Wednesday, April 30, 2014


The Songs of Innocence was completed and published while Songs of Experience was still being written. Preliminary drafts for poems of both collections can be found in Blake's Notebook (otherwise known as the Rossetti Manuscript.)

The poem which Blake most often used as the concluding song of Innocence is On Anothers Sorrow. Andrew Lincoln in William Blake, The Illuminated Books, Volume II, tells us that, "This song echoes many of the preceding poems, and elaborates some of the central themes of Innocence." 

He cites these Bible verses as inspiring Blake's imagery:

Matthew 10:29
[29] Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

Revelation 7:17
[17] For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

Isaiah 53:3-4
[3] He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
[4] Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

John 16:20
[20] Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.

Andrew Lincoln:
"This song reveals not only the emotional appeal of this state of the soul, but also its limitations. The speaker's vision of comfort is presented in terms that seem to exclude the possibility of parental indifference, of callous disregard for suffering, or of a world where children might be chimney sweeps or slaves. The woes remain undefined, seen only in relation to the sympathy they should elicit. The vision seems to leave no room for moral outrage. For this we have to leave the state of Innocence, and enter the turbulent state of Experience." Page 170  

British Museum
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Plate 13, Copy A
Songs of Innocence, Plate 27, (E 17)
"On Anothers Sorrow 
Can I see anothers woe,
And not be in sorrow too.
Can I see anothers grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrows share,
Can a father see his child,
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill'd.

Can a mother sit and hear,
An infant groan an infant fear--
No no never can it be.
Never never can it be.

And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small birds grief & care
Hear the woes that infants bear--

And not sit beside the nest
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near
Weeping tear on infants tear. 

And not sit both night & day,
Wiping all our tears away.
O! no never can it be.
Never never can it be.

He doth give his joy to all. 
He becomes an infant small.
He becomes a man of woe
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy maker is not by.
Think not, thou canst weep a tear,
And thy maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan"
Perhaps the greatest impact can be gained from the poem by reading it from an emotional point of view. Throughout the poem we are asked to look upon the sorrow of others, or empathize with those who bear the sorrows of others. It is the innocent who bear the woes, and those who love them who weep over them. Innocence does not protect the children, the parents, the birds, or the infants. The reversal of their condition must come from beyond the natural world. To Blake the source of one's comfort is given in the present by the God who is also a Man. The ever present companion who bears our grief and shares the joy of Eternity, is to  be experienced as man's difficult journey continues.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Blakes' Christianity III

The Reformation:

To many of us the Protestant Reformation represents a breaking free from the oppression of ecclesiastical tyranny. Unfortunately the tyrannies of Luther and Calvin soon replaced those of the Pope, and the conflicts among the various orthodoxies brought about in the 16th and 17th Centuries perhaps the most satanic bloodletting the church has ever experienced. 

The Protestant authorities in general were no less rigid theologically than the Romans from whom they had separated. When a German cobbler named Jacob Boehme started talking directly to God, his pastor had him exiled. However the Lord got Boehme's ear and proceeded to talk to him about Oneness, about the emanations coming from the One, the dark side and the light side. The Lord graced Boehme with a fantastically vivid and voluminous imagination; his visions resembled in many ways those of the Christian Gnostics and of Plotinus. They also owed much to the alchemical doctor, Paracelsus

Boehme went a long way beyond the orthodoxy of either Catholic or Protestant authorities, but a sweetness of spirit pervaded his mind reminiscent of St. Francis and of other simple souls who have walked with God. Cast out by his church, Boehme still won the respect and support of many serious thinkers, products of the liberating currents of Renaissance and Reformation. His friends published his work widely, and it endured the test of time. Almost two hundred years later, in the late 18th Century, it appeared in an English translation attributed to William Law. 

This work became one of Blake's primary sources. He seized on Boehme's visions with delight; he recognized in Boehme a creative servant of God who held the imagination as highly as he did himself. Speaking of a series of anthropomorphic metaphysical designs which appeared in Law's Boehme he told Crabb Robinson that "Michaelangelo could not have done better". Much of the Neo-platonic flavor of Blake's work came down to him through Boehme, his most immediate fountain for the heterodox tradition

For a great many peasants in Germany the Reformation meant little more than a change of masters; nothing really happened. They had been accustomed to doing what they were told by the Pope's priests; now they did what they were told by Luther's priests. Likewise Geneva afforded no real relief from the pervasive spiritual repression, what Blake referred to as the "mind forg'd manacles". Soon after he won power, Calvin had a child beheaded for striking his father; he executed a man named Servetus for denying the Trinity. He and his contemporaries inaugurated a new round of bloodthirstiness decimating the population of Europe, all in the name of Christ! Blake observed all this without the usual conventional blindness and concluded that the Reformation arose through envy of power--a plague on both houses! 

But some of the devout did go further than their masters. Some peasants decided that a believer should be baptized after the age of consent; he should even elect his own priest. The Holy Spirit swept across Europe with the Radical Reformation. Free churches arose here and there and were stamped out with great vigor by Catholics and (right wing) Protestants alike. The Romans had never shown such brutality. It was a century to to be thankful you were not born in. 

In their efforts to escape extermination the free churchmen wandered across the face of Europe. They found refuge in a few islands of political sanity amidst the general theological madness: Switzerland, Bohemia, Holland. Another of these islands was England. The non-Conformist tradition in England swelled to a climax in the 17th Century. The Puritans came to power about 1642 and six years later went so far as to behead a king. 

During the Civil War the anabaptists and radicals-- Levellers, Diggers, Ranters, Quakers, Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchists, etc. etc.--came within an inch of taking over England. For a few years censorship collapsed, and free thought had open season. Every conceivable idea about God and man had its day. The Levellers even questioned the idea of private property. Their religious and social theories were so radical that Cromwell and his confederates found it necessary, for the protection of their middle class values, to return the Crown to the son of the man whom they had beheaded. John Milton had warned them that they would do this unless they learned to control their greed. 

The anabaptists and Milton both exercised an overwhelming influence on the mind of William Blake; call them his spiritual grandparents. Milton shared much of the radical theology of the left wing. Even before the Civil War he had expressed his strong anti-priestly bent: "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed". Milton believed that the Church had become hopelessly corrupted by Constantine. 


We can summarize this "Blakean vision of Christianity" with the conclusion that Blake thought of the institutional church as one of the powers of the world, under the dominion of the God of this World. He described it with the colorful though not original phrase, "the Synagogue of Satan". Bear in mind that in Blake's eternal vision differences of time and space had little meaning; he made no distinction between the Sadduccees of the Sanhedrin who had condemned Jesus and the Anglican bishops of his own day, one of whom condemned his friend, Tom Paine.                     

The Contemporary Scene:

Shortly after the publication of Paine's Age of Reason with its deist critique of the Bible, 
a certain Bishop Watson replied with an "An Apology for the Bible in a Series of Letters addressed to Thomas Paine". George III commented that he wasn't aware the Bible needed an apology. Blake noted in his "Annotations to Watson's Apology" that "Paine has not attacked Christianity; Watson has defended Antichrist". On the back of the title page Blake wrote: "To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life. The Beast and the Whore rule without control".

The Beast and the Whore, two of the more flamboyant images of Revelation, in Blake's vernacular symbolized respectively the State and the Church. 

A State Church:

England has always had a State Church. Although many fat books have been written about it, the English Reformation primarily signified Henry VIII's declaration of independence from the papacy. Through the Middle Ages religious and temporal authority had existed side by side in continuous alliance and usually with a minimum of tension. At the high point of papal authority in 1077 a Holy Roman Emperor waited for three days in the snow outside the door until Pope Gregory VII saw fit to receive him. The Pope considered the kings and princes of Europe his spiritual children. 

Henry VIII was a child who grew up. When the Pope denied him permission to put away his wife in favor of a later romantic interest, Henry declared himself in effect the pope of the English Church and gave himself the necessary dispensation. That was the major event of the English Reformation; thereafter the ultimate authority of the Church of England resided with the Crown. 

By Blake's standards a State Church is the ultimate abomination. He was aware that in the second century at least one Emperor had attempted to enforce the worship of his person as God throughout the Roman Empire, resulting in considerable persecution of those Jews and Christians who refused. Much of the New Testament addressed the problem. In 312 A.D. Constantine took over the Church and made it an arm of the State. That's the way Blake saw it in the 18th Century. 

In America we take for granted the separation of Church and State as a constitutional principle. This limits the sort of power that corrupted Henry VIII. In England many people feel comfortable with a State Church, but traditions of freedom have limited its power. A large proportion of the population exist in religious groups outside of the State Church, and probably an even larger proportion have no significant religious attachment. 

Even in Blake's day the tradition of dissent was an accepted part of the established order. True,the State Church operated Oxford and Cambridge for its own purposes, primarily preparing clergymen. But dissenting academies had arisen to provide a form of education in many ways superior to that of the established universities, especially in the new areas of science and industry. Dissenters largely carried out the Industrial Revolution. 

The 17th Century had witnessed an explosion of dissent in which the head of State and Church had lost his own head. But the Restoration in 1660 reinstated the former arrangements. The Commonwealth struggle had led to a general disgust with religious controversy. Enthusiasm came to be despised and feared by clergy and laity alike. Conventional 18th Century religion had little to do with the feelings. It was rather an intellectual and political matter. 

One of Blake's four zoas, Urizen aptly portrays the God of the majority of Anglicans during Blake's age. The State Church existed as a facade or symbol of order and authority, but with limited power, temporal or spiritual. 

