Wednesday, August 10, 2011


William Blake Poet and Mystic by Pierre Berger can be read online as a Google book. Berger has this advice to us as we seek to understand our 'mystic poet':

"As one reads his books, one sees his theories becoming gradually clearer and more complete. Different works explain each other. None of them is complete in itself: all must be known and borne in mind if any one is to be read properly. Even when he wrote the first, Blake had dimly in his mind the ideas which were to fill his latest books. His theories do not seem to have changed as he grew older. They undergo development: they are expressed in different terms; but at bottom they remain the same. Just as a seed contains all the germs from which the plant will receive its shape, the flowers their colours, and the fruit its flavour, so it is with Blake and with the development of his genius." (Page 65)

On Page 351 Berger provides these clues to discriminating between the characters Rahab and Tirzah in Jerusalem.

"True religion, which, as we have seen, meant for Blake universal love and the accomplishment of all man's desires, is, according to him, always in conflict with two great philosophical systems : on the one hand all the orthodox religions and moral codes which restrain desire, and write the " Thou shalt not " of the Decalogue ; and, on the other, the religions founded on science and reason, which deny revelation and concentrate all man's aspirations upon himself. Judaism is a type of the first, and Deism of the second ; and Blake represents the one by Rahab, the religion of the Law, of sin and punishment, and the other by Tirzah, the religion of nature and materialism. Jerusalem, therefore, treats principally of the growth of these two kinds of religion, after the fall of man, their final destruction, and man's regeneration through Liberty."

Two of the chapters in Jerusalem are addressed to the Jews and to the Deists. Blake developed the two characters Rahab and Tirzah as representative of the two types of error he addressed in these two chapters. Here are passages which clarify the symbolic meaning of Rehab, representative of the religion of moral virtue or a religion emphasising legalism; and Tirzah, representative of Deism or the natural religion of materiality without spirituality.

Jerusalem, Plate 25, (E 171)
"Thus wept they in Beulah over the Four Regions of Albion
But many doubted & despaird & imputed Sin & Righteousness
To Individuals & not to States, and these Slept in Ulro."

Jerusalem, Plate 35 [39], (E 181)
"In the Fourth region of Humanity, Urthona namd[,]
Mortality begins to roll the billows of Eternal Death
Before the Gate of Los. Urthona here is named Los.
And here begins the System of Moral Virtue, named Rahab."

Milton, Plate 40 [46], (E 141)
"No sooner she had spoke but Rahab Babylon appeard
Eastward upon the Paved work across Europe & Asia
Glorious as the midday Sun in Satans bosom glowing:
A Female hidden in a Male, Religion hidden in War
Namd Moral Virtue; cruel two-fold Monster shining bright
A Dragon red & hidden Harlot which John in Patmos saw"

Jerusalem, Plate 69, (E 223)
"And now the Spectres of the Dead awake in Beulah: all
The Jealousies become Murderous: uniting together in Rahab
A Religion of Chastity, forming a Commerce to sell Loves
With Moral Law, an Equal Balance, not going down with decision
Therefore the Male severe & cruel filld with stern Revenge:
Mutual Hate returns & mutual Deceit & mutual Fear."
Plate 69
Songs of Experience, 52, (E 30)
"To Tirzah

Whate'er is Born of Mortal Birth,
Must be consumed with the Earth
To rise from Generation free;
Then what have I to do with thee?

The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride
Blow'd in the morn: in evening died
But Mercy changd Death into Sleep;
The Sexes rose to work & weep.

Thou Mother of my Mortal part.
With cruelty didst mould my Heart.
And with false self-decieving tears,
Didst bind my Nostrils Eyes & Ears.

Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay
And me to Mortal Life betray:
The Death of Jesus set me free,
Then what have I to do with thee?

[text on illustration: It is Raised a Spiritual Body]"

Yale Center for British Art
Plate 69

No comments: