Friday, July 08, 2011


Gospel of Thomas

(29) Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty."

Blake was never wealthy but he went through periods ranging from relative affluence to abject poverty. One constant in his life in spite of his circumstances was that he continued to work at his art whatever difficulties there were. If you look at pictures he produced when you know he was destitute, there is no intimation that he was working in poverty. In fact the period in which he returned to London in 1803 after the three years in Felphan was a time when his income was at a low ebb. However inspiration had returned to him giving him renewed reason to produce what his imagination led him to. His hopes of earning significant income from his art were repeatedly thwarted, but that gave him more time to put into the writing and engraving of Jerusalem which he probably knew from the beginning would not earn appreciable money. In 1818 John Linnell was added to Thomas Butts as a supporter who provided regular commissions. These two men provided the roof over his head and food on the table through years of productive labor when Blake lived according to vision and imagination.

The quote I begin with from the Gospel of Thomas came to mind as I thought of the treasures of art and poetry Blake had produced when his outward circumstances were miserable. In a strange way Blake's spirit was expressed in his art because he lived without the world's rewards. His work became the body in which his spirit resided. The 'wonder' of which Jesus spoke, which made its home in this poverty, is seen in the wealth of spirit expressed in Blake as he struggled outwardly with lack and loss and little.

This image from Blake's illustrations for Edward Young's Night Thoughts encapsulates a wealth of ideas which recur in Blake extended myth.
Go to the Library of Congress website for the enlarged view.

The final verse of Holy Thursday epitomises t
he mental state which allowed Blake to work without regard to outward hardships.

Songs of Innocence, SONGS 33, (E 19)

"Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill'd with thorns.
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e'er the sun does shine,
And where-e'er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall."

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