Thursday, March 31, 2011

Frye II

Although Fearful Symmetry was Frye's first book, it was not the one he was famous for; that would be The Anatomy of Criticism. It became the preeminent textbook for literary critics. Anatomy of Criticism was a difficult book: for specialists. He wrote another one, a simplification of 'Anatomy', called The Educated Imagination. For those not up for that there's a study guide, in essence a condensation of Frye's first condensation. You might start with that and work your way up -- like a scholar does.

Here are two significant things that Frye said about Fearful Symmetry.
At one point he said that if had it to do again, he would have written a simpler explanatory treatment of Blake, like Percival's Circle of Destiny.

After Fearful Symmetry was done, he said that it had within it all he had to say with The Anatomy of Criticism.

So it appears that Frye thought he had written, with FS, a particular case of his thesis, while 'Anatomy' was the general case. Since that time many Blakeans have attended to Blake's poetry, pictures and ideas exclusively, to the exclusion of other poets and artists. They specialize in Blake, like a doctor might specialize in Ophthamology and know little or nothing about other fields of medicine.

A major convention of Western literature is the way in which stories get told. In The Educated Imagination (p. 52) Frye suggests that each story represents episodes in the story of literature itself . As he views it, all literature tells a largely cyclical story--"the story of the loss and regaining of identity" (p. 55). It can be seen in the hero's quest, where the hero leaves the safety of his society to face a monster and returns, or in the lover's plight, where the man is attracted to a woman, and marries her and is buried by her. But it's most complete representation in the West is the Biblical story of the Fall of man from his original home and the eventual return to a promised land or a heavenly kingdom."

Writing Fearful Symmetry Frye had perceived that Blake's opus was a Circle of Destiny with a departure and a return. Early in Blake's poetic development his circle had two points, reflected in two Contraries, Urizen and Luvah. But it soon became Fourfold: Blake's Myth, the System that he Created (Erdman 153). It had as its biblical source the 1st Chapter of Ezekiel, with the 'four living creatures. If you read Ezekiel 1 you can't help seeing their resemblance to the Four Zoas, forming the structure of Blake's unfinished masterpiece called The Four Zoas.

When you form the habit of recognizing the fundamental quality of the images Blake presents, you will be able to see the same kinds of images in the works of other writers. And if you have some familiarity with the Bible you may recognize the original sources of ideas, values, images that appear throughout literature.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


In Plate 61 of Jerusalem, Blake recapitulates the truth conveyed in the both Old and New Testament of the Bible. The Old Testament could be summarized as the repeated attempts of God to form a people who would respond to his love. Failures were punished but eventually forgiveness lead to renewal. The New Testament provided the new paradigm of internalization of Christ as the means of breaking down the cycle of failure and punishment. Forgiveness through Christ within would lead to the Brotherhood of Man. Blake presents the reconciliation of the parents of Jesus over the issue of the conception of their baby as a paradigm of the relationship which evolved in forging the bonds between God and man in the 'four thousand years' of Old Testament history. Joseph's forgiveness of Mary would be the initial work of the Savior in replacing law with grace.

Matthew 1
[18] Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
[19] Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
[20] But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Jerusalem, PLATE 61 (E 211)
"Behold: in the Visions of Elohim Jehovah, behold Joseph & Mary
And be comforted O Jerusalem in the Visions of Jehovah Elohim

She looked & saw Joseph the Carpenter in Nazareth & Mary
His espoused Wife. And Mary said, If thou put me away from thee
Dost thou not murder me? Joseph spoke in anger & fury. Should I
Marry a Harlot & an Adulteress? Mary answerd, Art thou more pure
Than thy Maker who forgiveth Sins & calls again Her that is Lost
Tho She hates. he calls her again in love. I love my dear Joseph
But he driveth me away from his presence. yet I hear the voice of God
In the voice of my Husband. tho he is angry for a moment, he will not
Utterly cast me away. if I were pure, never could I taste the sweets
Of the Forgive[ne]ss of Sins! if I were holy! I never could behold the tears
Of love! of him who loves me in the midst of his anger in furnace of fire.

Ah my Mary: said Joseph: weeping over & embracing her closely in
His arms: Doth he forgive Jerusalem & not exact Purity from her who is
Polluted. I heard his voice in my sleep O his Angel in my dream:

Saying, Doth Jehovah Forgive a Debt only on condition that it shall
Be Payed? Doth he Forgive Pollution only on conditions of Purity
That Debt is not Forgiven! That Pollution is not Forgiven
Such is the Forgiveness of the Gods, the Moral Virtues of the
Heathen, whose tender Mercies are Cruelty. But Jehovahs Salvation
Is without Money & without Price, in the Continual Forgiveness of Sins
In the Perpetual Mutual Sacrifice in Great Eternity! for behold!
There is none that liveth & Sinneth not! And this is the Covenant
Of Jehovah: If you Forgive one-another, so shall Jehovah Forgive You:
That He Himself may Dwell among You. Fear not then to take
To thee Mary thy Wife, for she is with Child by the Holy Ghost

Then Mary burst forth into a Song! she flowed like a River of
Many Streams in the arms of Joseph & gave forth her tears of joy
Like many waters, and Emanating into gardens & palaces upon
Euphrates & to forests & floods & animals wild & tame from
Gihon to Hiddekel, & to corn fields & villages & inhabitants
Upon Pison & Arnon & Jordan. And I heard the voice among
The Reapers Saying, Am I Jerusalem the lost Adulteress? or am I
Babylon come up to Jerusalem? And another voice answerd Saying

Does the voice of my Lord call me again? am I pure thro his Mercy
And Pity. Am I become lovely as a Virgin in his sight who am
Indeed a Harlot drunken with the Sacrifice of Idols does he
Call her pure as he did in the days of her Infancy when She
Was cast out to the loathing of her person. The Chaldean took
Me from my Cradle. The Amalekite stole me away upon his Camels
Before I had ever beheld with love the Face of Jehovah; or known
That there was a God of Mercy: O Mercy O Divine Humanity!
O Forgiveness & Pity & Compassion! If I were Pure I should never
Have known Thee; If I were Unpolluted I should never have
Glorified thy Holiness, or rejoiced in thy great Salvation.

Mary leaned her side against Jerusalem, Jerusalem recieved
The Infant into her hands in the Visions of Jehovah. Times passed on
Jerusalem fainted over the Cross & Sepulcher She heard the voice
Wilt thou make Rome thy Patriarch Druid & the Kings of Europe his
Horsemen? Man in the Resurrection changes his Sexual Garments at will
Every Harlot was once a Virgin: every Criminal an Infant Love!"

In Theology Today (1971), in an article titled Blake on Joseph's Dilemma, William E. Phipps states:

"Blake discerned that the basic teaching of the entire Bible was that love should be displayed without ceasing to the undeserving. He thought that this love could most poignantly be tested in a situation of estrangement provoked by an adulterous conception. Blake's Joseph renewed his trust in one who pleaded for forgiveness after she had betrayed his confidence. Far from believing that his betrothed was forever tainted by past indulgence in illicit coitus, he accepted her baby as his own. The couple mutually witness to the indefatigable nature of true love."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Northrup Frye I

This from an article in Wikipedia:
"it was in reflecting on the similarity between Blake and Milton that Frye first stumbled upon the "principle of the mythological framework," the recognition that "the Bible was a mythological framework, cosmos or body of stories, and that societies live within a mythology" (Hart 18). Blake thus led Frye to the conviction that the Bible provided Western societies with the mythology which informed all of Western literature. As Hamilton asserts, "Blake's claim that 'the Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art' became the central doctrine of all [Frye's] criticism" (39). This 'doctrine' found its fullest expression in Frye's appropriately named The Great Code, which he described as "a preliminary investigation of Biblical structure and typology" whose purpose was ultimately to suggest "how the structure of the Bible, as revealed by its narrative and imagery, was related to the conventions and genres of Western literature" (Words with Power xi)."

The magnitude of the significance of Fearful Symmetry (in my mind at least) led me to wonder just who Frye was; where did he come from? who was he? How did it happen that he should write such a book?

Writing Fearful Symmetry

It was a thesis, I understood, and something he took ten years writing:
From biography:
" 1929. He enrolled in Victoria College of the University of Toronto.

While still an undergraduate, he developed a deep fascination with the complex poetic prophecies of William Blake, particularly Milton, The Four Zoas, and Jerusalem, considered by many scholars to be the product of an eccentric, possibly insane, visionary. In Frye's first year of graduate work, in which he took concurrent training as a minister for the United Church of Canada (primarily Methodist), Frye decided to write a definitive book on Blake which would break Blake's difficult symbolic code. This near obsession sustained him through two unhappy years of graduate work at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied with poet Edmund Blunden in 1936-1937 and 1938-1939, after which he taught English at Victoria College for over four decades.

Ten-Year Labor on Blake

Heavily influenced by British scholars of myth, particularly James Frazer, he worked diligently on the Blake book from 1934 to 1945, finally producing Fearful Symmetry. Published in 1947, it is still considered the definitive reading of Blake. It shows that Blake's poetic universe was not psychotically personal but had close affinities with other major poetry. Basically Frye proposed that all literature fit into a grand apocalyptic pattern of heaven and hell. Aspects of literary expression such as tragedy (the Fall), irony (unrelieved hell), romance (resurrection), and comedy (communal reconciliation) form an interconnected circular pattern analogous to the Last Judgment or the wheel of fortune motifs common in medieval art."

Here's a study guide on Frye's The Educated Imagination, a more elementary version of Frye's masterpiece, an Anatomy of Criticism.

More to come.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Blake never completely resolved his attitude to Homer and to Western Civilization's legacy from the Greek culture. Blake's mind was expanded when he became acquainted with Thomas Taylor and the Neoplatonist movement. The sign of the respect that Blake developed for what he had learned from them is apparent in their influence on the poetry. Blake exercised his critical faculty by adapting the Greek mythology to his own thinking. In spite of all he admired in the Greek literature, the one thing which he most required, consciousness of the relationship between God and Man, he found to be absent.

If you have seen the movie Amadeus you may find a similarity with the issue treated in that movie. Salieri could not reconcile the lavish gifts God had bestowed on Mozart with the young man's lifestyle and behavior. Blake could not reconcile Homer's talents as a mythmaker with his blindness to the spiritual truths found in the Bible. Some of Blake's friends may have had the same problem with Blake whose obvious talents were not spent conveying the conventional messages of Christianity or of the British Empire. Blake would have observed that the abilities which were present in Homer and Mozart and himself were their innate ideas with which they were born.
Annotations to Reynolds, (E 648)
"Knowledge of Ideal Beauty. is Not to be Acquired It is Born
with us Innate Ideas. are in Every Man Born with him. they are
Himself. The Man who says that we have No Innate Ideas
must be a Fool & Knave."

The picture called the Sea of Time and Space or the Arlington Tempera (dated 1821) evidences the connection between Homer and Blake. Scenes from the tale of Ulysses are portrayed in the picture intimating familiar aspects of Blake own mythology. In Blake and Antiquity, Kathleen Raine states: "As Blake Grew older he moved towards a more explicit Christianity; but this picture, painted with such evident love, such wealth of symbolic detail, makes it plain that he never disowned the philosophy that had given him the basis of his own symbolism."
More on Blake's use of Greek mythology can be found in the Blake Primer, Chapter 9.

As Blake became more wedded to biblical imagery his attitude toward Homer had become ambivalent. In this plate from c 1820 he seems to conclude by linking the troubled European conflicts with Homer's epics.

On Homer's Poetry
, (E 269)
"Every Poem must necessarily be a perfect Unity, but why Homers is
peculiarly so, I cannot tell: he has told the story of
Bellerophon & omitted the judgment of Paris which is not only a
part, but a principal part of Homers subject
But when a Work has Unity it is as much in a Part as in the
Whole. the Torso is as much a Unity as the Laocoon
As Unity is the cloke of folly so Goodness is the cloke of
knavery Those who will have Unity exclusively in Homer come out
with a Moral like a sting in the tail: Aristotle says Characters
are either Good or Bad: now Goodness or Badness has nothing to do
with Character. an Apple tree a Pear tree a Horse a Lion, are
Characters but a Good Apple tree or a Bad, is an Apple tree
still: a Horse is not more a Lion for being a Bad Horse. that is
its Character; its Goodness or Badness is another consideration.
It is the same with the Moral of a whole Poem as with the Moral Goodness
of its parts Unity & Morality, are secondary considerations &
belong to Philosophy & not to Poetry, to Exception & not to Rule,
to Accident & not to Substance. the Ancients calld it eating of
the tree of good & evil.
The Classics, it is the Classics! & not Goths nor Monks, that
Desolate Europe with Wars."

Three issues stand out in Blake's objections to Homer in this plate:
1) for Blake but not for Homer 'Unity and morality are secondary considerations',
2) Blake's interest was in substance not accident, poetry not philosophy,
3) Homer glorified war which desolated humanity.

Annotations to Berkley, (E 664)
"This is my Opinion but Forms must be apprehended by Sense or
the Eye of Imagination
Man is All Imagination God is Man & exists in us & we in him
... What Jesus came to Remove was the Heathen or Platonic
Philosophy which blinds the Eye of Imagination The Real Man

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Letter 23

What a wealth of superior poetry would bless us if Blake had enjoyed more friends like Butts, or even better, if the general public had had the opinion of him that Butts had. In the letters to Butts he writes in perfect freedom, freed from the constraints of the world's indifference if not hostility and contempt.

Hayley had tried to be his friend. But proved to be a spiritual as well as a corporeal friend? (impossible of course)

"Being not irritated by insult bearing insulting benevolences
They percieved that corporeal friends are spiritual enemies"
(Jeruselem, plate 44 [30]; Erdman 193)

(Butts of course was both a corporeal and a spiritual friend. Blake's other (special) friend, Hayley continually imposed on Blake.)

Some Portions of Letter 23 (22 Nov. 1802):
"When my heart knockd against the root of my tongue
With Angels planted in Hawthorn bowers
And God himself in the passing hours
With Silver Angels across my way
And Golden Demons that none can stay
With my Father hovering upon the wind
And my Brother Robert just behind
And my Brother John the evil one
In a black cloud making his mone
Tho dead they appear upon my path
Notwithstanding my terrible wrath
They beg they intreat they drop their tears
Filld full of hopes filld full of fears"

Hey! what's all this? A Vision of course. Three (dead!) family members are there with him. They're making demands on Blake. He's confused; he doesn't know what he's supposed to do.

"A frowning Thistle implores my stay
What to others a trifle appears
Fills me full of smiles or tears
For double the vision my Eyes do see
And a double vision is always with me
With my inward Eye 'tis an old Man grey
With my outward a Thistle across my way"

The thistle represents single vision, the material vision we all use, superstitious or enlightened:

"If thou goest back the Thistle said
Thou art to endless woe betrayd

For here does Theotormon lower

And here is Enitharmons bower

And Los the terrible thus hath sworn

Because thou backward dost return

Poverty Envy old age & fear

Shall bring thy Wife upon a bier

And Butts shall give what Fuseli gave

A dark black Rock & a gloomy Cave."
(Theotormon, you may remember was a fearful man who allowed conventional taboos to keep him from any chance for happiness.
(The man with his head in his arms is Theotormon.

The thistle is reasoning with Blake: 'If thou goest back', back to where? Back to the Main Chance of course; back to being a commercial artist; back to giving up visions, which is what Hayley wanted him to do. It will lead to endless woe, to Poverty Envy old age & fear, exactly what he was trying to avoid living with Hayley.

I struck the Thistle with my foot

And broke him up from his delving root
"Must the duties of life each other cross"
"Must every joy be dung & dross"

"Must my dear Butts feel cold neglect"

"Because I give Hayley his due respect'
"Must Flaxman look upon me as wild"

"And all my friends be with doubts beguild'

"Must my Wife live in my Sisters bane"

"Or my sister survive on my Loves pain'

"The curses of Los the terrible shade"

"And his dismal terrors make me afraid

Today we might say that Blake is just whining about the cold (material) realities of his life. Note the last line; remember it because we'll meet these 'terrors' again.

So I spoke & struck in my wrath
The old man weltering upon my path

Then Los appeard in all his power

In the Sun he appeard descending before
My face
in fierce flames in my double sight

Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might

"My hands are labourd day & night"
"And Ease comes never in my sight"

"My Wife has no indulgence given"

"Except what comes to her from heaven"

"We eat little we drink less"

"This Earth breeds not our happiness"

"Another Sun feeds our lifes streams"

"We are not warmed with thy beams"

"Thou measurest not the Time to me"

"Nor yet the Space that I do see"

"My Mind is not with thy light arrayd"

"Thy terrors shall not make me afraid"

In this mood he's more hopeful; the terrors no longer make him afraid. What that brings to my mind is that the 'terrors of life' have no hold on my life when I'm 'hallowing His name'; it brings the visions of Heaven.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Letter to Butts, Nov 22, 1902, (E 722)
"This Earth breeds not our happiness"
"Another Sun feeds our lifes streams"
"We are not warmed with thy beams"
"Thou measurest not the Time to me"
"Nor yet the Space that I do see"
"My Mind is not with thy light arrayd"
"Thy terrors shall not make me afraid"

Our world is the world of time and space. It is a pale shadow of Eternity which is not limited by time and space which resulted from the fall. The fall of the Zoas into division separated them from the Divine Vision. Time and space were provided to them to arrest their fall into the abyss of non-entity.

