Saturday, May 01, 2010

Isaiah in Blake

In 1905 a man named John Sampson published The Poetical Works of William Blake, said to be the first complete edition. Blake commentary and criticism took off at that point.

In ca 1920 S. Foster Damon came forth with William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols, a rare book nowadays. On Page 316 he stated that Plate 2 of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was written in light of Isaiah 35.

Plate 1 echoes the 35th chapter of Isaiah. The "way of holiness" is what Blake called the perilous path. Here's Plate 2 of MHH. Text

This gave me a sudden enlightenment when I realized that Blake here was giving a critique of Isaiah 35 and following chapters. Immediately after the "way of holiness" Isaiah gives the ominous warning of Sennacherib, leading to King Hezekiah's famous verse: "not in my time, Lord."
In MHH Blake is critiqueing, not just chapter 35, but Sennacherib, Hezekiah, etc.
The perilous path, beautified by the just man, has been corrupted by the greedy, driving the just man back into the wilderness. That was Blake's take of this part of Isaiah, and a pretty good take on Blake's day and our day as well.

Of course if you've read the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, you recall that Blake reported a vision in which he dined with and interviewed Isaiah and Ezekiel. Go to plates 12 and 13.

1 comment:

Susan J. said...

Fascinating! I even managed to click on your link to Damon and look up the specific passage where he gives some commentary on Plate 2 and talks about why he sees it as "inspired by the 35th chapter of Isaiah." And I also managed to look up Rintrah both in your links at the left and in the "Complete Works" document you sent; Damon also comments on Rintrah, "the wrath of the honest man."

One question: what do you suppose the illustrations on Plate II are about?

Thanks!!! It was a lot of fun going back and forth between Isaiah 35 and Plate II.