Sunday, May 04, 2014


British Museum
Plate 46, Copy a 
William and Catherine Blake lived in the London suburb of Lambeth for the decade of the 1790's. During those years Blake was inventing the techniques he used to produce his unique art. He had acquired a small printing press when he and an associate had operated a print shop on Broad Street. The press enabled the Blakes to combine the poetry which William was writing with his own illustrations on individual engraved plates which they printed in the workshop in their home.

Their creative endeavors which they enjoyed in Lambeth became a metaphor for bringing together disparate elements. The pleasant tasks which they accomplished together were the physical side of building a structure in which ideas, emotional attachments and imagination could live.   

When Blake later wrote Jerusalem he used Lambeth as the image which brought Vala and Jerusalem together. Blake developed the character Vala to represent the physical world in all its physical beauty, and Jerusalem to represents the spiritual world in all its spiritual beauty. Although the two women may at times pull in opposite directions, in Lambeth they found a haven where they could work together. The work in the exterior world was supplemented by inner work: efforts to be helpful, loving, forgiving, kind, merciful and compassionate.

Jerusalem and Vala rightfully play complementary roles because Vala is Jerusalem's shadow. When Vala is not externalized into an entity independent of Jerusalem,  she displays all the loveliness of the substance she reflects. When Blake wanted to call attention to the interrelated roles which Vala and Jerusalem play he used Lambeth as the symbol which encompassed all he wanted his image to embody.

Jerusalem, Plate 11, (E 154)
"Vala is but thy Shadow, O thou lovliest among women!
A shadow animated by thy tears O mournful Jerusalem!    
Plate 12
Why wilt thou give to her a Body whose life is but a Shade?.
Her joy and love, a shade: a shade of sweet repose:
But animated and vegetated, she is a devouring worm:
What shall we do for thee O lovely mild Jerusalem?" 
Jerusalem, Plate 12 (E 155)
"And they builded Golgonooza: terrible eternal labour!

What are those golden builders doing? where was the burying-place
Of soft Ethinthus? near Tyburns fatal Tree? is that
Mild Zions hills most ancient promontory; near mournful
Ever weeping Paddington? is that Calvary and Golgotha?
Becoming a building of pity and compassion? Lo!
The stones are pity, and the bricks, well wrought affections:    
Enameld with love & kindness, & the tiles engraven gold
Labour of merciful hands: the beams & rafters are forgiveness:
The mortar & cement of the work, tears of honesty: the nails,
And the screws & iron braces, are well wrought blandishments,
And well contrived words, firm fixing, never forgotten,         
Always comforting the remembrance: the floors, humility,
The cielings, devotion: the hearths, thanksgiving:
Prepare the furniture O Lambeth in thy pitying looms!
The curtains, woven tears & sighs, wrought into lovely forms
For comfort. there the secret furniture of Jerusalems chamber    
Is wrought: Lambeth! the Bride the Lambs Wife loveth thee:
Thou art one with her & knowest not of self in thy supreme joy.

Go on, builders in hope: tho Jerusalem wanders far away,
Without the gate of Los: among the dark Satanic wheels."

Jerusalem, Plate 19, (E 164)
"And Albion fled inward among the currents of his rivers.

He found Jerusalem upon the River of his City soft repos'd       
In the arms of Vala, assimilating in one with Vala
The Lilly of Havilah: and they sang soft thro' Lambeths vales,
In a sweet moony night & silence that they had created
With a blue sky spread over with wings and a mild moon,
Dividing & uniting into many female forms: Jerusalem             
Trembling! then in one comingling in eternal tears,
Sighing to melt his Giant beauty, on the moony river.
Plate 20 
But when they saw Albion fall'n upon mild Lambeths vale:
Astonish'd! Terrified! they hover'd over his Giant limbs.
Then thus Jerusalem spoke, while Vala wove the veil of tears:
Weeping in pleadings of Love, in the web of despair.

Wherefore hast thou shut me into the winter of human life   
And clos'd up the sweet regions of youth and virgin innocence:
Where we live, forgetting error, not pondering on evil:
Among my lambs & brooks of water, among my warbling birds:
Where we delight in innocence before the face of the Lamb:
Going in and out before him in his love and sweet affection. 

Vala replied weeping & trembling, hiding in her veil.

When winter rends the hungry family and the snow falls:
Upon the ways of men hiding the paths of man and beast,
Then mourns the wanderer: then he repents his wanderings & eyes
The distant forest; then the slave groans in the dungeon of
The captive in the mill of the stranger, sold for scanty hire.
They view their former life: they number moments over and over;
Stringing them on their remembrance as on a thread of sorrow.
Thou art my sister and my daughter! thy shame is mine also!
Ask me not of my griefs! thou knowest all my griefs.             

Jerusalem answer'd with soft tears over the valleys.

O Vala what is Sin? that thou shudderest and weepest
At sight of thy once lov'd Jerusalem! What is Sin but a little
Error & fault that is soon forgiven; but mercy is not a Sin
Nor pity nor love nor kind forgiveness! O! if I have Sinned      
Forgive & pity me! O! unfold thy Veil in mercy & love!
Slay not my little ones, beloved Virgin daughter of Babylon
Slay not my infant loves & graces, beautiful daughter of Moab
I cannot put off the human form I strive but strive in vain
When Albion rent thy beautiful net of gold and silver twine;
Thou hadst woven it with art, thou hadst caught me in the bands
Of love; thou refusedst to let me go: Albion beheld thy beauty
Beautiful thro' our Love's comeliness, beautiful thro' pity.
The Veil shone with thy brightness in the eyes of Albion,
Because it inclosd pity & love; because we lov'd one-another!
Albion lov'd thee! he rent thy Veil! he embrac'd thee! he lov'd thee!
Astonish'd at his beauty & perfection, thou forgavest his furious love:
I redounded from Albions bosom in my virgin loveliness.
The Lamb of God reciev'd me in his arms he smil'd upon us:
He made me his Bride & Wife: he gave thee to Albion.             
Then was a time of love: O why is it passed away!"

Jerusalem, Plate 37 [41], (E 183)
"The Shuttles of death sing in the sky to Islington & Pancrass
Round Marybone to Tyburns River, weaving black melancholy as a net,
And despair as meshes closely wove over the west of London,
Where mild Jerusalem sought to repose in death & be no more.   
She fled to Lambeths mild Vale and hid herself beneath
The Surrey Hills where Rephaim terminates: her Sons are siez'd
For victims of sacrifice; but Jerusalem cannot be found! Hid
By the Daughters of Beulah: gently snatch'd away: and hid in Beulah

There is a Grain of Sand in Lambeth that Satan cannot find     
Nor can his Watch Fiends find it: tis translucent & has many Angles
But he who finds it will find Oothoons palace, for within
Opening into Beulah every angle is a lovely heaven
But should the Watch Fiends find it, they would call it Sin
And lay its Heavens & their inhabitants in blood of punishment  
Here Jerusalem & Vala were hid in soft slumberous repose
Hid from the terrible East, shut up in the South & West."

Jerusalem, Plate 84, (E 243)
"We builded Jerusalem as a City & a Temple; from Lambeth
We began our Foundations; lovely Lambeth! O lovely Hills
Of Camberwell, we shall behold you no more in glory & pride    
For Jerusalem lies in ruins & the Furnaces of Los are builded there"

1 comment:

Vincent said...

I especially loved this one, and referenced it from a comment here.