Book of Urizen, Plate 15
"But the space undivided by existence
Struck horror into his soul"
Blake seems to have conceived of space and time as being objects of creation having come into existence to go out of existence. He sees space having been given to time as a mercy to give it form. He sees space as limited by Eternity. He considers time to be perceived as passing at different rates. The passing of time to him can be controlled. His time is the swiftest of all things and the alternative to Eternity. His time is not lost in Eternity. Time he sees varies according to the means of perception.

The work of the poet, the prophet or artist is the work of vision; it does not require an extension in time because it is contact with Eternity.

Man is placed in the tent of space and within it his mind creates his reality which is limited by his own ability to perceive the infinite. Man's limitations present him with a false picture. Man's limited senses even with the aid of the microscope or telescope do not see as the visionary sees. The possibilities are present to behold visions or to enter Eternity because man is given guidance in this world: he is not left alone.

Milton, PLATE 29 [31], (E 127)
"For in this Period the Poets Work is Done: and all the Great
Events of Time start forth & are concievd in such a Period
Within a Moment: a Pulsation of the Artery.

The Sky is an immortal tent built by the Sons of Los
And every Space that a Man views around his dwelling-place:
Standing on his own roof, or in his garden on a mount
Of twenty-five cubits in height, such space is his Universe;
And on its verge the Sun rises & sets. the Clouds bow
To meet the flat Earth & the Sea in such an orderd Space:
The Starry heavens reach no further but here bend and set
On all sides & the two Poles turn on their valves of gold:
And if he move his dwelling-place, his heavens also move.
Wher'eer he goes & all his neighbourhood bewail his loss:
Such are the Spaces called Earth & such its dimension:
As to that false appearance which appears to the reasoner,
As of a Globe rolling thro Voidness, it is a delusion of Ulro
The Microscope knows not of this nor the Telescope. they alter
The ratio of the Spectators Organs but leave Objects untouchd
For every Space larger than a red Globule of Mans blood.
Is visionary: and is created by the Hammer of Los
And every Space smaller than a Globule of Mans blood. opens
Into Eternity of which this vegetable Earth is but a shadow:
The red Globule is the unwearied Sun by Los created"

The time/space continuum will come to an end (as all contraries will) when they are seen for what they are. Here Los explains to Enitharmon the resolution of the drama. Albion awakens, the manifestations of Albions disease come to an end. The contraries of spirit and matter, time and space, Los and Enitharmon 'vanish and cease'. Remaining are 'Visionary Space and Time'; the terrors of 'Creation & Redemption & Judgment' are foreseen and avoided. Nothing has been lost or wasted.

Jerusalem, Plate 92, (E 252)
"Los answerd swift as the shuttle of gold. Sexes must vanish & cease
To be, when Albion arises from his dread repose O lovely Enitharmon:
When all their Crimes, their Punishments their Accusations of Sin:
All their Jealousies Revenges. Murders. hidings of Cruelty in Deceit
Appear only in the Outward Spheres of Visionary Space and Time.
In the shadows of Possibility by Mutual Forgiveness forevermore
And in the Vision & in the Prophecy, that we may Foresee & Avoid
The terrors of Creation & Redemption & Judgment.
To measure Time and Space to mortal Men. every morning.
Bowlahoola & Allamanda are placed on each side
Of that Pulsation & that Globule, terrible their power."
Clues to previous quotes:

Pulsation = energy = time
Globule = form = space

Bowlahoola is the functioning of internal organs; Alamanda is the functioning of nervous system.

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 555)
"There Exist
in that Eternal World the Permanent Realities of Every Thing
which we see are reflected in this Vegetable Glass of Nature
All Things are comprehended in their Eternal Forms in the
Divine body of the Saviour the True Vine of Eternity
The Human Imagination who appeard to Me as Coming to Judgment.
among his Saints & throwing off the Temporal that the Eternal
might be Establishd.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Four Fold

The number four is a symbol of fullness. In the first chapter of Ezekiel four appears 13 times. John in the 4th and 5th chapters of Revelation picked up the fourness; Blake made heavy use of these images. The four living creatures of Ezekiel and the four beasts of Revelation became Blake's Four Zoas (which Frye described as the greatest incomplete poem ever written in the British language).

Look at Jerusalem, Plates 12 and 13:
"Fourfold the Sons of Los in their divisions: and fourfold,       
The great City of Golgonooza: fourfold toward the north
And toward the south fourfold, & fourfold toward the east & west
Each within other toward the four points: that toward
Eden, and that toward the World of Generation,
And that toward Beulah, and that toward Ulro:
Ulro is the space of the terrible starry wheels of Albions sons:
But that toward Eden is walled up, till time of renovation:
Yet it is perfect in its building, ornaments & perfection.

And the Four Points are thus beheld in Great Eternity
West, the Circumference: South, the Zenith: North,
The Nadir: East, the Center, unapproachable for ever.
These are the four Faces towards the Four Worlds of Humanity
In every Man. Ezekiel saw them by Chebars flood.
And the Eyes are the South, and the Nostrils are the East.
And the Tongue is the West, and the Ear is the North.

And the North Gate of Golgonooza toward Generation;
Has four sculpturd Bulls terrible before the Gate of iron.
And iron, the Bulls: and that which looks toward Ulro,
Clay bak'd & enamel'd, eternal glowing as four furnaces:
Turning upon the Wheels of Albions sons with enormous power.
And that toward Beulah four, gold, silver, brass, & iron:

And that toward Eden, four, form'd of gold, silver, brass, &

The South, a golden Gate, has four Lions terrible, living!
That toward Generation, four, of iron carv'd wondrous:
That toward Ulro, four, clay bak'd, laborious workmanship
That toward Eden, four; immortal gold, silver, brass & iron.

