Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Turning Point

The Moment of Grace

Life is made up of turning points, but if you're fortunate, then somewhere along life's crooked path you may take a most significant turning point to the right:

"When he came to himself"(verse 17): the fundamental biblical archetype), and there have been other similar ones since Jesus spoke those words.

In our poet's life that Moment has for me an endless fascination. He might have been a famous man, teacher to the Royal Family, world wide artist; he might have dedicated his life to the Main Chance, but he found a better way. The critical Moment (the darkness before the dawn) came when Hayley had given William and Catherine, a comfortable cottage, a comfortable care free life as a miniaturist, but "he came to himself". He returned to London, penniless, but free. Thereafter the main chance ceased to be a temptation. Blake celebrated that decisive Moment in letter 16 to his true (spiritual) friend, Captain Butts (the First Vision of Light):"...O thou Ram hornd with gold
Who awakest from sleep").

He also mentioned it in another letter, this one Letter 51, to William Hayley....

"I have entirely reduced that spectrous Fiend to his station, whose annoyance has been the ruin of my labours for the last passed twenty years of my life. He is the enemy of conjugal love and is the Jupiter of the Greeks, an iron-hearted tyrant, the ruiner of ancient Greece.......I was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and which has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by window-shutters.

The prints of that Moment fill the pages of his poetry:

In the 9th Night of The Four Zoas (in Erdman 395-6) you may read of the regeneration and awakening of Vala, the sinless soul" the incorrigible female (this passage owes a lot to the Greek myth, Cupid and Psyche).

After the Moment of Grace annihilation of the Selfhood became a primary theme for Blake. In Milton he put these words in the mouth of the hero returned from Heaven, addressed to Ololon, his emanation:

"But turning toward Ololon in terrible majesty Milton
Replied. Obey thou the Words of the Inspired Man
All that can be annihilated must be annihilated
That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery
There is a Negation, & there is a Contrary
The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre; the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal
Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off & annihilated alway
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination.

[Milton PLATE 41 [48]:
To bathe in the Waters of Life; to wash off the Not Human
I come in Self-annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering
To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination
To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration"
(Erdman 142)

Milton is a difficult poem, but Blake must have written it shortly after his Moment of Grace.

Blake celebrated the (miraculous?) turning point in Odysseus (my, your, Albion's, Everyman's) with his famous Arlington Tempera, called the Circle of Destiny.

In Blake's poetry, above all autobiographical, he marked the moment of truth for Los and all the rest of his characters who made up various elements of his psyche, of mine, yours, Albion's.

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