Sunday, September 30, 2012


In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his third illustration to Il Penseroso:

Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 684)

"Where I may oft outwatch the Bear 
With thrice great Hermes or unsphear 
The Spirit of Plato to unfold What 
Worlds or what vast regions hold 
The Immortal Mind that has forsook 
Its Mansion in this Fleshly nook 
And of those Spirits that are found 
In Fire. Air. Flood. & Underground" 

Blake wrote: 
 "The Spirit of Plato unfolds his Worlds to Milton in Contemplation. The Three destinies sit on the Circles of Platos Heavens weaving the Thread of Mortal Life these Heavens are Venus Jupiter & Mars, Hermes flies before as attending on the Heaven of Jupiter the Great Bear is seen in the Sky beneath Hermes & The Spirits of Fire. Air. Water & Earth Surround Miltons Chair"

As in the previous illustration, Milton himself is included in the picture. He sits in the chair contemplating the images which arise in his 'Immortal Mind' as the constellation, the 'Bear', makes his nightly journey circling the pole. 'The Spirits of Fire. Air. Water & Earth' are seen in order:  on the left margin, above Milton's head, behind Milton's chair, and along the bottom of the picture. Each of these is presented in rather unattractive aspects. The Spirit of Plato is the dominant figure standing before the bowed Milton, while the three fates dispense the thread of life at the top of the picture. Hermes wearing his winged cap observes the occupants of the three globes.

The three heavens of Venus, Mars and Jupiter are not mentioned by Milton. Blake adds them to emphasise what he considered erroneous teachings of Plato which he found contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Venus is a symbol for sexual dominance, Mars is a symbol for military power, Jupiter is a symbol for political authority. The militaristic culture of the Greeks and the Romans who followed them failed to incorporate the concept of forgiveness of sin which to Blake was essential to the development of man into the full Image of God which was his potential and his destiny.  

The issues and ideas in Greek culture with which Blake struggled himself are presented in this illustration as occupying the thoughts of Milton in his midnight contemplation.

Song of Los, Plate 3, (E 67)
"To Trismegistus. Palamabron gave an abstract Law:
To Pythagoras Socrates & Plato."
Milton, Plate 1, (E 95)
"The Stolen and Perverted Writings of Homer & Ovid: of Plato &
Cicero. which all Men ought to contemn: are set up by artifice
against the Sublime of the Bible. but when the New Age is at
leisure to Pronounce; all will be set right: & those Grand Works
of the more ancient & consciously & professedly Inspired Men,
will hold their proper rank, & the Daughters of Memory shall
become the Daughters of Inspiration. Shakspeare & Milton were
both curbd by the general malady & infection from the silly Greek
& Latin slaves of the Sword."
Milton, Plate 22 [24], (E 117)

"And all the Daughters of Los prophetic wail: yet in deceit,
They weave a new Religion from new Jealousy of Theotormon!
Miltons Religion is the cause: there is no end to destruction!
Seeing the Churches at their Period in terror & despair:         
Rahab created Voltaire; Tirzah created Rousseau;
Asserting the Self-righteousness against the Universal Saviour,
Mocking the Confessors & Martyrs, claiming Self-righteousness;
With cruel Virtue: making War upon the Lambs Redeemed;
To perpetuate War & Glory. to perpetuate the Laws of Sin:  
They perverted Swedenborgs Visions in Beulah & in Ulro;
To destroy Jerusalem as a Harlot & her Sons as Reprobates;
To raise up Mystery the Virgin Harlot Mother of War,
Babylon the Great, the Abomination of Desolation!
O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the Churches!

Shewing the Transgresors in Hell, the proud Warriors in Heaven:
Heaven as a Punisher & Hell as One under Punishment:
With Laws from Plato & his Greeks to renew the Trojan Gods,
In Albion; & to deny the value of the Saviours blood."    
Laocoon, (E 274)
"There are States in which all Visionary Men are accounted Mad Men
such are Greece & Rome"

Annotations to Watson, (E 619)
"The Gospel is Forgiveness of Sins & has No Moral Precepts these belong to Plato & Seneca & Nero"

Annotations to Berkley, (E 664)   
"Knowledge is not by deduction but Immediate by Perception or
Sense at once Christ addresses himself to the Man not to his
Reason   Plato did not bring Life & Immortality to Light Jesus
only did this

Jesus supposes every Thing to be Evident to the Child & to 
the Poor & Unlearned Such is the Gospel 
The Whole Bible is filld with Imaginations & Visions from 
End to End & not with Moral virtues that is the baseness of Plato 
& the Greeks & all Warriors The Moral Virtues are continual 
Accusers of Sin & promote Eternal Wars & Domineering over others

What Jesus came to Remove was the Heathen or Platonic
Philosophy which blinds the Eye of Imagination The Real Man
The Everlasting Gospel, (E 875)
"There is not one Moral Virtue that Jesus Inculcated but Plato &
Cicero did Inculcate before him what then did Christ Inculcate. 
Forgiveness of Sins This alone is the Gospel & this is the Life &
Immortality brought to light by Jesus.  Even the Covenant of
Jehovah, which is This If you forgive one another your Trespasses
so shall Jehovah forgive you That he himself may dwell among you
but if you Avenge you Murder the Divine Image & he cannot dwell
among you [by his] because you Murder him he arises
Again & you deny that he is Arisen & are blind to Spirit 
  What can this Gospel of Jesus be 
     What Life Immortality
     What was [It] that he brought to Light
     That Plato & Cicero did not write 

     The Heathen Deities wrote them all
     These Moral Virtues great & small
     What is the Accusation of Sin
     But Moral Virtues deadly Gin"

Saturday, September 29, 2012

book of Thel 3

O little Cloud the virgin said, I charge thee to tell me
Why thou complainest now 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 shewd his golden head & 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: lookst 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.
Dost thou O little cloud? I fear that I am not like thee:
For I walk through the vales of Har, and smell the sweetest flowers:
But I feed not the little flowers: I hear the warbling birds,
But I feed not the warbling birds, they fly and seek their food:
But Thel delights in these no more because I fade away
And all shall say, without a use this shining women liv'd,
Or did she only live to be at death the food of worms.
The Cloud reclind upon his airy throne and answerd thus.
Then if thou art the food of worms, O virgin of the skies,
How great thy use, how great thy blessing, every thing that lives.
Lives not alone nor or itself: fear not and I will call,
The weak worm from its lowly bed, and thou shalt hear its voice.
Come forth worm and the silent valley, to thy pensive queen.
The helpless worm arose and sat upon the Lillys leaf,
And the bright Cloud saild on, to find his partner in the vale.

There is little or nothing pictorial in this plate. Erdman, in The
Illuminated Blake tells us that it is "a curving branch of the seven
flowered lilly stem" of the previous plate.

The cloud is a very common symbol in Blake's poetry. Look for example at the
Introduction to Songs of Innocence. From this we might surmise that the
Cloud is a general symbol for dreams and visions.

The virgin speaking is of course Thel. 'Virgin' in this context suggests that
she has never beeen exposed to Experience or Mortal Life; she doesn't
understand why anything else would.

The cloud understands and tells Thel that though she pass away she will be
renewed tenfold.

Thel says it's not like that for her; she will fade away; she will eventually
be food for worms.

The (masculine) cloud returns: "How great thy use".  That's reminiscent of Walt
Whitmans statement to the dying soldier:  "I do not commiserate—I congratulate 

Friday, September 28, 2012


In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his second illustration to Il Penseroso:

Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 684)
"To behold the wandring Moon
Riding near her highest Noon
Like one that has been led astray
Thro the heavens wide pathless way
And oft as if her head she bowd
Stooping thro' a fleecy Cloud
Oft on a plat of rising ground
I hear the far off Curfew sound
Over some wide waterd shore
Swinging slow with sullen roar"

Blake wrote:
"Milton in his Character of a Student at Cambridge. Sees the Moon terrified as one led astray in the midst of her path thro heaven. The distant Steeple seen across a wide water indicates the Sound of the Curfew Bell"

Blake does more than illustrate Milton's lines in his second image for Il Penseroso. Milton's reference to the moon gives Blake an opening to begin commenting visually on one of the fundamental divisions in his system - the division between male and female. The active principle represented by the sun is the male. The receptive principle, the moon which reflects the sun's light, is the female. In Eternity the male and female are not divided. They become divided when the female seeks repose in Beulah.

The female figure in this illustration is the moon, just as the male figure in illustration three of L'Allegro is the sun. Blake humanises the moon and the sun whereas in the first illustration he personified the various aspects of melancholy. The eternal reality occupies the top of the picture; the natural world is seen at the bottom. The state of melancholy is here portrayed as the state of repose in which there is a withdrawal from the active mental pursuits into materiality where eternity is forgotten.

Since Blake portrayed Milton in the natural world as a student at Cambridge, he is indicating that Milton's studies, his academic pursuits, drew him away from his imagination, his connection with the eternal, and into the moony, feminine, material world.

When we read the role Beulah played in Blake's scheme of thought we can better understand why Milton 'Sees the Moon terrified as one led astray in the midst of her path thro heaven.'
Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 16, (E 11)

Sweet dreams form a shade,
O'er my lovely infants head.
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams,
By happy silent moony beams."

Milton, Plate 30 [33],(E 129)
"There is a place where Contrarieties are equally True
This place is called Beulah, It is a pleasant lovely Shadow
Where no dispute can come. Because of those who Sleep.
Into this place the Sons & Daughters of Ololon descended
With solemn mourning into Beulahs moony shades & hills           
Weeping for Milton: mute wonder held the Daughters of Beulah
Enrapturd with affection sweet and mild benevolence

Beulah is evermore Created around Eternity; appearing
To the Inhabitants of Eden, around them on all sides.
But Beulah to its Inhabitants appears within each district       
As the beloved infant in his mothers bosom round incircled
With arms of love & pity & sweet compassion. But to
The Sons of Eden the moony habitations of Beulah,
Are from Great Eternity a mild & pleasant Rest."

Jerusalem, Plate 19, (E 164)
"Albions Circumference was clos'd: his Center began darkning
Into the Night of Beulah, and the Moon of Beulah rose
Clouded with storms: Los his strong Guard walkd round beneath the Moon
And Albion fled inward among the currents of his rivers.

He found Jerusalem upon the River of his City soft repos'd       
In the arms of Vala, assimilating in one with Vala
The Lilly of Havilah: and they sang soft thro' Lambeths vales,
In a sweet moony night & silence that they had created
With a blue sky spread over with wings and a mild moon,
Dividing & uniting into many female forms: Jerusalem    

Trembling! then in one comingling in eternal tears,
Sighing to melt his Giant beauty, on the moony river."

Jerusalem, Plate 30 [34],(E 176)
"Art thou Vala? replied Albion, image of my repose
O how I tremble! how my members pour down milky fear!
A dewy garment covers me all over, all manhood is gone!
At thy word & at thy look death enrobes me about           
From head to feet, a garment of death & eternal fear
Is not that Sun thy husband & that Moon thy glimmering Veil?
Are not the Stars of heaven thy Children! art thou not Babylon?
Art thou Nature Mother of all! is Jerusalem thy Daughter
Why have thou elevate inward: O dweller of outward chambers 
From grot & cave beneath the Moon dim region of death
Where I laid my Plow in the hot noon, where my hot team fed
Where implements of War are forged, the Plow to go over the Nations
In pain girding me round like a rib of iron in heaven! O Vala
In Eternity they neither marry nor are given in marriage        
Albion the high Cliff of the Atlantic is become a barren Land"

Jerusalem, Plate 48, (E 196)
"From this sweet Place Maternal Love awoke Jerusalem

With pangs she forsook Beulah's pleasant lovely shadowy Universe
Where no dispute can come; created for those who Sleep.          

Weeping was in all Beulah, and all the Daughters of Beulah
Wept for their Sister the Daughter of Albion, Jerusalem:
When out of Beulah the Emanation of the Sleeper descended
With solemn mourning out of Beulahs moony shades and hills:
Within the Human Heart, whose Gates closed with solemn sound."   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

book of Thel 2

Why should the mistress of the vales of Har, utter a sigh.
She ceasd & smild in tears, then sat down in her silver shrine.

Thel answerd. O thou little virgin of the peaceful valley.

Giving to those that cannot crave, the voiceless, the o'ertired.
Thy breath doth nourish the innocent lamb, he smells thy milky garments,

He crops thy flowers. while thou sittest smiling in his face,
Wiping his mild and meekin mouth from all contagious taints.
Thy wine doth purify the golden honey, thy perfume,
Which thou dost scatter on every little blade of grass that
Revives the milked cow, & tames the fire-breathing steed.
But Thel is like a faint cloud kindled at the rising sun:
I vanish from my pearly throne, and who shall find my place.

Queen of the vales the Lilly answerd, ask the tender cloud,

And it shall tell thee why it glitters in the morning sky,
And why it scatters its bright beauty thro' the humid air.
Descend O little cloud & hover before the eyes of Thel.

The Cloud descended, and the Lilly bowd her modest head:

And went to mind her numerous charge among the verdant grass.


We meet Har in a previously written Blake poem called Tiriel,
where he is said to correspond to old Adam before the apple was eaten.
In Thel Har may be thought to be the Heaven of the nymphs awaiting mortal birth.

The Lilly of the Valley, who has lived corporeally as well as
eternally, addresses the question To Thel which begins Plate 2.

Thel answers describing the Lilly's activities on the Earth.
And she describes her fears of vanishing (with mortal death of course).

This early work of Blake's is a discussion of life and death.
Thel fears to live mortally because she fears death and after
hearing of the four facets of mortal life she chose not to live
mortally, but continue in the vale of Har, which has been variously
interpreted as selfcenteredness or simply fear to take a chance about life.
It is only the daring souls who choose Experience.

The birch tree is said to be the queen of the forest; this one has a single
branch and under it Thel stands in a regal way.  In front are a small
group of lilies, the main (largest one bowing deeply as to a queen). Smaller 
stems are waiting for their turn.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


 In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his first illustration to Il Penseroso:
Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 684)

"Come pensive Nun devout & pure
Sober stedfast & demure
All in Robe of darkest grain
Flowing with majestic train
Come but keep thy wonted state
With even step & musing gait
And looks commercing with the Skies
And join with thee calm Peace & Quiet
Spare Fast who oft with Gods doth diet
And hears the Muses in a ring 
Ay round about Joves altar sing
And add to these retired Leisure
Who in trim Gardens takes his pleasure
But first & Chiefest with thee bring
Him who yon soars on golden Wing
Guiding the Fiery wheeled Throne
The Cherub Contemplation
Less Philomel will deign a song
In her sweetest saddest plight
Smoothing the rugged Brow of Night
While Cynthia Checks her dragon yoke
Gently o'er the accustomd Oak
Blake Wrote:
"These Personifications are all brought together in this
design surrounding the Principal Figure Who is Melancholy herself"

The first illustration of Il Penseroso like the first of L'Allegro represents the central figure of the poem surrounded by associated images which are overtly mentioned in Milton's poem. Since Blake took this literal approach to the two illustrations we can assume he is starting us out in each set of illustrations at the first level (which he calls Newton's sleep) of the fourfold levels of vision and will progress through others.