The Western Gate fourfold, is closd: having four Cherubim
Its guards, living, the work of elemental hands, laborious task!
Like Men, hermaphroditic, each winged with eight wings
That towards Generation, iron; that toward Beulah, stone;
That toward Ulro, clay: that toward Eden, metals.
But all clos'd up till the last day, when the graves shall yield
their dead

The Eastern Gate, fourfold: terrible & deadly its ornaments:
Taking their forms from the Wheels of Albions sons; as cogs
Are formd in a wheel, to fit the cogs of the adverse wheel.

That toward Eden, eternal ice, frozen in seven folds
Of forms of death: and that toward Beulah, stone:
The seven diseases of the earth are carved terrible.

And that toward Ulro, forms of war: seven enormities:
And that toward Generation, seven generative forms.

And every part of the City is fourfold; & every inhabitant,

(Erdman 156)

In simple terms the Fall of Albion from Eden involved his division into four zoas (Jung had a similar construction which he called the four functions of the psyche. Individuation would involve four perfectly balanced functions.) In Western thought the only such man would be Jesus. All the rest of us are one sided in some way: reason oriented (urizenic), feeling oriented (luvan), sensation oriented (tharman (this really doesn't seem to work quite right?), and imagination or intuition (urthonian) (down here in the world Urthona is represented by Los). If this is confusing, press on perhaps for more confusion (but remember that confusion is the first step in understanding).

There's more light on that confusion in this description of the four men found in A Descriptive Catalog (in Erdman 543):
"The Strong man represents the human sublime. The Beautiful man represents the human pathetic, which was in the wars of Eden divided into male and female. The Ugly man represents the human reason. They were originally one man, who was fourfold; he was self-divided, and his real humanity slain on the stems of generation, and the form of the fourth was like the Son of God."
(That last line vividly echoes the fourth man found strolling in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (at Daniel 3:25)

(In regard to the Strong, Beautiful and Ugly men look for more detail at Ancient Britons.)

In a similar vein, in a letter to Butts, Blake touched on the four levels of consciousness; here's the most salient fragment:
"Now I a fourfold vision see And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight And three fold in soft Beulahs night And twofold Always. May God us keep From Single vision & Newtons sleep"
(Letter 23; Erdman

So what might single vision be? A logical positivist might have single vision; he thinks that there is no meaning except objects that can be weighed and measured.
But can love be weighed and measured? "Meaningless" says the man with single vision. Blake said:

"Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?

Or Love in a golden bowl?"
(From Thel's Motto on page 3 of Erdman)

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Newton's laws of motion epitomized the thought forms to which Blake so strongly objected. Blake believed the world to be a product of man's own intellect and imagination. His world was infinite - but expanding and contracting according to circumstances. Newtonian physics fixed and limited the possibilities of viewing the world and of receiving input from outside the five senses. Blake felt that Newton by describing the planetary system as bodies in fixed orbits controlled by defined forces destroyed the possibility of perceiving symbolic meaning in them communicated from beyond the physical world. Blake refused to think of the sun and moon and stars as material objects which demonstrated laws of motion when he could think of them as messages from God or remnants of the fall of Man.

The world in which Blake dwelt was closer to the world as conceived by Einstein and quantum physicists: a world in which time and space are flexible, in which multiple descriptions may apply to the same phenomena, in which measuring itself is an intervention which alters the object measured.

Sir Isaac Newton, c.1795
As always Blake was concerned with the use to which ideas were put. It wasn't the validity of Newton's observations that bothered him but the fact that they were stated as laws. This validated their use to describe a clockwork universe which operated as a machine whereas Blake's universe operated as a living body. Blake has a totally different way of describing the universe in terms of beings, kingdoms, the Mundane Shell and caverns blocked by the fires of Los. Newton measures the the stars by material dimensions; Blake measures matter by the stars between which are Newton's voids.

Milton , PLATE 37 [41], (E 138)
"All these are seen in Miltons Shadow who is the Covering Cherub
The Spectre of Albion in which the Spectre of Luvah inhabits
In the Newtonian Voids between the Substances of Creation

For the Chaotic Voids outside of the Stars are measured by
The Stars, which are the boundaries of Kingdoms, Provinces
And Empires of Chaos invisible to the Vegetable Man
The Kingdom of Og. is in Orion: Sihon is in Ophiucus
Og has Twenty-seven Districts; Sihons Districts Twenty-one
From Star to Star, Mountains & Valleys, terrible dimension
Stretchd out, compose the Mundane Shell, a mighty Incrustation
Of Forty-eight deformed Human Wonders of the Almighty
With Caverns whose remotest bottoms meet again beyond
The Mundane Shell in Golgonooza, but the Fires of Los, rage
In the remotest bottoms of the Caves, that none can pass
Into Eternity that way, but all descend to Los
To Bowlahoola & Allamanda & to Entuthon Benython

The Heavens are the Cherub, the Twelve Gods are Satan"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Job is the Universal Man, Albion, you and me, the cosmos. In American culture Man may be thought of as getting and spending, or more comprehensively as a radical materialist, lacking a spiritual outlook. Reading the Book of Job, Blake found these same qualities in Job, particularly a legalistic religion of self satisfaction. He also found them in the Zoas, fractured parts of the Universal Man, Albion, when he descended from Eternity and went to sleep.

Blake did his Job illustrations in his sixties, near the end of a long and productive life. It contains in essence, but comprehensive and succinct, the same myth as do all the others. Job is the story of Albion, of Blake and his world, of you and me and ours. If you study nothing Blakean but Job, it will yield an accurate picture of Blake's system of thought, what he is about, and what he feels and believes most deeply.

Kathleen Raine, near the end of her life published a little book called Golgonoonza. It contains a very good treatment of Blake's Job. Beginning with Plate One Blake wrote this quote from II Corinthians 3:6: "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life". We see a self-satisfied looking family with their musical instruments hanging from the tree, but not used. This family lives by the law.

And the law killed Job's children ("Our children are dead to us when we cease to love them and pass moral judgements upon them"; page 127). Job has not learned that the Spirit of God is 'the continual forgiveness of sins', which is to say that Job doesn't know God.

On page 127 she wrote, "It is clear that the figure of Albion is to a great extent derived from the Book of Job", although he didn't get around to dealing with it artistically until very late in his career.

There are many good presentations of Blake's Job on the web. The most helpful one might be in a work emanating from Boston College.

This one has a frame with the King James Version of the Bible pointed to by Blake in his magnificent production. Remarkably the text spread around Blake's pictures appear to have almost verbatim copies of various parts of the Bible Book of Job.

Here is the initial picture of another of the Job series. Click on the Next to see the successive pictures one by one. Blake's Job passed through all the joy and woe that inform peoples' lives; he was proud of his family (like the rich fool Jesus spoke of, he suffered like we all do from our arrogance and self-centeredness; he reached out for help in his misery, found God, and lived happily ever after. Here is the last picture. These pictures, like most of Blake's pictorial art are largely diagrammatic, designed to convey spiritual meaning.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Taking his inspiration from the illuminated manuscripts of the middle ages, Blake invented the process of creating Illuminated Books. Between 1788 and early 1795 Blake published a series of fifteen Illuminated Books. He returned to creating Illuminated Books in 1804 when he began work on Milton (finished in 1808 or later) and Jerusalem. Blake committed himself in the minute particulars of producing his Illuminated Books. The process included creating a mental image, drawing, composing the design and poetry of the plate, engraving, printing, painting, compiling and selling. From inception to final production the color copy of Jerusalem was labored over for sixteen years.
Blake was making a variety of statements through his method of publication. One was a political statement of his opposition to the advent of the machine age which meant the loss of individual production of hand crafted goods. He chose the tedious labor of hand production as a means of entering into the crafting of each item as an expression of his own imagination. If Golgoonoza, Blake's city of imagination existed in London, its headquarters were in the home workshop of William and Catherine Blake - be it ever so humble.

Michael Bedard's biography, William Blake The Gates of Paradise, includes this statement about Blake's choosing his nonconformist way of working.

"In rejecting the ways of the world of commerce and the spread of machine methods into the world of art, Blake embraced the Illuminated Book with renewed passion. While industrial production prided itself on the ability to make an endless stream of identical copies, in Illuminated Printing each copy was unique. While industry prided itself on speed and efficiency, Blake's mode of production was deliberately slow and inefficient. While industrial production was grounded on the division of labor and the distinction of those who worked with their heads and those who worked with their hands, Blake's was an artisan's spirit. He took pride in the work of his head and hands and relentlessly pursued the unity of head and hands in the work of art. With the Illuminated Book, Blake strove to restore writing to the 'wondrous art' it was." (Page 140)

Jerusalem , Plate 65, (E 216)
"And all the Arts of Life. they changd into the Arts of Death in Albion.
The hour-glass contemnd because its simple workmanship.
Was like the workmanship of the plowman, & the water wheel,
That raises water into cisterns: broken & burnd with fire:
Because its workmanship. was like the workmanship of the shepherd.
And in their stead, intricate wheels invented, wheel without wheel:
To perplex youth in their outgoings, & to bind to labours in Albion
Of day & night the myriads of eternity that they may grind
And polish brass & iron hour after hour laborious task!
Kept ignorant of its use, that they might spend the days of wisdom
In sorrowful drudgery, to obtain a scanty pittance of bread:
In ignorance to view a small portion & think that All,
And call it Demonstration: blind to all the simple rules of life."

One who chooses the building of Jerusalem as one's lifework is outside of the mainstream of culture in any age.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Tyger

Among Blake's Songs of Experience is a poem called The Tyger, which is placed in opposition to The Lamb, from Songs of Innocence. Among a multitude of commonly studied and analyzed poems, The Tyger is interpreted here as "an intriguing moral critique of Protestant Christianity, or more specifically, a theological query into the motivations of Creation itself."

Songs of Experience, Song 42, (E 24)
The Tyger

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Blake frequently used the image of the Lamb referring to the Lamb of God (Jesus!). In contrast the carnivorous Tyger has an obvious association with Satan. So he's posing the age old question "did God create the Savior and the Devil." Blake emphatically questioned it and disbelieved it to the point of denial. He stated it later in this picturesque way:
Thinking as I do that the Creator of this World is a very Cruel Being & being a Worshipper of Christ I cannot help saying the Son O how unlike the Father First God Almighty comes with a Thump on the Head Then Jesus Christ comes with a balm to heal it"
(Description of the Last Judgment, Erdman 565)

If you were not already aware
how radically Blake's theology diverges from 'conventional religion', this should certainly convince you. The Lamb and the Tyger, or similar metaphors oppose one another throughout Blake's myth until eventually Satan can be perceived as a State rather than a Person, a state that can be happily annihilated as Time ends, passing into Eternity.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


At times Blake gave the impression that he was opposed to science because of his criticism of Newton as the prime exponent of the scientific method in his day. However there was much that he admired about science. Blake was an experimenter and inventor himself devising methods and materials for engraving and painting, and for poetic expression. He objected to forming rigid systems of thought that limited the use of the imagination. And he objected to eliminating non sensory input from the equation of science. He felt that reasoning based only on material data led to sterile, repressive systems which restricted consciousness rather than expanding it.
However Blake often placed art and science in the same category. He considered that when practiced as endeavors of the imagination they both contribute to the building Jerusalem. Science as practiced by reductionists and empiricists he considered destructive to humanity and the kingdom of heaven. Mental activity expressed in art and science was not to be confused with generalized, mechanical, deterministic, materialistic philosophies which Blake associated with Bacon, Newton and Locke.