The State Church, like the Jewish Sanhedrin, represented a minority of the people, the conservative establishment types, the squirearchy, the people who for centuries had controlled society. Frequently the landowner's younger son became the priest, though his character may have been dissolute. Politics dictated clerical appointments. Pluralism was common, the same man being appointed to a number of church positions. He would hire a curate to look after each parish's affairs, often at a tenth of the income which the parish provided him. 

The bishops served primarily as political officials; they spent most of their time in London sitting in the House of Lords, where they generally provided a faithful voting block for the Crown. Tithes were the law of the land and enforced much as the income tax is today, much of the proceeds going to the clergy. It was a convenient arrangement, but it could not last; there was too much dissent, too much growth, too much creativity. Change was overtaking all England's institutions, and the Church was no exception. The religious changes had been quietly gathering force for centuries. 

Side by side with Henry VIII's Reformation had existed a grass roots movement which we may call the Radical Reformation. It was made up of less worldly types than Henry, people who took their religion more seriously. One such group departed England in 1619 aboard the Mayflower. Their descendants became the Established Church in New England and spun off dissents from their dissent, like that of Roger Williams. 

William Penn brought shiploads of other irregulars to found a new colony. The Pilgrims, the Baptists, the Quakers of necessity learned to coexist--with one another, with other Eurpoean religious groups, and with the Cavaliers of Virginia, who were solidly Anglican. All cooperated in throwing off the yoke of the mother country. In this melting pot religious groups learned to compete in an ecclesiastical form of free enterprise. It represented quite an improvement over the religious wars that had decimated Europe in previous centuries. 

The same fluid climate existed in the mother country. Every group that immigrated contained members who remained behind and found a place in English society. The State Church, with its large and unwieldy ecclesiastical bureaucracy, existed alongside an infrastructure of non-Conformist groups. What these groups lacked in political clout they made up for in creativity, character, industry, and commercial acumen. 

Monday, April 28, 2014


British Museum 
Songs of Innocence & of Experience 
Plate 50, Copy T

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Plate 51, E(29) 
 "A Little GIRL Lost

 Children of the future Age,
Reading this indignant page;
Know that in a former time.
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime. 

In the Age of Gold,
Free from winters cold:
Youth and maiden bright,
To the holy light,
Naked in the sunny beams delight.

Once a youthful pair
Fill'd with softest care:
Met in garden bright,
Where the holy light,
Had just removd the curtains of the night.

There in rising day,
On the grass they play:
Parents were afar:
Strangers came not near:
And the maiden soon forgot her fear.

Tired with kisses sweet
They agree to meet,
When the silent sleep
Waves o'er heavens deep;
And the weary tired wanderers weep.

To her father white 
Came the maiden bright:
But his loving look,
Like the holy book,
All her tender limbs with terror shook.

Ona! pale and weak!
To thy father speak:
O the trembling fear!
O the dismal care!
That shakes the blossoms of my hoary hair"
In his poem from Songs of Experience named, A Little GIRL Lost, Blake asks us to look at the situation of youthful love from the perspective of three different ages: the golden age, present age and future age. He also introduces three psycho/social attitudes to the situation he presents. Before the law youthful sexual behavior may be consider a crime. Viewed by one's social group such behavior may be viewed as shameful. If such behavior is considered a violation of one's own standard by the superego, infractions produce guilt feelings.

In the age of gold everything is holy; there is no crime, shamefulness, or guilt. This is the age of complete innocence or Eden. There is no knowledge of evil or good. In Genesis this is presented as Adam and Eve not knowing that they were naked before they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The youthful pair in the poem were not in a state of innocence because the 'curtain of night' had been lifted. They felt no shame in their playing in the grass and kissing because they were undetected by parents or strangers. There was a latent sense of guilt which produced fear but it was overcome by pleasure.

However the superego began to activate the sense of guilt when they agreed to meet under cover of darkness. With potential observers asleep the constraints of the shame of being discovered would not inhibit them. However the girl could not escape her own conscience when she was in the presence of her father and the holy book through which her superego had been developed.

The last verse is an appeal for openness. Errors and failing will lose their power to create fear and depression if they are brought into consciousness through self awareness and confession. Standards of behavior need to be examined in the light of circumstances and consequences. Blake foresees an age when love will be understood and practiced in such a way the there could be no objections to it. In the meantime Blake is appalled by the conditions which remove the joy from youth.

The ancient golden age is renewed for Luvah and Vala as Blake's Four Zoas is drawing to a conclusion with the awakening of the Eternal Man. 

