Monday, September 30, 2013


Following his experience at the Truchsessian Gallery when the light which he had enjoyed in his youth returned to him, Blake began to express the new-found appreciation that the depiction of light might play in his painting. Blake felt that he was returning to a style in which he had originally painted and which reflected the "true light that enlightens every man."
Blake's St Paul Preaching at Athens, one of the Biblical watercolors for Thomas Butts executed in 1803, is an example of the simplicity, directness and transparent symbolism which characterize his re-enlightened approach. 
Notice the light that surrounds St Paul, the presence of multiple generation is his audience, and the reactions displayed by various characters. In Blake's picture St Paul looks out at  the audience whom he wishes to address not at those gathered around him. The unadorned simplicity of the picture is congruent with the same quality in Luke's account in Acts.
Acts 17
[14] Then the brethren immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there.
[15] Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
[16] Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
[17] So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there.
[18] Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, "What would this babbler say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" -- because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.
[19] And they took hold of him and brought him to the Are-op'agus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you present?
[20] For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean."
[21] Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
[22] So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op'agus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
[23] For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
[24] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man,
[25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.
[26] And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation,
[27] that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us,
[28] for `In him we live and move and have our being';
as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.'
[29] Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man.
[30] The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent,
[31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead."
[32] Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, "We will hear you again about this."
[33] So Paul went out from among them.
[34] But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionys'ius the Are-op'agite and a woman named Dam'aris and others with them.

Letters, To Thomas Butts, (E 723)
"Patience! if Great things do not turn out it is because
such things depend [xxxx] on the Spiritual & not on the
Natural World & if it was fit for me I doubt not that I should be
Employd in Greater things & when it is proper my Talents shall be
properly exercised in Public. as I hope they are now in private.
for till then.  I leave no stone unturnd & no path unexplord that
tends to improvement in my beloved Arts.  One thing of real
consequence I have accomplishd by coming into the country. which
is to me consolation enough, namely.  I have recollected all my
scatterd thoughts on Art & resumed my primitive & original ways
of Execution in both painting & Engraving. which in the confusion
of London I had very much lost & obliterated from my mind.  But
whatever becomes of my labours I would rather that they should be
preservd in your Green House (not as you mistakenly call it dung
hill). than in the cold
gallery of fashion.--The Sun may yet shine & then they will be
brought into open air."
 Blake was familiar with this picture by Raphael of St Paul Preaching in Athens. His admiration for Raphael notwithstanding, he followed his own leading whatever the consequence.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

America 17

Rosenwald LC
Plate 16

The Text

                                      PLATE 16

Over the hills, the vales, the cities, rage the red flames fierce;
The Heavens melted from north to south; and Urizen who sat 
Above all heavens in thunders wrap'd, emerg'd his leprous head 
from out his holy shrine, his tears in deluge piteous
Falling into the deep sublime! flag'd with grey-brow'd snows 
And thunderous visages, his jealous wings wav'd over the deep;
Weeping in dismal howling woe he dark descended howling
Around the smitten bands, clothed in tears & trembling shudd'ring cold.
His stored snows he poured forth, and his icy magazines
He open'd on the deep, and on the Atlantic sea white shiv'ring.
 Leprous his limbs, all over white, and hoary was his visage.
Weeping in dismal howlings before the stern Americans
Hiding the Demon red with clouds & cold mists from the earth;
Till Angels & weak men twelve years should govern o'er the strong:
And then their end should come, when France reciev'd the Demons light. 
Stiff shudderings shook the heav'nly thrones! 
France Spain & Italy,In terror view'd the bands of Albion, and the ancient 
Guardians Fainting upon the elements, smitten with their own plagues 
They slow advance to shut the five gates of their law-built heaven
Filled with blasting fancies and with mildews of despair
With fierce disease and lust, unable to stem the fires of Orc;
But the five gates were consum'd, & their bolts and hinges melted
And the fierce flames burnt round the heavens, & round the abodes of men

FINIS(Erdman 57-8)

                    About the Text

Urizen who sat Above all heavens aptly described at several places in the image. 
Blake is saying that Urizen is in charge of this mess.Urizen was Weeping in 
dismal howlings: everything is wrong here.

twelve years: he's talking history now; the 12 years might be construed as the 
years between the end of the American Revolution and the beginning of the French 
one--- or he might mean something entirely different.

"the five gates of their law-built heaven": look at Song of Los:

"Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon 
gave Laws & Religions to the sons of Har binding them more
And more to Earth: closing and restraining: 
Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete 
Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke" 
(Erdman 68)

                           About the Image

A female bends on her knees with her head down and her hands in a pose

of prayer. Her hair is blue according to copy O and run over to the
right margin in what Erdman calls a niagara. A little man is sitting on
top of her head reading a book.

On top of her back two people are standing, one with a book perhaps and
the other pointing up to the right. Behind her feet seems to be a
figure on his hands with his face down.

Blake has put more and more small figures in juxtaposition with the
large one.  He's inviting his 'students' to think what they will
according to their level of perception.

These squigles reach their epitome at the bottom; first impressions of
it are a 'snake pit' or den of dragons, enclosing in the bottom center
'finis'.  You might suppose that he's saying that the American
Revolution is a batch of garbage.

Like the French Revolution Blake started out enthusiastically, so much
so that he wore the redcap of the revolutionists. But both revolutions
became illusory for Blake, succinctly expressed by the short slogan:
"he crushed the tyrant in his head
and became a tyrant in his stead.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


From the archives of the New York Public Library we find this Biographical/Historical Note on an associate of William Blake:
"Joseph Johnson, bookseller and publisher, lived in London from 1761 until the last few years of his life. A Dissenter, known for his progressive political views and for his role in bringing together many of the leading intellectuals of his time, Johnson was notable for publishing such writers as Maria Edgeworth, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft."

Illustration for Original Stories from Real Life
In 1796 Blake's engraving skills were engaged by Johnson to illustrate a volume by Mary Wollstonecraft titled Original Stories from Real LIfe; with Conversations, Calculated to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness.

Wollstonecraft's  reputation was built on writing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which was published in 1792. She was among a group of influential writers including William Cowper, Thomas Paine, Henry Fuseli, William Godwin, and Joseph Priestly who gathered around Johnson's book shop in St Paul's Churchyard

In 1791 Johnson seemed to have been prepared to publish Blake's The French Revolution since a copy of a proof of the work exists. However the political situation seems to have been too precarious for publication of such a work.


The French Revolution, (E 285)

                 FRENCH REVOLUTION.  
                      A POEM,
                  IN SEVEN BOOKS.

                  BOOK THE FIRST.

           LONDON: Printed for J. Johnson, No 72,
              St Paul's Church-yard. MDCCXCI.
                 (Price One Shilling.)

PAGE [iii]


   The remaining Books of this Poem are finished, and will be
                published in their Order.

PAGE [1]
                 THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

                   Book the First.

The dead brood over Europe, the cloud and vision descends over chearful France;
O cloud well appointed! Sick, sick: the Prince on his couch, wreath'd in dim
And appalling mist; his strong hand outstetch'd, from his shoulder down the bone
Runs aching cold into the scepter too heavy for mortal grasp. No more
To be swayed by visible hand, nor in cruelty bruise the mild flourishing mountains.

Sick the mountains, and all their vineyards weep, in the eyes of the kingly mourner;
Pale is the morning cloud in his visage. Rise, Necker: the ancient dawn calls us
To awake from slumbers of five thousands years. I awake, but my soul is in dreams;
From my window I see the old mountains of France, like aged men,fading away.

Troubled, leaning on Necker, descends the King, to his chamber of council; shady mountains
In fear utter voices of thunder; the woods of France embosom the sound;
Clouds of wisdom prophetic reply, and roll over the palace roof heavy,
Forty men: each conversing with woes in the infinite shadows of his soul,
Like our ancient fathers in regions of twilight, walk, gathering round the King;
Again the loud voice of France cries to the morning, the morning prophecies to its clouds."
A 36 page thesis titled Joseph Johnson and William Blake is available from the Oxford University Research Archive.

Friday, September 27, 2013

America 16

Rosenwald LC
Plate 15

The Text
The red fires rag'd! the plagues recoil'd! then rolld they back
cross the limbs of Albions Guardian, the spotted plague smote Bristols
And the Leprosy Londons Spirit, sickening all their bands:
The millions sent up a howl of anguish and threw off their hammerd mail,
And cast their swords & spears to earth, & stood a naked multitude.
Albions Guardian writhed in torment on the eastern sky
Pale quivring toward the brain his glimmering eyes, teeth chattering
Howling & shuddering his legs quivering; convuls'd each muscle &
Sick'ning lay Londons Guardian, and the ancient miter'd York
Their heads on snowy hills, their ensigns sick'ning in the sky
The plagues creep on the burning winds driven by flames of Orc,
And by the fierce Americans rushing together in the night
Driven o'er the Guardians of Ireland and Scotland and Wales
They spotted with plagues forsook the frontiers & their banners
With fires of hell, deform their ancient heavens with shame &
Hid in his eaves the Bard of Albion felt the enormous plagues.
And a cowl of flesh grew o'er his head & scales on his back &
And rough with black scales all his Angels fright their ancient
The doors of marriage are open, and the Priests in rustling
Rush into reptile coverts, hiding from the fires of Orc,
That play around the golden roofs in wreaths of fierce desire,
Leaving the females naked and glowing with the lusts of youth
For the female spirits of the dead pining in bonds of religion;
Run from their fetters reddening, & in long drawn arches sitting:
They feel the nerves of youth renew, and desires of ancient
Over their pale limbs as a vine when the tender grape appears
(Erdman 56-7)

                                  About the Text

On Albions Angels: This passage represents the disaster to 'Guardians'
England suffered as much as America from the war.
of England, Ireland and Scotland and Wales, beginning with Bristol, 
perhaps the embarkation point for the Redcoats heading to America.

This is the only use that Blake made of the term Bard of Albion; was 
he referring to himself? so demoralized?

we can only reflect on what he meant. 'Bard' is used often:
At the beginning of Songs of Experience:

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees
Whose ears have heard,
The Holy Word,
That walk'd among the ancient trees.
Calling the lapsed Soul
In the light of that poem we may assume that the Bard of 
Albion was the prophet of England; Blake has certainly
assumed that role, but the bard in this plate has fallen
to the point of becoming serpent-like.
                               About the Image

Those strange hieroclyphics we've met before are used to separate
sections of the text; they might be throught of as limbs of the tree
that fills the left border, which has become so commonplace.

A group of figure may be thought of as climbing the tree; more clearly
defined figures (notably female) are found in flames at the bottom.
(In my mind its reminiscent if the conventional Hell.)

There are all sorts of ideas about the significance of the symbols that
Erdman's page 153 present to us, such as the 'liberated horse' at
line 3. (It does show up better in this copy.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


William Blake was engaged to provide paintings to adorn the fireplace in Yaxham Rectory which was rebuilt in 1820. The rectory was to be occupied by Rev. John Cowper Johnson who served as rector of St Peter's Church. Johnson was a cousin of William Cowper the hymn writer, so Blake's acquaintance with him was through Hayley who was the biographer of Cowper.
The commission included three pictures: Evening and Winter illustrating lines from Cowper's poem The Task, and a landscape of the Olney bridge.
Lines for Blake's Winter from The Task by William Cowper:

"O Winter! ruler of the inverted year,
Thy scattered hair with sleet like ashes filled,

Thy breath congealed upon thy lips, thy cheeks
Fringed with a beard made white with other snows
Than those of age, thy forehead wrapt in clouds.
A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne
A slïding car, indebted to no wheels,
But urged by storms along its slippery way;
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seemest,
And dreaded as thou art."

Blake's poem To Winter written in his youth and included in Poetical Sketches uses some of the same images to portray winter as does Cowper.

Poetical Sketches, To Winter, (E 410)         
"O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs,
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o'er the yawning deep    
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain'd; sheathed
In ribbed steel, I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear'd his sceptre o'er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o'er the groaning rocks: 
He withers all in silence, and his hand       
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal'st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster  
Is driv'n yelling to his caves beneath mount Hecla"
In Songs of Innocence and of Experience Blake began to use winter as an image for the absence of the human dimension. Winter became the state in which the love and grace associated with innocence was withdrawn leaving a bleak and joyless existence. 

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 33, (E 19)
"Holy Thursday
Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty! 

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill'd with thorns.
It is eternal winter there."

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 38, (E 23)
"NURSES Song                                 
When the voices of children, are heard on the green
And whisprings are in the dale:
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,       
My face turns green and pale.

Then come home my children, the sun is gone down
And the dews of night arise
Your spring & your day, are wasted in play
And your winter and night in disguise."

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 53, (E 31)
"The School Boy  
O! father & mother, if buds are nip'd,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip'd
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and cares dismay, 

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear,
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear."
Later winter became for Blake the condition in which change can begin. Conscious of the birth of Jesus in mid-winter, Blake used the season of greatest hardship and despair to bring forth the greatest promise of hope.

Europe, Plate 3, (E 61)
     "The deep of winter came;                                    
     What time the secret child,
Descended thro' the orient gates of the eternal day:
War ceas'd, & all the troops like shadows fled to their abodes.

Then Enitharmon saw her sons & daughters rise around.            
Like pearly clouds they meet together in the crystal house:
And Los, possessor of the moon, joy'd in the peaceful night:
Thus speaking while his num'rous sons shook their bright fiery wings"

Four Zoas, Night V, Page 57, (E 339)
"He stood trembling & Enitharmon clung around his knees
Their senses unexpansive in one stedfast bulk remain
The night blew cold & Enitharmon shriekd on the dismal wind      
Page 58 
Her pale hands cling around her husband & over her weak head
Shadows of Eternal death sit in the leaden air

But the soft pipe the flute the viol organ harp & cymbal
And the sweet sound of silver voices calm the weary couch
Of Enitharmon but her groans drown the immortal harps           
Loud & more loud the living music floats upon the air
Faint & more faint the daylight wanes. The wheels of turning darkness
Began in solemn revolutions. Earth convulsd with rending pangs
Rockd to & fro & cried sore at the groans of Enitharmon   
Still the faint harps & silver voices calm the weary couch      
But from the caves of deepest night ascending in clouds of mist
The winter spread his wide black wings across from pole to pole
Grim frost beneath & terrible snow linkd in a marriage chain
Began a dismal dance. The winds around on pointed rocks
Settled like bats innumerable ready to fly abroad            
The groans of Enitharmon shake the skies the labring Earth
Till from her heart rending his way a terrible Child sprang forth
In thunder smoke & sullen flames & howlings & fury & blood"  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

America 15

Although this is Plate 14 of Erdman's  electronic edition of The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake's,
newly Revised 1988 edited  by  David V. Erdman, I've called it America 15; that's because I added a preliminary 
statement and called it America 1.

America 15
Rosenwald LC

                          The Text

                                      Plate 14

In the flames stood & view'd the armies drawn out in the sky

Washington Franklin Paine & Warren Allen Gates & Lee:
And heard the voice of Albions Angel give the thunderous command:
His plagues obedient to his voice flew forth out of their clouds
Falling upon America, as a storm to cut them off
As a blight cuts the tender corn when it begins to appear.
Dark is the heaven above, & cold & hard the earth beneath;
And as a plague wind fill'd with insects cuts off man & beast;
And as a sea o'erwhelms a land in the day of an earthquake; 
Fury! rage! madness! in a wind swept through America
And the red flames of Orc that folded roaring fierce around
The angry shores, and the fierce rushing of th'inhabitants
The citizens of New-York close their books & lock their chests;
The mariners of Boston drop their anchors and unlade;
The scribe of Pensylvania casts his pen upon the earth;
The builder of Virginia throws his hammer down in fear.
Then had America been lost, o'erwhelm'd by the Atlantic,
And Earth had lost another portion of the infinite,
But all rush together in the night in wrath and raging fire
The red fires rag'd! the plagues recoil'd! then rolld they back
with fury                

                        About the Text

In the flames: the fire appears in Plate 3, 9, 12, and perhaps
elsewhere referring of course to the violence, the war, the

Allen Gates & Lee: these three appear with the original three
named earlier:
Ethan Allen captured Fort_Ticonderoga and founded Vermont.

Horatio Gates 'won' the battle of Saratoga.

In the second Continental Congress   Richard Henry Lee moved
for Independence.

Albion's Angel, as you may recall, is a sobriquet for the king
of England. With his 'thunderous command' he threatens the
plague (of War) and all sorts of bad things (like a tax on tea).

The people respond with Fury! rage! madness; Blake named
Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Virginia where revolutionary
sentiments prevailed.  They turn their rage and red fires on
Albion's Angel.

                   About the Image

For the gobbledygook at the top I can only refer you to Erdman's

Illuminated Blake, page 152.

In the middle of the image we see the inevitable tree with a uprising 
limb (trunk?) and a horizontal limb overshadowing two figures; the 
roots go down on the right margin to the bottom. Behind it is the 
trunk of a second large tree.

The figure on the right is a nude female pointing on the reclining male
figure on the left. Her legs are spread and between them emerges a snake
like creature, his head pointed as if to strike the male.

This may be considered a representation of the Angel of Albion and of

Above the last four lines is the same sort of gobbledygook as there was
at the top.

At the bottom is a dragon like form with fire coming out of its mouth.
That may represent the general fiery distress of everyone.

If you use your imagination you may find a lot of meaning in the Plate.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


When Blake lived at Felpham he worked closely with William Hayley who was engaged in writing a biography of the poet William Cowper. An engraving by Blake which appears in the appendix of Volume 2 of Hayley's The Life, and Posthumous Writings, of William Cowper requires some explanation. The Internet Archive provides the full text of "Cowper and Blake : a paper read at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Cowper Society, held at the Mansion House, London, 23rd April 1913". We read:

"In the second volume there are engravings of the portrait of 
Cowper done in 1793, and an original design by Blake 
of the " Weather House " mentioned in The Task : 

Peace to the Artist whose ingenious thought 
Devised the Weather-house, that useful toy ! 
Fearless of humid air and gathering rains 
Forth steps the man — an emblem of myself ! 
More delicate his timorous mate retires. 

Below this delicately drawn and quaint picture is another 
showing, " A cottage .... perched upon the green hill 
top," and "close environed with a ring of branching elms " 
called by Cowper the " Peasant's Nest "; while in the 
foreground are seen the poet's tame hares. Puss, Tiney 
and Bess." 
British Museum
Further explanation of the images in the engraving is found at the website of the Cowper and Newton Museum:

"The most likely explanation could be that the subject of the weather-house simply appealed to Blake, and it does reflect his dualistic view of the world - good and evil, darkness and light. His Songs of Innocence and Experience were published in 1794, and the Weather-house drawing could almost serve as an illustration of their subtitle: ‘Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul’. So he drew it as one of the six designs commissioned for the biography, perhaps adding the roundel of the hares as an afterthought, and then engraved it, adding the line ‘Publish’d Novr 5 1802 by J Johnson St Pauls Church Yard’. Since there was no logical position for the engraving in the main text of the biography, Hayley must have decided to drop it in as an appendix. In the absence of other evidence,this may have been the sequence of events.The plates having been drawn and engraved, the next step was to print them. Giving a fascinating insight into his working methods and the key part played by Mrs Blake, Blake writes to his brother at this time,

My Wife has undertaken to Print the whole number of the Plates for Cowper’s work, which she
does to admiration, & being under my own eye the prints are as fine as the French prints and please everyone. 

The loose sheets of the plates would then have been delivered to the printer in Chichester, Joseph Seagrave, for binding up with the text, and the whole published in London a few weeks later under the imprint of Joseph Johnson. 

If any reader can throw further light on the origins of this drawing do get in touch. I shall explore the subject of Blake’s relationship to Cowper further in a later issue of The Bulletin. 

Tony Seward"

Letters, To Mr Butts, (E 716)
"September 11.  1801
... but my Principal labour at this time is Engraving Plates for
Cowpers Life a Work of Magnitude which Mr Hayley is now
Labouring with all his matchless industry & which will be a most
valuable acquisition to Literature not only on account of Mr
Hayleys composition but also as it will contain Letters of Cowper
to his friends Perhaps or rather Certainly the very best letters
that ever were published
     My wife joins with me in Love to You & Mrs Butts hoping
that her joy is now increased & yours also in an increase of
family & of health & happiness
I remain Dear Sir
Ever Yours Sincerely

Letters, To James Blake, (E 726)
"Felpham Jany 30--1803.
Dear Brother
...  However this I know will set you at Ease.  I am now so full
of work that I have had no time to go on with the Ballads, & my
prospects of more & more work continually are certain.  My Heads
of Cowper for Mr H's life of Cowper have pleasd his Relations
exceedingly & in Particular Lady Hesketh & Lord Cowper  
Lady H was a doubtful chance who almost adord her Cousin
the poet & thought him all perfection & she writes that she is
quite satisfied with the portraits & charmd by the great Head in
particular tho she never could bear the original Picture
     But I ought to mention to you that our present idea is.  To
take a house in some village further from the Sea Perhaps
Lavant. & in or near the road to London for the sake of
convenience--I also ought to inform you that I read your letter
to Mr H & that he is very afraid of losing me & also very afraid
that my Friends in London should have a bad opinion of the
reception he has given to me But My Wife has undertaken to Print
the whole number of the Plates for Cowpers work which she does to
admiration & being under my own
eye the prints are as fine as the French prints & please every
one. in short I have Got every thing so under my thumb that it is
more profitable that things should be as they are than any other
way, tho not so agreeable because we wish naturally for
friendship in preference to interest.--The Publishers are already
indebted to My Wife Twenty Guineas for work deliverd this is a
small specimen of how we go on. then fear nothing & let my Sister
fear nothing because it appears to me that I am now too old &
have had too much experience to be any longer imposed upon only
illness makes all uncomfortable & this we must prevent by every
means in our power"

Saturday, September 21, 2013

America 14

Rosenwald LC
America 14
What time the thirteen Governors that England sent convene
In Bernards house; the flames coverd the land, they rouze they
Shaking their mental chains they rush in fury to the sea
To quench their anguish; at the feet of Washington down fall'n
They grovel on the sand and writhing lie, while all              

The British soldiers thro' the thirteen states sent up a howl
Of anguish: threw their swords & muskets to the earth & ran
From their encampments and dark castles seeking where to hide
From the grim flames; and from the visions of Orc; in sight
Of Albions Angel; who enrag'd his secret clouds open'd           
From north to south, and burnt outstretchd on wings of wrath
The eastern sky, spreading his awful wings across the heavens;
Beneath him roll'd his num'rous hosts, all Albions Angels camp'd
Darkend the Atlantic mountains & their trumpets shook the valleys
Arm'd with diseases of the earth to cast upon the Abyss,         
Their numbers forty millions, must'ring in the eastern sky.

About the Text

Bernards houseSir Francis Bernard was the colonial governor ot Massachusetts.

a howl Of anguish: during the Revolutionary War a great many of the
'redcoats' wound up as patriots (See Redcoat).

wings of wrath: the 'wings' are very visible in the image. In the next line it's called
'awful wings'. Blake used the figure of 'wings' often; look for example at MHH 15.

About the Image

Blake developed this plate to Jerusalem (plate 58):
Rosenwald  LC
Jerusalem Plate 58

The wings are less imposing than the one in America,
but obviously bat-like, the daughters and sons of Albion
rather than Albion's Angel.

Here the prone figure at the bottom is skeletal, which may
remind you of George MacDonald's LilithIn America the
prone figure is fastened down by a snake; here it's simply


Part of this story appears in Visions of the Daughters of 
America, where Oothoon is referred to as the "soft soul of America", by which Blake meant perhaps the 'softness' of
a democracy compared to a military dictatorship.

In the middle 20th century it was said that Mussolini made
the trains run on time.  Of course he did some other things that like Hitler were much less pleasant.

Friday, September 20, 2013

America 13

Rosenwald LC America 13
PLATE 12 So cried he, rending off his robe & throwing down his scepter. In sight of Albions Guardian, and all the thirteen Angels Rent off their robes to the hungry wind, & threw their golden scepters Down on the land of America. indignant they descended Headlong from out their heav'nly heights, descending swift as fires Over the land; naked & flaming are their lineaments seen In the deep gloom, by Washington & Paine & Warren they stood And the flame folded roaring fierce within the pitchy night Before the Demon red, who burnt towards America, In black smoke thunders and loud winds rejoicing in its terror Breaking in smoky wreaths from the wild deep, & gath'ring thick In flames as of a furnace on the land from North to South
(Erdman 55-6)

About the Text
So cried he: 'he' here seems to me to mean Boston's Angel.
Taking off their robes and throwing away their golden sceptors
mean the governors, etc. are renouncing their place as agents
of the King.
Descending from their heavenly heights means the fire of
resistence to the King's power in America.
Blake named Washington Paine and Warren; those were the ones
that he was apparently most familiar with.
The Demon red signified military hostilities.

About the Image
Erdman has this to say on page 150 about this plate:

The tree that overshadows the text is a birch.

Below the text is a tomb being entered by a bearded old man with a crutch under 
his left arm ; he is creeping forward into the tomb.

This is said to be Blake's emblem of Death's Door.

Look also at this image.

Widimedia Common
Gates of Paradise

Here is another similar image, in Gates of

"13 But when once I did descry 
The Immortal Man that cannot Die

14 Thro evening shades I haste away
To close the Labours of my Day

15 The Door of Death I open found
And the Worm Weaving in the Ground

16 Thou'rt my Mother from the Womb
Wife, Sister, Daughter to the Tomb
Weaving to Dreams the Sexual strife

And weeping over the Web of Life" (Erdman 269)

It likely appears at other places as well.

We need to remember that for Blake going through Death's Door is not a trial but a joy.

Back to America:  the background is stormy and colorful, suggesting a sunset.

Beyond the clouds the distance shows mountains.

The old man is coming from a green grassy area. We're in " In England's green & pleasant Land"

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Republished from December 28, 2009

Labor of Los

Quoting from A BLAKE DICTIONARY, S. Foster Damon, Introduction, Page XI:

"Every sect is self-limited, whereas Truth is Universal. Instead of any religion, Blake wanted the truth - the whole truth including all errors, life including death, the soul including the body, the world of mind including the world of matter, the profound discoveries of the mystics reconciled with the scoffing of the skeptics, heaven and hell married and working together, and in the ultimate heart, Man eternally in the arms of God."

The puzzle of the shift in relationship between Luvah and Urizen deserves careful consideration. Neither Urizen nor Luvah had an indisputable claim to the horses of light or the dominant position they represented; that should should have fallen to Urthona whose 'Vehicular Form' is Los. (Percival refers to Urthona as the 'essential' man.)

The struggle among Urizen, Luvah and Los occupies Blake's imagination. The conflict may be interpreted internally. In Blake's myth either reason or emotion is frequently firmly in control of the psyche. The balance between them shifts as they negotiate and seize power. Sometimes reason is recognized as the higher function and emotion is at the service of reason (or visa versa). Disasters ensue as each function tries to eliminate the other. The higher function, inspiration or Los, eventually succeeds in wresting power and reconstructing the psyche.

Often it is easier to observe the operation of the functions externally before we can recognize them internally. Blake's portrayal of the 4Zs may show us aspects of ourselves we do not already recognize. Likewise, we are more likely to identify another person under the domination of one aspect of the psyche (suppressing the expression of the others), before we can see the same thing in ourselves. But to have it brought to our attention either by reading Blake, or by observing associates consistently and unconsciously coming under the dominion of reason or emotion, may encourage us to deal with unconscious forces which are controlling us. (So too, these imbalances are visible in societal behaviors.)

In The Four Zoas, Night Four, Blake portrays a violent confrontation between Urizen and Los. Urizen is subdued but the cost to Los is high. Los has come under the dominion of his lower nature, expressing revenge, wrath and cruelty, and having taken on the characteristics of the entity whom he was trying to eliminate .

