Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blake's Imagination

Carl Jung in his four functions characterized the fourth as intuition. A century earlier William Blake, in the system he created, called it imagination. You may have noticed that some people appear to have a great imagination and some other people less so or none.

At the age of four Blake ran screaming to his mother to report an angry God had stuck his head through his bedroom window. That in itself amply set him apart from the generality of humanity with an imagination more limited. It also marked him as strange, someone to avoid, as most of his acquaintances seemed to do.

Years later in a letter to Butts he gave a vivid picture of the shape of his mind. Here is a passage:
"When my heart knockd against the root of my tongue
With Angels planted in Hawthorn bowers
And God himself in the passing hours
With Silver Angels across my way
And Golden Demons that none can stay
With my Father hovering upon the wind
And my Brother Robert just behind
And my Brother John the evil one
In a black cloud making his mone[y]
Tho dead they appear upon my path
Notwithstanding my terrible wrath
They beg they intreat they drop their tears
Filld full of hopes filld full of fears
With a thousand Angels upon the Wind
Pouring disconsolate from behind
To drive them off & before my way
A frowning Thistle implores my stay
What to others a trifle appears
Fills me full of smiles or tears
For double the vision my Eyes do see
And a double vision is always with me
With my inward Eye 'tis an old Man grey
With my outward a Thistle across my way
"If thou goest back the thistle said
Thou art to endless woe betrayd"

(Father and brothers of course have returned from the Great Divide.)
This is a cogent description of what he calls double vision, an attribute of schizophrenics as well as artists; they see what's not there to the sense based person.

The thistle (old man) cautions Blake against retreating from his imaginative creations to the commercial art orientation that Hayley encouraged for three years. One can be a corporeal friend and a spiritual enemy; such was Hayley for Blake (and no doubt we have plenty of corporeal friends).

In a later letter to Butts (Erdman 728) he explicates what he had meant: "if a Man is the Enemy of my Spiritual Life while he pretends to be the Friend of my Corporeal. he is a Real Enemy".

Thank God for Butts; without his encouragement Blake might not have been able to break away from Hayley's direction and resume the better course of directing himself.

Blake elevated imagination to Jesus and to those of us who are aware (in Quaker language) that there is that of God in us. Such people see "that of God" in you, with all the potentialities that the term suggests, including the thump on the head and the healing balm (Vision of the Last Judgment; Erdman 565).

You may have much imagination or little; but it can be cultivated!

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