Jerusalem, Plate 77,(E 232)
"What is the joy of Heaven but Improvement in the
things of the Spirit? What are the Pains of Hell but Ignorance,
Bodily Lust, Idleness & devastation of the things of the Spirit[?]
Answer this to yourselves, & expel from among you those who
pretend to despise the labours of Art & Science, which alone are
the labours of the Gospel: Is not this plain & manifest to the
thought? Can you think at all & not pronounce heartily! That to
Labour in Knowledge. is to Build up Jerusalem: and to Despise
Knowledge, is to Despise Jerusalem & her Builders.
And remember: He who despises & mocks a Mental Gift in another;
calling it pride & selfishness & sin; mocks Jesus the giver of
every Mental Gift, which always appear to the ignorance-loving
Hypocrite, as Sins. but that which is a Sin in the sight of cruel
Man, is not so in the sight of our kind God.
Let every Christian as much as in him lies engage himself
openly & publicly before all the World in some Mental pursuit for
the Building up of Jerusalem"

Jerusalem, Plate 6, Los the Blacksmith

Descriptive Catalogue
, (E 542)
"All these things are written in Eden.
The artist is an inhabitant of that happy country, and if
every thing goes on as it has begun, the world of vegetation
and generation may expect to be opened again to Heaven,
through Eden, as it was in the beginning."

Vision of the Last Judgment , (E 565)
"The Last Judgment is an Overwhelming of Bad Art & Science.
Mental Things are alone Real what is Calld Corporeal Nobody Knows
of its Dwelling Place is in Fallacy & its Existence an
Imposture Where is the Existence Out of Mind or Thought Where is
it but in the Mind of a Fool."

Jerusalem, Plate 55, (E205)
"Let the Indefinite be explored. and let every Man be judged
By his own Works, Let all Indefinites be thrown into Demonstrations
To be pounded to dust & melted in the Furnaces of Affliction:
He who would do good to another, must do it in Minute Particulars
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel hypocrite & flatterer:
For Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power.
The Infinite alone resides in Definite & Determinate Identity
Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falshood

The pursuit of Art & Science under the guidance of Imagination is life itself leading to the 'Establishment of Truth.'

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Who Was William Blake?

The Enlightenment liberated European culture from thrall to the superstitious dimension in which it had existed for a millenium. Religion in England had become shallow, virtually a form of civil service; the location of priests was bought and sold; very few people attended the organized churches, only the establishment elite..

According to Blake Ezekiel once acted out a bizarre symptom of the prospects of the Israelites, lying for an inordinate period of time on his left side, then another period on his right. Mr. Blake had a conversatiion with him about that and asked him why he had done it; the answer came clearly: "the desire of raising other [people] into a perception of the infinite" Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 13)

Who can doubt that William actually had that interview with Zeke? But if truth be known, that desire became the agenda for Blake's life, and perhaps the generic life purpose of every true prophet.

He saw things that most of us don't, and he urgently needed to show them to us, to show us how to see them.

There are many kinds of seeing and many levels of consciousness, but we might say there are two:

1. The sense-based, natural, materialistic time and space consciousness lacking anything that cannot be weighed or measured (Blake called this Ulro; Jesus called it Hell).

2. Vision, coming forth from the inner man, the Light, the Now. It's a different kind of consciousness, a perception of the infinite (Blake called it Eden; Jesus called it the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God).

Jesus showed us with his life how to live eternally; and he told us we could do it. Blake did it, periodically at least, and like Jesus he wanted us to share that heavenly gift.

He called it Vision; that's what he lived for, those eternal moments were all that matters. If you can't do it continuously, then you can talk about it, write about it, draw it, paint it. He did (and you can) show us how to see.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Karl Kroeber's chapter in Blake's Sublime Allegory, Essays on The Four Zoas, Milton, & Jerusalem, Edited by Stuart Curran & Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr. is titled Delivering Jerusalem. As have many before and after him, he is conveying his understanding of Jerusalem in order to make it more accessible to the reader. His idea is that Blake attempts to lead us on a journey inward to recover our 'identity' which is hidden from us by the fall into multiplicity.

Quotes from Kroeber on Blake's Jerusalem:

"It's 'plot' is the commonplace act of falling into sleep and awakening. Sleep is our chief means of natural regeneration. Falling asleep is a process of detaching oneself from one's ordinary 'identity,' what Blake calls 'selfhood,' what today we call one's sense of one's role. In this respect, at least, sleep is a temporary 'death' containing within it the potentiality of new life." (Page 354)

"From the opening of the prophecy, Albion's death is presented as part of a process of potential regeneration, because his salvation lies within himself:..." (Page 354)

"Jerusalem records a journey, a passage from disintegration to integration. But it is a journey inward...
"The first and most important 'figure' to be separated after the original division of Albion and Jesus is Los, the artificer, the impulse of divine energy toward Regeneration which prevents Albion from slipping into annihilation, nonentity. But Los exists as a separate entity only because of Albion's fall; and all that Los does, in one sense, is the reverse of true nobility and divinity. ...what he creates is the consolidation of error. Los is creative spirit struggling in a fallen cosmos, therefore admirable; but his creativity - 'Striving with Systems to deliver Individuals from those Systems' - is almost a parody of Christ's creativity, which makes reality out of 'nothing,' truth out of delusion." (Page 355)

So the difficulty of living in this world is first the illusion that this world (which we construct) is the true world and not a mask of the Eternal world which underlies, encloses, supersedes, and permeates it. Next is the illusion that what we know as 'ourselves' is our true identity and is able to perceive what we are, what the world is and what reality is. Further we work under the illusion that we can 'fix' things by continuing to do the same things that have contributed to creating the illusions.

