Sunday, June 10, 2012

BEGINNING OF SEPARATION


Yale Center for British Art

Book of Urizen
Plate 10
Copy A, 1794


Blake's Book of Urizen recounts events related to the book of Genesis as a traumatic splitting of the original unity to form self-conscious entities who make a world of alienation, oppression, uncertainty. Pierre Berger in William Blake: Poet and Mystic describes in his own terms a scenario for the first division which leads automatically to a second division. The roles of Urizen and Los have been defined; the mental wars will ensue.

 
"It would be of little use were we to count the individual cells that make up the human body. Not one of them is conscious of its individuality; but all share equally in the complete knowledge of our existence, and all combine in us to make one. But suppose one of these cells to become conscious of its own existence, and to say, 'I exist, independently of the body as a whole.' This thought would be the beginning of a separate creation, the formation of a personality, the first fall of man from unity. Must not something analogous occur when the newly conceived being begins to live a conscious life even in its mother's womb? In such wise came the first fall from Eternity, the first separation of something from the Divine whole, the phenomenon of creation, which, at bottom, is only a division. One of the thoughts of God separated itself from Him, as it is written in the Gospel of St. John: this Thought became the Word, which has been with Him from the beginning, and before the beginning, the word which was God. "Et verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat verbum" And the word became the Fiat, and had its echo in Eternity: the created universe was its emanation.
Blake says no more than this, though he may say it differently. According to him, there was a spirit who separated himself from Eternity, from that infinite Unity constituted by the Spirit of Universal Man, both All and One, and who thus became a personality different from the Eternals, who are one though many. In separating from them, he created a kind of abstract void between them and himself: he wrenched himself away from them, diminishing both himself and the Eternal Infinite at the same instant.
...
Thus began the existence of Urizen, the firstborn of Eternity, who plays so great a part in the works of Blake. We shall have to study him in many shapes; but for us now he is only the first conscious being, disembodied still, but nevertheless the first creation, the first " I " as distinguished from the All, the Ancient of Days.
The first existence of a separate personality is pregnant with consequences. We have now two distinct beings : Eternity and Urizen. But the birth of Urizen marks a definite moment in Eternity. There is therefore a date, the beginning of something. And as, in the Bible, the first great act of creation marks the first day, so the breaking away of the first personality from the great " All " marks the beginning of time. Time is created simply by the birth of a separate Will. His name, in Blake's great mythical system, is Los. From henceforward the history of Urizen will belong no more to Eternity, but to Time. It will be Los's task, therefore, to separate this new-born personality from the Eternals. He is the smith who will bind Urizen in the chain of Days and Years."

Book of Urizen, Plate 5, (E 73)
" 8. And Los round the dark globe of Urizen,
Kept watch for Eternals to confine,
The obscure separation alone;                                 
For Eternity stood wide apart,
Plate 6
As the stars are apart from the earth

9. Los wept howling around the dark Demon:
And cursing his lot; for in anguish,
Urizen was rent from his side;
And a fathomless void for his feet;
And intense fires for his dwelling.

10. But Urizen laid in a stony sleep
Unorganiz'd, rent from Eternity 

11. The Eternals said: What is this? Death
Urizen is a clod of clay."      

3 comments:

Susan J. said...

Hi Ellie -- I've been away from Blake for awhile, but hoping to reconnect -- what a beautiful blog post! Thanks!
Susan

Susan J. said...

As always, the connection to the Bible (Genesis, and John) helps me figure out what's going on :-)

Susan J. said...

Los certainly had/has his work cut out for him, eh?