Friday, December 31, 2010

Blake's Main Chance

Hegemony of the Spectre

Becoming an Individual

Blake was born an individual, a very distinctive human being, until he got married in his early twenties.

That carried responsibilities; as a bread-winner he of necessity more or less 'joined the crowd'. But he remained a misfit (we all know such people; you may be one), call them unwilling joiners. You must have sustenance of some kind: emotional or financial, usually both.

The crowd is made up of the kind of people who watch the ads to see what people are doing so they can do the same thing, so they know what to do. People in the crowd generally want to 'get ahead' (whatever that may mean); it takes the place of 'following your bliss'; instead you try to follow the 'bliss' of the person in the crowd whom you most admire, your role model, your 'father', so to speak. (Jesus had something to say about your 'father'):
"call no man father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven". (Matthew 23:9)

In particular Blake wanted to be able to 'hold his head up'--financially and intellectually. He lent his enormous artistic gift in the service of other people; he especially admired the famous artist, Sir Joshua Reynolds--until he saw the artistic chasm that loomed between the two. He joined the 'Matthew Group', made up of very gifted people..... He rubbed shoulders with the intelligencia until he found himself rubbing elbows; they proved to be just as frustrating as anyone else (they were appropriate provocation for An Island in the Moon; the Matthews Group had been relativized.

"I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans"
Jerusalem, 10.20; E153

When Blake said that, it marked his realization that the systems he had found in Reynolds and the Matthews Group simply didn't satisfy his needs and values. With The Four Zoas he tried to systematize in poetry his own spiritual values; it led to universal incomprehension by his friends, even his best friends.

In 1800 he wrote to his friend and benefactor, George Cumberland, expressing his emphatic frustration over the commercial art he had been impressed into following, what he called the main chance:
"I myself remember when I thought my pursuits of Art a kind of Criminal Dissipation neglect of the main chance which I hid my face for not being able to abandon as a Passion which is forbidden by Law and Religion" (Erdman 706)

But the Magic Moment, the veritable rebirth came at the Truchsessian Gallery (put this on the url: ) when he "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" (Letter 51, to Hayley; Erdman 756)

The Four Zoas turned into those two masterpieces, Milton and Jersalem. But in general he moved away from 'poetry to painting' . Finally there were the Illustrations to the Book of Job; it might be called his Last Testament.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Frye's thoughts and writings on Blake and Milton were assembled in a volume published by the University of Toronto Press and appropriately named Northrop Frye on Milton and Blake:
This volume brings together all of Frye's writings on Milton and Blake from 1947 to 1987 - published and unpublished essays, reviews, commentaries, and public lectures - with the exception of Fearful Symmetry...His engagement with Blake, meanwhile, was a personal, intellectual, and spiritual quest, leading him to became the world authority on Blake in the mid-twentieth century."

Here Northrop Frye provides some of his insight into Blake's symbolic meaning of male and female (
p 351):

"The traditional Christian symbolism, God the Creator is symbolically male, and all human souls, whether of men or of women, are creatures, and therefore symbolically female. In Blake, the real man is creating man; hence all human beings, men or women, are symbolically male. The symbolic female in Blake is what we call nature, and has four relations to humanity, depending on the quality of the vision. In the world of death, or Satan, which Blake calls Ulro, the human body is completely absorbed in the body of nature - a "dark Hermaphrodite," as Blake says in The Gates of Paradise (E 268). 

In the ordinary world of experience, which Blake calls Generation, the relation of humanity to nature is that of subject and object. In the usually frustrated and suppressed world of sexual desire, which Blake calls Beulah, the relation is that of lover and beloved, and in the purely imaginative or creative state, called Eden, the relation is of creator to creature. In the first two worlds, nature is a remote and tantalizing "female will"; in the last two she is an "emanation." 

Human women are associated with this female nature only when in their behavior they dramatize its characteristics. The relations between man and nature in the individual and historical cycle are different, and are summarized in the The Mental Traveller, a poem as closely related to the cyclical symbolism of twentieth-century poetry as Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci is to pre-Raphaelite poetry.

The Mental Traveller traces the life of a "Boy" from infancy through manhood to death and rebirth. The boy represents humanity, and consequently the cycle he goes through can be read either individually and psychologically, or socially and historically. The latter reading is easier, and closer to the centre of gravity Blake is talking about. The poem traces a cycle, but the cycle differs from that of the single vision in that the emphasis is thrown on rebirth and return instead of on death. A female principle, nature, cycles in contrary motion against the Boy, growing young as he grown old and vice versa."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mortal and Eternal

Blake had great familiarity with British poetry, where he found the same "kernel of meaning" as every kind of literature. For example Blake knew and loved Spenser (Queen Elizabeth's poet laureate who wrote The Faerie Queen). Raine on page 18 provided two examples from Spenser of the oldest myth central to Blake's poetry, namely the descent of the soul and eventual return, taken from
It sited was in fruitfull soyle of old,
And girt in with two walles on either side;
The one of yron, the other of bright gold,
That none might thorough breake, nor over-stride:
And double gates it had, which opened wide,
By which both in and out men moten pas;
Th'one faire and fresh, the other old and dride:
Old Genius the porter of them was,
Old Genius, the which a double nature has.

He letteth in, he letteth out to wend,
All that to come into the world desire;
A thousand thousand naked babes attend
About him day and night, which doe require,
That he with fleshly weedes would them attire:
Such as him list, such as eternall fate
Ordained hath, he clothes with sinfull mire,
And sendeth forth to live in mortall state,
Till they againe returne backe by the hinder gate."

Blake used this (timeless idea) in one of his earliest works, Thel; in Plate 6:
"The eternal gates terrific porter lifted up the northern bar". (Erdman, page 6)

He used the Northern (down to earth) and Southern Gates more pointedly in The Arlington Tempera. Look closely and you may see Thel at the bottom of the northern stairs with her pail still full; she's seen more than she wants to and she's purposefully going back against the stream of the nymphs heading for mortality.

The Angel is pointing the traveler back up the Southern Gate; he has tasted mortality fully and is ready to go home.

Nevertheless with the Enlightenment this sort of idea had fallen into obscurity in most of the materialistic and rational minds of England. Bacon, Newton, and Locke were the primary exponents of rationalism in Blake's day. This meant in reality that no one was interested in the kind of poetry and philosophy that interested Blake.
From the Beyond (Eternity) the world was created; man was created; time and space were created; birth and death were created; good and evil are creatures, figments of a frail and created mind.. In the world: in man, time and space we perceive duality, or a multiplicity. In Eternity we imagine Unity.

The ultimate duality is between Eternity and the World, between God and man, but this is a sometime thing-- until the end of time. As a creature the world will end; you, too, will end, as a creature.

But the vision of the mystic suggests that you are more than a creature. The writer of Genesis had such an inkling when he described man as made of the dust of the earth, but in the image of God. The Quakers believe there is 'that of God' in everyone.

Eternal Death in Blake's language refers to the soul's descent from Eden (and Beulah) to the nether regions (Ulro) where Eternity is lost and only the created remains. Lost! but not forever; Eternal Death dies, too; Eternity waits for the soul's Awakening, which may be at the moment of mortal death.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Image from Jerusalem, Plate 8, Pulling Moon

Generation is one of the two fallen levels of existence in Blake's poetry. On page 49 of William Blake's Circle of Destiny, Milton O Percival explains:
"The two levels of existence in Eternity become four when the soul fails to maintain even the lower paradisiacal level. This occurs when man, doubtful of energy and proud of repose, tries to perpetuate his repose. With this negation of energy, spiritual sleep deepens into spiritual death. The infinite universe shrinks into the finite. The ethereal body, hardening into flesh becomes a tomb for the imprisoned spirit. This is the world of Ulro. But man is not permitted to perish utterly. A way of salvation is provided. A shaft of light pierces the tomb. Energy reappears and struggles for release from the temporal and the finite.This is the world of Generation. Eden and Beulah, the two unfallen levels, together with Ulro and Generation, the two fallen levels constitute Blake's four worlds. They represent four states of the soul, corresponding to four degrees of spiritual vision."

Generation as the field of man's redemption runs thorough Blake's poetry although he rarely explicitly states it. When you look for it you can see it.

Milton, PLATE 41 [48], (E 142)
"These are the Sexual Garments, the Abomination of Desolation
Hiding the Human lineaments as with an Ark & Curtains
Which Jesus rent: & now shall wholly purge away with Fire
Till Generation is swallowd up in Regeneration.

Then trembled the Virgin Ololon & replyd in clouds of despair

Is this our Femin[in]e Portion the Six-fold Miltonic Female
Terribly this Portion trembles before thee O awful Man
Altho' our Human Power can sustain the severe contentions
Of Friendship, our Sexual cannot: but flies into the Ulro.
Hence arose all our terrors in Eternity! & now remembrance
Returns upon us! are we Contraries O Milton, Thou & I
O Immortal! how were we led to War the Wars of Death
Is this the Void Outside of Existence, which if enterd into
PLATE 42 [49]
Becomes a Womb? & is this the Death Couch of Albion
Thou goest to Eternal Death & all must go with thee

So saying, the Virgin divided Six-fold & with a shriek
Dolorous that ran thro all Creation a Double Six-fold Wonder!
Away from Ololon she divided & fled into the depths
Of Miltons Shadow as a Dove upon the stormy Sea."

Think about eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Was that simple disobedience or the beginning of the incarnation? Was the Biblical Eden more like Blake's Beulah or Blake's Eternity?

The purpose of Generation is delineated in the liturgy of Catholic and Anglican Easter services. The segment of the liturgy named 'Exsultet' includes these words:
"This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Father and Spectre

God and the Devil


Blake's Contraries

These are the two primary functions of Blake's life (and likely yours and mine as well). All of Blake's poetry might be perceived as a commentary on the forty days of Jesus in the Wilderness (Matthew 4).
"Without contraries is no progression" (MHH; plate 3; Erdman 34)
That comes early in Blake's corpus and remained until the end. The end of course is Union (Oneness), when all is at rest.

Hot and Cold
Large and Small
Innocence and Experiece
Heaven and Hell
Fall and Redemption
and many, many others.
Blake adds Sun and Moon.
Joy and Woe
Pleasure and Pain
Hard and Easy

We live in a world where thought and communication are dualistic; it's very hard to get away from that although some philosophers attempt to overcome it--with success or failure.

Once again the primary contrary is contained in the (triple) title. Check the labels on the sidebar, and you may find 34 posts with God and none with Spectre (but 18 with Annihilate!)

Blake began his life with negative feelings about God (remember the angry God in the window?), especially the O.T. God. As he matured, it moderated, but (like most ordinary Bible readers today) he preferred the N.T. God over the O.T. one.

Blake's idea of God developed over his lifetime, as did his Devil (whom he most often referred to as his Spectre). That is true not just of Blake, but of anyone with a spiritual life: The God you may have worshipped at age 10 is likely not the same God you may worship today. Likewise with the Devil!

Our Father which is in Heaven; hallowed be thy name.
To worship God is this way intails recognizing Him as the primary force of your life, and obeying his directions.

Otherwise your Spectre assures you that you are in charge:
"I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." (Invictus).

You don't look to the Father; you look to yourself (your Spectre).

These two contraries are in continuos tension (conflict) until that day when it is resolved and you become a man; you are Man.

(For advanced students: with the Blake Concordance follow the two words (God and the Spectre or Jesus and the Spectre), and you may get a better grasp of Blake's spiritual development and religion.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Michael Bedard has written a biography of William Blake which is directed to young adults. Although it is easy to read, it is thorough and reliable. He titled it William Blake: The Gates of Paradise and he organized it around the plates in Blake's poem of that title. He follows Blake's life by using an image from Gates of Paradise (which was originally addressed 'For Children') as a preface to each chapter of the book.

Chapter Six titled Lambeth: The Figure on the Stairs uses Plate 8 showing the infant emerging from the egg, captioned "At Length for Hatching Ripe He Breaks the Shell." The text deals with the economic and social situation which was disrupting the lives of the people through industrialization in Blake's day. Of the vision of the figure on the stairs Bedard says: "Perhaps the grim figure on the staircase hailed from the dark world that occupied Blake's mind so much at that time. For now he was busy putting together the poems that would depict the contrary state to the joyful vision of Songs of Innocence."

The cost of the book was kept down by not using color illustrations, but the pictures are numerous and well chosen. The book is indexed, contains source notes and a bibliography. Bedard's book is an ideal introduction to Blake for anyone not acquainted with the rigors of the life of one whose imagination belied his outward circumstances.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Blake's Vision of Christ`

Nowhere (that I know of) does Blake write of the physical resurrection of Jesus. He witnessed no corporeal Jesus; he didn't value the idea of a corporeal Jesus. If you want to know Blake's Jesus, you have to rise to the Eternal Jesus (generally known as the Christ).

Jesus is there, beyond the Sea of Time and Space. We are creatures of time and space (but not that alone!). Jesus also was a creature (briefly), but he was also before time and after time, and beyond space; he is Eternal. We may rise to the Eternal at any moment, as many moments as possible if that's what we want.

John 8:
"58] Jesus said unto them, Verily,verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am."


Like Paul had said, Blake longed to be delivered from the flesh:


  1. [23] For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
  2. [24] Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
    [25] And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all
Blake knew that to remain in the flesh was "more needful for" Catherine, and for a few young friends, (and for us!)


In plate 3 of Jerusalem, which is in prose Blake wrote his primary opinion of just who and what Jesus is:

"The Spirit of Jesus is continual forgiveness of Sin" (Erdman 145).

The Conventional Church had historical 'evidence' (from the earliest records that Jesus had undergone a physical resurrection; it became the focal point of C.C professions of faith. but Blake cared nothing for history or for the Conventional theology per se. (For that matter many Christian groups from N.T. days to the present have discounted a physical resurrection.)

Blake directly addressed Conventional Religion with these words from The Everlasting Gospel:

"The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Visions Greatest Enemy
Thine loves the same world that mine hates
Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates
Both read the Bible day and night
But thou readst black where I read white." (Erdman 524)

Friday, December 24, 2010


This is Our Blakean Christmas Card.
The picture was inspired by one of Blake's images in the Small Book of Designs which is in the collection of the British Museum.

Read about Tharmas and this image in this post on our blog.

Northrop Frye has this to say about Tharmas on page 354 of Northrop Frye on Milton and Blake:
"The passage from death to rebirth is represented in Blake's symbolism by Tharmas, the power of renewing life. The ability of the individual to renew his life in resurrection is a break with the cycle, but in ordinary life such a renewal takes place only in the group or species, and within the cycle. Tharmas is symbolized by the sea, the end and beginning of life."

Picture after Blake’s Small Book of Designs in British Museum

William Blake: Vision of the Last Judgment
"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. among his Saints & throwing off the Temporal
that the Eternal might be Establishd."

Luke 2:28-32
Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord,
now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Golden String

Blake's myth has a (at least) double meaning: "It was at once a reading of history and an interpretation of his mystical experiences" (from Percival p 47). The myth is about Albion and about Blake's life.

A thumbnail evaluation suggests that Blake was (and remained) a sensitive social and political animal; his early poems are full of biting social community (look at 'London'). He was also in love with poetry and philsophy of all sorts (including the Bible). Both of these qualities distinguished him from the generality of the population-- of all classes

Early in his life Blake and his wife joined a new church of Swedenborgians, but he soon outgrew that 'system'. He had a contemptuous opinion of organized religion in England from early days and throughout his life.

He read omnivorously and seemed to retain (and use) everything that came into his mind. Some of his most influential reading was the Bible, Plato, the Egyptians, the neoPlatonists, Paracelsus and Boehme. He assembled all this ancient and medieval wisdom (discarded by Western culture with the Enlightenment) into his system, what we call his myth.

Most of the literature and art of special interest to Blake expressed the almost universal concept of metaphysical reality from the days of the earliest Mesopotamians and Egyptians to the present. Blake drew on these symbols everywhere along the spectrum of time.Myths are natural (physical), metaphysical (theological), psychic (psychological), and material (literal); some are a combination. To these we might add the moral or ethical.) (Blake's is definitely a combination of all of them.)

All of these various elements add up to a reality that exists in two spheres:
upper and lower
above and below
Eternity and Time
spiritual and material
Heavenly and Worldly
dry and moist souls
good and evil
But at the deepest level these pairs belong to one another and God is in all ( "as above so below").

These are all ways of looking at the fundamental metaphysical reality of life.

The kernel of meaning in all this wisdom, in all of Blake's system was the myth of the descent of the soul into generation (this fallen world), her extensive travail here and eventual return to the fount of life from which she came.

(The above is an extract from the Blake Primer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar wrote a book, Who's Afraid of Schrodinger's Cat, to explain the concepts of the new physics in the context of classical science. This quote crosses the dividing line between physics and cosmology:

"In Quantum Field Theory, things existing in the universe are conceived of as patterns of dynamic energy. The ground state of energy in the universe, the lowest possible state, is known as the quantum vacuum. It is called a vacuum because it cannot be measured directly; it is empty of "things." When we try to perceive the vacuum directly we are confronted with a "void", a background without features that therefore seems to be empty. In fact the vacuum is filled with every potentiality of everything in the universe.
"...Unseen and not directly measurable, the vacuum exerts a subtle push on the surface of existence, like water pushing on things immersed in it . ... It is as though all surface things are in constant interaction with a tenuous background of evanescent reality. ...The universe is not "filled" with the vacuum. Rather it is "written on" it or emerges out of it."

__________________________Illustration for Milton's Paradise Lost

The following passages scattered through Blake's writing give the impression that the 'weeping babe' or 'weeping infant' is man in his potential form holding all possibilities. Like the Quantum Vacuum mentioned above the babe does not contain but 'allows the patterns of dynamic energy' to take form. The babe cannot be measured or defined but awaits 'fill[ing] with every potentiality of everything in the universe.' Into this babe we become immersed and become expressed through his potential.

The Pickering Manuscript, The Crystal Cabinet, (E 488)
"I strove to sieze the inmost Form
With ardor fierce & hands of flame
But burst the Crystal Cabinet
And like a Weeping Babe became

A weeping Babe upon the wild
And Weeping Woman pale reclind
And in the outward air again
I filld with woes the passing Wind"

Jerusalem, Plate 62, (E 214)
"And Jehovah stood in the Gates of the Victim, & he appeared
A weeping Infant in the Gates of Birth in the midst of Heaven"

Jerusalem, Plate 63, (E 214)
"The Cities & Villages of Albion became Rock & Sand Unhumanized
The Druid Sons of Albion & the Heavens a Void around unfathomable
No Human Form but Sexual & a little weeping Infant pale reflected
Multitudinous in the Looking Glass of Enitharmon, on all sides
Around in the clouds of the Female, on Albions Cliffs of the Dead"

Jerusalem, Plate 81, (E 239)
"Humanity is become
A weeping Infant in ruind lovely Jerusalems folding Cloud:
In Heaven Love begets Love! but Fear is the Parent of Earthly
Plate 82, (E 239)
"the mighty Hyle is become a weeping infant;
Soon shall the Spectres of the Dead follow my weaving threads."
Plate 82, (E 240)
"She drew aside her Veil from Mam-Tor to Dovedale
Discovering her own perfect beauty to the Daughters of Albion
And Hyle a winding Worm beneath [her Loom upon the scales.
Hyle was become a winding Worm:] & not a weeping Infant.
Trembling & pitying she screamd & fled upon the wind:
Hyle was a winding Worm and herself perfect in beauty:
The desarts tremble at his wrath: they shrink themselves in fear."

Four Zoas, PAGE 27, (E 317)
"And I commanded the Great deep to hide her in his hand
Till she became a little weeping Infant a span long
I carried her in my bosom as a man carries a lamb
I loved her I gave her all my soul & my delight
I hid her in soft gardens & in secret bowers of Summer
Weaving mazes of delight along the sunny Paradise
Inextricable labyrinths, She bore me sons & daughters
And they have taken her away & hid her from my sight"

Thel, PLATE 4, (E 6)
"Then Thel astonish'd view'd the Worm upon its dewy bed.

Art thou a Worm? image of weakness. art thou but a Worm?
I see thee like an infant wrapped in the Lillys leaf:
Ah weep not little voice, thou can'st not speak. but thou can'st
Is this a Worm? I see thee lay helpless & naked: weeping,
And none to answer, none to cherish thee with mothers smiles.

The Clod of Clay heard the Worms voice, & raisd her pitying head;
She bowd over the weeping infant, and her life exhal'd
In milky fondness, then on Thel she fix'd her humble eyes.

O beauty of the vales of Har. we live not for ourselves,
Thou seest me the meanest thing, and so I am indeed;
My bosom of itself is cold. and of itself is dark,"

Four Zoas, PAGE 35, (E 324)
"The deep lifts up his rugged head
And lost in infinite hum[m]ing wings vanishes with a cry
The living voice is ever living in its inmost joy

Arise you little glancing wings & sing your infant joy
Arise & drink your bliss
For every thing that lives is holy for the source of life
Descends to be a weeping babe
For the Earthworm renews the moisture of the sandy plain"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Perception of the Infinite

According to Blake Ezekiel once acted out a bizarre symptom of the prospects of the Israelites, lying for an inordinate period of time on his left side, then another period on his right. Mr. Blake had a conversation with him about that and asked him why he had done it; the answer came clearly: "the desire of raising other [people] into a perception of the infinite" (Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 13.

Who can doubt that William actually had that interview with Zeke? But if truth be known, that desire became the agenda for Blake's life, and perhaps the generic life purpose of every true prophet.

He saw things that most of us don't, and he urgently needed to show them to us, to show us how to see them.

There are many kinds of seeing and many levels of consciousness, but with the natural proclivity to resort to the dialectic we might say there are two:

1. The sense-based, natural, materialistic time and space consciousness (Blake called this Ulro; Jesus called it Hell).

2. Vision, coming forth from the inner man, the Light, the Now. It's a different kind of consciousness, a perception of the infinite (Blake called it Eden; Jesus called it the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God).

Jesus showed us with his life how to live eternally; and he told us we could do it. Blake did it, periodically at least, and like Jesus he wanted us to share that heavenly gift.

He called it Vision; that's what he lived for, those eternal moments were all that matters. If you can't do it continuously, then you can talk about it, write about it, draw it, paint it. He did (and you can) show us how to see.

The above came from the beginning of my Primer.

Monday, December 20, 2010


To complete this series of posts on the Crystal Cabinet, let's consider what I call the psychological meaning. We will look at the poem solely as it concerns interior mental processing.

The Crystal Cabinet, (E 488)
"The Maiden caught me in the Wild
Where I was dancing merrily
She put me into her Cabinet
And Lockd me up with a golden Key

The unconscious, innocent is caught by the beginning of awareness.

This Cabinet is formd of Gold
And Pearl & Crystal shining bright
And within it opens into a World
And a little lovely Moony Night

The altered consciousness takes possession of the mind and begins to reveal the unknown.

Another England there I saw
Another London with its Tower
Another Thames & other Hills
And another pleasant Surrey Bower

The ability to see more and differently expands ordinary perception.

Another Maiden like herself
Translucent lovely shining clear
Threefold each in the other closd
O what a pleasant trembling fear

The original experience becomes an avenue to further experience.

O what a smile a threefold Smile
Filld me that like a flame I burnd
I bent to Kiss the lovely Maid
And found a Threefold Kiss returnd

Head, heart and loins are sensitized, reinforcing the experience.

I strove to sieze the inmost Form
With ardor fierce & hands of flame
But burst the Crystal Cabinet
And like a Weeping Babe became

The spontaneous experience is destroyed when an attempt is made to possess it.

A weeping Babe upon the wild
And Weeping Woman pale reclind
And in the outward air again
I filld with woes the passing Wind"

The return to the previous consciousness feels like a loss and regression.
The outer world is sullied in comparison to the imaginative world which has been revealed.

Image - Book of Thel, plate 4

Blake as usual leaves his statement open-ended. Where do 'I' go from here? Is the altered state of consciousness attractive enough that I want to pursue it? Is seeing the pale, reclining, weeping woman a result of visiting the Crystal Cabinet?
The carefree boy of the first verse has become burdened with woes he cannot control, but a world of possibility has been opened to him.

Marriage of Heaven and Hell
, PLATE 12 (E 38)
A Memorable Fancy
"Isaiah answer'd. I saw no God. nor heard any, in a finite
organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in
every thing, and as I was then perswaded. & remain confirm'd;"

I am reminded of this statement from Fritjof Capra in The Web of Life.
"At a certain level of complexity a living organism couples structurally not only to its environment but also to itself, and thus brings forth not only an external but also an inner world. In human beings the bringing forth of such an inner world is linked intimately to language, thought and consciousness."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Joy and Woe

Here's one of the Master's little poems.

"Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine."
From Auguries of Innocence; read the whole thing.

How simple! how profound!

Look at the infant, coming out of the warm uterus (and being saddled with 'swaddling clothes').

With Songs of Innocence Blake offered this:

Infant Joy

"I have no name;
I am but two days old."
What shall I call thee?
"I happy am,
Joy is my name."
Sweet joy befall thee!
Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!"

 And countered it with Songs of Experience: 
Infant Sorrow

In the old days the obstetrician used to give the newborn baby a spank:
No spank! no breath!
Thereafter joy and woe come in balance:
Everything is measured thusly: Baby is delighted! Baby is furious! You might say that's the story of our lives: we're satisfied-- or frustrated.
If we're fortunate and lucky, we may live with a fair measure of joy; but part of the time we're pretty sure to be in the furnace, drowning in the Sea of Time and Space.
Most of us know the daily grind: blue Monday, lovely Friday afternoon; some of my old friends spent the intervening time blotto (don't try it!)
For twenty years Blake struggled in the Sea, until the Felpham Moment when, like the Prodigal, "he came to himself".
So there it is: the Furnace and the Vision.
When that day comes; when you realize you must die, will it be like the sailor in Shakespeare's Tempest ("To prayers! to prayers! All's lost; all's lost") or like Blake, who wrote:
"When at last I did descry the Immortal Man who cannot die, through evening shades I haste away to close the labors of my Day" (from Gates of Paradise).
Heaven is the Return
From where we sprung.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Some think that The Crystal Cabinet is a veiled reference to an early or illicit sexual experience. But the sexual implications may be metaphors for the same kind of transcendent intuitive experience which C.S. Lewis evoked in his allegory Pilgrim's Regress or his autobiography Surprised by Joy.

Lewis develops the idea that man is given glimpses of a world beyond ordinary experience that keeps him seeking for the unknown object which can satisfy his desire.

In the preface to Pilgrim's Regress (1943 Edition), Lewis makes these statements about the desire he speaks of as joy:
"For this sweet Desire cuts across our ordinary distinction between wanting and having. To have it is, by definition, a want: to want it, we find is to have it."

"I know them [various objects of this Desire] to be wrong not by intelligence but by experience,"

"It appeared to me therefore that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given - in our present mode of spatio/temporal experience."

Lewis describes the longing for an unknown world or for an experience of which he had a glimpse unbidden. He wants to repeat the original feeling which came with the vision. He is disillusioned as a series of objects give temporary satisfaction but lead him to search further for the source.

Read from Book Two, Chapter V, Leah for Rachel, Page 8 of The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity Reason and Romanticism:

"It seemed to him that a mist which hung at the far end of the wood had parted for a moment, and through the rift he had seen a clam sea, and in the sea an island, where the smooth turf sloped down unbroken to the bay, and out of the thickets peeped the pale, small-breasted Oreads, wise like gods, unconscious of themselves like beasts, and tall enchanters, bearded to their feet, sat in green chairs among the forests. But even while he pictured these things he knew, with one part of his mind, that they were not like the things he had seen - nay, that what had befallen him was not seeing at all."

Page 13
"He shut his eyes and set his teeth again and made a picture of the Island in his mind: but he could not keep his attention on the picture because he wanted all the time to watch some other part of his mind to see if the feeling were beginning . But no feeling began: and then, just as he was opening his eyes he heard a voice speaking to him. It was quite close at hand, and very sweet, and not at all like the old voice of the wood. When he looked round he saw what he had never expected, yet was not surprised. There on the grass beside him sat a laughing brown girl of about his own age, and she had no clothes on.
'It was me you wanted,' said the brown girl. 'I am better than your silly islands.'
And John caught her, all in haste, and committed fornication with her in the wood."

In his autobiography Surprised by Joy C. S. Lewis covers his youth leading up to his conversion to Christ. Lewis identifies the awareness of Joy as the intimation of the Spirit which he first perceived as a young child but to which he could give no name:

Page 74
"But soon (I cannot say how soon) nature ceased to be a mere reminder of the books, became herself the medium of the real joy. I do not say she ceased to be a reminder. All Joy reminds. It is a never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be.'"
"And finally, the change I had undergone introduces a new difficulty in the writing of this present book. From the first moment in the schoolroom at Chartres my secret, imaginative life began to be so important and so distinctive from my outer life that I almost have to tell two separate stories. The two lives do not influence each other at all. Where there are hungry wastes, starving for Joy, in the one, the other may be full of cheerful bustle and success; or again, where the outer life is miserable, the other may be brimming over with ecstasy. By the imaginative life I here mean only my life as concerned with Joy - including in the outer life much that would ordinarily be called imagination, as, for example, much of my reading, and all my erotic or ambitious fantasies; for these are self-regarding."

Page 169
"...I concluded that it was a mood or state within myself which might turn up in any context. To 'get it again' became my constant endeavor; while reading every poem, hearing every piece of music, going for every walk, I stood anxious sentinel at my own mind to watch whether the blessed moment was beginning and to retain it if it did. Because I was still young the whole world of beauty was opening before me, my own officious obstructions were often swept aside and, startled into self-forgetfulness, I tasted Joy again. But far more often I frightened it away by my greedy impatience to snare it, and, even when it came, instantly destroy it by introspection, and at all times vulgarized it by my false assumption about its nature.
One thing, however, I learned, which has since saved me from many confusions of mind. I came to know by experience that it was not a disguise for sexual desire. Those who think that if adolescents were all provided with suitable mistresses we should soon hear no more of 'immortal longings' are certainly wrong...Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder if all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy."

In reading these passages one may see numerous parallels with Blake's concepts. First, what led me to look at C. S. Lewis' writings is the inviting nature of the maiden in the Crystal Cabinet. Then we notice the introduction of the maiden gives an enhanced ability to see, and we observe the fleeting nature of the experience. The disappointment when one cannot hold onto the experience is present in the Crystal Cabinet and in encountering joy. Finding that Lewis describes another aspect of Blake's system as well is a bonus: Lewis and Blake describe the process of following the pursuit of the mistaken object or behavior until the error is apparent. Lewis, too, uses the words 'imaginative life' echoing Blake's understanding of imagination as the true life of man.

Lewis had much more to say about the intuitive experience he called Joy than Blake's few stanzas of poetry state. But Blake's poem is just one link in a chain which one may follow throughout his work.

Picture from Blake's Water-Colours for the Poems of Thomas Gray

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sexual Garments

It doesn't mean what you might think it means.
We've made it into a purient term, but it was not so in the beginning.

Look at Adam and Eve in the Garden, before the Fall. They were naked and thought nothing of it. After the unfortunate incident of the apple they got dressed - in fig leaves!

There were western Canadian unorthodox Christians who practiced nudity, especially in political demonstrations.

Sexual garments is a mythopoeic term; for Blake clothes were an encumbrance. We dress to project a persona (and to hide our real selves).

The innocent babe and the man standing before God are naked.

In the dawning day, sitting quietly, waiting for God; one takes off the usual preoccupations; the mind is empty; there is no thing (Heaven is a place where no thing ever happens; things are mortal entities.)

If there is activity, it's Eternal; it's like Adam before the Fall; we're innocent! because Christ made us so.

After twenty (uncreative according to Blake) years Jesus came and Creation Continues.

A visitor found William and Catherine in their garden, unclothed; they had divested themselves from the sexual garments; it was a study for a picture Blake was producing.

Infant Sorrow
My mother groaned, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt;
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father's hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands,
Bound and weary, I thought best
To sulk upon my mother's breast."
(Songs of Experience)

America Plate 12:1-6:
So cried he, rending off his robe & throwing down his scepter.
In sight of Albions Guardian, and all the thirteen Angels
Rent off their robes to the hungry wind, & threw their golden scepters
Down on the land of America. indignant they descended
Headlong from out their heav'nly heights, descending swift as fires
Over the land; naked & flaming are their lineaments seen
In the deep gloom" (Erdman page 55)
Jerusalem, Plate 61, (E 212)
Mary leaned her side against Jerusalem, Jerusalem recieved

The Infant into her hands in the Visions of Jehovah. Times passed on
Jerusalem fainted over the Cross & Sepulcher She heard the voice
Wilt thou make Rome thy Patriarch Druid & the Kings of Europe his
Horsemen? Man in the Resurrection changes his Sexual Garments at

Every Harlot was once a Virgin: every Criminal an Infant Love!
Repose on me till the morning of the Grave. I am thy life.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


First post on The Crystal Cabinet.

Blake's Water-Colours for the Poems of Thomas Gray, Page 44
'With me the Muse shall sit, and think,'

The Pickering Manuscript, The Crystal Cabinet, (E 488)
"The Maiden caught me in the Wild
Where I was dancing merrily
She put me into her Cabinet
And Lockd me up with a golden Key

This Cabinet is formd of Gold
And Pearl & Crystal shining bright
And within it opens into a World
And a little lovely Moony Night

Another England there I saw
Another London with its Tower
Another Thames & other Hills
And another pleasant Surrey Bower

Another Maiden like herself
Translucent lovely shining clear
Threefold each in the other closd
O what a pleasant trembling fear

O what a smile a threefold Smile
Filld me that like a flame I burnd
I bent to Kiss the lovely Maid
And found a Threefold Kiss returnd

I strove to sieze the inmost Form
With ardor fierce & hands of flame
But burst the Crystal Cabinet
And like a Weeping Babe became

A weeping Babe upon the wild
And Weeping Woman pale reclind
And in the outward air again
I filld with woes the passing Wind"

Blake's poem The Crystal Cabinet is more complex than it may appear on the surface. It is filled with symbols which appear repeatedly in Blake's writing. He seems to have locked up the meaning of the poem in the same way that the maiden locked up the narrator. We are looking for the golden Key which may either let us in or let us out.

This post will give insights from three prominent Blake scholars. Later we will connect the poem to writings from C.S. Lewis and will look at the poem psychologically.

Thoughts on The Crystal Cabinet from Damon, Bloom and Frye:

S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary, page 95:

"The Crystal Cabinet symbolizes the delusions of love. It may be the record of some casual affair in Surrey which ended unhappily."

Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry, page 57:

"But the 'inmost Form' cannot be seized in Beulah; as Thel lamented, there is no unwavering or ultimate form there.The youth has attempted finality in the sexual, which cannot sustain it. As the Cabinet's precarious reality bursts, the youth and former maiden are thrown 'upon the wild' of Ulro; they are no longer 'in the wild' of untried Innocence or lost Experience. The youth is reduced to the schizoid second infancy or idiocy of Ulro, and the Maiden who initiated the act seem to regret the experience that made her a woman:
"A weeping Babe upon the wild,
And Weeping Woman pale reclin'd,
And in the outward air again
I fill'd with woes the passing Wind"
The image of sensual fulfillment, so eloquent in D. H. Lawrence, is inadequate and finally dangerous to Blake. Finality is not in the onefold Self of Ulro, the twofold subject-object world of Generation, or the threefold world of lovers and their love of Beulah. The inmost form is reserved for art, and achieved art for Blake is a harmony of the fourfold man, in whom the living creatures of imagination, wisdom, love and power have found again their human form."

Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry, page 234:

"If dwelt in too long, Beulah will soon turn into Ulro. For Ulro is to our world what Beulah is to Eden, and as in Beulah we have not yet got clear of our world, there is an affinity between Beulah and Ulro which in the crisis of vision becomes identity. This highly technical but crucial point in Blake's argument will meet us again. It is illustrated in 'The Crystal Cabinet,' in the Pickering MS, where the poet enters, perhaps through sexual intercourse, a 'crystal' world of a 'little Moony Night,' is kissed by a 'threefold' maiden, tries out of this complicated embrace to achieve something that is not transient but infinite, and collapses at once back into Generation to begin all over again. The triple mirror is Beulah, but the maiden is Rahab, the apocalyptic Whore who at this point is the world order of nature, including the Enitharmon of the sky and the Vala of the earth."

Northrop Frye, Angela Esterhammer, Northrop Frye on Milton and Blake, p 353:

"But in this world all creative achievements are inherited by someone else and are lost to their creator. This failure to take possession of one's deepest experience is the theme of 'The Crystal Cabinet' (by comparing the imagery of this latter poem with 'Jerusalem', plate 70, we discover that the Female Babe's name, in this context, is Rahab)."

Jerusalem, Plate 70, (E 224)
"when the lips
Recieve a kiss from Gods or Men, a threefold kiss returns
From the pressd loveliness: so her whole immortal form three-fold
Three-fold embrace returns: consuming lives of Gods & Men
In fires of beauty melting them as gold & silver in the furnace
Her Brain enlabyrinths the whole heaven of her bosom & loins
To put in act what her Heart wills; O who can withstand her power
Her name is Vala in Eternity: in Time her name is Rahab"

Considering various commentaries enables us to look more deeply into the poem, to fit it into the context of Blake's larger design, and to ferret out associations in our own experience which relate to its ideas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isaiah 33:14)

No one knows of the Beyond. Still men throughout history have seen visions of it. These visions have informed their faith and galvanized them to the words and deeds by which they have lived. Look now at Blake' visions of Heaven and Hell:

For Isaiah (and Blake) 'everlasting burnings' had connotations opposite to those of conventional thinking.

Indeed throughout the Bible fire symbolizes God more often than the Devil: "our God is a consuming fire".Note also the burning bush seen by Moses and the forks of flame at Pentecost. In Eden every bush burns and flaming tongues fill the air; Blake referred to them as burning arrows of thought (Jerusalem plate 34; lines 11ff).

Blake's eternity, both here and hereafter, is characterized by two intense activities, War and Hunting (Erdman 135, line 2), "the Two Fountains of the River of Life". Both are intellectual in nature and aimed at growth into Truth. In this world they have been prostituted into "corporeal war" and the killing of the innocent. War and Hunting of course exhaust the eternals, so periodic rest is provided in what might be called Lower Heaven; Blake called it Beulah:

    There is from Great Eternity a mild & pleasant rest Nam'd Beulah, a soft Moony Universe, feminine, lovely, Pure, mild & Gentle, given in Mercy to those who sleep, Eternally created by the Lamb of God around, On all sides, within & without the Universal Man.
    4Z (Night 1 5:29-31)

Blake tells us relatively little about Eden, but in his larger poems he had a lot to say about Beulah. He described it as a sort of way station between Eden and Ulro, which we might roughly translate as this vale of tears. Two way traffic passes through Beulah. Those who reach it from Ulro are in good shape and headed for something better. Those coming from the other direction are also okay for the moment but in deadly peril if they go farther.

We could also call Ulro "this world". In a sense "this world" is as close to the conventional hell as Blake got. In Blake as in the Bible, especially in Paul, "this world" has a technical meaning. It does not mean the present stage of life as opposed to a heavenly (or hellish) existence beyond physical death. Basically "this world" means a level of consciousness that sees only the material, which Blake called the corporeal. Ulro is the state in which "Reality was forgot, and the Vanities of Time and Space only Remembered and called Reality" (Vision of the Last Judment; Erdman 555; his comments on an astounding canvas; it concerns Revelation 20:11-15).

Ulro, Blake's hell, denotes a form of blindness or sleep, from which one may awaken:

    "Of the Sleep of Ulro! and of
    the passage through Eternal Death!
    and of the awaking to Eternal Life....
    (Jerusalem Chapter One)"

This is his theme, Blake tells us. Students of the New Testament know that sleep and waking are biblical figures for the spiritual realities which concerned Blake here. He envisioned Eternal Death as the fallenness of "this world" through which we pass before "awaking to Eternal Life". Blake thus saw hell as man's fallen state before the coming of Jesus to awaken us and set us free.

The biblical writers as they are generally understood had not adequately grasped the fullness of Jesus' power to rescue mankind totally from the darkness which Blake called Eternal Death. They wrote most of the New Testament in a time of persecution. In their effort to stiffen the spine of the believer in the face of that persecution they retreated into a degree of thralldom to the Old Testament God of Wrath, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards' sermon,"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".

One can readily understand why the worldly ecclesiastics who followed Peter and Paul picked up on the angry God. All too often he became their primary weapon; the image of hell is the ultimate form of coercion. Blake made no such mistake, probably because of the ten years which he had spent confronting and subduing that "shadow from his wearied intellect", years of suffering, but it turned to glory.

In those years he laid to rest the punisher who has afflicted the minds of believers through the centuries, but he retained the creative possibility which represents the best of the Christian faith. The rationalists and deists had thrown out both and confined us to Ulro, which today threatens to engulf mankind. The reader must decide for himself whose hell is most real--the place of unending punishment or the sleep from which man may awaken.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Nativity I, II, III and IV

Last December I posted four time on the nativity using Blake's illustrations to Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity. The fifth illustration of the series "The Flight of Molock" faithfully presents these lines from Milton's ode:

And sullen Moloch fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning Idol all of blackest hue;
In vain with Cymbals' ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue,Moloch, the second of Blake's Seven Eyes of God, called the executioner, required child sacrifice. Blake presents the theme of sacrificing children by showing the infant Jesus emerging from a 'fiery furnace.' Daniel tells of three men who emerged from such a furnace unscathed having met in the furnace a fourth who appeared as the 'Son of God.'

On plate 31 (E 177) of Jerusalem Blake tells us that:

"And the appearance of a Man was seen in the Furnaces;
Saving those who have sinned from the punishment of the Law,
(In pity of the punisher whose state is eternal death,)
And keeping them from Sin by the mild counsels of his love."

Two women (cf.1st Kings 3:16ff) are touching the child emerging from the furnace. One appears to be Jerusalem, the other Vala or Rahab. Both turn away from the child as they reach out to touch him. In The Mental Traveller we read of a babe whom none could touch:

The Mental Traveller, (E 484)
"Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring

And she is all of solid fire
And gems & gold that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her Baby form
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band"

Blake and Milton have supplemented the picture of the child who was laid in the manger as provided by Luke.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blake's Devil

It's important to know the devil, especially your own particular devil. We tend to project it; it lives in someone else (As Huey Long said, "don't tax you, don't tax me; tax that man behind the tree.") Blake certainly projected the devil in his MHH, a parody of the conventions.

For Blake the conventions are satanic; and that has a grain of truth: our preoccupation with advertising for example; our speed, etc. In particular our primitive tribalistic desire to do the same thing that everybody else does (and at the same time!).

In his early years Blake tried to exorcise these kinds of devils: Bacon's worship of Reason; Newton's belief that everything real could be weighed and measured; Locke's tabula raza; Sir Joshua Reynold's 'Nature Art'; with the greedy Industrialists who paid children 15 cents in return for ten hours of hard work every day; the slave traders who had infected the American Colonies with slavery etc, etc.

But his primary devil may have been the necessity to do banal work (for such as Hayley) when his soul longed to share with us his Divine Creations.

These things Blake projected until that moment at Felpham; I've thought long and hard about that Moment at Felpham when he realized that his devil could and would be annihilated.

He had given up his own projections and seen his own culpability; he came to himself and got his license-- from Jesus: to CREATE.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


In your journey have you ever turned away from the Divine Vision? Or have you known others who have become lost in a wilderness of pain and despair? Do you know of anyone who has refused the assistance of friends and family who attempted to show one the error of one's ways? Blake shows Albion in the circumstances of such a person - disintegrating in a morass of bad decisions, insisting on continuing along the road to destruction.

Albion's life is in a shambles when Los as the agent of the Divine Family continues his mission of saving Albion. Here he gives Albion a reminder of Albion's home in Eden.

Jerusalem, PLATE 34 [38], (E 179)
"So Los spoke: But when he saw blue death in Albions feet,
Again he join'd the Divine Body, following merciful;
While Albion fled more indignant! revengeful covering

His face and bosom with petrific hardness, and his hands
And feet, lest any should enter his bosom & embrace
His hidden heart; his Emanation wept & trembled within him:
Uttering not his jealousy, but hiding it as with
Iron and steel, dark and opake, with clouds & tempests brooding:
His strong limbs shudderd upon his mountains high and dark.

Turning from Universal Love petrific as he [Albion] went,
His cold against the warmth of Eden rag'd with loud
Thunders of deadly war (the fever of the human soul)
Fires and clouds of rolling smoke! but mild the Saviour follow'd him,

Displaying the Eternal Vision! the Divine Similitude!
In loves and tears of brothers, sisters, sons, fathers, and friends
Which if Man ceases to behold, he ceases to exist:

Saying. Albion! Our wars are wars of life, & wounds of love,
With intellectual spears, & long winged arrows of thought:
Mutual in one anothers love and wrath all renewing
We live as One Man; for contracting our infinite senses
We behold multitude; or expanding: we behold as one,
As One Man all the Universal Family; and that One Man
We call Jesus the Christ: and he in us, and we in him,
Live in perfect harmony in Eden the land of life,
Giving, recieving, and forgiving each others trespasses.
He is the Good shepherd, he is the Lord and master:
He is the Shepherd of Albion, he is all in all,
In Eden: in the garden of God: and in heavenly Jerusalem.
If we have offended, forgive us, take not vengeance against us.

Thus speaking; the Divine Family follow Albion:
I see them in the Vision of God upon my pleasant valleys."

Albion's plight is obvious as are attempts to save him. Here he is given a reminder that whatever heights one may have reached, the Selfhood must be annihilated if the process of healing is to continue. The incarnation which was first manifest through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is presented to Albion for his salvation. He again refuses.

PLATE 40 [45], (E 187)
"Bath, healing City! whose wisdom in midst of Poetic
Fervor: mild spoke thro' the Western Porch, in soft gentle tears

O Albion mildest Son of Eden! clos'd is thy Western Gate
Brothers of Eternity! this Man whose great example
We all admir'd & lov'd, whose all benevolent countenance, seen
In Eden, in lovely Jerusalem, drew even from envy
The, tear: and the confession of honesty, open & undisguis'd
From mistrust and suspition. The Man is himself become
A piteous example of oblivion. To teach the Sons
Of Eden, that however great and glorious; however loving
And merciful the Individuality; however high
Our palaces and cities, and however fruitful are our fields
In Selfhood, we are nothing: but fade away in mornings breath,
Our mildness is nothing: the greatest mildness we can use
Is incapable and nothing! none but the Lamb of God call heal
This dread disease: none but Jesus! O Lord descend and save!
Albions Western Gate is clos'd: his death is coming apace!
Jesus alone can save him; for alas we none can know
How soon his lot may be our own. When Africa in sleep
Rose in the night of Beulah, and bound down the Sun & Moon
His friends cut his strong chains, & overwhelm'd his dark
Machines in fury & destruction, and the Man reviving repented
He wept before his wrathful brethren, thankful & considerate
For their well timed wrath. But Albions sleep is not
Like Africa's: and his machines are woven with his life
Nothing but mercy can save him! nothing but mercy interposing
Lest he should slay Jerusalem in his fearful jealousy
O God descend! gather our brethren, deliver Jerusalem
But that we may omit no office of the friendly spirit
Oxford take thou these leaves of the Tree of Life: with eloquence
That thy immortal tongue inspires; present them to Albion:
Perhaps he may recieve them, offerd from thy loved hands.

So spoke, unheard by Albion. the merciful Son of Heaven
To those whose Western Gates were open, as they stood weeping
Around Albion: but Albion heard him not; obdurate! hard!
He frown'd on all his Friends, counting them enemies in his

And the Seventeen conjoining with Bath, the Seventh:
In whom the other Ten shone manifest, a Divine Vision!
Assimilated and embrac'd Eternal Death for Albions sake."

