Blake, Kristofferson and the Burden of Freedom

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is infinite.” -William Blake

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction. -William Blake (Passion is wiser than rationalization)

When Ray Manzarek saw Jim Morrison on Venus beach in 1965, the circle was completed and the Doors were born. They named the group after a line from a William Blake poem, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is infinite.” For many fans, the band personified the deeply mystical elements in life and Morrison was their shamanic leader.

As the band achieved success Jim was held to his stage persona as the Lizard King. Morrison had always thought of himself as a poet and wanted recognition as such. Disillusioned with music and not taken seriously as a poet, he and his girlfriend moved to Paris in March of 1971. On July 3rd of that year, he was found dead in his apartment. Jim’s excesses were booze and drugs and an appetite for living life in total freedom. But he wasn’t alone, everyone was dropping out of sight, the excess claimed many lives as freedom came with a price.

A particular maxim from William Blake that achieves a semblance of truth for Jim Morrison and many others,“The road of excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom”, would become a mantra for the enigmatic decade of the 60’s…the artist sole obligation is to develop his/her talent and let no one stand in the way; family, friend or foe.

The epitome of hard living and excess to develop one’s own art as a pure product of freedom was Hank Williams. The singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson following Williams, Johnny Cash and the poetry of William Blake… started writing and performing his own material as he also embraced a life of total freedom. Kristofferson wrote the song, ‘Burden of Freedom’ with these ideas in mind:

I stand on the stairway, my back to the dungeonstocksnap_5j59qbuyow
The doorway to freedom so close to my hand
Voices behind me still bitterly damn me
For seeking salvation, they don’t understand

The artist is a tragic genius whose passion forces him to the life he leads of freedom for creativity’s sake, this is the burden he must carry. Locked up in the chains of society, he finally escapes and feels the dungeons wall behind him. His freedom from captivity is at hand as voices condemn him for moving onward toward freedom leaving everything he’s ever known, much to the chagrin of family and friends who don’t understand.

However, the second part of Blake’s maxim which is seldom read qualifies exactly what the poet had in mind, “You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.”

In other words, when you’ve passed the point of knowing, you’ve gone too far. This is the moment freedom turns on you, the moment your life begins to own you. Although this can be the point of true wisdom if realized,  many succumb before the Palace is in sight.

The words to Kristofferson’s song combined with Blake’s more concise writing on the subject  gives us a true meaning of the burden of freedom. For Blake freedom and duty are bound together… “Refuse, & bury your Talent in the Earth, Sorrow and Desperation pursue you thro’ life.” So this weird dichotomy between freedom and duty comes to the surface. If I am free to become the person I am to become then it’s my duty to become that person. We have freedom and an obligation to become the fruit of that freedom. This choice is similar to the Bhagavad Gita where Arjuna questions Krishna about duty on the eve of a great battle.

For we all face a new dawn with our backs against the dungeon. We travel the road toward our better angels to our authentic self in order to bring our teaching, our truth back to the boon of humanity. Yes, there will be those who don’t understand and even anger at our choice. We may take many wrong turns toward excess but if we see this path with new eyes we will enter the Palace of Wisdom and embrace the burden that freedom demands.                     


Lyrics- Burden of Freedom

13 thoughts on “Blake, Kristofferson and the Burden of Freedom

  1. A great post. One may start off free but become a slave. The person who exercises his freedom by enjoying a few pints in the evening may, for whatever reason start to rely on drink and, in time become a slave to alcohol. As the Beautiful South put it in “Lier’s Bar”, “I didn’t choose a drink, a drink choose me”. However the beauty of freedom lies in the ability to make our own mistakes, which is a huge boon and, at times a massive burden. Kevin

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Strong and beautiful post on a huge topic. Kris Kristoffersson is up there to me as a poet and songwriter. So honest to himself.
    I knew about his connection to Blake but not to the extent you show us.

    Excesses of drugs and alcohol exists at both ends. Among those who are bound by society’s rules and those who break free “condemned”.
    Again, doesn’t this also become a choice? New chains to break free from.
    Kris at 76 still lives a creative and happy life on Hawaii with long term wife Lisa, so joys and sorrows seem to have grown into calm and
    Thanks again for this post, the first Blake quote, the songs. A treat this morning JC.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Mirja. It’s when you realize what is happening that wisdom sets in. Thus you have the different paths taken by Jim Morrison and Kris Kristofferson, both wanted freedom but only one was willing to carry the burden.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The responsibility of freedom weighs heavy upon us – not always easy to break free to be true selves. A wonderful post, JC with interesting musical facts and Blake again – yeah! I”m becoming a fan and he’s turning up everywhere – one of paintings featured on an episode of ‘White Collar’ last night!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Annika… Blake is everywhere it seems. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t popular at all before he died. I think someone wrote a biography about him after his death and from there he took off…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The struggle of an artist is readily apparent. Yet, society wants to domestic the artist. Is it because the artist is comfortable with being uncomfortable? Someone said that a writer observers the world. This idea can be expanded to include all creative artists. The drive to reflect, observe, and express forces the artist to explore. Often times, in their exploration they are excessive.

    Liked by 2 people

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