Friday, January 25, 2013
Chapter Ten 4
The Four Zoas
The first four nights of this aborted masterpiece recount the fall of each of the four Zoas:
Tharmas, the body; Luvah, the feelings; Urizen, the mind; and finally Urthona (Los), the imagination or spirit.
These four steps in the fall of Man contain a wealth of rich detail, but one central event Blake
described repeatedly in the words of various characters: Urizen and Luvah (Mind and Feeling)
struggle for dominion over the sleeping man, Albion. Luvah seizes Urizen's steeds of light and
mounts into the sky. Urizen retreats into the north, the rightful place of Urthona, the imagination.
These mistakes lead to a long series of cataclysmic disasters that condemn mankind to his fallen
condition. For six nights we read an almost unrelieved account of the Fall; we read about falling,
about fallenness, described in voluminous detail in a hundred ways. Blake felt intensely that we
have come a long, long way from the Garden, and he explored with exceeding minuteness every
step of the dismal journey, down and out. (You might notice that as extensive as this negative mood
is, it closely resembles the Old Testament, a great deal of which consists of flagellations of Israel by
To begin our orientation to the poem look closely at the central event of the Fall. Blake put it in
the mouths of several characters and each one has his or her own particular slant. The reader has
to decide for himself whose account to believe. This may depend upon the reader as much as it does.
The earliest description of the central event comes in the words of Enitharmon, a notoriously
untrustworthy character at this point; we may call her the queen of fallen space. In a conversation
with her consort, Los, the prophetic boy, she gives her interpretation of the Fall:
Hear! I will sing a Song of Death! it is a Song of Vala!
The Fallen Man takes his repose, Urizen sleeps in the porch,
Luvah and Vala wake and fly up from the Human Heart
Into the brain from thence; upon the pillow Vala slumber'd,
And Luvah siez'd the Horses of Light and rose into the
Chariot of Day. Sweet laughter siez'd me in my sleep....
Always fiercely eclectic, Blake has gathered his symbols here from a number of sources into a
new creation: sleeping man equals fallen man living in darkness; this most general symbol fills the New Testament. For example, "Awake thou that sleepest, and Christ shall give thee light". We live by the light of reason (not always Christ's light!). Urizen, the Sun God, must be asleep to allow Luvah, like the Greek adolescent, Phaethon, to seize his Horses of Light and rise into the Chariot of Day. Zeus struck Phaethon down with a thunderbolt. In Night ii we find Urizen casting Luvah into the furnaces of affliction, where there is much heat but no light. What was once eternal delight has become unmitigated hell.
Luvah and Vala personify the masculine and feminine dimensions of feeling, and separated
from Luvah Vala becomes the goddess of fallen nature. Luvah's seizure of the sun and Vala's
dalliance on the pillow express in different ways the same event. The Prince of Love is bound to get
his wings scorched, and the sleeping Albion is rather foolish to allow this to happen; he has lost his
head over a part of himself.
Blake used this double event to say many things to us at many levels. Fundamentally Blake is
saying that Man has lost his heavenly wholeness (which he calls the Divine Image) and begun to
worship the material, a relatively insignificant part of himself. In his dream of Vala he turns his back
upon the Divine Vision. The former is Eternal Death and the latter Eternal Life. The dalliance of
Albion with Vala leads to the Eternal Death (fallenness) that we read about in the first six nights. Blake described it symbolically in many ways, for example, "to converse in the wilds of Newton and Locke". We find here Blake's primary dialectic, between eternal vision and fallen materialism.
Other accounts of this decisive event occur at various places throughout the poem. The most
definitive is that of Ahania. Her dream relates the central event, the primary fall, to an idolatrous
worship; just so Blake evaluated organized religion (See CHAPTER SEVEN). Albion's worship of
his shadow has two immediate consequences: he breaks out with the boils of Job, a biblical symbol
of the Fall of Mankind, and he exiles Luvah and Vala from their rightful place in the psychic
This central event of the Fall gives the key to the meaning of 'The Four Zoas'. Before we
proceed with the outline of the poem, we need to look at one other central fact: the identity of Los, the fourth Zoa (in Eternity called Urthona). Whereas the central event gives the key to six thousand years of fallenness, the identity of Los gives the key to redemption. This becomes clear in the end when we read about Jesus, the Imagination, but from the beginning we should be aware that Los is the fourth who makes Man whole. Blake derived the first three Zoas in part from Daniel's three friends who were cast into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. Los was the fourth, whom the king walking in the furnace "like the Son of God". Like the other Zoas Los has a chequered career, but he is always moving toward this ultimately revealed identity. Near the end of 'Jerusalem' Blake put
the finishing touches on Los's Eternal identity with these words:
Therefore the Sons of Eden praise Urthona's Spectre in songs, Because he kept the Divine Vision
in time of trouble. (Jerusalem, 95.19; E255)