FZ4-53.11; (E335)
"The lovely female howld & Urizen beneath deep groand
Deadly between the hammers beating grateful to the Ears
Of Los. absorbd in dire revenge he drank with joy the cries
Of Enitharmon & the groans of Urizen fuel for his wrath
And for his pity secret feeding on thoughts of cruelty

The Spectre wept at his dire labours"

FZ4-53.21; E336
"And thus began the binding of Urizen day & night in fear
Circling round the dark Demon with howlings dismay & sharp
The Prophet of Eternity beat on his iron links & links of brass
And as he beat round the hurtling Demon. terrified at the Shapes
Enslavd humanity put on he became what he beheld"

Some scholars have suggested that the portrayal of this type of situation in The Four Zoas led to Blake's abandonment of the writing of the book. In Blake's later poetry, the solution to the problems between Los and Urizen comes through recognition of error, forgiveness, anniliation of the Selfhood, and restoration of Brotherhood.

The unity of the psyche - allowing each function to play its ordained role is the goal toward which Blake directed his readers.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

America 12

Rosenwald LC
America Plate 11

Fiery the Angels rose, & as they rose deep thunder roll'd
Around their shores: indignant burning with the fires of Orc
And Bostons Angel cried aloud as they flew thro' the dark night.

He cried: Why trembles honesty and like a murderer,
Why seeks he refuge from the frowns of his immortal station!     
Must the generous tremble & leave his joy, to the idle: to the
That mock him? who commanded this? what God? what Angel!
To keep the gen'rous from experience till the ungenerous
Are unrestraind performers of the energies of nature;
Till pity is become a trade, and generosity a science,           
That men get rich by, & the sandy desart is giv'n to the strong
What God is he, writes laws of peace, & clothes him in a tempest
What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs
What crawling villain preaches abstinence & wraps himself
In fat of lambs? no more I follow, no more obedience pay.        

About the Text
the Angels rose: by that Blake meant of course the 13 angels of
the colonies; with Bostons Angel he called the readers' attention
to the trouble that started in Boston involving the 'boston teaparty'.
Try to read it this way:
as they flew thro' the dark night Boston's angel cried...

This plate may be construed as Blake's declaration of independence
from the conventional Christianity and interpretation of the Bible
that focuses on violence and war.  Isn't it interesting that virtually
every war we've ever had has been ardently supported by the
religious community?

                  About the Image

After the first sentence we see something like a swan flying high with 
a man (representing the 13 angels) flying on its back.

At the bottom we see a serpent like dragon and on it's back a lady,
child and smaller child being assisted by his elder sibling.

When I think about the swan and the dragon, it appears that the swan
might reflect the declaration of independence and the dragon reflects
the final victory of the colonies, who of course have varied weight.

They have subdued and domesticated the dragon king.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Newton's Laws of Motion:
Law I: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.

Law II: The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impress'd; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impress'd.

Law III: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.
I wonder if Blake was reacting to Newton's statement of the three laws of motion when he make his statements about the relationships among the soul, the body, the senses, reason, energy and eternal delight in The Marriage of Heaven & Hell.

Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 4, (E 34)
  "But the following Contraries to these are True
  1 Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is
a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses. the chief inlets
of Soul in this age
  2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is
the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
  3 Energy is Eternal Delight"

Library of Congress
Marriage of Heaven & Hell
Plate 4, Copy D

Newton postulated his laws based on physical matter and forces which could be measured with physical instruments. Blake introduced the soul as inseparable from from the body. Split from the soul the body is only the aspect of man that can be discerned by the those totally unreliable and distorting receptors which are called the five senses. Energy for Blake is not forces that move matter but the life force which abides in the body and is only limited when Reason defines and circumscribes it. Energy partakes of the Eternal which cannot be encompassed by laws and rules and definitions. The Delight which epitomizes the exercise of creative imagination is the signature of Blake's understanding of energy.
Songs and Ballads, Notebook, (E 477)
"Mock on Mock on Voltaire Rousseau
Mock on Mock on! tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind
And the wind blows it back again

And every sand becomes a Gem                          
Reflected in the beams divine
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye   
But still in Israels paths they shine

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newtons Particles of light          
Are sands upon the Red sea shore
Where Israels tents do shine so bright"

Monday, September 16, 2013

America 11

Rosenwald LC
America 10

The Text

Thus wept the Angel voice & as he wept the terrible blasts
Of trumpets, blew a loud alarm across the Atlantic deep.
No trumpets answer; no reply of clarions or of fifes,
Silent the Colonies remain and refuse the loud alarm.

On those vast shady hills between America & Albions shore;       
Now barr'd out by the Atlantic sea: call'd Atlantean hills:
Because from their bright summits you may pass to the Golden
An ancient palace, archetype of mighty Emperies,
Rears its immortal pinnacles, built in the forest of God
By Ariston the king of beauty for his stolen bride,              

Here on their magic seats the thirteen Angels sat perturb'd
For clouds from the Atlantic hover o'er the solemn roof.

About the Text
The Angel here is presumably Albion's Angel, the eternal king.
The Trumpet is the loud call to War, but the Colonies don't respond.

The second paragraph refers to the Atlantic as the shady hills between
America and England.

from Wikipedia

Damon 27 "Ariston, king of beauty, anciently built for his stolen bride Anama
a pinnacle, type of mighty emperies. in the forest of God on the Atlantean Hills"

The thirteen angels sat here (this is an eternal drama, not a material one).

About the Image
Look also at this copy of the plate. A detailed description of the boy in the picture follows.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


The city of Bath is singled out by Blake for its wisdom, benevolence and healing abilities. She is called  the Healing City which is apropos for a city whose springs were reputed for their medicinal powers since ancient times. Who better to turn to heal Albion 'our brother' who is 'sick to death?'
Courtesy of Wikimedia Jerusalem
Plate 45

In Plate 40 [45] of Jerusalem the voice of Bath is heard calling to Albion, asking him to recognize his 'dread disease' and accept the healing offered by Jesus. Allbion's disease is incurable except by 'mercy interposing.' Blake implies the God's mercy is required, but Albion's mercy is required also. His problem is that 'his machines are woven with his life.' These machines are the implements of war and the mental attitude which makes war acceptable. Britain has become accustomed to being at war and accumulating benefits for the 'military industrial complex' at the expense of the health and welfare of the people who suffer from wounds and neglect.

David Erdman finds in this plate in Jerusalem reference to two anti-war sermons preached by Richard Warner who was curate of St James, Bath from 1795 to 1817. (This church was lost to bombing in WWII.) The first sermon was occasioned by the Day of General Fast ordered by the King to be observed in all churches on May 25th, 1804. Richard Warner chose to observe the occasion by preaching and publishing a sermon titled: War Inconsistent with Christianity.

On Page 477 of Prophet Against Empire Erdman quotes from Warner's sermon:,
"However brilliant the successes are with which their arms shall be crowned; whatever acquisitions of territory conquest may unite to their ancient empire, ... War is the GREATEST CURSE with which a nation can be afflicted, and ... all its imaginary present advantages, or future contingent benefits, are but as 'the dust in the balance,' and 'chaff before the wind'.

Blake states: "however high Our palaces and cities, and however fruitful are our fields, In Selfhood, we are nothing: but fade away in mornings breath."

Learn more in this note included on page 204 of William Blake: Jerusalem edited by Morton D Paley.

Jerusalem, Plate 39 [44], (E 187) 
"They wept into the deeps a little space at length was heard
The voice of Bath, faint as the voice of the Dead in the House of Death
Plate 40 [45]
Bath, healing City! whose wisdom in midst of Poetic
Fervor: mild spoke thro' the Western Porch, in soft gentle tears

O Albion mildest Son of Eden! clos'd is thy Western Gate
Brothers of Eternity! this Man whose great example
We all admir'd & lov'd, whose all benevolent countenance, seen  
In Eden, in lovely Jerusalem, drew even from envy
The, tear: and the confession of honesty, open & undisguis'd
>From mistrust and suspition. The Man is himself become
A piteous example of oblivion. To teach the Sons
Of Eden, that however great and glorious; however loving    
And merciful the Individuality; however high
Our palaces and cities, and however fruitful are our fields
In Selfhood, we are nothing: but fade away in mornings breath,
Our mildness is nothing: the greatest mildness we can use
Is incapable and nothing! none but the Lamb of God call heal   
This dread disease: none but Jesus! O Lord descend and save!
Albions Western Gate is clos'd: his death is coming apace!
Jesus alone can save him; for alas we none can know
How soon his lot may be our own. When Africa in sleep
Rose in the night of Beulah, and bound down the Sun & Moon     
His friends cut his strong chains, & overwhelm'd his dark
Machines in fury & destruction, and the Man reviving repented
He wept before his wrathful brethren, thankful & considerate
For their well timed wrath. But Albions sleep is not
Like Africa's: and his machines are woven with his life       
Nothing but mercy can save him! nothing but mercy interposing
Lest he should slay Jerusalem in his fearful jealousy
O God descend! gather our brethren, deliver Jerusalem
But that we may omit no office of the friendly spirit
Oxford take thou these leaves of the Tree of Life: with eloquence
That thy immortal tongue inspires; present them to Albion:
Perhaps he may recieve them, offerd from thy loved hands.

So spoke, unheard by Albion. the merciful Son of Heaven
To those whose Western Gates were open, as they stood weeping
Around Albion: but Albion heard him not; obdurate! hard!      
He frown'd on all his Friends, counting them enemies in his sorrow

And the Seventeen conjoining with Bath, the Seventh:
In whom the other Ten shone manifest, a Divine Vision!
Assimilated and embrac'd Eternal Death for Albions sake.

And these the names of the Eighteen combining with those Ten 
Plate 41 [46]
Bath, mild Physician of Eternity, mysterious power
Whose springs are unsearchable & knowledg infinite."