Monday, February 17, 2014


       With the conception of Urizen Blake began the most serious stage of his war with the conventional God. In fact his battle with God provided the creative energy for the development of his entire mythology, particularly the series of poems known as the Lambeth books and the first major attempt at an epic, 'The Four Zoas'. 'Milton' and 'Jerusalem' were written after the battle was won.
       The 'Book of Urizen' is at one level a brutal burlesque of the Creation story found in Genesis. More properly it offers an alternative to the biblical story, based upon Neo-platonic metaphysics. Blake took the Gnostic demiurge, something much less than the Supreme Being, and merged it with the Old Testament God into a diabolic parody.
       Tremendous meaning may doubtless be found in this book, the Genesis of Blake's Bible of Hell. Some knowledgeable interpreters see in it a superwise man offering supersubtle insight to the devotees and adepts who have pursued his truth. But a plain man's view suggests that B.U. comes from the pen of an angry young man. Most of us have shut out youthful anger. We pass our days having closed off our consciousness from the horror of life that surrounds us. In that way we can sleep at night and forget that we live in a filthy world, a place where ten year old children hang for trivial crimes and five year olds learn to climb the insides of tall back chimneys. Comparable things are happening in our town today, but we simply don't dwell on those sorts of things; we learn to be positive thinkers.
       But men like Blake and Vincent van Gogh couldn't shut those images out. Van Gogh died in an insane asylum. Blake had a more creative solution; he wrote the 'Book of Urizen'. Someone is finally and ultimately responsible for the horror of the world. He blamed God or rather the image of God projected by his fellow men. Anyone gifted with a real relationship with God has had similar feelings.
       At the deepest level B.U. comes through as a cry of pain: the God who made this black world in which we live in chains has to be a monster. And Blake offers some very imaginative ideas as to how he got that way. He fell from Eternity; he fell before Creation; and then he created an awful mess. Then he gave us laws to live by that shrink us up more and more from what we might be. William Blake is noted for the Divine Vision. But B.U. is the diabolic vision, the Bible of Hell. Before ecstasy there is agony. In B.U. Blake poignantly articulates the darkness before the dawn.
       The really exciting thing about 'The Four Zoas' is the long incubation and eventual birth of Blake's new, positive image of God concurrent with the thorough and definite laying to rest of the old one. These realities become vivid once the reader gains sufficient familiarity with the material to see the underlying currents of spiritual movement. If you like poetry, 4Z contains many beautiful lines interspersed throughout the nine Nights amidst long, bleak desert passages describing fallenness. The beautiful passages mark stirrings of the Spirit. (It has great similarity in fact to the style of Isaiah, who wrote the most beautiful parts of the O.T. surrounded by unrelieved darkness.)
       Follow the speeches of Enion, the primeval mother of Los and Enitharmon. In Night i her children's increasing depravity and her maternal love lead her down into the abyss of Non-entity, in her case an abyss of consciousness. She becomes a disembodied voice sounding a note of reality over the general fallenness as it progressively develops. Her comments throughout the action preserve the feeling of human oneness that will break forth at the darkest hour. In Enion Blake found a new voice expressing a passionate love that laments but doesn't excoriate, and a faith, evolved through suffering, that the Divine Image will come to redeem. These of course are the most creative themes of the Old Testament, slowly evolving out of its generally primitive theology. Enion's speeches at the conclusion of Nights i, ii, and viii are too long to quote here, but they contain some of the most sublime poetry Blake wrote and portend the emergence of the new God of compassion.
Univ of Adelaide
Book of Urizen
       In 4Z Blake elaborated and analyzed the God, Urizen, in the fullest detail; this version contains less heat and more light than we found in B.U. Urizen symbolizes man's thinking faculty; in the primary myth of the Fall he became estranged from his feelings. This story is told at least six times in 4Z. Blake devoted Night ii to Urizen's creation of a rocky, hard, opaque world of mathematical certainty and calculation. Anyone who has spent time on a college campus has met people highly developed intellectually and infantile emotionally. They lack the capacity to express any value more intense than "very interesting". Many of course have denied that value has any meaning. Imagine what kind of world they create, what spiritual climate they live in; there you have Urizen.
       He is a God devoid of true feeling; he has feelings, but they're all false. He continually weeps, like the Old Testament God who wept as he punished people. He builds a world of law, devoid of feeling, devoid of compassion, devoid of humanity. His world is based upon fear of the future, and he attempts to secure himself against it at all costs. Fear defines his character and his actions until the very end of the fallen world. In Night viii Urizen is still fighting life and light. He sets out pervert all the faculties of sense Into their own destruction, if perhaps he might avert His own despair even at the cost of everything that breathes.
       There you find a preview of the God of the superpowers. Their fear has become the guiding principle leading them toward the destruction of "everything that breathes".
       Urizen's initial downfall comes in Night iii. His emanation (in this case wife), Ahania, has followed Enion, the Earth Mother, into the abyss of consciousness. She tries to share with Urizen a level of truth that he finds so unpleasant that he casts her out, and promptly falls himself like Humpty Dumpty. In Ahania's vision we have a psychologically acute and penetrating description of the incipience of a false God. It ranks with the Bible's eloquent pre-psychological denunciations of idolatry, as found for example in Isaiah 40. Blake re-used this passage in 'Jerusalem', attesting its authenticity even on the illumined side of the Divine Vision:
       "Then Man ascended mourning into the splendors of his palace,
Above him rose a Shadow from his wearied intellect
Of living gold, pure, perfect, holy; in white linen he hover'd,
A sweet entrancing self delusion, a wat'ry vision of Man
Soft exulting in existence, all the Man absorbing.
       Man fell upon his face prostrate before the wat'ry shadow,
Saying, "O Lord, whence is this change? thou knowest I am nothing." ...
Idolatrous to his own Shadow, words of Eternity uttering:
"O I am nothing when I enter in judgment with thee.
"If thou withdraw thy breath I die and vanish into Hades;
"If thou dost lay thine hand upon me, behold I am silent;
"If thou withhold thine hand I perish like a fallen leaf.
"O I am nothing, and to nothing must return again.
"If thou withdraw thy breath, behold I am oblivion."
       In this parody of the Psalmist Blake shows us a fundamental truth about man's image of the transcendental God. He doesn't deny the reality of a transcendental God as some of his interpreters have concluded. He denies the truth of man's image of the transcendental God, an entirely different matter.
       He opposes the ascribing of qualities to the Wholly Other. According to Blake when that is done the result is something less than man. Worshipping this sub-human God the worshipper becomes something less than man himself. He represses a portion of his humanity, which Blake here calls Luvah, and that repressed portion falls upon him and afflicts him with boils from head to toe. The penalty for idolatry is brokenness and suffering, consciousness of sin, guilt, division, finitude, envy, the torments of love and jealousy, the whole bit of man's unfortunate fallen circumstances. It's all caused by the false God that man has chosen. Isaiah understood a part of this; he recognized some of the idols of others but not his own. Thomas Altizer, in his book on Blake, rightly took this passage as a critical revelation of the "death of God".
       Man worships a shadow of his wearied intellect. No higher God is possible without the wholeness that Christ brings. Worship of a shadow of our wearied intellect leads to all the false and fatal evils that we visit upon one another from simple vanity to war.

No comments: