Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blake and Antiquity



Someone asked me what I would recommend reading beyond the Works of Blake. After considerable thought I suggested Kathleen Raines, Blake and Antiquity; it's actually a very condensed version of a much larger and more famous book entitled Blake and Tradition which one is hard to get and expensive. On page four of Blake and Antiquity Raine recapitulated the discovery of Blake's symbology with these recommendations:


Turning back to the 18th and early 19 centuries, Blake sent a letter to his friend and patron, Flaxman; he named what he perceived as his primary sources:

"Now my lot in the Heavens is this: Milton lov'd me in childhood and
show'd me his face;
Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in riper years gave
me his hand;
Paracelsus and Behmen appear'd to me; terrors appear'd in the
Heavens above"

Both of Raine's books are primarily about Blake's mythological sources. Raine was steeped in Greek Mythology, and she discovered the Blake was, too. She also knew that Blake was acquainted with Thomas Taylor, named by his contemporaries as The English Pagan; he was one year younger than Blake. In an early lampooning work entitled An Island in the Moon Blake mentioned "Sipsop the Pythagorean"; Damon identified him as Taylor.

Taylor introduced Platonic thought to the 'Enlightened' 18th century, and received much derision; but Blake wasn't wedded to the Enlightenment, and he received Taylor's work gladly (at least for a time; he had a habit of turning his critical faculty on any new discoveries sooner or later). Taylor called upon "the young men of the new age", a term that Blake used in his Preface to Milton; he asked them to 'rouze up" and shortly thereafter broke into the famous hymn that has been called Jerusalem and came to be adopted by the English Labor Party as their theme song.

Of course early in his life Blake had been tuned to Swedenborg, who proclaimed the New Age, the New Church, and the New Jerusalem. (The only Church Blake would ever proclaim was the Church Universal).

Blake and Antiquity gives a lot of coverage of Blake's last great picture. (Keep this in another window so you may confer back to it from what follows:) She pointed out that he had brought together two moments in the Odyssey.

In Book Five you may read this:

"A goddess, Leucothea, appears to him in the form of a bird. She counsels him to swim for it. "Take my veil, tie it around your waist as a charm against drowning. When you reach shore, be sure to throw it back into the sea." (In the picture you can see Odysseus with his eyes averted throwing something out to see.)

In Book Six you may read:
"Odysseus had washed up in the land of the Phaeacians. Athena now intervened to make these people foster his journey home". (In the Picture you see Athena behind Odysseus point to the southern gate to his (and our) Heavenly Home.)

1 comment:

Larry said...

"my lot in the Heavens": oh my gosh; I've read that line a hundred times, but suddenly it hit me; it's biblical, man. What's a 'lot'? It's the land given to each tribe once Canaan was occupied. Or look at Psalm 16:5, "The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot."

This simply proves that like the Bible Blake's works may be experienced many times and provide a new experience each time. That's why we go back to it.