In Jerusalem Blake calls the Emanation a melancholy Shadow.
Jerusalem, Plate 53, (E 208)
Man divided from his Emanation is a dark Spectre
His Emanation is an ever-weeping melancholy Shadow
But she is made receptive of Generation thro' mercy"

Blake's personal experience of Melancholy had nothing to recommend it.

Letters, To Cumberland, (E 706)
"I begin to
Emerge from a Deep pit of Melancholy, Melancholy without any real
reason for it, a Disease which God keep you from & all good men."

The figure at the top of the illustration is 'Him who yon soars on golden Wing / Guiding the Fiery wheeled Throne / The Cherub Contemplation'. As a young man wrote a poem Contemplation which was published in Poetical Sketches.

This image can be dramatically enlarged by right clicking and selecting open in a new window. The enlarged image will be highly detailed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thel plate 6

Plate 6

The eternal gates terrific porter lifted the northern bar:
Thel enter'd in & saw the secrets of the land unknown;
She saw the couches of the dead, & where the fibrous roots
Of every heart on earth infixes deep its restless twists:
A land of sorrows & of tears where never smile was seen.
She wanderd in the land of clouds thro' valleys dark, listning
Dolours & lamentations: waiting oft beside a dewy grave
She stood in silence. listning to the voices of the ground,
Till to her own grave plot she came, & there she sat down.
And heard this voice of sorrow breathed from the hollow pit.
Why cannot the Ear be closed to its own destruction?
Or the glistning Eye to the poison of a smile!
Why are Eyelids stord with arrows ready drawn,
Where a thousand fighting men in ambush lie?
Or an Eye of gifts & graces, show'ring fruits & coined gold!
Why a Tongue impress'd with honey from every wind?
Why an Ear, a whirlpool fierce to draw creations in?
Why a Nostril wide inhaling terror trembling & affright.
Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy!
Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire?

The Virgin started from her seat, & with a shriek.
Fled back unhinderd till she came into the vales of Har

The End (of the Book) (Page 6 of Erdman)

The northern bar: From the beginning of time Eternity and
Time are the primary divisions of kinds of reality. Materalists
have considered Reality to be in Time, while spiritually minded
people consider that the primary Reality resides in Eternity.

Thel has been living in 'Paradise' (called the 'vales of Har'),
but she wants to have a look at the other side. The 'Northern
Bar' opened the 'eternal gates' allowing Thel to 'have a look'

Blake likely had several sources for the 'northern bar', but
none better than one of his favorite English poets. The Faerie
Queene by Edmund Spenser includes these lines:

"It cited was in fruitful soul of old
And girt in with two walls on either side
The one of iron, the other of bright gold
That none might thorough breake, nor over-stride;
And double gates it had which opened wide,
By which both in and out men might pass.
The one faire and fresh, the other old and dride:"

This has been described as the northern and southern bar.

Plate 6 of Thel describes what she saw there and how she reacted.
She saw the '
the land unknown', the 'land of sorrows & of tears'(commonly known as 'this vale of tears'), 'the land of clouds'.Well she didn't think much of it.

Blake gave another instance of that (nymphatic) reaction in the
Sea of Time and Space; there you see the northern stairway with
one nymph vigorously climbing the stairs against the stream of
those headed for the 'sea'.

Thel came many years before the Arlington Tempera, but the idea,
the concept had not changed. In Blake's myth those in Eternity
may choose to come down into material life. In fact the story
(like the story of the Bible) concerns the Fall and the Return.
You might say that Thel chose not to fall. The rest of us are
here because we fell.

Scholars see a close relationship between Thel and the Fable of
Cupid and Psyche. The influence of the Greek myth has been seen
in many of Blake's creations. In particular Irene Chayes of
Silver Springs MD wrote an essay called 'The Presence of Cupid
and Psyche, published in Blake's Visionary Forms Dramatic. She
dealt comprensively with the influence on Blake of the poem.

Among many other subjects she discussed is the relationship evident
betwen Thel and Psyche; both ventured a descent to the world and a return
to Paradise. Psyche fared better than Thel: she returned to be deified by
her lover, while Thel went back only to the lonely vals of Har.

Ideas of life, death, world, heaven, etc. fill Blake's works.
Here's a poem he wrote: 
[Dedication to Blake's Illustrations to Blair's Grave, printed 1808]
The Door of Death is made of Gold, 
That Mortal Eyes cannot behold; 
But, when the Mortal Eyes are clos'd, 
And cold and pale the Limbs repos'd, 
The Soul awakes; and, wond'ring, sees 
In her mild Hand the golden Keys: 
The Grave is Heaven's golden Gate, 
And rich and poor around it wait; 
O Shepherdess of England's Fold, 
           Behold this Gate of Pearl and Gold!     

Monday, September 24, 2012


Milton's double poem L'Allegro and Il Penseroso was the work of a young man not the reflection of an old one. It was one of his early works in English written about 1634 when he was about 25 years old. His experience of the joyous, extroverted mood may have come from his associations with friends and encounters with the theater and concerts as entertainment. From his early childhood  much of his time had been spent on the more solitary pursuits of studying language and literature. Although he had completed his studies at Cambridge, he was at this stage of his life undecided on a career. The young man who wrote L'Allegro and Il Penseroso seems to have desired to incorporate the joyful, light-heartedness of mirth and the reflective, seriousness of melancholy in his life whatever career he followed. Continuing to write poetry was something he acutely desired.

Blake began illustrating Milton's poetry in 1801 with a commission from Rev. Joseph Thomas to illustrate Comus, another of Milton's early works. Blake's final set of illustrations to Milton's works was to L'Allegro and Il Penseroso done for his loyal supporter Thomas Butts sometime after 1816 when he was over 60 years old. Milton wrote when he was looking forward to his own life; Blake illustrated looking back on Milton's life and work and his own. Blake had written his poem Milton between 1803 and 1810 to record the return of Milton to the land he had left a century and a quarter earlier.  

Milton, Plate 2, (E 96)
"Daughters of Beulah! Muses who inspire the Poets Song
Record the journey of immortal Milton thro' your Realms
Of terror & mild moony lustre, in soft sexual delusions
Of varied beauty, to delight the wanderer and repose
His burning thirst & freezing hunger! Come into my band    
By your mild power; descending down the Nerves of my right arm
>From out the Portals of my Brain, where by your ministry
The Eternal Great Humanity Divine. planted his Paradise,
And in it caus'd the Spectres of the Dead to take sweet forms
In likeness of himself. Tell also of the False Tongue! vegetated
Beneath your land of shadows: of its sacrifices. and
Its offerings; even till Jesus, the image of the Invisible God
Became its prey; a curec, an offering, and an atonement,
For Death Eternal in the heavens of Albion, & before the Gates
Of Jerusalem his Emanation, in the heavens beneath Beulah        

Say first! what mov'd Milton, who walkd about in Eternity
One hundred years, pondring the intricate mazes of Providence
Unhappy tho in heav'n, he obey'd, he murmur'd not. he was silent
Viewing his Sixfold Emanation scatter'd thro' the deep
In torment! To go into the deep her to redeem & himself perish?  
What cause at length mov'd Milton to this unexampled deed[?] 
A Bards prophetic Song! for sitting at eternal tables,
Terrific among the Sons of Albion in chorus solemn & loud
A Bard broke forth! all sat attentive to the awful man."

Kay and Roger Easson introduce their commentary to Blake's poem in their book Milton, a Poem by William Blake with these insightful words:
"To read William Blake's illuminated books is to participate in a spiritual education. To read Blake's Milton is to discover the nature of that spiritual education concurrently with the education itself. Consequently, Blake's Milton does not exist solely as an object of admiration or study. Although Milton is incredibly beautiful in its combination of word and illustration and although its complexity stimulates intellectual scrutiny, it is a prophecy and, like all prophecy, it provides spiritual instruction. William Blake is a spiritual teacher, a prophet who, having 'discover'd the infinite in every thing' is committed to 'raising other men into a perception of the infinite' (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). And, Milton is the book in which Blake teaches how 'all the Lord's people' can become prophets. In Milton Blake defines the spiritual journey which renews prophecy in every moment of human time." (Page 135)

The images provided in the illustrations to L'Allegro and Il'Peneroso should be viewed as an extension of Blake's prophetic teachings in Milton.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book of Thel I

The Thel Pics:

These pictures came from the Digital Collections of the Library of Congress. Blake's first large poem (not so large) was Thel. It consisted of 6 Plates with two introductory pictures (called in Erdman's Illuminated Blake Plates i and ii: Much can be said about all of them.

You may view all these plates in The William Blake Archive. 
Having done that select Thel which will offer you 8 currently available copies. Click on any one, then if you see 'compare' click on it; you may see all 8 copies. They vary in several ways.


Thel's Motto:

The Book of Thel is a poem by William Blake, dated 1789 .... It is illustrated by his own plates, and is relatively short and easy to understand, compared to his later prophetic consists of eight plates executed in illuminated printing. Fifteen copies of the original print of 1789-1793 are known. Two copies bearing a watermark of 1815 are more elaborately colored than the others. The silver rod and golden bowl can be interpreted as Blake's rejection of the conventional church (Church of England), in fact of all churches.  

The Eagle knows only the sky and must ask the mole to gain knowledge about the pit; likewise, Thel knows only innocence and eternity and must be endowed with mortality if she wants to learn about the ways of the mortal beings on Earth.  

THEL'S Motto: 
"Does the Eagle know what is in the pit? 
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole: 
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod? 
Or Love in a golden bowl?" 

An enigmatic quatrain, and one that opens more questions than it answers. The Eagle, from above, has a theoretical knowledge of the "pit" (i.e., worldly experience) which he sees from afar, but it is the blind mole who, even though he is blind, really experiences life in the pit. Which, therefore, of the two forms of knowledge, theoretical or experienced, is better?

The last two lines question whether Wisdom and Love really are, or should be, contained within physical form and moral experience: aren't they best left as untainted spiritual essences, uncorrupted by Experience? The "silver rod" is presumably intended as a phallic reference, whereas the "golden bowl" (the flesh) is not necessarily phallic."

In an interesting post on Romanticism the writer offers several meanings for Thel's Motto; here's one of them:
"One reading would be that it asserts a kind of environmentalism, that the mole knows about the pit better than the eagle because it’s the mole’s habitat.".

Read in toto much light is cast on Thel's Motto.


In plate ii, the Title page,there appears to be no script associated with it.

Using the 'Works compare' various things may be seen in various copies.

All of them show Thel, beside the trunk of a bending tree, looking at an embrace of a naked man and a clothed woman. Erdman tells us they are in two blossoms of the anemone pulsatilla, opened by the wind.

Another anemone bud, unopened, stands at Thel's feet.

The three buds: two opened ones represent Desire, while the unopened one represents Restraint.

in microcosm that's the story of Thel; she observed Experience, but thought better of it and returned to Har, which might be called self-centered Innocence.

There's a figure within the second O; Erdman says it's a shepherd with a crook like Thel's. There are many other objects that might be analyzed.


Here is Plate 1:
The daughters of Mne Seraphim led
round their sunny flocks,
All but the youngest; she in paleness
sought the secret air.
To fade away like morning beauty from
her mortal day:
Down by the river of Adona her soft
voice is heard:
And thus her gentle lamentation falls
like morning dew.

O life of this our spring! why fades
the lotus of the water?
Why fade these children of the spring?
born but to smile & fall.
Ah! Thel is like a watry bow. and like
a parting cloud.
Like a reflection in a glass. like
shadows in the water.
Like dreams of infants.
like a smile upon an infants face,
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like 
music in the air;
Ah! gentle may I lay me down, and gentle rest my head.
And gentle sleep the sleep of death. and gentle hear
the voice Of him that walketh in the garden in the evening time.

The Lilly of the valley breathing in the humble grass
Answer'd the lovely maid and said; I am a watry weed,
and I am very small, and love to dwell in lowly vales;
So weak, the gilded butterfly scarce perches on my head.
Yet I am visited from heaven and he that smiles on all.
Walks in the valley. and each morn over me spreads his hand
Saying, rejoice thou humble grass, thou new-born lilly flower,
Thou gentle maid of silent valleys. and of modest brooks;
For thou shalt be clothed in light, and fed with morning manna:
Till summers heat melts thee beside the fountains and the springs
To flourish in eternal vales: then why should Thel complain?

Saturday, September 22, 2012


In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his sixth illustration to L'Allegro:
Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 682)

"There let Hymen oft appear
In Saffron Robe with Taper clear
With Mask & Antique Pageantry
Such sights as Youthful Poets dream
On Summers Eve by haunted Stream
Then lo the well trod Stage anon
If Johnsons learned Sock be on
Or Sweetest Shakespeare Fancys Child
Warble his native wood notes wild"

Blake wrote:
"The youthful Poet sleeping on a bank by the Haunted Stream by Sun Set sees in his Dream the more bright Sun of Imagination. under the auspices of Shakespeare & Johnson. in which is Hymen at a Marriage & the Antique Pageantry attending it"
The youthful poet had entered a dream state which offered a pleasant interlude from the cares of the world. He visited with some of the sources of his inspiration: Shakespeare & Johnson are adjacent to the great sun but not within it.

The sun of imagination was welcomed by both Milton and Blake when it generated the flow of ideas and words. Enclosed in the Sun of Imagination are pictured two levels. The upper portrays a marriage with Hymen, the god of Marriage, officiating. He wears the 'saffron robe' and carries the the 'candle clear' although it appears to be unlighted. His function is to join the contraries into a new being.

At the lower fiery level of the great sun are three women, perhaps muses, with lyre, flute and tambourine. The instruments, however, seem to be silenced since there is no movement of the dance pictured. There are other negative indicators pictured including: enclosing trees, a man running away, three women expressing alarm, the setting of the natural sun, and a man and woman in mournful embrace. Nevertheless the youthful poet seems satisfied to have his pen in his hand and his book at the ready for recording his inspired words.

What Milton has been seeking through mirth in L'Allegro has been finding a mental state in which he may be 'Married to immortal verse/Such as the meeting soul may pierce.' He turns next to Il'Peneroso to seek a melancholy avenue to achieve his poetic goals. Blake's final illustration to L'Allegro stresses the contributions of the lighthearted, extraverted mental approach to the life of the poet. The final two lines of L'Allegro are 'These delights, it thou canst give, Mirth with thee, I mean to live.' But Blake points out what Milton himself knew: that there are shortcomings to the mirthful approach including perhaps the detatched, dreamlike state experienced by Thel in the beginning of the book that bears her name. 

Thel, Plate 1, (E 3)
"Down by the river of Adona her soft voice is heard:
And thus her gentle lamentation falls like morning dew.          

O life of this our spring! why fades the lotus of the water?
Why fade these children of the spring? born but to smile & fall.
Ah! Thel is like a watry bow. and like a parting cloud.
Like a reflection in a glass. like shadows in the water.
Like dreams of infants. like a smile upon an infants face,       
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air;
Ah! gentle may I lay me down, and gentle rest my head.          
And gentle sleep the sleep of death. and gentle hear the voice 
Of him that walketh in the garden in the evening time."
In another account of a dream state, Blake's Angel is banished from the young man 
by his defensive measures. The return of the Angel to the old man was in vain. 
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, SONG 41, (E 24)
"The Angel
I Dreamt a Dream! what can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen:
Guarded by an Angel mild:
Witless woe, was ne'er beguil'd!

And I wept both night and day
And he wip'd my tears away
And I wept both day and night
And hid from him my hearts delight

So he took his wings and fled:
Then the morn blush'd rosy red:
I dried my tears & armed my fears,
With ten thousand shields and spears,

Soon my Angel came again;
I was arm'd, he came in vain:
For the time of youth was fled      
And grey hairs were on my head."
A complex image of the sleep state which Blake may be suggesting in this 
illustration is described in Blake's Milton: 
Milton, PLATE 15 [17],(E 109)
"As when a man dreams, he reflects not that his body sleeps,
Else he would wake; so seem'd he entering his Shadow: but
With him the Spirits of the Seven Angels of the Presence
Entering; they gave him still perceptions of his Sleeping Body;
Which now arose and walk'd with them in Eden, as an Eighth   
Image Divine tho' darken'd; and tho walking as one walks
In sleep; and the Seven comforted and supported him."

Friday, September 21, 2012

To Tirzah

John 2
3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come

(This little story in John's gospel led to a great little poem by Blake):

Wikimedia Commons
Songs of Innocence & of Experience
Plate 52 
Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Plate 52, (E 30) 
"To Tirzah                                                      

Whate'er is Born of Mortal Birth,
Must be consumed with the Earth
To rise from Generation free;
Then what have I to do with thee?

The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride
Blow'd in the morn: in evening died
But Mercy changd Death into Sleep;
The Sexes rose to work & weep.

Thou Mother of my Mortal part.
With cruelty didst mould my Heart. 
And with false self-decieving tears,
Didst bind my Nostrils Eyes & Ears.

Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay
And me to Mortal Life betray:
The Death of Jesus set me free, 
Then what have I to do with thee?

[text on illustration]: It is Raised a Spiritual Body"

I Corinthians 15
[39] All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
[40] There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
[41] There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
[42] So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
[43] It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
[44] It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

II Corinthians 4
[16] "though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."

Thursday, September 20, 2012


In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his fifth illustration to L'Allegro:
Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 682)  
"Then to the Spicy Nut brown Ale
With Stories told of many a Treat
How Fairy Mab the junkets eat
She was pinchd & pulld she said
And he by Friars Lantern led
Tells how the drudging Goblin sweat
To earn his Cream Bowl duly set
When in one Night e'er glimpse of Morn
His shadowy Flail had threshd the Corn
That ten day labourers could not end
Then crop-full out of door he flings
E'er the first Cock his Matin rings"
Blake states:
 "The Goblin crop full flings out of doors from his Laborious
task dropping his Flail & Cream bowl. yawning & stretching
vanishes into the Sky. In which is seen Queen Mab Eating the
Junkets.  The Sports of the Fairies are seen thro the Cottage
where "She" lays in Bed "pinchd & pulld" by Fairies as they dance
on the Bed the Cieling & the Floor & a Ghost pulls the Bed
Clothes at her Feet.  "He" is seen following the Friars Lantern
towards the Convent"
Apparently Milton and Blake were not averse to communicating with fairies, goblins and other occupants to the spirit world of nature. Blake gives this account of his receiving Europe a Prophesy by dictation by a fairy. But apparently Fairies, Nymphs, Gnomes & Genii do not belong to the Eternal world but to the world of generation. They interact with humans but unlike humans are not capable of regeneration. Each of the Zoas is associated with a class of Elemental Spirit: Luvah with genii, Urizen with fairies, Tharmas with nymphs, Urthona with gnomes (Damon, Page 277). Goblins are another class of spirits who are noted for being both mischievous and helpful.

Europe, Plate iii, (E 60)
"Five windows light the cavern'd Man; thro' one he breathes the air;
Thro' one, hears music of the spheres; thro' one, the eternal vine
Flourishes, that he may recieve the grapes; thro' one can look.
And see small portions of the eternal world that ever groweth;
Thro' one, himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;
For stolen joys are sweet, & bread eaten in secret pleasant.

So sang a Fairy mocking as he sat on a streak'd Tulip,
Thinking none saw him: when he ceas'd I started from the trees!
And caught him in my hat as boys knock down a butterfly.
How know you this said I small Sir? where did you learn this song?  
Seeing himself in my possession thus he answered me:
My master, I am yours. command me, for I must obey.

Then tell me, what is the material world, and is it dead?
He laughing answer'd: I will write a book on leaves of flowers,
If you will feed me on love-thoughts, & give me now and then    
A cup of sparkling poetic fancies; so when I am tipsie,
I'll sing to you to this soft lute; and shew you all alive
The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.

I took him home in my warm bosom: as we went along
Wild flowers I gatherd; & he shew'd me each eternal flower:      
He laugh'd aloud to see them whimper because they were pluck'd.
They hover'd round me like a cloud of incense: when I came
Into my parlour and sat down, and took my pen to write:
My Fairy sat upon the table, and dictated EUROPE."