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 126, (E 395)
"Luvah & Vala descended & enterd the Gates of Dark Urthona
And walkd from the hands of Urizen in the shadows of Valas Garden
Where the impressions of Despair & Hope for ever vegetate        
In flowers in fruits in fishes birds & beasts & clouds & waters
The land of doubts & shadows sweet delusions unformd hopes
They saw no more the terrible confusion of the wracking universe
They heard not saw not felt not all the terrible confusion
For in their orbed senses within closd up they wanderd at will   
And those upon the Couches viewd them in the dreams of Beulah
As they reposd from the terrible wide universal harvest
Invisible Luvah in bright clouds hoverd over Valas head
And thus their ancient golden age renewd for Luvah spoke
With voice mild from his golden Cloud upon the breath of morning 

Come forth O Vala from the grass & from the silent Dew
Rise from the dews of death for the Eternal Man is Risen

She rises among flowers & looks toward the Eastern clearness
She walks yea runs her feet are wingd on the tops of the bending grass
Her garments rejoice in the vocal wind & her hair glistens with dew    

She answerd thus Whose voice is this in the voice of the nourishing air
In the spirit of the morning awaking the Soul from its grassy bed"

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blake's Christianity II

       While the Church Fathers congregated in Rome, Gnosticism had its center in Alexandria, a marketplace of competing religious and philosophical ideas. There in the third century a man named  Plotinus gave birth to Neo-platonism, an amalgam of the best of Greek thought with the ethical teachings of Christ. Extremely eclectic, drawing on currents of thought from Rome to India, Plotinus's teachings became the religion of some of the later Roman Emperors.
       During the fourth century the religion of Neo-platonism disappeared as a rival of the Church. However it deeply influenced the shape of Christian theology, most notably through the mind of St. Augustine. Augustine in his spiritual journey passed through a Neo-platonic stage, which left its mark upon his Christian life and writing. Augustine occupies an anomalous position in the history of the Church: he is both a Church Father of impeccable reputation and the spiritual forebear of many theologians whose Neo-platonic bent put them on the fringe of orthodoxy:
       Erigena, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Meister Eckhart are a few of these Neo-platonic Christians. Some of these thinkers succeeded in remaining within the umbrella of the authorized tradition; some were partially or totally cast out. Among them they preserved to theology a breadth and a poetic dimension that burst open the priestly cocoon with the 15th Century Renaissance and the 16th Century Reformation.

The Middle Ages
       Through the Middle Ages the successors of the Church Fathers, most notably the authorities at Rome, maintained a fairly firm grip on the shape of theological and intellectual activity. They presided over an age of stability with a gradual leavening of creative change. They aborted many changes in the name of orthodoxy; the aborted change usually went underground to reappear at a more open time and place. The openness most often proved momentary. Creative truth struggled against rigid institutional necessities.
       In spite of all the Church periodically gave birth to men and women who, from the platform of the orthodox tradition, were elevated to a direct vision of God. Most of the creative change in the Church originated with such types. The Church rather uniformly discouraged mystical visions of God unless they conformed in full detail to the orthodoxy of the moment. God refused such limitations; the entire period witnessed recurring visions of great diversity. Many of these prophetically judged the priestly position. A long volume could be written about the many prophetic visions which in one way or another resemble that of our poet.
       The Church was broad enough to include and even honor many of these free spirits, but the works which followed them in the hands of their more militant disciples generally fell into ill repute. The early Franciscan movement is a case in point. St. Francis preached to his little sisters the birds; he shared the stigmata of Christ and suggested that to share Christ's poverty might be fitting for his disciples, an extremely radical idea which an extremely wealthy pope indulged. But many of Francis' disciples faced persecution of various sorts.
        Roughly contemporary with Francis another monk named  Joachim of Flora rediscovered for the nth time the dominance of the Spirit over the letter. Preaching what he called the Everlasting Gospel Joachim proposed to dispense with the corrupt and worldly political structures of the establishment and move into a New Age, the era of the Holy Spirit. The New Age would replace the age of the Church; it would be an age of freedom with everyone led directly by the Spirit.  Jeremiah had foretold this. Even Moses had said, "would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets". For the creative poet the New Age represented freedom at its best, exactly what Jesus had come to bring us. For most of the priests it represented  antinomianism at its worst.

        The Everlasting Gospel and the New Age came down the centuries through the various subterranean channels of the heterodox tradition.  Swedenborg announced its advent in 1757, which happened to be the year of Blake's birth; Blake noted this with obvious delight in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'.  Years later, in the autumn of his life, Blake filled his spiritual journal with a fragmentary poem called 'The Everlasting Gospel'. It was his systematic attempt to set forth in the most direct terms possible his precise view of Christianity and its founder. He probably never concluded the project to his full satisfaction.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


The dream state is a mental condition which differs from others. Time consciousness is distorted. Rationality is abandoned. Inconsistencies are accepted. Each entity represents more than is stated. Emotion can overwhelm. The dream allows into consciousness hidden material. For many the dream is entry point into an experience of the imagination.

