Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Great Code

It was the name of a book by Northrup Frye, written many years after Fearful Symmetry.  I read FS five times (25 years ago) and have never reached full comprehension of it. (The story of NF has been written before.) Anyway Frye's first book, a thesis for his first degree at Univ. of Toronto was substantially responsible for everything I know today about William Blake.

Frye went from Toronto to Oxford, where his interests were broadened immensely beyond Blake.  Writing Anatomy of Criticism he became the premier critic of English Literature. He continued to write about Blake  but was always thereafter primarily a critic,or rather a teacher of English criticism.

He had a distinguished career at UT, but also taught at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, Cornell and Oxford.

His master work, in two volumes, came at the end of his life; each of them occupied ten years of his life.  Soon after he finished the second one, Words with Power, he died.

Subtitle of The Great Code and Words with Power was Study of the Bible and Literature.  Anyone who digests these two books will have a great deal larger and broader understanding of the Bible.  Beside that he will have a great deal larger and broader understanding of the work of William Blake, which incidentally is based almost entirely on the Bible.

The key idea (for me at least) is the concept of 'types and antitypes'. As far as the Bible is concerned, the 'type' is most often in the OT; the 'antitype' in the NT. Of course all type and antitypes don't necessarily fall in that category. 

Sometimes the type and antitype may both be in the OT. But the Book of Revelation can be described as a dense mass of allusions to the OT.

William Blake loved the Bible, 1st and foremost:
In a letter to Flaxman, dated 1800 (Erdman 707) he wrote:
 "Now my lot in the Heavens is this; Milton lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face.  Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in riper years gave me his hand   Paracelsus & Behmen appeard to me. terrors appeard in the Heavens above"

At least half of what Blake wrote has obvious biblical overtones; he often quoted from the Bible.

Look at this example, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
"I then asked Ezekiel why he ate 
dung, and lay so long on his right and 
left side. He answered: The desire 
of raising other men into a perception 
of the infinite."

Now look at Ezekiel 4:4-6:
"[4] Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity.
[5] For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
[6] And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year."

There are many such incidents in Blake's work.  Recognition of these types/antitypes might give you an entirely new understanding of the 'Good Book'.

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