Heaven and Hell
No one knows of the Beyond. Still men throughout history have seen visions of it. These visions have informed their faith and galvanized them to the words and deeds by which they have lived. Look now at Blake's visions of Heaven and Hell:
For Isaiah (and Blake) 'everlasting burnings' had connotations opposite to those of conventional thinking.
Indeed throughout the Bible fire more often symbolizes God than the Devil: "our God is a consuming fire".Note also the
Blake's eternity, both here and hereafter, is characterized by two intense activities, War and Hunting (Milton: Plate 35:2), "the Two Fountains of the River of Life". Both are intellectual in nature and aimed at growth into Truth. In this world they have been prostituted into "corporeal war" and the killing of the innocent. War and Hunting of course exhaust the eternals, so periodic rest is provided in what might be called Lower Heaven; Blake called it Beulah:aThere is from Great Eternity a mild & pleasant rest Nam'd Beulah, a soft Moony Universe, feminine, lovely, Pure, mild & Gentle, given in Mercy to those who sleep, Eternally created by the Lamb of God around, On all sides, within & without the Universal Man.
We could also call Ulro "this world". In a sense "this world" is as close to the conventional hell as Blake got. In Blake as in the Bible, especially in Paul, "this world" has a technical meaning. It does not mean the present stage of life as opposed to a heavenly (or hellish) existence beyond physical death. Basically "this world" means a level of consciousness that sees only the material, which Blake called the corporeal. Ulro is the state in which "Reality was forgot, and the Vanities of Time and Space only Remembered and called Reality" (Vision of the Last Judgment; Erdman 555; his comments on an astounding canvas; it concerns Revelation 20:11-15).
Ulro, Blake's hell, denotes a form of blindness or sleep, from which one may awaken:
"Of the Sleep of Ulro! and of the passage through Eternal Death! and of the awaking to Eternal Life....(Jerusalem Chapter One)"
The biblical writers as they are generally understood had not adequately grasped the fullness of Jesus' power to rescue mankind totally from the darkness which Blake called Eternal Death. They wrote most of the New Testament in a time of persecution. In their effort to stiffen the spine of the believer in the face of that persecution they retreated into a degree of thralldom to the Old Testament God of Wrath, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards' sermon,"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".
One can readily understand why the worldly ecclesiastics who followed Peter and Paul picked up on the angry God. All too often he became their primary weapon; the image of hell is the ultimate form of coercion. Blake made no such mistake, probably because of the ten years which he had spent confronting and subduing that "shadow from his wearied intellect", years of suffering, but it turned to glory.
In those years he laid to rest the Punisher who has afflicted the minds of believers through the centuries, but he retained the creative possibility which represents the best of the Christian faith. The rationalists and deists had thrown out both and confined us to Ulro, which today threatens to engulf mankind. The reader must decide for himself whose hell is most real--the place of unending punishment or the sleep from which man may awaken.