Friday, March 04, 2011

THE POET & MYSTIC

The visionary state, the experience of seeing fourfold, which so characterizes Blake's poetry is not easy for ordinary mortals to grasp. Many who would aspire to enter such a state would call it a mystical experience. Pierre Berger wrote the book titled William Blake: Poet and Mystic in which he attempts: "to give as comprehensible a description as possible of the universe that he saw in his visions. Finally, and chiefly, we shall endeavour to show the influence of the visionary upon the poet, searching his works for signs of the mystical and imaginative spirit that produced them".

The progression through the four states which we treated in the post On the Walk to Lavant is explored at length by Berger with emphasis on the the visionary state:
"It is when he leaves our world to describe the other that his imagination attains its full creative power. His creations are no longer the personification of a material object, the soul of some lifeless thing, the embodiment of a metaphor : they come whole from his brain, produced out of nothing. In these far-off regions, our world has ceased to exist, even as a delusive mirage. 'Nothing is, but what is not.' [ Macbeth, Act I, Sc. iii] This imaginative quality Blake regarded as indispensable in all true art. 'The man who never in his mind and thoughts travelled to heaven is no artist.' [ Notes to Sir Joshua Reynolds : Discourse III (E 647).] Now, therefore, the trend of his imagination is towards the evocation of things without form, the creation of beings that exist only in the nebulous kingdom of his dreams.
But, according to his own view, it is the true sign of genius to see the things of the imagination as clearly as we see the things of the material world, in the same abundance, and with the same precision of detail, the same distinctness of line, form and colour.
'A spirit and a vision are not, as the modern philosophy supposes, a cloudy vapour, or a nothing. They are organised and minutely articulated beyond all that the mortal and perishing nature can produce. He who does not imagine in stronger and better lineaments and in stronger and better light than his perishing and mortal eye can see, does not imagine at all. The painter of this work {i.e.y Blake) asserts that all his imaginations appear to him infinitely more perfect and more minutely organised than anything seen by his mortal eye. Spirits are organised men.' [ Descriptive Catalogue : No. IV. (E 541)]

We might expect, therefore, to find in his representation of his dreams the same impression of strength and solidity that we ourselves get from contact with material things.
...
His most vigorous descriptions are those of visionary scenes : Los working at his forge and engaged in the building of Golgonooza ; the Zoas waging their eternal wars in the human soul and becoming vast personalities, each with his own universe ; creations that are half symbolic, half allegorical, the languishing Thel, the love-tormented Oothoon, the jealous Theotormon, Vala tender and sinful, Jerusalem the divine bride. We have only to recall all these myths to realise the power of their creator's imagination. It is in this, then, that Blake's strength lies : in the faculty that enabled him to create a world wholly different from ours, freed from the laws of time and space, existing only in his dreams, and as far removed from reality as the wildest ideal can be. Nowhere else can we find Titans like the Zoas, worlds as terrific as Urizen's, a paradise as sweet as the " moony " Beulah, or bodiless creatures of the air like the spirits by which the Prophetic Books are peopled. (Page 264-5)
...
The other poets are always struck with wonder and astonishment at the vastness of their own creations : they set their characters in action, and then watch their acts in terror and admiration. Blake has left the earth so utterly out of sight that his personages do not appear to him as gigantic at all. He has no longer any consciousness of what is possible or impossible from man's point of view. He has forgotten all the physical laws which his characters are perpetually defying. He feels no wonder at seeing them die and come to life again, divide and become absorbed in each other, traverse measureless abysses, crush whole worlds in their titanic struggles, and make the infinite resound with their shouting. To him, there is nothing miraculous in all these things. They are the common phenomena of his visionary universe, and his poems are full of them. It is from this that the Prophetic Books derive the tone of more than Miltonic grandeur which is so often their chief characteristic, and which makes them read like fragments of a great epic history, re-echoing the tumults of vast prehistoric wars, or the thunders of some frightful cosmic revolution in the world of the infinite." (Page 270)

Blake's Water-Colours for the Poems of Thomas Gray
The Descent of Odin

In these words Blake invites us to join him in his visionary world and be happy.

Descriptions 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"

2 comments:

Susan J. said...

one of my online courses is discussing the book of Revelation this week. I'm reminded of how this book "opened" to me when I started listening to it read (audio cassettes, at the time) rather than reading it silently and puzzling over each part in turn.

I'm curious whether y'all have ever spent much time listening to Blake read aloud, at some length?

What really helped me "get into" Revelation, was when I listened to it soon after listening to Daniel.. and Ezekiel...

Also -- I think of Blake's "seeing four-fold" as kind of like what we today might call "parallel universes" -- does that seem fair to you?

As always, thanks!!!

Larry said...

It's great to read what a French scholar thinks of and has to say about our poet/painter.