Thursday, November 26, 2009


Among Blake's works is a little book of only 16 plates which he produced early in his career - in 1793. It is titled To the Children: Gates of Paradise. In 1818 he re-engraved the same images, added a frontispiece, tailpiece, and explanatory couplets for each picture. The new book was titled To the Sexes: Gates of Paradise.

The children to whom the first book was addressed, may be the innocents, those who had not traveled far along the journey. Gates of Paradise is not presented as an account of violent activities such as those portrayed in The Book of Urizen. Instead it's a roadmap to psychic development. Blake is trying to lead us through the process of psychological evolution, but he does not express himself in clear rational language in either the first or second version. The reader is asked to use his intuition to retrieve from his unconscious, archetypal content to associate with the images supplied. The second version addressed to the Sexes seems to recognize that it is those who are in the stage of 'generation' who will benefit from these insights.

In his book Symbol and Image in William Blake, George Wingfield Digby, presents a through psychological commentary plate by plate. On page 6, Digby says: "But the purpose of this form of communication is not to make explicit statements. It is to evoke and direct attention to psychological events and states of consciousness by means other than that of the intellectual concept, which is rooted in dualism."

Frontispiece, Gates of Paradise

So the first plate pictures a caterpillar on a leaf and a chrysalis with the face of a baby; the caption is 'What is man!'; and the associated couplet is 'The Sun's Light when he unfolds it / Depends on the Organ that beholds it.' So we are at the beginning; we want to find out what man is; we may go in one direction or another; to develop psychologically man must begin to see things differently; not just what one sees, but the way in which one sees things must be altered.

The first plate gets us started, now we must ask each plate what is the next step we must follow to arrive at the Gate of Paradise. (Or more likely each plate will be a Gate through which we must find our way). Digby seeks clues to meanings in Blake's other poems and illuminations. It is remarkable that the later works can be recognized as elaborations on such a concise and seemingly simple presentation as Gates of Paradise. Everything you have already learned from Blake can be applied to absorbing the contents of this book. Here is one clue: the four elements are associated with the four Zoas.

The Keys of the Gates

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