Saturday, July 30, 2011

Final Lesson

The Blog Lessons was used for lesson material in a class
given on 4 Tuesdays in July at the College of Central Florida.

If you have become sufficiently interested in Blake after this lesson, I expect to continue these lessons in this blog.

"I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you in at Heavens gate
Built in Jerusalem's wall."

Very famous of course; you may find books entitled 'The Golden String.' Does it remind you of anything? Greek?
the Minotaur.

What is the golden string? Read my post, or just read on.

Last week's biography ended in 1804 with "After three years Blake had had enough. He and Catherine returned to London and to abject poverty, glorified by the tremendous production of his last decade.

Output during that time:

Jerusalem, from Biography


Today's Biography is confined to the 19th Century, Blake's last 28 years. Marriage had brought young Blake responsibilities; he was an artist; it meant producing stuff for sale. (The poet is out of it entirely; he had best never marry unless he knows a rich heiress.)

Blake married an illiterate farm girl; she was more than that when he died; she had been pretty well educated by her husband.

Blake wrote (and inscribed) a lot of things:
Songs of Innocence and Experience (they became classics, but seen by very few in his day.)
Everybody knows or at least has heard of The Tyger.

As a married man Blake produced pictures and other objects of art; but the sale was dismal. They struggled along with contributions of a few friends. William Hayley, a successful although mediocre poet, took Blake under his wing.

Hayley insisted on Blake painting miniatures, all day.
Blake had no time for the poetry or the Visions that meant so much to him.

He and Catherine left their cottage on the sea and Hayley's support; they returned to poverty-- and sweet joy.

In the second half of his career Blake had largely dropped his preoccupation with the Old Testament God and in favor of the New Testament God. His first large prophetic poem, Milton begins with a famous poem called Jerusalem that latter became the theme song of the British Labor party; used to sing it as a hymn.
(Blake was not the first person to see the presence of
Jesus in ancient England. Tradition tells us that he was
there in the first century.)

Look especially at the two major prophecies (poems): Milton and Jerusalem.

Here are the Plates, 1 by 1
go to a terminal
Do evince
open ~/Downloads/1802rosen1811.pdf
or ~/Documents/1802rosen1811.pdf
There are two discussions of Milton here:
1. The synopsis found in wiki
2.. A section in my Blake Primer

This synopsis of Milton comes from a wiki:

Milton a Poem is an epic poem by William Blake, written and illustrated between 1804 and 1810. Its hero is John Milton, who returns from heaven and unites with Blake to explore the relationship between living writers and their predecessors, and to undergo a mystical journey to correct his own spiritual errors.

The poem is divided into two "books".

Book I opens with an epic invocation to the muses, drawing on the classical models of Homer and Virgil, and also used by John Milton in Paradise Lost. However, Blake describes inspiration in bodily terms, vitalising the nerves of his arm. Blake goes on to describe the activities of Los, one of his mythological characters, who creates a complex universe from within which other Blakean characters debate the actions of Satan.

Referring to the doctrines of Calvinism, Blake asserts that humanity is divided into the "Elect", the "Reprobate" and the "Redeemed". Inverting Calvinist values, Blake insists that the "Reprobate" are the true believers, while the "Elect" are locked in narcissistic moralism. At this point Milton appears and agrees to return to earth to purge the errors of his own Puritanism and go to "Eternal death".

Milton travels to Lambeth, taking in the form of a falling comet, and enters Blake's foot. This allows Blake to treat the ordinary world as perceived by the five senses as a sandal formed of "precious stones and gold" that he can now wear. Blake ties the sandal and, guided by Los, walks with it into the City of Art, inspired by the spirit of poetic creativity.

Book II finds Blake in the garden of his cottage in Felpham. Ololon, a female figure linked to Milton, descends to meet him. Blake sees a skylark, which mutates into a twelve year old girl, who he thinks is one of his own muses. He invites her into his cottage to meet his wife. The girl states that she is actually looking for Milton. Milton then descends to meet with her, and in an apocalyptic scene he is eventually unified with the girl, who is identified as Ololon and becomes his own feminine aspect.

The poem concludes with a vision of a final union of living and dead; internal and external reality; male and female and a transformation of all of human perception.


The Mature Works

'Milton', Blake's first overtly Christian work, is his testimony of faith. It's also his way of rehabilitating his childhood hero, John Milton. Finally it's a difficult poem; it contains unfathomable depths. This review can do no more than introduce the reader to the poem and call attention to some of the new elements in the mature development of Blake's myth.

'Milton' is a very autobiographical work. Blake used many of the characters that his readers might be familiar with from earlier works, but in this very personal poem they often assume other (although related) identities. Particularly we understand that Blake was Los; Hayley was Satan (he had suborned Blake from his true work to hack work: from Eternity to Ulro.)
John Milton, the author of 'Paradise Lost', had been a major force in Blake's life; he had been many things to Blake through the years. In Blake's day Milton enjoyed enormous spiritual stature among the English people. Even today the general understanding of Heaven, Hell, God and Satan (among people interested in those concepts) tends to be more often Miltonic than Biblical. In the first half of his life Blake was very much under the shadow of Milton, the great epic poet of the English people. All subsequent English poets lived and wrote in Milton's shadow, and the greatest ones aspired to achieve an epic comparable to 'Paradise Lost'.
Although Blake had much in common with the puritan poet, he disagreed with Milton about a number of things. For example, as a young man he despised the God of 'Paradise Lost' and admired Milton's Devil. Blake made that clear in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' and tried to put Milton in his place by saying that he was of the Devil's party without knowing it. Ten years later the experience of grace empowered Blake to deal with Milton in a better way. He called him back to earth to straighten out his theology, and he identified with him and his spiritual power in a radical way. He recreated Milton as Milton had recreated the Bible.
As Blake's poem begins, Milton has been in Heaven for a hundred years, obedient although not very happy there. The 'Bard's Song' (which takes up the first third of the poem) recreates the war in Heaven of 'Paradise Lost'. The other Eternals find the Bard's song appalling, but Milton embraces the Bard and his song. In a thrilling imaginative triumph he announces his intention of leaving Heaven to complete the work on earth that he had left undone. Although Blake doesn't say this, any Christian should recognize that Milton thus follows in the footsteps of Christ as described in the famous Kenosis passage in Philippians 2:
Anyone familiar with the gospel story will see biblical allusions and references here.

In Blake's cottage he sees Milton's shadow, a horrible vision:
An attempt to translate this visionary poetry into "common sense" might suggest that in Milton's shadow Blake suddenly became immediately aware of all the fallen nature of the world (and his mind) that had consumed most of his poetry to that point. Now he became aware of all these things, but in the light of a person now full of light.

Back on earth Milton encounters many of the characters whom we met in 'The Four Zoas'. Tirzah and Rahab tempt him; his contest with Urizen has special interest as a record of the resolution of Blake's life long struggle with the things that Urizen represented to him:
A Bible dictionary, or even better, Damon's Blake Dictionary, will help to clarify the associations with biblical locations. Here we see the old Urizen still trying to freeze the poet's brain, but instead he finds himself being humanized by an emissary from Heaven. Blake is vividly depicting the battle between the forces of positivism and spirit.
Milton meets other obstacles and temptations on his journey, a journey that begins to bear increasing resemblance to that of Bunyan's Pilgrim or even of Jesus himself. He unites with Los and with Blake. He finally meets Satan, confronts him and overcomes him as Jesus had done. These dramatic events give Blake ample opportunity to describe in detail the eternal and satanic dimensions of life, the conflict betwen the two and the inevitable victory of the eternal. For the first and perhaps the only time Blake is writing a traditional morality story.
This material is autobiographical and written in the honeymoon phase of his new spiritual life. Blake's full meanings yield only to intensive study, but from the beginning there are thrilling lines to delight and inspire the reader. In his esoteric language Blake describes for us what has happened to him, and nothing could be more engrossing for the reader interested in the life of the spirit and in Blake. The relationship of this story to the myth described above should be obvious. But 'Milton' is more real than the previous material because Blake has lived it and writes (and sketches) with spiritual senses enlarged and tuned by his recent experience of grace.
A digression occurs in the second half of Book One of 'Milton', a detailed description of the "World of Los"; it contains much of Blake's most delightful poetry. The reader will remember that in 4Z Los had passed through several stages of development. Beginning as the primitive prophetic boy, he became first disciple and later adversary of Urizen. He bound Urizen into fallen forms of life, then "became what he beheld". But in Night vii we recall that he embraced his Spectre, actually the Urizen within, and thereupon became the hero of the epic.
This is the full paged picture introducing the poem

The picture below is the "curtain call", Plate 100 of Jerusalem.
In his last years Blake often visited theaters with his young
friends, the Shoreham Ancients.


Susan J. said...

Hi Larry - for some reason this post of yours is in ENORMOUS print -- I can adjust my browser settings some but it's still very difficult to read -- if you can adjust it, I'm sure other readers would be grateful.



Susan J. said...

I didn't make it past the Golden Thread verse, so far anyway.

Help me with the metaphor: in the labyrinth, one needs the thread to guide one out, after slaying the minotaur, right? Kind of like Hansel and Gretel leaving a breadcrumb trail, only more effective for navigation :-)

So one goes inward to slay the self, and then finds one's way back out of the maze (kind of like the Israelites being guided to the Promised Land maybe?)

So, in the verse you quote, is Heavens gate meant to lead IN to Jerusalem through the wall, or OUT of Jerusalem through the wall?

When I think of the actual gates in the walls around Jerusalem, they go both ways... in and out of the city...

But "heavens gate" sounds like a gate into heaven.

Do you see my confusion...?

I googled "golden string" and "heavens gate" and minotaur and labyrinth, and found a bazillion pop culture references, but wasn't able to dig out much specific about who got which ideas from where...

thanks, as always, for your very edifying posts!