This little poem named A Dream Blake sometimes included in Songs of Innocence and sometimes he put it in Songs of Experience. He was aware of the dream state and how it could transform one's realities.
Wikimedia Commons
Original in Yale Center for British Arts
Songs of Innocence
Plate 26, Copy F
Songs of Innocence, Plate 26, (E 16)
  "A Dream 
Once a dream did weave a shade,
O'er my Angel-guarded bed,
That an Emmet lost it's way
Where on grass methought I lay.

Troubled wilderd and folorn   
Dark benighted travel-worn,
Over many a tangled spray
All heart-broke I heard her say.

O my children! do they cry
Do they hear their father sigh.   
Now they look abroad to see,
Now return and weep for me.

Pitying I drop'd a tear:
But I saw a glow-worm near:
Who replied. What wailing wight   
Calls the watchman of the night.

I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetles hum,
Little wanderer hie thee home." 

So this dream of which he wrote was of an emmet (ant), a glow-worm and a beetle. Hidden in the foliage of Blake's illumination you may find these little creatures. You will also see the London night watchman, the glow-worm in his human form carrying a lantern for light, in the bottom right corner of the picture.

Now if you look further at the words, you read of a weary traveler heart-broken as she weeps over her children. If you are as familiar with the Bible as Blake was, you may be remembering Jesus, weary from walking, as he approached Jerusalem for the last time. He heard the cry of Jerusalem's children and offered a light and a word which could lead them home.

The poem led me to thoughts of Jesus and his wanting to gather Jerusalem's children as a hen gathers her brood under he wings. From there my attention was drawn to the words, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," presented as a quotation. I followed that lead to First Samuel where I read of the youthful David saying, "but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts".
Luke 13
[31] The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.
[32] And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
[33] Nevertheless I must walk to day, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
[34] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
[35] Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

1 Samuel 17
[41] And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him.
[42] And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.
[43] And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
[44] And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
[45] Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
[46] This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
[47] And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give you into our hands.
[48] And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.
[49] And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.
[50] So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.

So you can focus on the glow-worm acting as a watchman for the ant, or the London night watchman providing a light and humming sound as he patrols the dark streets of the city, or you can focus on the son of David who came into the world to enlighten every man. Blake offers a dream, and a dream state, and an opportunity to transcend ordinary consciousness and mount your own fiery chariot.
A Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 560)
  "If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his
Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his
Contemplative Thought if he could Enter into Noahs Rainbow or
into his bosom or could make a Friend & Companion of one of these
Images of wonder which always intreats him to leave mortal things
as he must know then would he arise from his Grave then would he
meet the Lord in the Air & then he would be happy"

Here are more Biblical passages apropos for a full understanding of the poem:
John 1
[4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
[5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
[6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
[7] He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
[8] He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
[9] The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
[10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
[11] He came to his own home, and his own people received him not

Luke 19
[37] And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;
[38] Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.
[39] And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.
[40] And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.
[41] And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,

Luke 23
[26] And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
[27] And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.
[28] But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Blake's Christianity

A Blakean View of Christianity

       The immediate followers of Jesus were accused of turning the world upside down. They followed him in challenging all forms of worldly power including death. One can make a good case for the idea that the Christian by definition challenges the powers of the world; that's certainly the meaning of 'radical Christian'.
       Blake perceived the legacy that Jesus left behind in two ways. On one hand the church as the mystical body of Christ consists of those who continually challenge the authority or powers of the world. On the other hand the Church as an institution becomes one of the powers of the world. The tension between these two principles probably exists within the breast of anyone seriously interested in Christ.
       In the second century Ignatius of Antioch eloquently embodied that tension with his life. Ignatius died a martyr to the secular power of the Roman Empire. Before that happened, he had spent much of his time as an eccleiastical authority rooting out dissenters, whom he called heretics; he did this in the course of establishing the institutional authority of what became the Roman Church.
       With Constantine these two streams of authority came together. In 312 A.D. the new emperor declared himself a Christian and assumed control of the Church. He exercised that control through the simple device of naming his most trusted servant as bishop. The Church became an arm of the political power of the empire.
       From that day to this the Church has been primarily one of the powers of the world. The power of the Church has been expressed through ecclesiastical hierarchies and creeds, both imposed upon the rank and file by various coercive techniques essentially identical with those of other worldly powers. This means that the spiritual reality of Christ vis-a-vis the Church is only actualized through the same sort of dissent that Jesus made in the beginning.
       These conclusions of course may be debated, but they represent the basic and lifelong viewpoint underlying the radical protest which was Blake's art.


