Monday, January 31, 2011


To begin figuring out Blake's use of the symbol 'stars' let's start with some of his geography.

Milton, Plate 13, (E 156)
"Around Golgonooza lies the land of death eternal; a Land
Of pain and misery and despair and ever brooding melancholy:
In all the Twenty-seven Heavens, numberd from Adam to Luther;
From the blue Mundane Shell, reaching to the Vegetative Earth.

The Vegetative Universe, opens like a flower from the Earths center:
In which is Eternity. It expands in Stars to the Mundane Shell
And there it meets Eternity again, both within and without,
And the abstract Voids between the Stars are the Satanic Wheels."

Damon (A Blake Dictionary) says of the stars in Blake: "They are the visible machinery of the astronomical universe," and "Albion's limbs once contained all the starry heavens."

Percival (William Blake's Circle of Destiny) explains :
"As Albion falls he carries his celestial light with him in ever diminishing strength and splendor. The heavenly light with which his world is illuminated is at all times, therefore, an indication of his spiritual condition. The eternal world of Eden and Beulah is lighted by the sun and moon in their diurnal courses. When that world fails and the Mundane Shell is created as a barrier against utter dissolution, light is provided by the stars which in their multiplicity represent the break-up of the eternal sun and in their unified westward movement represent the effort to maintain some vestige of eternal values. When the starry Mundane Shell crashes into the darkness of the abyss, the Planets, moving irregularly eastward, make their appearance. To counteract their maleficent influence Los creates a temporal sun and a temporal moon, feeble but indispensable replicas of their eternal counterparts.
The first diminution of light is indicated, as we have just said, by the star world. This world was created to keep the body of man from falling into the abyss, when both sun and moon had failed. When knowledge ceased to be intuitive and love ceased to be spontaneous, when in astrological imagery, the eternal order was threatened by the departure of Urizen, the sun, into the north (the realm sacred Urthona), and of Luvah, the moon, into the south (The realm sacred to Urizen), the diminished reason became Albion's guiding light. Out of fear it built the world of law that Albion might not descend into chaos. The ordered round of constellations is Blake's beautiful and appropriate symbol for the order imposed by law upon a world from which unity has fled." (page 148)

Marriage of Heaven and Hell
, Plate 26, (E 44)
16. Falling, rushing, ruining! buried in the ruins, on Urthona's
17. All night beneath the ruins, then their sullen flames faded
emerge round the gloomy king,
18. With thunder and fire: leading his starry hosts thro' the
waste wilderness he promulgates his ten commands,
glancing his beamy eyelids over the deep in dark dismay,

America, Plate 8, (E 54)
The terror answerd: I am Orc, wreath'd round the accursed tree:
The times are ended; shadows pass the morning gins to break;
The fiery joy, that Urizen perverted to ten commands,
What night he led the starry hosts thro' the wide wilderness:

Milton, Plate 4, (E 98)
Every Mans Wisdom is peculiar to his own Individ[u]ality
O Satan my youngest born, art thou not Prince of the Starry Hosts
And of the Wheels of Heaven, to turn the Mills day & night?

Song of Los, Plate 5, (E 68)
Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave
Laws & Religions to the sons of Har binding them more
And more to Earth: closing and restraining:
Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete
Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke

Percival calls the stars the 'remnant of light left to the falling Albion'. From this remnant of light is built the Mundane Shell which embodies the law in 'beneficence and majesty'. So the trail left by the fall becomes the chain which restricts the fall. The voids between the stars are the 'doubt and negation of the spectrous mind'.
Percival calls to our minds that the appearance of the stars in the 12th of the Illustrations to the Book of Job 'marks Job's emergence out of the darkness of Ulro.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blake's Myth II

A most significant key to Blake's symbolism came to light only in 1947 when Arlington Court was bequeathed to the British National Trust. Among the furnishings there was a large tempera by Blake, called alternatively The Sea of Time and Space or The Cave of the Nymphs. This treasure had been hidden from public eyes for a century.

(Most of us are unlikely to see the original, but Blake and Antiquity by Kathleen Raine offers several glimpses of the picture with a detailed account of the symbols it contains. There is no better way to begin an understanding of Blake at the deeper level than to read carefully and study this small and accessible book.)

The picture contains the essential symbolism of Blake's myth; the theme goes back to Homer, then to Plato and Porphyry. (To understand Blake's myth one would be well advised to study this link with care--at least the first part of this article on Thomas Taylor.)

Blake and Taylor were approximately the same age and as young men close friends. Many people think that Taylor introduced Blake to the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions. It seems certain that Taylor's On the Homeric Cave of the Nymphs deeply influenced the painting of the Arlington Tempera. Some of Blake's most common symbols can be found in this picture.

Another good introduction to Blake's myth is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It comes from an angry young man pouring his scorn on the conventions that cripple us; the language is pungent, the words are pointed, provocative, and outrageous.

A conventional person will find this whole work offensive and repulsive, but the young person at the stage of life where he's ready to kick over the traces, is quickly attracted-- if he has enough wit to understand irony and not take everything at face value.

We might call it an ironic satire. In 1789 Blake was 32, at the height of his physical (though perhaps not mental) powers. He had experienced the Divine Vision

He knew it was meant for mankind, but so far limited to Jesus and a few others. But with the advent of the French Revolution he foresaw its spread throughout the world. (Of course in that he was soon doomed to disappointment-- with the appearance of Madame Guillotine.) Nevertheless with a peak of spiritual exuberance he proceeded to announce the coming New Age:

    "The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell. For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.... If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern." (Plate 14 of MHH)
For this gem Blake drew upon Genesis and Plato.

Blake knew that the Divine Vision depended upon your ability to avert your eyes and attention from the material and to focus upon the Spiritual, the Eternal, which can only dwell in the Imagination (for Blake the Imagination was everything!). The society of Blake's day uniformly failed to do that, as does ours! Blake desperately, emphatically, and continuously endeavoured to awaken us to a spiritual consciousness, to break the 'mind forg'd manacles.

Pursuant to this aim:

    How do you know but every bird that cuts the air Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five? (Plate 7; E35)
And look at Plate 13:
    I then asked Ezekiel. why he eat dung, & lay so long on his right & left side? he answered. the desire of raising other men into a perception of the Infinite. (E39|

Back in 1788 with There is No Natural Religion he had disposed of a sense-based consciousness as any kind of arbiter of the meaning of life:

    Man's perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception. He percieves more than sense (tho' ever so acute) can discover.
Look at Section VII of NNR. Reason or the ratio are his terms for comfining one's mental activity to the senses. And he thought less and less of it as he grew older. In notes on Vision of the Last Judgment he wrote:
"I assert for myself that I do not behold the Outward Creation and that to me it is hindrance and not Action it is as the Dirt upon my feet No part of Me.
"What it will be Question'd When the Sun rises do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea? O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty."

