Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blake's Angels in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

For William Blake angels meant various things at various times. (Click on Blakes' Concordance and you will see he has used the word [or a derivative of it] 249 times.)

In the Marriage of Heaven and Hell he meant by angels the Elect (line 22), people who 'had the truth' and wanted to impart it to the rest of us, the biblical pharisees, those who don't tolerate anything other than the conventional truth which they think they possess:

MHH Plate 5; Erdman:
" The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it."

Plate 6
A Memorable Fancy. As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity. "

(The 'fires of hell' here means something far difference from the vulgar understanding, in fact virtually the opposite; in the irony of MHH 'hell' and 'devil' mean creative and  'angels' means conventional.)

Plate 16-18; Erdman 40:

"            A Memorable Fancy

  An Angel came to me and said. O pitiable foolish young man!
O horrible! O dreadful state! consider the hot burning dungeon
thou art preparing for thyself to all eternity, to which thou art
going in such career.
  I said. perhaps you will be willing to shew  me my eternal
lot and we will contemplate together upon it and see whether your
lot or mine is most desirable
  So he took me thro' a stable and thro' a church and down into
the church vault at the end of which was a mill: thro' the mill 
we went, and came to a cave. down the winding cavern we groped
our tedious way till a void boundless as a nether sky appeard
beneath us & we held by the roots of trees and hung over this
immensity; but I said, if you please we will commit ourselves
to this void, and see whether providence is here also, if you
will not I will? but he answerd. do not presume O young-man but
as we here remain behold thy lot which will soon appear when the
darkness passes away.."
('stable' denotes the conventional story of Jesus' birth;
the church denotes conventional church [instituted by Constantine;
the mill? to which the credulous are condemned)  
Plate 19:
"  My friend the Angel climb'd up from his station into the mill;
I remain'd alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I found

- E41 -

myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moon light
hearing a harper who sung to the harp. & his theme was, The man
who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds
reptiles of the mind.
  But I arose, and sought for the mill, & there I found my
Angel, who surprised asked me, how I escaped?
  I answerd.  All that we saw was owing to your metaphysics: 
for when you ran away, I found myself on a bank by moonlight hearing
a harper, But now we have seen my eternal lot, shall I shew you
yours? he laughd at my proposal: but I by force suddenly caught
him in my arms, & flew westerly thro' the night, till we were
elevated above the earths shadow: then I flung myself with him
directly into the body of the sun, here I clothed myself in
white, & taking in my hand Swedenborgs volumes sunk from the
glorious clime, and passed all the planets till we came to
saturn, here I staid to rest & then leap'd into the void, between
saturn & the fixed stars.
  Here said I! is your lot, in this space, if space it may be
calld, Soon we saw the stable and the church, & I took him to the
altar and open'd the Bible, and lo! it was a deep pit, into which
I descended driving the Angel before me, soon we saw seven houses
of brick, one we enterd; in it were a [PL 20] number of monkeys,
baboons, & all of that species chaind by the middle, grinning and
snatching at one another, but witheld by the shortness of their
chains: however I saw that they sometimes grew numerous, and then
the weak were caught by the strong and with a grinning aspect,
first coupled with & then devourd, by plucking off first one limb
and then another till the body was left a helpless trunk. this
after grinning & kissing it with seeming fondness they devourd
too; and here & there I saw one savourily picking the flesh off
of his own tail; as the stench terribly annoyd us both we went
into the mill, & I in my hand brought the skeleton of a body,
which in the mill was Aristotles Analytics.
  So the Angel said: thy phantasy has imposed upon me & thou
oughtest to be ashamed.
  I answerd: we impose on one another, & it is but lost time
to converse with you whose works are only Analytics... 
(The concordance doesn't show this word anywhere else, but we may
believe that by it the reasoning faculty excluding anything else.)  
Opposition is true Friendship.

  I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of
themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident
insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning:
A Memorable Fancy

  Once I saw a Devil in a flame of fire. who arose before an
Angel that sat on a cloud. and the Devil utterd these words.
  The worship of God is.  Honouring his gifts in other men
each according to his genius. and loving the [PL 23] greatest men
best, those who envy or calumniate great men hate God, for there
is no other God.
  The Angel hearing this became almost blue but mastering
himself he grew yellow, & at last white pink & smiling, and then
  Thou Idolater, is not God One? & is not he visible in Jesus
Christ? and has not Jesus Christ given his sanction to the law of
ten commandments and are not all other men fools, sinners, &
  The Devil answer'd; bray a fool in a morter with wheat. yet
shall not his folly be beaten out of him: if Jesus Christ is the
greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; 
now hear how he has given his sanction to the law of ten
commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the
sabbaths God? murder those who were murderd because of him? turn
away the law from the woman taken in adultery? steal the labor of
others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted making
a defence before Pilate? covet when he pray'd for his disciples,
and when he bid them shake off the dust of their feet against
such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist
without breaking these ten commandments: Jesus was all virtue,
and acted from im[PL 24]pulse: not from rules.
  When he had so spoken: I beheld the Angel who stretched out
his arms embracing the flame of fire & he was consumed and arose
as Elijah.
- 43 -

  Note.  This Angel, who is now become a Devil, is my
particular friend: we often read the Bible together in its
infernal or diabolical sense which the world shall have if they
behave well ......"
(We might suppose that here, the young Blake is referring to a man
who had been liberated from conventional religion to the isoteric 
form that he himself represented.)
 We've looked at all Blakes' mentions of 'angels' in The Marriage of
Heaven and Hell. 
In later posts we might look at Songs of Innocence, America, Europe) 
and some other places that illustrate what Blake may have thought of 
the word, 'angels'. 

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