The Early Church

       After the departure of Christ converts to the new faith gathered together in small groups awaiting the bodily return of Christ, which they expected momentarily. Paul and the other missionaries organized these brotherhoods throughout the Roman world. Paul's letters usually contain two sections: poetic images created to encourage their faith as they awaited the return of Christ at the end of the age and practical advice for the Christians' life together.
       He wrote for example to the Colossians that they were "buried with him in baptism [and] risen with him through the faith". No one could interpret that as a statement of material fact, but rather as a powerful poetic identification of the faithful with Christ. In spite of Paul's encouragement the years went by disappointing their hopes for the second coming and requiring adjustment to changed expectations.
       Two classes of leaders arose, whom we may call priests and poets. The priests dedicated their efforts to preserving the heritage of the apostles. They clearly spelled out the facts and implications of the faith which they had received from the first generation of believers. They claimed the authority of their forebears, and they requireduniformity of belief and obedience as a condition of membership in the Church. Paul's practical advice to struggling congregations became the rules of order; his poetic images became dogma. The priests imposed their order and dogma upon the majority of their followers and cast out the others. The priests go by the name of the Church Fathers, and the institution which they organized became the orthodox Church.
       The other class of leaders we have called the poets. The earliest Christian poets largely manifested themselves in a movement called Gnosticism. While the Church Fathers transformed doctrine into dogma, these Christian Gnostic poets moved in the opposite direction. Instead of focusing on the letter they listened to the Spirit, and they heard a wide variety of things. They believed in "letting a thousand flowers bloom". Many of them enjoyed Greek or oriental learning, which they combined with Christian thought, much to the dismay of the priests.
       What did the Church Fathers find so threatening about the Gnostics? First of all it was a matter of temperament; priests and poets are temperamentally at opposite poles; it has always been so. The priestly enterprise requires a conforming flock; poets simply don't conform. The Gnostic poets came up with all sorts of radical ideas which severely threatened the emerging orthodoxy.
       They became the first of a long line of non-conforming Christians, a line that comes straight down to William Blake. Obviously a movement like Christian Gnosticism, creative as it may have been, didn't make for order. The Church Fathers were much better organized, and they successfully cast out the Gnostics, naming them heretics. Bowing to their conforming zeal the Christian Gnostics went underground but emerged periodically offering a radical alternative to the established way. The Bogomils, the Albigenses, the Waldensians and many other groups through the ages experienced a grace that freed them both from the law and from much concern about this world.
       The priestly party, who usually controlled the sword, assisted thousands of them in their exit from this world. The Church through the centuries combined a rigidly orthodox view of Christian theology with a bloodthirsty reaction toward their theological opponents.
       Blake, like many other thoughtful people, discounted the orthodox theology on the basis of the bloodthirsty spirit, which he perceived as an obvious contradiction to the spirit of Christ. "Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels and have not love". The Church had done that, and Blake knew it. He therefore listened to the tongues of other men and other angels.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


British Museum
Songs of Experience
Plate 30, Copy T 
 Songs of Experience, Plate 30, (E 18)

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
And weeping in the evening dew:
That might controll,
The starry pole;
And fallen fallen light renew! 

O Earth O Earth return!
Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumberous mass, 
Turn away no more:
Why wilt thou turn away
The starry floor
The watry shore
Is giv'n thee till the break of day."

 British Museum
Songs of Experience
Plate 31, Copy T 
  Songs of Experience, Plate 30, (E 18)
"EARTH'S Answer.        

Earth rais'd up her head,
From the darkness dread & drear.
Her light fled:        
Stony dread!
And her locks cover'd with grey despair. 

Prison'd on watry shore
Starry jealousy does keep my tent
Cold and hoar
Weeping o'er
I hear the Father of the ancient men

Selfish father of men
Cruel jealous selfish fear 
Can delight
Chain'd in night                    
The virgins of youth and morning bear. 

Does spring hide its joy            
When buds and blossoms grow?
Does the sower?                      
Sow by night?
Or the plowman in darkness plow? 

Break this heavy chain,
That does freeze my bones around
Selfish! vain!
Eternal bane!                       
That free Love with bondage bound." 

The Introduction to Songs of Experience and Earth's Answer are closely related poems. The Bard of the Introduction is asking Earth to return: to arise from her condition of being within the watery symbols of Tharmas: 'weeping', the 'evening dew', the 'dewy grass' and the 'watery shore'. But it is not only Tharmas controlling Earth; Urizen is present too in the 'starry pole', the 'fallen light', the 'slumberous mass', and the 'starry floor'.

Earth's reply to the predicament is offered in the following poem Earth's Answer. Blake indicates the bedrock of Earth's inability to respond to the Bard's appeal for Earth to return from the status of suffering as a 'lapsed soul'. Man's instinctual nature, his Tharmas, is unable to express itself freely. The fundamental source of man's psychic energy is stifled by the prohibitions on sexual expression. 
The role that jealousy plays in in this scenario is Urizen's attempt to adopt the position of God, the single controlling authority in the psyche. Desire, the impulse to live and procreate, originates with the body. Urizen is jealous of Tharmas' access to that source of energy. Blake sees that the release of the psychic energy controlled by the instincts, or Tharmas, will open the gate through which man may begin his return to Eden.