On MHH (Plate 16 Blake tells us about the prolific (prophetic types, creative people who grasp the Eternal) and the devouring (those who worship the created good). Of course he counted himself among the prolific. Middleton Murry has pointed out that in this moment of the everlasting 'good-and-evil' in which we live Blake may have projected the 'evil' upon the public who had uniformly ignored him. Murry suggested that it was a necessary "moment in his life".

If that be true, we have the record of the moment when Blake "came to himself" to the point where he confessed that his Selfhood continued to dominate him. He eventually came to realize that one cannot operate in the Sea of Time and Space without the Selfhood; thus he faced the necessity to continually annihilate and regenerate it with his alternation between Heaven and this vale of tears in which we live. (As Christians understand, the selfhood is brought into subjection and becomes the servant of the Self (Christ)).

In Plate 24 he promised to the world the Bible of Hell. John Middleton Murry described it as follows:

The first book of these, The Book of Urizen , is to a large degree a parody of Genesis. The Book of Ahania corresponds precisely to Exodus. The third book is The Book of Los (1795).

MHH was prior to Blake's myth proper, like a preamble or preface. It defines ideas and terms that are to be understood as the myth evolves, a special language you have to learn to get into the major works (The Four Zoas, Milton and Jerusalem).

Saturday, January 29, 2011


In 1816 Thomas Butts is thought to have requested of Blake a series of illustrations for two poems by Milton: L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, which contrast the personality types or attitudes of one who is lively and gay with one who is meditative and pensive. So here was another opportunity for Blake to apply his imagination to subjects which he found endlessly fascinating - the life and work of his mentor Milton, and exploration and resolution of contrary positions.

Constellations - Cancer (The Crab), Gemini (The Twins), Orion, Taurus (The Bull), Aries (The Ram)

The final illustration of the series shows Milton in His Old Age since Blake inserted Milton into his own poem as a character. Blake made inscriptions to accompany each section of the poem that he was illustrating. You may read these in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake edited by David V. Erdman beginning on page 682. To locate this click on Blake's content on the sidebar of this blog, page down to close to bottom, click on 'Inscriptions and Notes On or For Pictures', page down to E682 in the margin, read 'Blake's manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors.'

The poem IL Penseroso ends with these lines:
167 "And may at last my weary age
168 Find out the peaceful hermitage,
169 The hairy gown and mossy cell,
170 Where I may sit and rightly spell
171 Of every star that Heav'n doth shew,
172 And every herb that sips the dew;
173 Till old experience do attain
174 To something like prophetic strain.
175 These pleasures, Melancholy, give,
176 And I with thee will choose to live."

Bette Charlène Werner in Blake's vision of the poetry of Milton: illustrations to six poems, wrote a chapter on Blake's Illustrations to these two poems. Here is some of what she says:
"The L'Allegro and Il Penseroso illustrations show the earthly life of Milton, a life Blake envisioned as leaving the poet unhappy though in heaven, his emanation (or his poetry) still unredeemed. Milton's life in Blake's eyes is a 'bright pilgrimage,' but an uncompleted journey. Its destination unachieved, the pilgrimage will not be taken up again until the future time when Blake himself, united in prophetic brotherhood with Milton and inspired by the fiery spirit of imagination, Los, straps on his golden sandal to walk froward through eternity. The Milton of L'Allegro and Il Penseroso illustrations has not yet progressed beyond the moony rest of the threefold Beulah into Eden. Blake emphasizes Milton's sleeping humanity in the series, while calling upon him to become 'the Awakener.' (page 146)
"In Blake's imagery he is a figure of humanity enclosed in the life of the five senses; his optic nerve, a hardened bone or black pebble on the beach, still opens within like a diamond that holds in it's hallowed center the heavens of bright eternity.
Blake closes his story of Milton's earthly life with a night scene instead of a dawn. The stars in Blake's imagery, as forms of fallen light, are frequently associated with constriction and confinement as they follow the strict order of mathematically defined pathways through the skies. Still, Blake like Milton, also thought of them as forming a golden chain "To bind the Body of Man to heaven from falling into the Abyss."
"Even as the stars in general are ambivalent images for Blake, the ones pictured here are particularly so. The constellation of Cancer, Gemini, Taurus, and Aries can be seen together in the sky of either winter or spring. There are suggestions of both in the picture, in which the winter mood of old age and night is brightened by the flower forms of spring. There is an auspicious note in the part of Orion's myth that tells of the cure of his blindness when he waded far into the sea until he finally reached the land where the sun rises." (page 164)

Four Zoas, Page 34, (E 321)
"For the Divine Lamb Even Jesus who is the Divine Vision
Permitted all lest Man should fall into Eternal Death
For when Luvah sunk down himself put on the robes of blood
Lest the state calld Luvah should cease. & the Divine Vision
Walked in robes of blood till he who slept should awake
Thus were the stars of heaven created like a golden chain
To bind the Body of Man to heaven from falling into the Abyss"

Friday, January 28, 2011

The End of Time

From Revelation 10, quoted in the last post, we read:

"[5] And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,
[6] And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer"

These verses certainly look like a prime source for Blake's monumental figure of The Sea of Time and Space. Like a cornerstone it announces the framework of Blake's myth of time and Eternity. His theology indicates that
Everyman or Albion came down from Eternity to Beulah, a sort of crossroad connection Heaven and Earth. Falling asleep he divided into the four zoas, descended via the Northern Gate into mortality; he lapsed into Eternal Death (the absence of the Eternal in corporeal life), down into UIro, where our Innocence is replaced by Experience. We are on the long journey (described also by the Illiad and Odyssey and many other stories.)

He spent his alloted time there until his mortal death; at that point Eternal Death ended and he woke up to Eternal Life. The whole thing is the Circle of Destiny (Erdman 302-03). The Sea of Time and Space expresses it pictorially: Odysseus (or Apollo or Jesus or Luvah or Everyman or Albion or you and me) has come to dry land where the Southern Gate invites him to return from whence he came.

Hundreds of poem and hundreds of pictures express this truth in hundreds of different ways; they all point toward the same myth, the same fundamental Truth of life (and death).

Thursday, January 27, 2011


The three principle Biblical passages which make use of the image of the rainbow are the passage in Genesis (Noah), the section of Ezekiel in my last post, and the 10th chapter of Revelations:

[1] And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:
[2] And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,
[3] And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
[4] And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.
[5] And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,
[6] And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:
[7] But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
[8] And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.
[9] And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
[10] And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
[11] And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

The passage in Revelation like the passage in Ezekiel ends a vision with a voice calling to prophesy. Blake has once again chosen to illustrate the passage literally. We see with our eyes what John of Patmos saw as vision: the angel, the cloud the rainbow colors, the radiance of the face, the right foot and left foot on sea and earth, the little book in the left hand, the seven thunders as horsemen in the dark cloud and feet as pillars of fire. John himself is seen between the feet of the angel recording as directed.

The rainbow is one of many clues that this event of transition, the Revelation of the Apocalypse, is to link God and man. As a covenant was announced with the first rainbow appearance to Noah, a new dispensation is announced in Revelation. A new spiritual Jerusalem will replace the former Jerusalem whose temple had been intended to link God and man.

Blake's Vision of the Last Judgment provides us with images in words and pictures of the new dispensation which emanates from the Last Judgment. Blake includes these images of the new Jerusalem which is to replace the mortal with the immortal.

Vision of the Last Judgment,(E 561)
"The Cloud that opens rolling apart before the throne &
before the New Heaven & the New Earth is Composed of Various
Groupes of Figures particularly the Four Living Creatures
mentiond in Revelations as Surrounding the Throne these I suppose
to have the chief agency in removing the
old heavens & the old Earth
to make way for the New Heaven & the
New Earth to descend from the throne of God & of the Lamb."

Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 562)
"Jesus is surrounded by Beams of Glory in which are
seen all around him Infants emanating from him these represent
the Eternal Births of Intellect from the divine Humanity A
Rainbow surrounds the throne & the Glory in which youthful
Nuptials recieve the infants in their hands"

Perhaps the rainbow should always be seen as an invitation and a promise such as Blake issues here:

Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 560)
"If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his
Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his
Contemplative Thought if he could Enter into Noahs Rainbow or
into his bosom or could make a Friend & Companion of one of these
Images of wonder which always intreats him to leave mortal things
as he must know then would he arise from his Grave then would he
meet the Lord in the Air & then he would be happy"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Circular Staircase

This book, a spiritual autobiography by Karen Armstrong describes a course of spiritual evolution as remarkable in many ways as that of our poet. Blake had a long encounter and battle with Urizen; Karen spent 7 years in a convent; in Blake's symbology both of these events represented years in a furnace.

("When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie
My grace, all sufficient shall be thy supply
The flames shall not hurt thee, I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine." How Firm a Foundation)

You can just bet that William and Karen both had their fair share of dross: twenty years for him, and 7 plus for her. In fact you can still see the furnace at work throughout their lives. Both of them gave a fair representation of the course of Everyman.

In terms of religious values: both dissented radically from conventional organized religious institutions. Blake heartily supported the American Revolution when we sent the Anglican clergymen home and declared the separation of Church and State. Armstrong left the convent and later withdrew from the Roman Catholic Church. They both propagated the idea of the God Within and the priesthood of the believer (which unfortunately has so often been mouthed by clergymen with hypocritic holiness).

In The Case for God you can get a fair picture of what Blake meant about Bacon, Newton and Locke, his symbol for everything wrong in his country and his age- philosophically, politically and spiritually:

In 1605 Francis Bacon, counselor to King James I, announced that there is no conflict between science and religion (Armstrong's The Case for God; p 187).

Isaac Newton, godfather of the Deists, believed that the earth was a mechanical object created by God with immutable laws. They came to feel that it was like a clock, made and wound up by God, who had no further interest in it. In this way Newton (perhaps unwittingly) abrogated all spiritual activity; like the Nominalists and Logical Positivists who came after him he implied that anything that could not be measured was meaningless, including the idea that one may have a relationship with God (cf The Case for God; pp 207-12).

John Locke completed the "Unholy Trinity"; his tabula raza simply infuriated Blake, who felt that coming down into this life we are (have been) heavenly creatures.

Karen understood very much as William did that the psychological forces represented by these three men had bent and corrupted England's Vision of God and led to an extreme materialism working havoc on the economic life of the people.

Armstrong's departure from 'the faith' was extended and deliberate: she left the convent, then left the church, considered herself a purely secular person (the type which incidentally made up probably the majority of English people), agnostic, atheist? But strangely enough she published more than twenty books about religion!

You have to call her a seeker. She moved decisively in the direction of Universalism as she wrote about Judaism, Islam, Buddhism; you name it! She might not have believed in God, but she served Him faithfully for many years.

Universalism tied Blake and Armstrong together, perhaps most significantly. She made sympathetic studies of the religions just mentioned, and likely many others. Blake would have concurred with this, one simple illustration being The Divine Image:

".....Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too."

In Heaven some of us will make a surprising discovery of how close we were in the Old Country.

The Circular Staircase is the story of William's and Karen's lives, and of ours. Yes it's the story of Everyman.

"We are climbing Jacb's Ladder"
Yep, William and Karen climbed, and so do I and so do you:

"We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

Every round goes higher, higher,
Every round goes higher, higher,
Every round goes higher, higher,
Soldiers of the cross.

Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Soldiers of the cross.

If you love Him, why not serve Him?
If you love Him, why not serve Him?
If you love Him, why not serve Him?
Soldiers of the cross.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


The book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament begins with Ezekiel's vision which inludes the Four Living Creatures which Blake used as inspiration for the Four Zoas.

Ezekiel, Chapter 1:
1 "In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
2 On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoi'achin),
3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chalde'ans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.
4 As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze.
5 And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the form of men,
6 but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.
7 Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze.
8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus:
9 their wings touched one another; they went every one straight forward, without turning as they went.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back.
11 Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies.
12 And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
13 In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.
15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them.
16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of a chrysolite; and the four had the same likeness, their construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel.
17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went.
18 The four wheels had rims and they had spokes; and their rims were full of eyes round about.
19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.
20 Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads.
23 And under the firmament their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each creature had two wings covering its body.
24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of a host; when they stood still, they let down their wings.
25 And there came a voice from above the firmament over their heads; when they stood still, they let down their wings.
26 And above the firmament over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form.
27 And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him.
28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking."

Here is Blake's image of Ezekiel's vision in the Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.

Wikimedia Commons
Ezekiel's Vision
Notice the four faced living creature, the starry wheels with eyes, the six wings, the four additional faces, the throne on which sits the likeness of God, and between the feet of the creature the tiny man who is Ezekiel observing the vision. Not apparent in this image is the light of the rainbow around the image of God displaying his glory. The image in the Blake Archive better displays the light.

This vision described in the words of the Bible and later illustrated by Blake, has prepared Ezekiel to hear the voice. In Marriage of Heaven and Hell Ezekiel converses with Blake:

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 12, (E 38)
"The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked
them how they dared so roundly to assert. that God spake to them;
and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be
misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
Then Ezekiel said. The philosophy of the east taught the first
principles of human perception some nations held one
principle for the origin & some another, we of Israel taught
that the Poetic Genius (as you now call it) was the first
principle and all the others merely derivative, which was the
cause of our despising the Priests & Philosophers of other
countries, and prophecying that all Gods [PL 13] would at last be
proved. to originate in ours & to be the tributaries of the
Poetic Genius,"

Blake was convinced that the Poetic Genius, the Human Imagination, the voice of the poet and prophet is synonymous with the voice which spoke to Ezekiel, and through Ezekiel, and which continues to speak to those who have 'ears to hear'.

All Religions Are One, (E 1)
"PRINCIPLE. 5. The Religions of all Nations are derived from
each Nations different reception of the Poetic Genius which is
every where call'd the Spirit of Prophecy.
PRINCIPLE 6 The Jewish & Christian Testaments are An original
derivation from the Poetic Genius. this is necessary from the
confined nature of bodily sensation"

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blake's Myth I

Blake was a highly symbolic poet (and painter); to understand much of his thought requires acquaintance with a body of symbols that go back to the dawn of civilization, and up to the 19th century. In an age when only the material seemed to matter Blake was (and continues to be) highly opaque to the pure materialist. Such a person will find most of Blake's ideas meaningless.

But at the deepest level his ideas are the veritable stuff of life: love and hate, good and evil, life and death, and many other ideas with urgent meaning. A high proportion of people prefer to turn aside from these questions, but you can be sure that our unconscious is full of them.

Above all Blake is about matter and spirit, at the great dividing line: do you see yourself primarily as a body or as spirit?

Begin with the conclusion, to be supported by an overwhelming body of evidence stretching from Heraclitus in the 6th century BC to the present:

Our mortal life is a vale of tears to which we have lapsed from Eternity and from which we will (may?) eventually return back into the Higher Realm. This myth conforms very closely to the Gnostics, the Platonists, and of course most of Eastern Religion. In the Christian tradition one can find vestiges of it in many of the mystics, notably Meister Eckhart, in Mexican folk culture and in fact universally.

The western mind revolts from this "never-never land", at least on the conscious level, but Freud, Jung, and many other psychologists found strong evidence for it in the Unconscious. At this point many readers may dismiss Blake's myth as not worth their attention.

The select few who remain may rightfully expect to open before their minds an entirely new world of grace and enchantment. The biblically oriented may perceive that all Blake's poetic and artistic work fits into a scheme of cosmic/psychic meaning; closely following the Bible it describes the pattern of Paradise, the Fall, a gradual redemption, and the final Rapture.

To be continued!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Blake uses the rainbow more as a visual image than a verbal image. Jerusalem appears here as a butterfly within the arc of a rainbow in the image at the bottom of Plate 14 of Jerusalem which shows Albion in his death-sleep. The heavenly bodies are portrayed as images in the plate, reminders of the universe measured in eons not minutes.

Jerusalem, Plate 13&14, (E 158)
"And all that has existed in the space of six thousand years:
Permanent, & not lost not lost nor vanishd, & every little act,
Word, work, & wish, that has existed, all remaining still
In those Churches ever consuming & ever building by the Spectres
Of all the inhabitants of Earth wailing to be Created:
Shadowy to those who dwell not in them, meer possibilities:
But to those who enter into them they seem the only substances
For every thing exists & not one sigh nor smile nor tear,

One hair nor particle of dust, not one can pass away.

He views the Cherub at the Tree of Life, also the Serpent,
Orc the first born coild in the south: the Dragon Urizen:
Tharmas the Vegetated Tongue even the Devouring Tongue:
A threefold region, a false brain: a false heart:
And false bowels: altogether composing the False Tongue,
Beneath Beulah: as a watry flame revolving every way
And as dark roots and stems: a Forest of affliction, growing
In seas of sorrow. Los also views the Four Females:
Ahania, and Enion, and Vala, and Enitharmon lovely.
And from them all the lovely beaming Daughters of Albion,
Ahania & Enion & Vala, are three evanescent shades:
Enitharmon is a vegetated mortal Wife of Los:
His Emanation, yet his Wife till the sleep of death is past.

Such are the Buildings of Los! & such are the Woofs of

The permanence and the multiplicity of the created world are described in the text. Blake has used words and images to remind us that there is an eternal world which underlies the vicissitudes of the temporal world. Because the image of the rainbow (which appeared after the Flood of Noah), is seen on this plate, Blake is going beyond the idea of an account of the physical body or the world of matter. The use of the rainbow makes the plate a token of a benevolent God's infinite care. We must remember that Blake uses water as a symbol for the material. To say that the world will not be destroyed by flood is to say the materiality shall not overcome spirituality.

When we seek out the biblical references for the rainbow we find this passage in Genesis 9:

[11] And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall
all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall
there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
[12] And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
[13] I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
[14] And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
[15] And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
[16] And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
[17] And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.

Genesis states that God covenants not to repeat the destruction of the earth and all living things by flood. The covenant is among God, man and the living creatures of the earth. The rainbow is a token of the covenant which is everlasting.

In Blake's 28 illustrations to Pilgrim's progress the rainbow colors appear frequently as reminders of the rainbow as a token. The rainbow image itself is prominent in three plates: the first, the last, and Plate 17 - CHRISTIAN AT THE ARBOR. In Plate One the arc of the rainbow previews the pilgrim's journey as a reminder of God's providence as man travels through life. Christian at the Arbor shows the linkage between God and man, a reference to the incarnation through which physicality and spirituality become one. The rainbow above the arbor symbolizes that linkage. In the final picture, in which the fourfold ascension is portrayed, the pilgrims and angels are embedded in the rainbow becoming themselves tokens of the process of reaching the visionary goal.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blake's Sex VII

The Two Women

When Blake began to work on his epic myth, he intended to focus upon the wicked career of Vala, but as time went by, he became more interested in the Zoas, which no doubt helped to relieve the anti-feminine bent of his metaphysics. Vala temporarily sank to the level of a minor character, and Blake laid most of the guilt for man's sorry state upon Urizen. The Moment of Grace brought another significant change: Vala fumed into two females, Rahab and Jerusalem, both of whom issue from Enitharmon.
When Blake gave Rahab the alternate name of Babylon, he came into conformance with the basic symbology of the Bible. Throughout the scripture we read about these two women/cities. Jerusalem is at least potentially the city of God, while Babylon always represents the seat of the God of this World. In his last epic Blake's Vala has become virtually interchangeable with Babylon.
Wikipedia Commons
Woman Clothed with the Sun
We may find the biblical sources of Blake's two symbolic women in the 12th and 17th chapters ot Revelation. In the first of these John sees a woman "clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet". In the second he described "the great whore that sitteth upon many waters". These two women in the Bible aptly prefigure Blake's Jerusalem and Vala, and a careful study of the two chapters will help the reader to shape in his own mind the identity of Blake's two characters.
John and Blake both drew their paired women from earlier sources. Frye calls them "royal metaphors" for the twin totalities of good and evil, of redemption and damnation that fill the pages of the Bible. The Tower of Babel, the first city of sin, led to the confusion of tongues. Following God's command Abraham, the father of the Hebrews, left Ur, a few miles from Babylon and eventually settled in the Promised Land. The first Captivity occured in Egypt, which later biblical literature often treats as synonymous with Babylon. The second Captivity took place at Babylon. A later captivity was to Rome, which John the Apocalyptist called Babylon: in Revelation he celebrated the burning of the Whore of Babylon.
Meanwhile Melchizidek, King of Salem and priest of the Most High God, had blessed Abraham. Some centuries later David established Jerusalem as his capital. The Song of Solomon is a poem and love song about a king and his bride. This theme became a primary symbol of the relation between Jerusalem, representing the Chosen People, and God. The prophets constantly referred to Jerusalem as a woman, married to God, but too often faithless, whoring after other gods. Hosea's stories about the love of the betrayed husband for his faithless wife, Gomer, poetically express the highest level of the Hebrew consciousness of God. On occasion the prophets became so enraged that they identified Jerusalem with Babylon. For example John spoke of "the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified".
This biblical background prepares us to cope with the woman found in Blake's poem, 'Jerusalem' . In the poetry of the first half of Blake's life the woman is sinister. She represents the material; the material is unworthy, reprehensible, satanic. This is the typical Gnostic position and to a lesser extent the Neo-platonic position. Blake stated it very explicitly and with his usual hyperbole in 'Visions of the Last Judgment' (See also the image): "I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance and not Action; it is as the Dirt upon my feet. No part of Me."
He wrote that as late as 1810. Nevertheless after the Moment of Grace Blake's perspective on matter (and Woman!) softened. At first there had been only the sinister woman, but now the Woman of Grace appeared as well.
In the poem, Jerusalem, we find a discourse and a conflict between these two women. Vala speaks for the kingdom of Satan, and Jerusalem speaks for the kingdom of Heaven. Their interaction dominates the poem and must fascinate anyone interested in those two subjects. The epic is a straightforward conflict between light and darkness as Blake understood those two realities. Vala wins most of the battles, but we always know who must win the war.
Blake describes reality imaginatively and dramatically in terms of ultimate value; this is basically an expression of faith. If one believes in the higher values: in spirit, in truth, in justice and love, then one imagines these things ultimately victorious. Blake did, and he concluded the passage from VLJ quoted above: "What, it will be Question'd, 'When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?' 0 no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying 'Holy, holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.'" In Blake's final epic Vala represents the guinea sun and Jerusalem the "innumerable company of the Heavenly host". Needless to say those who see only the guinea sun will not be attracted to the poem.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Blake made one illustration to Pilgrim's Progress which is not considered to be a part of the 28 plate series which Norvig focused her attention on. It belongs to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC rather than to the Frick Collection in New York. It was once called A Warrior with Angels but now goes by the name of Christian with the Shield of Faith, Taking Leave of His Companions.
National Gallery of Art

Christian with the Shield of Faith,
Taking Leave of His Companions
A friend has made the observation that the central character in this image which represents Christian, has the appearance of William Blake himself as a young man. Perhaps Blake cast himself and his loved ones or his characters in the roles of Christian and his companions. The appearance of Christian in this image does not resemble Christian in the series, and these companions don't appear elsewhere in the illustration to Pilgrim's Progress.

If Blake identified with Bunyan's Christian and inserted himself in an illustration, who would be the lovely ladies who accompany him? Could one be Catherine (the one to Blake's left), his companion in life, his Enitharmon? I suggest that the woman to Christian's (Blake's) right is his Jerusalem the source of his inspiration and imagination, the Divine Vision which he recognized in every individual. Vala the shadow of Jerusalem is shown perhaps as the woman behind Jerusalem in the second tier. The fourth woman who is reaching upward as if a connecting link to the Celestial City may be Enion of whom Damon says "The eternal [not the temporal] Enion rises in the dawn of the third day, in a whirlwind...she casts off her death-clothes, for the winter is gone, and all nature is rejuvenated. Tharmas embraces her and raises her through the heavens, sounding his trumpet to wake the dead." These identifications would turn the image into an illustration for Blake's life and myth rather than for Bunyan's allegory.

Jerusalem, PLATE 54 (E 203)
"In Great Eternity, every particular Form gives forth or Emanates
Its own peculiar Light, & the Form is the Divine Vision
And the Light is his Garment This is Jerusalem in every Man
A Tent & Tabernacle of Mutual Forgiveness Male & Female
And Jerusalem is called Liberty among the Children of Albion"

Jerusalem, PLATE 39 [44],(E 187)
"Man is adjoind to Man by his Emanative portion:
Who is Jerusalem in every individual Man: and her
Shadow is Vala, builded by the Reasoning power in Man
O search & see: turn your eyes inward: open O thou World
Of Love & Harmony in Man: expand thy ever lovely Gates."

If Blake broke away from the overall structure of his series, it is understandable that he would withdraw the illustration from the series. It would have become his personal record of his role as a pilgrim or traveller to Eternity.

Blake's ideas about the destination of the traveller are different from Bunyan's since Bunyan was a Puritan who adhered to the doctrine of predestination including eternal damnation. Bake's traveller's journey would not be measured by moral virtue or inclusion in the class of the elect. Blake would not be receptive to the accumulation of doctrine through which the Puritans sought to regulate and demonstrate their status as among the saved. Bunyan stopped short of the entry into the divine province by his dreamer, although the pilgrims entered the city after crossing the river of death. Bunyan's Celestial City was to be the destiny in the afterlife of those who followed the path outlined for the repentant sinner. One of Bunyan's final scenes shows that one ignorant of the requirements of that route would find himself destined for hell. In contrast Blake's teaching was that error would be annihilated so that all may experience Eternity through connecting with the inner Divinity (that of God in every man as Quakers say.)

Consider the words in the following passage from the beginning of Jerusalem as Blake's response to Bunyan's dreamer who followed the journey of the pilgrim. Awake from the dream that 'states' through which men pass are human existence. Awake from the image of God as afar rather than within. Awake from the idea that Evil must be punished rather than forgiven. Awake to the idea that the Emanation is to be interiorized not projected or rejected.

Jerusalem, Plate 4,(E 146)
"Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine:
Fibres of love from man to man thro Albions pleasant land.
In all the dark Atlantic vale down from the hills of Surrey
A black water accumulates, return Albion! return!
Thy brethren call thee, and thy fathers, and thy sons,
Thy nurses and thy mothers, thy sisters and thy daughters
Weep at thy souls disease, and the Divine Vision is darkend:
Thy Emanation that was wont to play before thy face,
Beaming forth with her daughters into the Divine bosom
Where hast thou hidden thy Emanation lovely Jerusalem
From the vision and fruition of the Holy-one?
I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! we are One; forgiving all Evil; Not seeking recompense!
Ye are my members O ye sleepers of Beulah, land of shades!"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blake's Sex VI

The Woman

A little poem which Blake attached to the end of 'Songs of Experience' casts light on his metaphysics as it relates to Mother Nature:
To Tirzah
Whate'er is Born of Mortal Birth
Must be consumed with the Earth
To rise from Generation free:
Then what have I to do with thee? (note)

The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride,
Blow'd in the room; in evening died;
But Mercy chang'd Death into Sleep;
The Sexes rose to work & weep.
Thou, Mother of my Mortal part,
With cruelty didst mould my Heart,
And with false self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my Nostrils, Eyes and Ears:
Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay,
And me to Mortal Life betray.
The Death of Jesus set me free:
Then what have I to do with thee?

"What have I to do with thee?" Here Blake quotes the words which Jesus spoke to his mother at the Wedding of Cana, which indicates the symbolic signification which Mary had for him, "Thou, Mother of my Mortal part"--my material part, my temporal part! Like Paul Blake wants us to know that the "things which are seen" are passing. He goes further than Paul in suggesting that the "things which are seen" are also cruel and oppressive.

In Blake's prophecies after VDA the female comes to symbolize the temporal. She is associated with the fallen Sea of Time and Space. The first earthly female, Enitharroon, has her origin in a ghastly parody of the story of Adam and Eve: After Los chained Urizen into the fallen forms of creation, he sickened and "became what he beheld", and Enitharmon materialized as a Globe of Blood from his bosom.

In "The Four Zoas" Enitharmon has a different origin; she and Los are born from the union of Enion and the Spectre of Tharmas. She is an altogether sinister female until the Moment of Grace. When Los comments on the burdens of their parents, she replies:

To make us happy let them weary their immortal powers
While we draw in their sweet delights, while we return them scorn
On scorn to feed our discontent; for if we grateful prove
They will withhold sweet love, whose food is thorns and bitter roots.
(The Four Zoas [Nt 1], 10.3; E305)
and proceeds to sing him the The Song of Death. A thoroughgoing materialist, she has only the love of the Pebble; she sees the love of the Clod of Clay simply as a weakness to exploit. Enitharmon leads Los to the "Feast of Envy" (The Four Zoas [Nt 2], 23.10; E313), one of Blake's first and greatest epiphanies of Evil.

At the end of Night ii we find Enitharmon at her worst, using her sex appeal to tease and frustrate, luring Los on only to withdraw, determined to possess him and give nothing:

for thou art mine,
Created for my will, my slave, tho' strong, tho' I am weak.
Farewell, the God calls me away. I depart in my sweet bliss,
(The Four Zoas [Nt 2], 34.46; E323)
and a few lines further:
 The joy of woman is the death of her most best beloved
Who dies for Love of her
In torments of fierce jealousy and pangs of adoration.

These lines perhaps led some to postulate sexual deprivation in Blake's marriage. They certainly reveal first hand experience with a teasing bitch of the worst sort. But in my opinion Catherine could not possibly have been such a woman. However any who have seen materialistic lovers know that it rings true.

With the fall of Urizen Enitharoon loses her vicious side and becomes simply a clinging, dependent woman. She gives birth to Orc and centers her affection upon him until the Moment of Grace. At that point she begins to cooperate with Los in the building of Golgonooza.

A much more sinister female is Vala. In Night vii, at the critical hinge of Blake's myth, the Spectre of Urthona and the Shadow of Enitharmon meet beneath the Tree of Mystery and compare notes. Each gives his version of the Fateful Fall, and they agree that the cause was a female. Here is the Shadow's version:

Among the Flowers of Beulah walk'd the Eternal Man & saw
Vala, the lilly of the desart melting in high noon;
Upon her bosom in sweet bliss he fainted. Wonder siez'd
All heaven; they saw him dark;

And the Spectre's version:

One dread morn of gory blood
The manhood was divided, for the gentle passions, making way
Thro' the infinite labyrinths of the heart & thro' the nostrils
In odorous stupefaction, stood before the Eyes of Man
A female bright.
Ahania's vision in Night iii makes the same point. (Bear in mind that in Blake's primary mythology the female represents materiality.) Again the reader should note that in all three of these accounts of the Fall the blame attaches, not to sensual enjoyment, but to the preoccupation with the material which it symbolizes. Blake uses these most vivid concrete images to arouse his reader to the consciousness that Man has turned his back upon the eternal. This becomes clearer as you read further, especially in the first of the three examples given above.

Vala, called the goddess of Nature, generally stands for preoccupation with the material. 'Bacon, Newton, Locke', the Unholy Trinity of Materialism, and Satan, the God of this World, serve as alternative symbols for the same misfortune, but again and again Blake returns to the Female Will. He names her Vala in his early works. In the fully matured myth the concept broadens to include other female characters: Rahab, Tirzah, and the Daughters of Albion, but all these females represent various facets of Vala.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


A remarkable aspect of Norvig's book is the way she traces themes which appear in Blake's Bunyan illustrations through the work of his lifetime. This is prominent in the work she does in linking The Gates of Paradise with the Pilgrim illustrations. 'Gates' itself was evidence of the continuity of Blake's work stretching over decades.

The fact that Blake produced his images through engravings gave them an existence beyond the printed page; they also existed as copper plates. As Blake modified or developed his ideas, the printed images of the same plates could evolve with his thought. It has frequently been noted that the pages of his books were rearranged in various of the printings, or that additional pages were included. Also 'Minute Particulars' were added or emphasized or obscured according to the meaning he wished to convey at a particular time or to a particular audience. Norvig gives substance to the appearance of Blake's ideas as they resurfaced in unexpected places.

The Gates of Paradise initially printed with the prefix of For Children in 1793, was reissued in 1818 prefixed For the Sexes. Three additional plates were engraved with the Keys to the Gates and a final poem and image as an epilogue. This final plate Norvig sees as a link to the Bunyan illustrations which were produced in 1824. That is a period of 35 years over which Blake was communicating related ideas on the development of the psyche in the framework of the journey of a pilgrim (or 'traveller' as Blake called him).

Norvig states on Page 114 of
Dark Figures in the Desired Country: Blake's Illustrations to the Pilgrim's Progress:

"In this late revision of the emblem series, however, by alluding to Christian's identity scroll in The Pilgrim's Progress, the walking stick of the epilogue plate serves to emblemize the function of the eternal personality, which is shown to be basically at odds with those states of change we enter into and out of all the time, like sleep. The message is a terse development of the whole metaphysics of individuals versus states as Blake had refined in the years since his experiences at Felpham; and it is given expression in the poem accompanying the emblem in terms of the difference between "Man" and "Garment" - a difference that Satan (our own intrapsychic Accuser aspect) has not learned 'distinct to know.
"Once again, then we see Bunyan's image of the Christan mental Traveler linked by Blake with his own system of imaginal representation with which the concept of individuation via the route of differentiating self from "state," from his garment, permanent identity from temporary condition, the "Eternal Human" from "those States or Worlds in which the Spirit travels." (J 49).

Jerusalem , Plate 49, (E 198)
"Satan is the State of Death, & not a Human existence:
But Luvah is named Satan, because he has enterd that State.
A World where Man is by Nature the enemy of Man
Because the Evil is Created into a State. that Men
May be deliverd time after time evermore. Amen.
Learn therefore O Sisters to distinguish the Eternal Human
That walks about among the stones of fire in bliss & woe
Alternate! from those States or Worlds in which the Spirit
This is the only means to Forgiveness of Enemies[.]"

Illustrations to Pilgrim's Progress
Plate 17
Christian at the Arbor

In this picture Christian has recovered his lost identity scroll which will allow him passage into heaven. Norvig sees Christian "retrieving his testament of selfhood from the zone of the state of grace (the arbor) so that it can serve him in the forward journey through all other states." (Page 177)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blake's Sex V

Sex as Symbol

Blake used the female as the basic symbol for the material and for the materialistic viewpoint. The history of this concept goes as far back as the beginning of time. The Sun represents a masculine God, the Moon, a Goddess, such as Diana, the great goddess of Ephesus, whose priests raised a riot against the apostle Paul, reported at Acts 19.

Long after MHH he wrote 'Jerusalem' where the "female will" approaches identity with Satan. Both terms connote a preoccupation with the material, putting it first and only. Thus when we read a passage like

The Human is but a Worm, and thou, 0 Male! Thou art
Thyself Female, a Male, a breeder of Seed, a Son & Husband; & Lo
The Human Divine is Woman's Shadow, a Vapor in the summer's heat.
Go assume Papal dignity, thou Spectre, thou Male Harlot! Arthur,
Divide into the Kings of Europe in times remote, 0 Woman-born
and Woman-nourish'd and Woman-educated & Woman-scorned!
(Jerusalem, 64.12; E215)

spoken by Vala, the personification of the "female will", we understand that Blake is not talking about what we know as the sex economy, but rather making a hard nosed statement of the nature of fallenness: the dominance of the material over the spiritual, a dominance all too evident in his age as in ours. This sad situation was always Blake's major concern, and the basic symbol with which he expressed it was that of sex. When we remember to translate male/female into spiritual/material or eternal/temporal, we make a great gain in our understanding of Blake.

Milton's theory of sex influenced Blake as much as any other literary source. 'Paradise Lost' provides a definitive model for much of the sexual imagery that Blake used. Professor Frye calls our attention to a line in Book iv of P . L. describing Adam and Eve: "Hee for God only, shee for God in him" Frye reminds us that this applies only to the unfallen pair; it assigns to Adam a purely spiritual authority. The male dominance of material history Frye calls a "fallen analogy" of that spiritual relationship.

All this enriches our understanding of the meaning of Astarte in her many forms and of the priests' reactions to her which color virtually every word of the Old Testament and its literary descendants: God is male, the Creator. Nature is female, the Creation. The soul (of man and woman) is female in relation to her Creator. Christ is the bridegroom; in union with him we all (of both sexes) become part of the bride. The modern man can accept this only as an imperfect metaphor for spiritual reality



According to Blake's myth sexes begin in the moony night of Beulah where the Etemals came to rest from the arduous wars of intellect that have filled their sunny days in Eden:

There is from Great Eternity a mild and pleasant rest
Named Beulah, a Soft Moony Universe, feminine, lovely,
Pure, mild and Gentle, given in Mercy to those who sleep..
(The Four Zoas [Nt 1], 5.29; E303)

Beulah, one of Blake's most ambiguous images, is a way station between Eden and Ulro. The Eternal, sleeping in Beulah, may rise from his sexual dreams and return to the activity of Eden, or he may fall further into Death Eternal, which is exactly what happened to Albion. Unable to find his way back to Heaven he lapsed into a deeper form of sleep where the female develops a will of her own and lures the male into the "torments of love and Jealousy". Late in 'Jerusalem' the warrior, speaking for Albion, gives a glimpse of his true (fallen) situation and laments"

Once Man was occupied in intellectual pleasures and Energies,
But now my Soul is harrow'd with grief and fear & love & desire,
And now I hate, & now I love, and Intellect is no more.
There is no time for any thing but the torments of love and desire.
(Jerusalem, 68.65; E222)

( There are four worlds in Blake's psychic universe:

Generation or the 'sexual' symbolizes for Blake the materialization of spirit manifested in the Fall and in a fallen Creation. He also used the term 'vegetable'.

Man in Eternity is androgynous. In Beulah, which means Married, the sexes are divided into loving and restful contraries. With the Fall the Female Will becomes dominant; the Human Form deteriorates to the sexual in which male and female, spirit and matter, exist in a state of constant warfare. Man has fallen into the fourth world of Ulro. But whatever falls may rise again.

The third world, Generation, is the world of Los, fallen man's imaginative faculty. Los generates or brings forth artistic creations, structures of thought, myths of meaning, much as a woman brings forth children. These creations always turn bad (or perhaps just moldy) and are broken up and cast into Los's furnace for renewal. The process of generation and destruction would go on indefinitely, like the cycle of Nature, but the Moment of Grace breaks in upon it. Los learns to forgive. His emanation, Enitharmon, now joins him as an instrument of a regeneration offering redemptive promise. Blake proclaims, "0 holy generation, image of regeneration".

The change in Los and Enitharmon, who together make up fallen man's imaginative faculty, prepares the ground for the generation of Jesus. The Sons of Eden announce this event in Night viii of 4Z with a paean of praise. Careful study of the entire song will cast more light on the meaning of Blake's symbolism of sex and generation; here are the final seven lines:

we now behold the Ends of Beulah, and we now behold
Where death Eternal is put off Eternally.
Assume the dark Satanic body in the Virgin's womb,
0 Lamb Divine! it cannot thee annoy. 0 pitying one,
Thy pity is from the foundation of the world, & thy Redemption
Begun already in Eternity. Come then, 0 Lamb of God,
Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

What Blake reports next should be a welcome change for the by now outraged feminist. With his usual consistency he follows the divine annunciation with the appearance of Satan, and the worst thing he can say about Satan is to call him a "male without a female":

The war roar'd round Jerusalem's Gates; it took a hideous form
Seen in the aggregate, a Vast Hermaphroditic form
Heav'd like an Earthquake lab'ring with convulsive groans
Intolerable; at length an awful wonder burst
From the Hermaphroditic bosom. Satan he was nam'd,
Son of Perdition, terrible his form, dishumaniz'd, monstrous,
A male without a female counterpart, a howling fiend
Forlorn of Eden, repugnant to the forms of life,
Yet hiding the shadowy female Vala as in an ark & Curtains,
Abhorr'd, accursed, ever dying an Eternal death,
Being multitudes of tyrant Men in union blasphemous
Against the Divine Image, Congregated assemblies of wicked men.
(The Four Zoas [Nt 8], 104[2nd].30; E378)

To Be Continued

Monday, January 17, 2011


The dream motif within which Pilgrim's Progress is enclosed was developed and enhanced by Blake's imagery. Dreaming is a metaphor for a level of consciousness below ego-consciousness as we ordinarily experience it. Since Christian exists within the dream; his experiences are associated with a level of consciousness which has access to archetypal material from the collective unconscious as well as the personal unconscious. Blake is picking up on and presenting the psychological implications of milestones Christian passes through as indications of internal development of the psyche itself. The narrator, the dreamer, the pilgrim, the companions, and the interpreter are all represented as archetypes which play roles in individuation.

The midpoint of the series of Blake's illustrations, the plate on which Pilgrim encounters Christ is preceded by the plate titled THE MAN WHO DREAMED OF A DAY OF JUDGMENT. So within the narrator's dream of Pilgrim's journey we find an encounter with another dreaming man - a dream within a dream - symbolic of descending to a deeper psychological level. It is at this level that it is possible that the burden which Christian has been bearing - the consciousness of sin - can be removed. In Blake as in Genesis, the division of reality into the categories of Good and Evil precipitates the divisions in man which constitute the 'fall'. The reversal of this consciousness (of sin) opens the way for the appearance of Christ and reunification. 

This is plate 13 of Blake's illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress - THE MAN WHO DREAMED OF A DAY OF JUDGMENT. 
The observer is Christian - the pilgrim with the burden of sin strapped to his back as it has been represented since Plate 2. Norvig sees the encounter represented in Plate 13 as bringing into consciousness the image of the Last Judgment as a scene of fear and punishment. 

Encountering this dream content allows Pilgrim to move to the next scene - an encounter with the Christ and a release from the burden which he had been carrying. Just as the consciousness of sin had become an ever present burden to Pilgrim, the fear of punishment at judgment was acting as a detriment to encountering Christ.

In Gerda S.Norvig's book Dark Figures in the Desired Country: Blake's Illustrations to the Pilgrim's Progress she comments on Plate 13, THE MAN WHO DREAMED OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT:
"From Bunyan's text we know that the man in this emblem is meant to he a warning to Christian, just as the subject of the previous illustration was. But there is a big difference in the mentality of the two characters, a difference Blake picks up on and generously amplifies to his own interpretive purpose. For although Bunyan's version of this emblematic dreamer-within-a dream shakes and trembles from his haunting fear that he is doomed, he is not so fixated or developed in his anxiety that he has lost all perspective on it. Unlike the man in the iron cage, he talks about his fear and about his vision. He thus creates a certain amount of figural and dialogic distance between himself and his feeling state figured in his dream. That is the saving grace, and indeed for Blake this figure from the Progress typifies the very possibility of a saving grace in everyone's psychic organization. Thus, despite the man's dream-vision that he will be rejected by God at the Last Day, he has two valuable attributes (themselves God-given) that help to counteract the implosive effects of his negative intuition: he has the visionary power to create a clear embodiment of his fear and the capacity to reflect consciously on its imaged content." (Page 164-5)

This is the crux of the issue as Norvig sees it: "It is as though the articulation of the damnation-fantasy held by the man dreaming of the Last Judgment in the House of the Interpreter released this contrary image of deliverance through his own visionary opening in obedience to an inner law of psychological compensation in the mind of the original dreamer."

8:1-2 - No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are "in" Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life "in" Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.

Norvig: "It is the identification Christian himself
makes between his [own] imaginative nature and Christ's resurrection that permits and denotes the falling away of the burden. Therefore, the burden in its death throes appropriately recalls the burial of Jesus, whereby a corruptible body was converted to an incorruptible. To enhance the hints Bunyan gives of this connection, Blake fashions the burden to look like an unborn human embryo crouched by the transept of the sepulcher's doorway. It also has the appearance of crumpled clothing, a possible allusion to the linen cloths found folded up beside Christ's tomb after the resurrection." (p 169)

The point of return has been achieved; challenges remain but the result is assured.

Jerusalem, PLATE 43 [29], E(191)
"Then the Divine Vision like a silent Sun appeard above
Albions dark rocks: setting behind the Gardens of Kensington
On Tyburns River, in clouds of blood: where was mild Zion Hills
Most ancient promontory, and in the Sun, a Human Form appeard
And thus the Voice Divine went forth upon the rocks of Albion"