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)
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)
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