The irony of the situation is that the chaining of 'free love' does not release the soul from bondage but prevents her escape from watery materiality. In Songs of Experience Blake continues his exploration of the consequences of the dislocation of the Four Zoas. Day cannot break until Urthona provides imaginatiion, Tharmas provides the senses, Urizen provides reason and Luvah provides emotions.

Assistance in understanding this imagery is provided by S Foster Damon in A Blake Dictionary:

"The WEST is one of the four compass-points. It is assigned to Tharmas, who symbolizes the five senses; thus the west is the body, that 'portion of the Soul discerned by the five Senses.' It is the Circumference. The strongest of the senses is Touch, which is the sexual instinct (symbolized by Enion, Tharmas' Emanation). In the healthy man, sex is counterbalanced by love (Luvah, in the East). The western Element is Water, which symbolizes matter." (Page 444)

and: "The EARTH is the body, or the subconscious, from which all energy comes" ( Page 113)
 Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 4, (E 34) 
                 "The voice of the Devil
  All Bibles or sacred codes. have been the causes of the
following Errors.
  1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a
  2. That Energy. calld Evil. is alone from the Body. & that
Reason. calld Good. is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his
  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"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014



In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus heard Jesus say, "you
must be born again" representing the most significant
event in a person's life-- their awakening from a purely
physical, materialistic life to a Perception of the Infinite
(MHH, Plate 13, lines 21-23, E39).

A person with inherent gifts of imagination and insight
into their psyche may be susceptible to moments of new
insight that seem like a rebirth. (Three seminary
professors told this student that 'you must be born
again, and again, and again'.)

Such a rebirth for our poet occurred in 1804, and he
immediately reported it to his (corporeal) friend and
physical benefactor, William Hayley; in Letter 51,
dated 23 October 1804 (Erdman 756) Blake wrote:

"Suddenly, on the day after visiting the Truchsessian
Gallery of pictures, I was again enlightened with the
light I enjoyed in my youth, and which has for exactly
twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by
window-shutters." (This letter is well worth reading
but I skipped the first three paragraphs.)

Although the experience had brought Blake a
significant increase in his creative powers, you may
envision even more significant ones in the years before:

Letter 16 to Butts (Oct 2, 1800), mentioned often
, which I called first vision of light, appeared
to me to be more critical in Blake's spiritual development. 
It was the word from God that empowered him to the
magnificent statement of faith that his great poems

The letter to Hayley was of another genre; we might call
it an attempt to express his own spiritual attitude in a
way acceptable to the 'non-spirtual friend'. In
contrast Blake poured out his heart to his really
supportive friend, Butts.

All 91 of the letters, printed on 85 pages of Erdman's
Complete Poetry and Prose... reward the reader. You may
become weary from coping with the continuous barrage of
metaphors, figures, images, etc in Blake's works of art;
turn to the letters, which offer few obstacles to good

We read and study Blake many different ways. The 91
letters might provide other 'visions of light'.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Wikimedia Commons
Originals in Metropolitan 
The songs on the two plates of Night in Blake's Songs of Innocence offer contrasting images of the protection man receives as he passes through stages. In the first poem there is an angel who intervenes when any danger approaches. The birds in their nest and the animals in their dens are as protected as a child is in his cradle. The whole ecological system cooperates to see that there is no harm or sorrow. Such unblemished innocence in the natural world is foreign to our experience.
On the second plate Blake introduces the threat to the innocent world which contains no suffering or doubt. The angel may not be able to ward off the wolf or tiger seeking prey. The angel seeks to calm the beasts not combat their violence. A new world is entered if the sheep falls prey to the tiger or wolf. The protective element in  the new world is the lion whose strength and gentleness do not fail.
Innocence does not endure, harsh experience is encountered, but beyond experience is a state where there is no separation between the lamb and the lion. Each becomes both lamb and lion and the protective element for the flock    

Isaiah 11
[6] The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
[7] And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
[8] And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
[9] They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fundamental Presuppositions

Fundamental Presuppositions

From the Beyond (Eternity) the world was created; man was created; time and space were created; birth and death were created; good and evil are creatures, figments of a frail and created mind.. In the world: in man, time and space we perceive duality, or a multiplicity. In Eternity we imagine Unity.

   The ultimate duality is between Eternity and the World, between God and man, but this is a sometime thing-- until the end of time. As a creature the world will end; you, too, will end, as a creature.

   But the vision of the mystic suggests that you are more than a creature. The writer of Genesis had such an inkling when he described man as made of the dust of the earth, but in the image of God. The Quakers believe there is 'that of God' in everyone.

