Monday, September 20, 2010


The Mental Traveller

"For as he eats and drinks he grows
Younger and younger every day;

And on the desert wild they both
Wander in terror and dismay."

This a state of equilibrium when the contraries are equally powerful. Neither party can gain control, so they contend in a fruitless struggle that produces nothing but fear and failure and apprehension. But it is he who has the potential for gaining the upper hand because he eats and drinks and grows as he progresses from age to youth.

If we want to follow the life of Jesus through this period in the poem, we go from his struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane to the events of the passion. The system in which Jesus lived would furnish the dynamics through which he must pass to be reborn as the resurrected Christ.

Matthew, 17th Chapter

Four Zoas, Page 34, (E 324)
"Now my left hand I stretch to earth beneath
And strike the terrible string
I wake sweet joy in dens of sorrow & I plant a smile
In forests of affliction
And wake the bubbling springs of life in regions of dark death"

"Like the wild stag she flees away;
Her fear plants many a thicket wild,
While he pursues her night and day,
By various arts of love beguiled."

Materiality is on the decline and so feels threatened by the younger, stronger spirituality. She uses her powers of deceit, jealousy, pretense, shifting appearances and false promises to keep him in pursuit of the very thing which can destroy him.

It is not in these lines alone that Blake reveals the man's dilemma, but in the tales of Enitharmon, Enion, Ahania, and Vala.

Even in the time of Jesus the institutions of religion were permeated by material interests. Perhaps Jesus would have preferred to reform the institutions instead of replacing them; he certainly attempted other methods before he resorted to direct confrontation.

Four Zoas, Page 34, (E 324)
"The joy of woman is the Death of her most best beloved
Who dies for Love of her
In torments of fierce jealousy & pangs of adoration.
The Lovers night bears on my song
And the nine Spheres rejoice beneath my powerful controll"

"By various arts of love and hate,
Till the wide desert planted o’er

With labyrinths of wayward love,
Where roams the lion, wolf and boar,"

A principle theme in Blake's poetry is that of 'female love'. This is a sick expression of love in which the female seeks to dominate the male. Blake uses this syndrome to talk about the unhealthy relationship between reason and emotion, between spirit and matter and between the inner and the outer. If there were not a conflict between men and women, their relationship would not work as a metaphor for other conflict. By exposing the manipulation, jealousy, vengeance, and alienation in sexual relationships, Blake symbolizes a range of dysfunctional pairings. This section of The Mental Traveller is central to the poem because this issue is central to Blake's system of thought.

Milton O. Percival speaks of Blake's sexual symbolism in this way: "In its widest sense, then, Blake's sexual symbolism sets forth the whole problem of duality. Like the Spectre and the Emanation, whose relationship it portrays, it applies to a duality in both the physical and ethical worlds. The struggle of spirit and matter, of good and evil, of mind and emotion, are all set forth in sexual terms. In a narrower range the symbolism stresses the ethical struggle, because without a fall, the spirit would never have warred with the flesh, the inner and outer worlds would have remained at peace." (William Blake's Circle of Destiny, page 109)

There is great economy of words in these four line but Blake implies much more.

"By various arts of love and hate"
SONGS 32, The CLOD & the PEBBLE, (E 19)
"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight:
Joys in anothers loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite."

"Till the wide desert planted o’er"
Four Zoas, Page 35, (E 325)
"I have planted a false oath in the earth, it has brought forth a
poison tree
I have chosen the serpent for a councellor & the dog
For a schoolmaster to my children
I have blotted out from light & living the dove & nightingale"

"With labyrinths of wayward love,"
Four Zoas, Page 4, (E 301)
"Lost! Lost! Lost! are my Emanations Enion O Enion
We are become a Victim to the Living We hide in secret
I have hidden Jerusalem in Silent Contrition O Pity Me
I will build thee a Labyrinth also O pity me O Enion"

"Where roams the lion, wolf and boar,"
"Till the villain left the paths of ease,
To walk in perilous paths, and drive
The just man into barren climes.

Now the sneaking serpent walks
In mild humility.
And the just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam."

These verses 19-21, find the masculine and the feminine in an unproductive struggle in which they tear one another down rather than building one another up. In creating a breach between themselves, they drive both toward the brink of mutual destruction in the abyss of non-entity.

No comments: