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.

No comments: