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.


Susan J. said...

"the sexes sprung from shame & pride" reminds me of the song "The Origins of Love" from the movie "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" -- not exactly a blockbuster on the mainstream screen, but a very moving film...

Susan J. said...

here it is again, with a bit more context from the film...

ellie said...

Yeah, Susan, its pretty weird, but funny and insightful.