" Blake's limits are not impassable boundaries...but critical points, equivalent to thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit for water. Contracted to Adam, mankind attains the possibility of the redeeming Christ. Reaching the limit of 'Opakeness' which is Satan, man attains the possibility of total luminescence, Lucifer, complete emanative power, the power of giving forth light instead of casting shadows, making spectres...Only then are we freed from the inhibiting pressure of those 'systems' external to us which contract and darken individuality into Selfhood." (Page 358)

"To fall is to enslave oneself to seemings, to have one' individual identity devoured by a multiplex, illusory Selfhood." (Page 359)

"...imagination, the awakened intellect, passes beyond the limits of seeming to what truly is." (Page 363)
"The total movement of Jerusalem from division through death and sexuality to civil integration is the process of 'identifying' Albion's Emanation, Jerusalem. What the process confirms is that we CAN re-establish our true identity, attain true livingness. 'Identity' means primarily, being oneself and not another." (Page 365)

Although Kroeber never mentions psychological processes or Jungian Analysis, one may see strong parallels to the process of Indivuation (which results in the formation of the Self) in the process described by Kroeber. The liberation of the identity as in Blake, or of the Self as in Jung may be seen as the life work of each individual striving for entry into Eternity.

Jerusalem, Plate 60, (E 209)
"within the Furnaces the Divine Vision appeard

On Albions hills: often walking from the Furnaces in clouds
And flames among the Druid Temples & the Starry Wheels
Gatherd Jerusalems Children in his arms & bore them like
A Shepherd in the night of Albion which overspread all the Earth

I gave thee liberty and life O lovely Jerusalem
And thou hast bound me down upon the Stems of Vegetation"

Pictured on the final plate of Milton with the words 'To go forth to the Great Harvest & Vintage of Nations', is the image of the liberated female shedding the dark garment of Selfhood (Erdman). The 'Stems of Vegetation' on either side draw us to a culminating point in
Jerusalem where the Divine Vision has appeared in the Furnace of Los, gathered Jerusalem's children, and announced that he has given 'liberty and life' which have been bound down on 'stems of vegetation.' But the 'Great Harvest & Vintage' will be accomplished.

As Karl Kroeber says, "we CAN re-establish our true identity, attain true livingness."

Download Blake's Sublime Allegory, Essays on The Four Zoas, Milton, & Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Little Girl

The following is taken from The Blake Primer, the chapter on Myths: There are MANY WAYS TO INTERPRET the two "Little Girl" poems in Songs of Experience. Following Raine I have focused on the neoPlatonic viewpoint:

Little Girl Lost

    In futurity I prophesy
    That the earth from sleep
    (Grave the sentence deep)
    Shall arise, and seek
    For her Maker meek;
    And the desert wild [this mortal world]
    Become a garden mild.

Here in Blake's inimitable poetry we have the biblical New Heaven and New Earth. It is also a promise of the happy outcome of Blake's myth. (Look at Jerusalem , plates 96-99.)

    In the southern clime, [the eternal realm]
    Where the summer's prime
    Never fades away,
    Lovely Lyca lay.

    Seven summers old
    Lovely Lyca told.
    She had wandered long,
    Hearing wild birds' song.

    'Sweet sleep, come to me,
    Underneath this tree; [the Elm of Hades]
    Do father, mother, weep? [like Demeter wept.]
    Where can Lyca sleep?

    'Lost in desert wild
    Is your little child.
    How can Lyca sleep
    If her mother weep?

    'If her heart does ache,
    Then let Lyca wake;
    If my mother sleep,
    Lyca shall not weep.

    'Frowning, frowning night,
    O'er this desert bright
    Let thy moon arise,
    While I close my eyes.'

    Sleeping Lyca lay,
    While the beasts of prey,
    Come from caverns deep,
    Viewed the maid asleep.

    The kingly lion stood, [lion=Pluto, king of the underworld]
    And the virgin viewed:
    Then he gambolled round
    O'er the hallowed ground.

    Leopards, tigers, play
    Round her as she lay;
    While the lion old
    Bowed his mane of gold,

    And her bosom lick,
    And upon her neck,
    From his eyes of flame,
    Ruby tears there came; [Why was the lion sorrowful? Did he mourn the descent of the soul?]

    While the lioness
    Loosed her slender dress,
    And naked they conveyed
    To caves the sleeping maid.

    Little Girl Found

    All the night in woe
    Lyca's parents go
    Over valleys deep,
    While the deserts weep.

    Tired and woe-begone,

    Horse and making moan:

    Arm in arm, seven days
    They traced the desert ways.

    Seven nights they sleep
    Among shadows deep,
    And dream they see their child
    Starved in desert wild.

    Pale through pathless ways
    The fancied image strays,
    Famished, weeping, weak,
    With hollow piteous shriek.

    Rising from unrest,
    The trembling woman pressed
    With feet of weary woe;
    She could no further go.

    In his arms he bore
    Her, armed with sorrow sore;
    Till before their way
    A couching lion lay.

    Turning back was vain:
    Soon his heavy mane
    Bore them to the ground,
    Then he stalked around,
    Smelling to his prey;
    But their fears allay
    When he licks their hands,
    And silent by them stands.

    They look upon his eyes,
    Filled with deep surprise;
    And wondering behold
    A spirit armed in gold. [like "thou Ram hornd with gold" (Letter 16, Verses 60-63)

    On his head a crown,
    On his shoulders down
    Flowed his golden hair.
    Gone was all their care.

    'Follow me,' he said;
    'Weep not for the maid;
    In my palace deep,
    Lyca lies asleep.'

    Then they followed
    Where the vision led,
    And saw their sleeping child
    Among tigers wild.

    To this day they dwell
    In a lonely dell,
    Nor fear the wolvish howl
    Nor the lion's growl.