Wednesday, December 08, 2010


___________________________Image from Songs of Innocence,
___________________________Little Black Boy

Blake with his unusually high intelligence can be assumed to have to have learned to read very early in his life. Very likely the Bible was among his preferred reading material. He seems to have been attracted to the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos whose influence is seen in his poetry.
It is interesting to think of Blake as a young child reading the Bible without instruction or supervision, as interacting in his own unique, superintelligent way. He got into some scholarship later and also absorbed the general understanding from his culture. Nevertheless his interaction and interpretation continued to be direct and unusual.

Annotations to Berkeley, (E 664)
"Jesus supposes every Thing to be Evident to the Child & to
the Poor & Unlearned Such is the Gospel
The Whole Bible is filld with Imaginations & Visions from
End to End & not with Moral virtues that is the baseness of Plato
& the Greeks & all Warriors The Moral Virtues are continual
Accusers of Sin & promote Eternal Wars & Domineering over others"

Annotations to Berkeley, (E 664)
"Man is All Imagination God is Man & exists in us & we in him"

Jonathan Roberts and Christopher Rowland contributed a chapter to the Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature in which they present their views on Blake's use of the Bible (Page 376):
"This emphasis on the importance of individuals (and their social contexts) in interpreting the Bible means that Blake is particularly concerned with replacing a literalist hermeneutic with one that considers the Bible to be a stimulus to the imagination. This means above all engaging readers in the interpretation of the text, rather than demanding they accept it as in object above and beyond them. To this end Blake provides a consistent polemic against the preoccupation with the literal sense of the text, and against a reverence for the text that comes at the expense of what an imaginative and life-affirming encounter with the Bible might offer. These two tasks required a thoroughgoing assault on the ways in which the Bible had been constructed and reduced to a focus on the sacrificial death of Jesus and a religion of moral virtue. Blake would have no truck, for example, with the view that humans are inherently sinful: that God must be appeased by a sacrifice (of Christ); and that God - having made that sacrifice - then expects humanity to behave morally in order to stay in relationship with him (i.e. by keeping his commandments). Such an outlook, Blake thought, led to a denial of aspects of the human person and the subjection of some human beings to others."

Blake seemed to continue to read the Bible as he had as a child - with an open mind. He didn't look back to what the words had meant when they were written exclusively, but to what they meant in the immediate present to his own imaginative ability. His conversations with Ezekiel and Isaiah may have begun long before he wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and continued long after.

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