Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blake's Style

One simple clue to reading Blake concerns his use of dialogue; he spoke with many voices. He exercised this freedom especially with the larger prophecies, the three major works. These on first reading may seem to present insuperable difficulties, but the reader who pays close attention to the identity of the speaker at each point may thereby break down the forest into manageable groves of trees. In his three long poems Blake gave titles to various elements or speeches; they became units, landmarks or guideposts, casting light on what at first seemed general confusion.

In Night i of 'The Four Zoas' for example we find Enitharmon's Song of Death (FZ1-10.9; E305), the "Nuptial Song" of the "demons of the deep" (FZ1-13.20; E308), and the message of the Daughters of Beulah, which they call the "Wars of Death Eternal"(FZ1-21.13; E311). These three songs comprise three of the many selves of the human psyche; needless to say their ideas and attitudes vary immensely. They all describe the same event, but they see it, oh, so differently. They use the same words with different meanings. For example consider that what the daughters call "Death Eternal" the demons call marriage. In this way Blake challenges the reader and stretches his mind and immensely rewards whoever will accept the challenge. He gives us the end of a golden string.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour. (Blake)
we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (Paul)

In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (the 2nd Memorable Fancy) Blake placed in the mouth of Ezekiel a statement of his own primary purpose as an artist and as a man, "the desire of raising other men into a perception of the infinite". That basic aim pervades Blake's art; he was supremely interested in what he called the infinite or the eternal, and he believed that every man has access to it through his imagination. For a fuller discussion of MHH go to chapter 9.

In the majority culture people consider the material realm to be the real. This viewpoint is so dominant that in mathematics we speak of real and imaginary numbers as opposites. But Blake understood that our only experience of the material comes through our images of it. He saw reality as existing beyond the material. Like Plato he believed that the material lacks substance; it is only the shadow of the real. The real is the infinite or the eternal, accessible through the imagination.

All this does not mean that Blake was otherworldly in the conventional sense. His heaven existed very much in the here and now; its reality was not geographical but psychic. His poetry reflects a vital interest in everything around him: personal relationships, the social scene, politics, all the works of art and literature that he encountered.

All these things became the raw material for the eternal vision that haunted his mind. No one of Blake's era recorded a more intense experience of life, a more gripping drama of the passing scene. The political events and military campaigns of Europe march through his poems and pictures. People have written lengthy and meaningful books on Blake as a political commentator.

However from the perspective of two centuries the political level of his thought pales beside the spiritual dimension which was always his deepest concern. The political events interested Blake primarily as expressions of the human spirit.

Poetry by its nature yields meaning at more than one level. Most of Blake's poetry has significance at three primary levels: political or historical, personal or psychological, and religious or metaphysical. Blake would have denied these distinctions because life to him was all one.

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