Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blake's Moment

"There is a moment in each day that Satan cannot find."

In 4Z Blake described the Moment of Grace in terms that closely resemble those of Jungian psychology: shadow and anima (Blake calls them spectre and emanation) are integrated into the self. But without question Blake described here a personal spiritual event of the greatest importance. It was the moment when the divided selves found themselves reconciled into a new being under a new Lord; it marked a radical alteration of consciousness.

 Blake had shared with mankind a consciousness fallen through a decision for the world and senses constricted through turning his back upon the Divine Vision. Less guilty than most of us, he had not reached the level of spiritual blindness which characterizes true worldliness; nevertheless he was guilty. But in his brokenness he opened himself to unmerited grace, with the inevitable gracious consequences.

In Night vii of 4Z Urizen, the ice man, the great opposer of change, effects the metamorphosis of fierce and fiery Orc, personification of change, into a serpent who crawls up the Tree of Mystery. An earlier prophet had written about a serpent and a tree at the dawn of history, and since that day the two figures have served as the basic symbols of the Fall. But Moses had used the same combined image to symbolize healing, and Jesus harked back to it in predicting his own impending exit from the world and its purpose.

Knowledge of the full weight of meaning carried by serpent and tree alerts us to an impending climax in Blake's story. Back in Night I Los, the spirit of prophecy, the personification of creativity, was estranged from his emanation, Enitharmon. In Night v she gave birth to Orc, but Los chained him to earth with the Chain of Jealousy, a sort of reverse Oedipus myth. This left the creative selves a sorry shambles. But now in Night vii Enitharmon's shadow meets and unites with Los' spectre, and their issue is twofold, the Whore and the Lamb. The Whore will burn, and the Lamb will find a spotless bride.

There's no way anyone can fully appreciate the joy of this moment without having participated deeply in the agony and travail which preceded it. This is but a way of saying that there's no way anyone can appreciate the salvation of the world without having first quenched the cup of the fallenness of the world. Long ago a book appeared entitled No Cross, No Crown, suggesting that we don't appreciate what God has done simply because we refuse the cup. Jesus accepted it on our behalf, and Blake did too in his way, as does every artist or prophet or saint who follows the narrow path.

 At the Moment of Grace the narrow path opens out into the limitless expanse of eternity. The last half of Night vii marks that moment in Blake's life and describes his own personal experience of Easter. Once it happened, he went on to what Kathleen Raine called the Christianizing of his myth. In Night viii he told the old, old story in the old, old terms, but the new creation had taken place in Night vii.

Next to the Bible the poet John Milton was Blake's most formative spiritual influence. 'Paradise Lost' was the great religious epic in the English language, and Blake's calling as an epic poet is closely related to his affinity with Milton. As early as 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' he commented on Milton's vision. Quotations from 'Paradise Lost' and allusions to it fill the pages of 4Z. The evolving myth of Urizen, Los, and Orc may be understood at one level as a meditation upon Milton's leading characters--the Almighty, Satan, and Messiah.

In the first six nights of 4Z Blake had exhausted his vision and didn't know at first how to proceed. Then he was surprised by joy and enabled to construct a Christian conclusion to the myth. But he didn't bother to engrave 4Z because his interests had changed. In the next long poem, 'Milton', he worked through and meditated upon the Moment of Grace and savored the new spiritual world which he had inherited. 'Milton' is a record of Blake's Christian honeymoon.

In the first part of 'Milton', called the "Bard's Song', Blake deals with the dramatic years at Felpham. Here we find Blake's definitive and full bodied portrait of Satan. Blake had come full circle from his ironic identification with the Devil in MHH. Now he identified Hayley with Satan, which seems rather uncharitable. We need to bear in mind that there were two Hayleys in Blake's mind. The first Hayley was a corporeal friend who had lured him to Felpham and tried to do him in spiritually: "Corporeal friends are spiritual enemies". This Hayley served as tempter in what we may call Blake's last temptation. The other Hayley was a fellow sufferer with Blake, an artist whom Blake continued to encourage and nurture, as the letters attest.

In the remainder of 'Milton' Blake's hero, John Milton, after a hundred years in Eternity, reenacts the kenosis (self emptying) of Christ and descends to redeem his successor, Blake, and mankind. The poem is full of a beauty and joy which had been largely absent from Blake's pen since 'Songs of Innocence'. It contains some of his finest nature poetry. Between the end of SI and the Moment of Grace Blake had seen and described nature as corrupt, as groaning in travail. Now in 'Milton' he sees creation redeemed just as Paul had said that it would be:

"Thou hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of Spring; The Lark sitting upon his earthy bed: just as the morn Appears; listens silent;
then springing from the waving Corn-field! loud He leads the Choir of Day! trill, trill, trill, trill, Mounting upon the wings of light into the Great Expanse: Reecchoing against the lovely blue & shining heavenly Shell: His little throat labours with inspiration; every feather On throat & breast & wings vibrates with the effluence Divine
All Nature listens silent to him & the awful Sun Stands still upon the Mountain looking on this little Bird" (Erdman 130)

The Church periodically gave birth to men and women who, from the platform of the orthodox tradition, were elevated to a direct vision of God. This is particularly true of our poet. Most of the creative change in the Church originated with such types. The Church rather uniformly discouraged mystical visions of God unless they conformed in full detail to the orthodoxy of the moment. God refused such limitations; the entire period prophetically judged the priestly position. A long volume could be written about the many prophetic visions which in one way or another resemble that of our poet; Boehme.

The Church was broad enough to include and even honor many of these free spirits, but the works which followed them in the hands of their more militant disciples generally fell into ill repute. The early Franciscan movement is a case in point. St. Francis preached to his little sisters the birds; he shared the stigmata of Christ and suggested that to share Christ's poverty might be fitting for his disciples, an extremely radical idea which an extremely wealthy pope indulged. But many of Francis' disciples faced persecution of various sorts.

Roughly contemporary with Francis another monk named Joachim of Flora rediscovered for the nth time the dominance of the Spirit over the letter. Preaching what he called the Everlasting Gospel Joachim proposed to dispense with the corrupt and worldly political structures of the establishment and move into a New Age, the era of the Holy Spirit. The New Age would replace the age of the Church; it would be an age of freedom with everyone led directly by the Spirit. Jeremiah had foretold this. Even Moses had said, "would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets". For the creative poet the New Age represented freedom at its best, exactly what Jesus had come to bring us. For most of the priests it represented antinomianism at its worst.

The Everlasting Gospel and the New Age came down the centuries through the various subterranean channels of the heterodox tradition. Swedenborg announced its advent in 1757, which happened to be the year of Blake's birth; Blake noted this with obvious delight in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'. Years later, in the autumn of his life, Blake filled his spiritual journal with a fragmentary poem called 'The Everlasting Gospel'. It was his systematic attempt to set forth in the most direct terms possible his precise view of Christianity and its founder. He probably never concluded the project to his full satisfaction.

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