David V. Erdman, who has done as much any man to make the work of Blake available to the public, makes this statement in the introduction to The Illuminated Blake:
"To say that Blake was able , as author and printer, to keep all aspects of the production of his works under his own control is to reduce to an easy formula (the Urizenic triumph) the most difficult - and endless - struggle of his life, the effort to seize the symmetries that confronted him at every step, to create simultaneously and harmoniously in words, birds, lines, colors, a living city of Art that would resurrect us from our graves to meet the Savior in the air." (Page 11)
The symmetries which confronted Blake at every step are presented in the Small Book of Designs.
Image from the British Museum.
From the Book of Thel
Book of Thel , PLATE 3, (E 4)
"O little Cloud the virgin said, I charge thee tell to me,
Why thou complainest not when in one hour thou fade away:
Then we shall seek thee but not find; ah Thel is like to thee.
I pass away. yet I complain, and no one hears my voice.
The Cloud then shew'd his golden bead & his bright form emerg'd,
Hovering and glittering on the air before the face of Thel.
O virgin know'st thou not. our steeds drink of the golden springs
Where Luvah doth renew his horses: look'st thou on my youth,
And fearest thou because I vanish and am seen no more.
Nothing remains; O maid I tell thee, when I pass away,
It is to tenfold life, to love, to peace, and raptures holy:
Unseen descending, weigh my light wings upon balmy flowers;
And court the fair eyed dew. to take me to her shining tent;
The weeping virgin, trembling kneels before the risen sun,
Till we arise link'd in a golden band, and never part;
But walk united, bearing food to all our tender flowers"
More on the Book of Thel:
Text and Commentary;
Download a PDF of the Book of Thel from the Library of Congress.
The inscription on the first plate of the series asks the question; 'Which Way?' The selection on the plates to be included, the inscriptions which accompanied them and the text which may be associated with them, indicate that the series was meant to answer the original question. 'Which Way' is open to us, 'Which Way' will we choose, 'Which Way' was chosen by Urizen, Thel, Los or Vala? Contrary paths are presented and the consequences of following them are pictured.
The final two plates, which are from the Book of Thel, bear only one inscription: 'Doth God take Care of These.' The text in the Book of Thel provides answers to this final question: God 'cherish'd it [the worm] With milk and oil' and 'when I pass away,It is to tenfold life, to love, to peace, and raptures holy'.
And from Visions of Daughters of Albion referenced on Page 20: 'the soul of sweet delight Can never pass away.'
The Small Book of Designs is deserving of more attention and study than it has received. Blake did not casually gather together pictures without purpose. Just as he was exploring ways in which his printing techniques might convey more intensely the images of his imagination, he was seeking to use the images to present again his seminal vision in a form with fresh intensity.