Friday, June 29, 2007

Blake's Women

This is not about Catherine, Blake's wife, with whom he lived in happy conjugal relationship for 40 years (her only complaint was that he spent too much time in heaven).

Nor is it about the fictional Catherine, who only serves to titillate the gossip lover.

Nor is it about Mary Wollencraft, although the story goes that William once proposed to Catherine that he bring Mary in as a concubine; Catherine cried, and William abandoned the idea. Blake hated and dispised 'jealousy', but it seems that Catherine's jealousy on this occasion solidified a very solid marriage relationship.

None of these, this post is about the women Blake met in heaven:

Thel was a kind of foretaste of the women to come; she exposed the seediness of mortal life and went back to heaven. In her life Blake posed the question 'is mortal life of any value?' (Raine).

Lyca is a microcosm of the three main women that Blake met in heaven. In Plate 6, 7, and 8 read two ethereally beautiful poems that reveal the kernel of the 'system' Blake developed after he said, "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's".

Vala is the main woman in Blake's myth (The Four Zoas was originally named Vala). In the development of his story Blake splits Vala into two: Tirzah (the earthly woman) and Jerusalem (the heavenly one).

In To Tirzah Blake starkly presents the dichotomy:

"[Woman], what have I do to with thee?".

From a purely material viewpoint Blake has Jesus say this to his mother, actually a quotation from The Gospel of John 2:4. From a more significant viewpoint the woman represents mortality (Mary was his mortal mother). Jesus of course is something other than mortal. From the most significant viewpoint Blake is talking about you and me: we are made of clay, but an immortal spirit resides within the 'matter'.

Jerusalem of course is the obvious biblical metaphor for the "bride of Christ" and the heavenly (eternal) kingdom.