Saturday, August 06, 2011


I came across this review of Fearful Symmetry which had been written in 1947 the year the book was published. My surprise was in learning that the review had been written by a man who was our friend from 1988 to 2007. Larry has written of Alfred in the post titled Severe Contentions of Friendship. It does my heart good to make a connection among Blake, Frye and Friend Alfred Ames.

Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947
Review by Alfred C. Ames

“The whole purpose of this book . . . is to establish Blake as a typical poet and his thinking as typically poetic thinking” [426], says Professor Frye at the end of Fearful Symmetry.
In the past twenty years, there have been many other expositions of Blake’s visions, succeeding Foster Damon’s pioneering specific commentary and annotation. . . . None of these other books should be permitted to jostle Fearful Symmetry aside. Frye, as no other before him, develops Blake as a “typical poet”; he intends his book to be not only a vade mecum for the students of Blake, but for the larger body of the students of poetry.
Frye conducts his ambitious study with unflagging energy, great enthusiasm, and immense
erudition. Random dipping into the volume would be frightening, and passages quoted out of context might well appear cabalistic. Read straight through in sequence, however, Fearful Symmetry is a lucid if exacting book.
The typical poet, Frye believes, as he becomes wiser becomes less lyrical and more didactic, progressively rejecting the “cloven fictions” that delight and instruction are separable objectives and that subject and object of experience are discrete entities. The poet becomes a visionary, perceiving and pointing out an archetypal vision of creation, fall, redemption, and apocalypse. The business of the visionary is “to proclaim the Word of God to society under the domination of Satan” [336]. What the Word of God is according to Blake, Frye asserts, is what the Word of God is according to Job, the Hebrew prophets, the framers of Greek or Icelandic myth, Spenser, Milton, Keats, or other great authentic poets. In escaping selfhood and attaining vision, we readers of poetry will “become what we behold, for the image of God is the form of human life, and the reality of ourselves” [401].
Blake differs from Shakespeare, for example, not in the profundities, which are common in
both, but on the surface. “Homer and Shakespeare are not superficial, but they do possess a surface, and reward superficial reading more than it deserves” [421]. The lack of “surface” in Blake’s prophetic books prohibits superficial reading. Blake created his own system, as precise utterance of his vision required. He despised empirical logic rooted in sense perceptions, but his own system has the rigor and generality prized by logicians. The difficulty is in the fact that his allegorical symbols are unfamiliar. Either they have a meaning defined largely by their places in the system, or they are meaningless. Thus Blake compels his reader to learn the grammar of his visions.
Frye in this book achieves substantial stature as student and teacher of the grammar of large-scale poetic vision. The vision, embracing the pre-Adamic fall (in which the whole natural universe is involved) and an apocalypse beyond history, is not to be had within the cave of shadows, but is vouchsafed only to “the man with an opened center” [349]. The careful and sympathetic reader of Fearful Symmetry will have great openings."

Milton, PLATE 28 [30], (E 126)
"The Sons of Ozoth within the Optic Nerve stand fiery glowing
And the number of his Sons is eight millions & eight.
They give delights to the man unknown; artificial riches
They give to scorn, & their posessors to trouble & sorrow & care,
Shutting the sun. & moon. & stars. & trees. & clouds. & waters.
And hills. out from the Optic Nerve & hardening it into a bone
Opake. and like the black pebble on the enraged beach.
While the poor indigent is like the diamond which tho cloth'd
In rugged covering in the mine, is open all within
And in his hallowd center holds the heavens of bright eternity

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