We can see ourselves in Albion and Albion in ourselves. His experiences are our experiences.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blake's Vision

Everything that lives is holy (end of MHH)

"...I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination."
(Jerusalem Plate 5: line 17ff)

    Seek love in the pity of another's woe,
    In the gentle relief of another's care,
    In the darkness of night and the winter's snow.
    In the naked and outcast, seek love there. (William Bond)

The most striking tenet of Blake's faith was his vision of the Eternal; it was also his primary gift to mankind. Blake lived in an age when the realm of spirit had virtually disappeared from the intellectual horizon. This single fact explains why he stood out like a sore thumb in late 18th Century England and why for most of his contemporaries he could never be more than an irritant, an eccentric, a madman; their most common term of depreciation was 'enthusiast'. His primary concern was a world whose existence they not only denied, but held in derision.

The task of the Enlightenment had been to emancipate man from superstition, and Voltaire, Gibbon, and their associates had done this with great distinction. Blake was born emancipated, but he knew that closed off from Vision, from the individuality of Genius, from the spontaneous spiritual dimension, from what Jesus had called the kingdom of God, mankind will regress to a level beneath the human. In his prophetic writings he predicted 1940 and its aftermath. "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:19).

Blake was blessed with vision from his earliest days; his visions were immediate and concrete. He found the eternal inward worlds of thought more real than the objective nature exalted by John Locke and Joshua Reynolds. Their depreciation of vision, genius, the Eternal never failed to infuriate Blake. This fury strongly colored his work and often threatened to overwhelm it. It also led to his deprecatory view of Nature, which was their God. He wrote, "There is no natural religion".

Blake perceived the five senses as "the chief inlets of Soul in this age" (MHH plate 4). The rationalists had imposed upon their world the view that life consists exclusively of the five senses. Blake knew better:

"How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?" (MHH plate 7)

Blake was keenly alive to another world, a world of Vision, of Imagination, of God, which he called the Eternal; it was a world that most of his contemporaries had deliberately closed their minds to. He spent his life furiously trying to strike off their mind forged manacles.

The man of faith believes some things; other things he knows by experience. Blake had experienced the Eternal from earliest childhood. At times the vision clouded, but its reality remained the one unshakeable tenet of his faith.

Every child begins in Eternity. Jesus said, "Except you become as little children...."

Blake knew this better than anyone since Jesus, or maybe anyone since Francis. He knew it because by a providential dispensation of grace the child in Blake remained alive throughout his life. At the age of 34 he wrote those beautiful 'Songs of Innocence', his "happy songs Every child may joy to hear". 'Songs of Innocence' hooked a great many people on Blake originally: transparent goodness transcribed into black type on white paper--somewhat beyond Locke's tabula rasa.

If life were only like that. If Blake were only like that, he'd have an assured place as one of England's best loved poets, a beloved impractical idealist and a threat to no one. But in 'Songs of Experience' he began to express a more complex reality. 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' represents a healthy beginning in working out the complexities. They have to be worked out, every minute particular in the corrosive burning flame of thought, etching away the surfaces, getting down to bedrock.

Most of us have refused Blake and his Eternal because we don't want to be bothered with reality; we don't want to take the trouble. We're content with the little sub-realities that inform our lives and values, the simple half truths and prejudices which we call the real world.

(This came, more or less in toto, from the beginning of my chapter on Faith.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Illustrations to Paradise Lost

Listen to Blake and the Bible commenting on Jesus, Sin, Error, Forgiveness, Satan and Judgment. These quotes from the two sources allow us to compare New Testament concepts and how similar ideas appear in Blake's :

1)Jesus not the accuser (Satan) is our judge.

[1] My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 565)
"Forgiveness of Sin is only at the Judgment Seat of Jesus the
Saviour where the Accuser is cast out. not because he Sins but
because he torments the Just & makes them do what he condemns as
Sin & what he knows is opposite to their own Identity"

2) The accuser has no power over us.

[10] And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

Vision of the Last Judgment,(E 564)
"Christ comes
as he came at first to deliver those who were bound under the
Knave not to deliver the Knave He Comes to Deliver Man the
[Forgiven] not Satan the Accuser we do not
find any where that Satan is Accused of Sin he is only accused of
Unbelief & thereby drawing Man into Sin that he may accuse him.
Such is the Last Judgment a Deliverance from Satans Accusation
Satan thinks that Sin is displeasing to God he ought to know that
Nothing is displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the Tree
of Knowledge of Good & Evil"

3) The light of Truth leads us to the new creation.

[18] To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. [PAUL]

Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 565)
"I will not Flatter them Error is
Created Truth is Eternal [,] Error or Creation will be Burned Up &
then & not till then Truth or Eternity will appear It is Burnt up
the Moment Men cease to behold it I assert for My self that I do
not behold the Outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance &
not Action it is as the Dirt upon my feet No part of Me."

4) Forgiveness of sins is God's will.

[2] And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
[5] For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
[6] But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

Plate 20, (E 165)

"Jerusalem answer'd with soft tears over the valleys.

O Vala what is Sin? that thou shudderest and weepest
At sight of thy once lov'd Jerusalem! What is Sin but a little
Error & fault that is soon forgiven; but mercy is not a Sin
Nor pity nor love nor kind forgiveness! O! if I have Sinned
Forgive & pity me! O! unfold thy Veil in mercy & love!
Slay not my little ones, beloved Virgin daughter of Babylon
Slay not my infant loves & graces, beautiful daughter of Moab"

5) The religion of Jesus practices mercy not vengeance.

[23] Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Jerusalem, Plate 52, (E 201)
"Man must & will have Some Religion; if he has not the Religion
of Jesus, he will have the Religion of Satan, & will erect the
Synagogue of Satan. calling the Prince of this World, God; and
destroying all who do not worship Satan under the Name of God.
Will any one say: Where are those who worship Satan under the
Name of God! Where are they? Listen! Every Religion that Preaches
Vengeance for Sins the Religion of the Enemy & Avenger; and not
the Forgiver of Sin, and their God is Satan, Named by the Divine
Name Your Religion O Deists: Deism, is the Worship of the God
of this World by the means of what you call Natural Religion and
Natural Philosophy, and of Natural Morality or
Self-Righteousness, the Selfish Virtues of the Natural Heart.
This was the Religion of the Pharisees who murderd Jesus. Deism
is the same & ends in the same."

6) Practicing Forgiveness builds the Kingdom of God

Matthew 18
[21] Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
[22] Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Jerusalem, Plate 77, (E 232)
"And remember: He who despises & mocks a Mental Gift in another;
calling it pride & selfishness & sin; mocks Jesus the giver of
every Mental Gift, which always appear to the ignorance-loving
Hypocrite, as Sins. but that which is a Sin in the sight of cruel
Man, is not so in the sight of our kind God.
Let every Christian as much as in him lies engage himself
openly & publicly before all the World in some Mental pursuit for
the Building up of Jerusalem "

The influence that the Bible had on shaping the mind of Blake led him to become a religious poet. He used the Christian metaphors in unique ways but always with the goal of opening the minds of men to the 'perception of the Infinite'.