The consensus among Blake scholars seems to be that Blake’s “Mad Song” depicts the condition of insanity. A handful of critics will occasionally concede that the speaker may be a poet who has lost his sanity because of his poetry, but they invariably offer “inability to create” as the specific cause of his dementia. The evidence suggests, however, that the speaker’s affliction is not impotence, but omnipotence. — “Method in Blake’s ‘Mad Song,’” F.R. Duplantier, 1979
At the end of the 1973 fall semester at Tulane University, I was obliged to declare my major. I was drawn to history, philosophy, political science, and English and would have been happy to major in any one of them, but I had to make up my mind by the end of the day. My dad was the director of university relations, so I stopped by his office in Gibson Hall late that afternoon to talk it over with him. With moments to spare before the 5 PM deadline, I settled on English and headed for the department office one floor below in the same building.
The secretary asked who I wanted for my advisor. I had no idea. “Well,” she responded, “everyone’s gone home but Dr. Assad [pronounced: Acid]. He’s still in his office down the hall. How about him?” Sure. I’d never met the guy and knew nothing about him. Why not?
One of Thomas Assad’s first suggestions as my advisor was to sign up for his spring course on Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. He was muscular, baldheaded, and looked like Kojak, so I accepted his advice. In answer to a question on the first exam about William Blake’s early poem “Mad Song,” I made the mistake of commenting that the theme seemed to be inspiration not madness. “That would be a good topic for your honors thesis,” Dr. Assad told me later. Honors thesis? Who said anything about an honors thesis? That fall, I began working on Blake’s “Mad Song,” An Instance of Poetic Madness, with Dr. Assad as my thesis advisor. (A condensed version was published five years later in the Blake Quarterly.)