"Both read the Bible day & night
But thou readst black where I read white"
Too often people reading 'black' concern themselves with foolish questions such as "Did it really happen? Was Jonah really swallowed by the whale, or rather by the big fish?" But in Blake's vision that isn't the important thing. The important thing is "What does it mean?" The reader of the black book gets himself tied up in knots about the veracity or historicity of Jonah and his aquatic friend.
Blake shows you the Jonah in your psyche and helps you get some grasp of what the turbulent sea means to you personally. It's experiential, exciting! it puts you in touch with reality! Literal or symbolic is black or white, and probably the two minds will never meet. At this point I simply urge you to join Blake and read white:
- "Why is the Bible more Entertaining & Instructive than any other book? Is it not because [it is] addressed to the Imagination which is Spiritual Sensation, and but mediately to the Understanding or Reason?"
(Letter To Trusler; Erdman 702-3)
Blake ascribes this imaginative faculty to his hero, Los;
- "He could controll the times & seasons & the days & years."
[And Los says of himself:]
I am that Shadowy Prophet who Six Thousand Years ago
Fell from my station in the Eternal bosom. Six Thousand Years
Are finish'd. I return! both Time & Space obey my will.
I in Six Thousand Years walk up and down; for not one Moment
Of Time is lost, nor one Event of Space unpermanent,
But all remain: every fabric of Six Thousand Years
Remains permanent, tho' on the Earth where Satan
Fell and was cut off, all things vanish & are seen no more,
They vanish not from me & mine, we guard them first & last.
The generations of men run on in the tide of Time,
But leave their destin'd lineaments permanent for ever & ever.
(The Four Zoas [Nt 1], 9.27, and Milton 22:15-25; Erdman 305 and 116)
Like Los Blake walks up and down the biblical scene from Adam to John of Patmos. He takes what best serves his purpose, or rather the biblical symbols rearrange themselves kaleidoscopically into his visions of Eternity. These together add up to a cogent and provocative commentary on the Bible and on its child, the Christian faith.
Out of this intuitive unconscious process arose the great themes of his faith, embodied in his art: the universal man, fallen and fractured, struggling, redeemed and returning in the fullness of time into the blessed Unity from which he came. This is the essential story of the Bible for one who reads it whole and without the constraints and blinders of what I have called the black book.