The Book of Urizen
poem written in 1794. The Book of Urizen served as a prototype for 'The Four
Zoas', which was to follow. It contains among other things a parody of Genesis.
Blake found the orthodox doctrine of creation unsatisfying, as many people
have to this day, so he set out to present an alternative. He followed 'Paradise
Lost' and the Gnostics in placing the Fall before Creation.
In his myth the Fall of Man involved a fall in part of the divine nature and
led to the creation of a fallen world. Such a Creation Story represents a
sophistication of the elemental biblical one. P.L. is an obvious recreation of the
Bible story, and B.U. is a recreation of P.L., beginning as a simple inversion.
The doctrine of contraries, which we found in MHH, appears in B.U. in
the form of two Eternals, Urizen and Los. The poem develops their careers in
nine chapters. Following closely some of the Gnostic texts Urizen separates
from the other Eternals, writes the Book of Brass, and declares himself God,
whereupon he is shut out of Eternity and Los appointed his watchman
(Chapters 1-3). Los confines Urizen with the limits of time and space and in
"seven ages of dismal woe" binds him down into the five shriveled senses of
the human body (Chapter 4).
This frightful condition leads Los to pity, which divides his soul and
results in the separation of his emanation, Enitharmon. Eternity shudders at
this further breakup of Man into the sexual contraries. Even more shocking to
the Eternals, Los begets his likeness on his own divided image. The Eternals
shut out this fallenness from Eden, and Los becomes blind to Eternity
(Chapter 6) Section 10. Los binds his son, Orc, with the Chain of Jealousy.
Urizen explores his dens, discovers that no one can obey or keep his iron laws
for one minute and that life lives upon death.
There in barest outline is 'The Book of Urizen'. Volumes have been written
to interpret it. At this point we note that Urizen, Orc (also called Luvah in
later works), and Los emerge as the three principles of the psyche. In Jungian
terms we would call them Reason, Feeling, and Intuition. With the addition of
Tharmas, the body or Instinct, they make up the four Zoas of the complete
myth. B.U. is the earliest sketch of their relationships, which form the primary
subject matter of Blake's evolving myth until the critical moment when Jesus
became All and Jerusalem his Bride.
Keep in mind that here, as in later writings, Blake's poetry has many
levels. We are especially interested in the cosmic and psychological levels,
and the most compelling dimension of the psychological is the
autobiographical. In B.U. as in all the prophecies Blake tells us a great deal
about himself. He lived intensely in the spiritual realm; this means that
visions, motifs, attitudes come and go with great rapidity. The poetry reveals
to us the course of his life. At the same time sober reflection on his biography
casts light on the dynamic evolution of the myth. The student might spend
time with B.U. before tackling 4Z, for it gives in outline form much of the
action of the larger poem. However Urizen is hard to understand, written
before the complete vision of Blake's myth had crystallized in his mind;