Milton, Plate 31 [34], (E 130)
"And all the Living Creatures of the Four Elements, wail'd
With bitter wailing: these in the aggregate are named Satan
And Rahab: they know not of Regeneration, but only of Generation
The Fairies, Nymphs, Gnomes & Genii of the Four Elements         
Unforgiving & unalterable: these cannot be Regenerated
But must be Created, for they know only of Generation
These are the Gods of the Kingdoms of the Earth: in contrarious
And cruel opposition: Element against Element, opposed in War
Not Mental, as the Wars of Eternity, but a Corporeal Strife"    

Jerusalem, Plate 32 [36], (E 178)
"And the Four Zoa's who are the Four Eternal Senses of Man
Became Four Elements separating from the Limbs of Albion
These are their names in the Vegetative Generation
[West Weighing East & North dividing Generation South bounding]
And Accident & Chance were found hidden in Length Bredth & Highth
And they divided into Four ravening deathlike Forms
Fairies & Genii & Nymphs & Gnomes of the Elements.
These are States Permanently Fixed by the Divine Power"

Songs and Ballads, (E 481)
[A Separate Manuscript]
"A fairy skipd upon my knee                   
Singing & dancing merrily
I said Thou thing of patches rings
Pins Necklaces & such like things
Disguiser of the Female Form                   
Thou paltry gilded poisnous worm
Weeping he fell upon my thigh

And thus in tears did soft reply
Knowest thou not O Fairies Lord
How much by us Contemnd Abhorrd                               
Whatever hides the Female form
That cannot bear the Mental storm
Therefore in Pity still we give
Our lives to make the Female live
And what would turn into disease                           
We turn to what will joy & please"

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 535)
"By way of illustration, I instance Shakspeare's Witches in
Macbeth.  Those who dress [P 17] them for the stage, consider
them as wretched old women, and not as Shakspeare intended, the
Goddesses of Destiny; this shews how Chaucer has been
misunderstood in his sublime work.  Shakspeare's Fairies also 
are the rulers of the vegetable world, and so are Chaucer's; 
let them be so considered, and then the poet will be understood, 
and not else."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


          The emanation of Tharmas, Enion, is called Earth Mother.
          She is noted for her complaints against cold cruel nature:

          Enion blind and age-bent wept upon the desolate wind
          Why does the Raven cry aloud and no eye pities her
          Why fall the Sparrow & the Robin in the foodless winter?
          Faint! shivering they sit on leafless bush, or frozen stone 
          Wearied with seeking food across the snowy waste; the little 
          heart, cold; and the little tongue consum'd, that once in thoughtless joy
          Gave songs of gratitude to waving corn fields round their nest. 
          Why howl the Lion & the Wolf? why do they roam abroad? 
          Deluded by summers heat they sport in enormous love 
          And cast their young out to the hungry wilds & sandy desarts 
          Why is the Sheep given to the knife? the Lamb plays in the Sun 
         He starts! he hears the foot of Man! he says, Take thou my wool 
         But spare my life, but he knows not that winter cometh fast. 
        The Spider sits in his labourd Web, eager watching for the Fly 
        Presently comes a famishd Bird & takes away the Spider 
        His Web is left all desolate, that his little anxious heart
        So careful wove; & spread it out with sighs and weariness. 
        Eternity groand and was troubled at the image of Eternal Death. 
  (Four Zoas 1-17.2-18.9; E310)

       This of course is a complaint against blind nature, "red of tooth and claw"; 
but here's another more pointed complaint against social immorality, where the 
economic world too often emulates the natural one, which is to say there is no spirit 
evident in the world (that's Ulro):
    What is the price of Experience do men buy it for a song
    Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No it is bought with the price
    Of all that a man hath his house his wife his children
    Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy
    And in the witherd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain
    It is an easy thing to triumph in the summers sun
    in the vintage & to sing on the waggon loaded with corn
    It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted
    to speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer
    To listen to the hungry ravens cry in wintry season
    When the red blood is filld with wine & with the marrow of lambs
    It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements
    To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter house moan
    To see a god on every wind & a blessing on every blast
    To hear sounds of love in the thunder storm that destroys our enemies house
    To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, & the sickness that cuts off his children
    While our olive & vine sing & laugh round our door & our children bring fruits & flowers
    Then the groan & the dolor are quite forgotten & the slave grinding at the mill
    And the captive in chains & the poor in the prison, & the soldier in the field
    When the shatterd bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead
    It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity
    Thus could I sing & thus rejoice, but it is not so with me!

                  (Four Zoas 2-35.11-36.13 325)
       If nothing else Blake demonstrates here his power as a social prophet. Was it any 
more appropriate for his age than it is for ours?

From Enion Laments we have:

"Percival sums up her role in Circle of Destiny , page 44:

In the grave Enion learns that the 'time of love' returns, and sees man gathering 
up the scattered portions of his immortal body. She is here the mouthpiece for 
Blake's belief that the function of the mortal body is the return of the immortal. 
Having borne the burden or corporeality, Enion learns its purpose. Life cannot be 
quenched; it springs eternal. But error must be destroyed, and as death, the 
'dark consumer,' Enion is happy in her function.

Four Zoas Night 8 (E385):
"Behold the time approaches fast that thou shalt be as a thing
Forgotten when one speaks of thee he will not be believd
When the man gently fades away in his immortality
When the mortal disappears in improved knowledge cast away
The former things so shall the Mortal gently fade away
And so become invisible to those who still remain