   Eternal Death in Blake's language refers to the soul's descent from Eden (and Beulah) to the nether regions (Ulro) where Eternity is lost and only the created remains. Lost! but not forever; Eternal Death dies, too; Eternity waits for the soul's Awakening, which may be at the moment of mortal death.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


The appearance of Los depends on the perspective from which one looks. Los must be a destroying, cleansing force in Ulro to remove the misconceptions to which man is subject when he turns outward instead of inward. This is his status in Ulro according to Milton O Percival in William Blake's Circle of Destiny

"Man's reason has declined in Ulro to the level of dependence on sense impressions and phenomena, that is to say, upon the feminine and outward. Its inward illumination is gone, hence the opaqueness of the landscape. With  the light and warmth of fertility gone, hence the sandy desert. The Urizen who is the  'God of this world' is blind , aged and impotent. The reason he represents cannot believe beyond demonstration, and demonstration means experiment and logic; hence the Satanic mills. This reason does not cherish the 'minute particulars,' as imagination does; on the contrary it abstracts and dissipates. Under its disintegrating influence the once articulate feminine emotions are 'scattered abroad like a cloud of smoke' among the Satanic wheels. The vengeful emotions, which are dominant in Ulro, are figured in the pits of bitumen burning. Of these passions and prejudices Urizen is the rational ally. The 'iron laws, the pretenses and the hypocrisies out of which the social net is woven are to be associate with the mills of Satan and Beelzeboul which stand beside the lake of Udan Adan and round  the roots of Albion's tree. With no faith in himself or in his fellow man, with no ideas to build with except those deduced from his own identity, Urizen builds a world in which  'man is by nature the enemy of man,' a world with no principle of cohesion except mutual hatred." (Page 69)
Jerusalem, Plate 13, (E 157)
"The Vegetative Universe, opens like a flower from the Earths center:
In which is Eternity. It expands in Stars to the Mundane Shell   
And there it meets Eternity again, both within and without,
And the abstract Voids between the Stars are the Satanic Wheels. 

There is the Cave; the Rock; the Tree; the Lake of Udan Adan;
The Forest, and the Marsh, and the Pits of bitumen deadly:
The Rocks of solid fire: the Ice valleys: the Plains             
Of burning sand: the rivers, cataract & Lakes of Fire:
The Islands of the fiery Lakes: the Trees of Malice: Revenge:
And black Anxiety; and the Cities of the Salamandrine men:
(But whatever is visible to the Generated Man,
Is a Creation of mercy & love, from the Satanic Void.)           
The land of darkness flamed but no light, & no repose:
The land of snows of trembling, & of iron hail incessant:
The land of earthquakes: and the land of woven labyrinths:
The land of snares & traps & wheels & pit-falls & dire mills:
The Voids, the Solids, & the land of clouds & regions of waters:
With their inhabitants: in the Twenty-seven Heavens beneath  Beulah:
Self-righteousnesses conglomerating against the Divine Vision:
A Concave Earth wondrous, Chasmal, Abyssal, Incoherent!
Forming the Mundane Shell: above; beneath: on all sides surrounding
Golgonooza: Los walks round the walls night and day." 
Yale Center for British Arts
Plate 16
The 'mighty Demon' as Los appears to those in Ulro assumes another appearance as a Messenger to Eden. He becomes the unassuming, inconspicuous plant growing high on a rock beside a spring. We are reminded of the 'still small voice' through which God spoke to Elijah following the demonstration of God's power in the 'earthquake, wind and fire.'

Jerusalem, Plate 31 [34], (E 131) 
"Thou percievest the Flowers put forth their precious Odours! 
And none can tell how from so small a center comes such sweets 
Forgetting that within that Center Eternity expands Its ever during doors, that Og & Anak fiercely guard. 
First eer the morning breaks joy opens in the flowery bosoms 
Joy even to tears, which the Sun rising dries; first the Wild Thyme" 

Jerusalem, Plate 35 [39], (E 136) 
"The Wild Thyme is Los's Messenger to Eden, a mighty Demon 
Terrible deadly & poisonous his presence in Ulro dark 
Therefore he appears only a small Root creeping in grass 
Covering over the Rock of Odours his bright purple mantle 
Beside the Fount above the Larks nest in Golgonooza 
Luvah slept here in death & here is Luvahs empty Tomb 
Ololon sat beside this Fountain on the Rock of Odours."

1Kings 19
[11] And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
[12] And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
[13] And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Blake's Tree

Genesis 2[9] And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 3
[22] And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
[23] Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
[24] So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

When he was a young boy Blake reported that he had seen a tree filled with angels; one of his parents disapproved.

In Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

"A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees." 

"For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of life."

A Poison Tree:
"I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;\
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree." 

For the tree of Mystery go here.