a ladder was
set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God
were ascending and descending on it. . . .
Discussion questions: 1. What's
(or not) about the poem?
2. How or why is
lyric poetry a standard genre for
(How is a lyric poem particularly suited for expressing Romantic thought?)
3. How may the poem be interpreted as resembling
Transcendentalism as well as
Romanticism? How may its style be
Transcendentalist as distinct from
4. Given that the poem is written during the
Modern or postmodern era, how may
"The Jacob's Ladder" transcend
Transcendentalism to become
Modern(ist) or something else?
The Jacob's Ladder*
The stairway is not
a thing of gleaming strands
a radiant evanescence
for angels' feet that only glance in their tread, and
need not touch the stone.
It is of stone.
A rosy stone that takes
a glowing tone of softness
only because behind it the sky is a doubtful,
a doubting night gray.
A stairway of sharp
angles, solidly built.
One sees that the angels must spring
down from one step to the next, giving a little
lift of the wings:
and a man climbing
must scrape his knees, and bring
the grip of his hands into play. The cut stone
consoles his groping feet. Wings brush past him.
The poem ascends.
William Blake (1757-1827), Jacob's Dream (1805)
woodcut of Jacob's Dream in Luther Bible (1534)
Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), Jacob's Dream