Sunday, August 29, 2010

BLAKE THE MYSTIC

Yale Center for British Art
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

c 1822-25
In Defending Ancient Springs, (page 73), Kathleen Raine comments on the essay William Butler Yeats wrote an 'On the Necessity of Symbolism'. In this section, using quotes from Yeasts, Raine explains some of the basis for understanding Blake as a 'mystic'.

" He begins by asking what a symbol can communicate which the dialectics of modern philosophy cannot? The answer lies, he says, in the Swedenborgian doctrine of 'correspondence', the 'as above, so below' of the Smaragdine Table, to which doctrine Blake had also made his appeal before him. 'Sense impressions may indeed be used in poetry and prophecy as a key to unlock religious truths, but "correspondence", as Swedengborg called the symbolic relationship of outer and inner, is itself no product of nature or natural reason, beginning as it does with a perception of something different from natural things with which they are to be compared.' Since this very ground of all symbolic art is denied by the positivist philosophy which has created the climate of thought which most academic critics write at the present time, it is not surprising that most commentators, both of Blake and Yeats, seem more exercised in explaining away than in explaining the meaning of symbols which imply, one might say by definition, a spiritual world.
This 'absolute difference may be described as the first postulate of all mystics', Yeats continues: and already in this essay he has realized that 'the chief difference between the metaphors of poetry and the symbols of mysticism is that the latter are woven together into a complete system.'"

Below is Blake's single mention of the Smaragdine Table. Here the Spectre uses it to draw Los down into the 'reasoning abstract.' The Smaragdine Table uses symbols from alchemy which enacts physical processes to demonstrate spiritual activity. This reference in Jerusalem indicates that Blake was acquainted with the ideas presented on the tablet.

Jerusalem, Plate 91, (E 251)
"The Spectre builded stupendous Works, taking the Starry Heavens
Like to a curtain & folding them according to his will
Repeating the Smaragdine Table of Hermes to draw Los down
Into the Indefinite, refusing to believe without demonstration"

Going to Blake's Milton we find him talking about 'spiritual causes' as being the origin of what happens on Earth.

Milton, Plate 26, (E 123)
"For the various Classes of Men are all markd out determinate
In Bowlahoola; & as the Spectres choose their affinities
So they are born on Earth, & every Class is determinate
But not by Natural but by Spiritual power alone, Because
The Natural power continually seeks & tends to Destruction
Ending in Death: which would of itself be Eternal Death
And all are Class'd by Spiritual, & not by Natural power.

And every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not
A Natural: for a Natural Cause only seems, it is a Delusion
Of Ulro: & a ratio of the perishing Vegetable Memory."

And in Vision of the Last Judgment Blake speaks directly about the patterns in the Eternal world which are reflected in the natural world. From the Smaragdine Table this is the section Blake refers to in Vision of the Last Judgment:
"that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, for performing the miracle of the One Thing;"

Vision of Last Judgment, Page 69,(E 555)
"This world of Imagination is the World of
Eternity it is the Divine bosom into which we shall all go after
the death of the Vegetated body This World is
Infinite & Eternal whereas the world of Generation or Vegetation
is Finite & [for a small moment] Temporal There Exist
in that Eternal World the Permanent Realities of Every Thing
which we see are reflected in this Vegetable Glass of Nature
All Things are comprehended in their Eternal Forms in the
Divine body of the Saviour the True Vine of Eternity
The Human Imagination who appeard to Me as Coming to Judgment."

Throughout Blake's work it is the Eternal, unseen, Divine reality underlying the physical world and providing merciful structures to lead man back to Eternity which he strives to reveal to his reader. This is the pursuit of a mystic.

Jerusalem, Plate 49, (E 199)
"The Lord
Jehovah is before, behind, above, beneath, around
He has builded the arches of Albions Tomb binding the Stars
In merciful Order, bending the Laws of Cruelty to Peace.
He hath placed Og & Anak, the Giants of Albion for their Guards:
Building the Body of Moses in the Valley of Peor: the Body
Of Divine Analogy;"

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