Illustrations for Poems of Thomas Gray
The Fatal Sisters
From Selected Poetry and Prose of William Blake,
Introduction, Page xxvii:
"There are thus four Levels of human existence. There is the savage and lonely world of unworked nature, Blake's Ulro or hell, where life is, in Hobbes's phrase, nasty, brutish and short. This world of 'single vision and Newton's sleep' has retreated to the stars, is still watching us, and waiting its chance to return. Above this is ordinary life trying to struggle out of savagery, which Blake calls Generation or experience. Above this again is the life of expanded and released desire which we have glimpses of in inspired moments, but which is most commonly the world of children or lovers. Blake calls this state Beulah or innocence. Finally, there is the 'fourfold vision' of a life in which creation dominates reason, the life of 'Wisdom, Art and Science' which Blake called Eden."
We cannot, by ourselves, get outside nature. However splendid our natural cities and gardens, they will only be little hollowings on the surface of the earth. But suppose we could think away the external or nonhuman world: what would the shape of things be then? Clearly the whole universe would have the shape of a single human body. Everything that we call 'real' in nature would be inside the body and mind of the human being, just as in the dream of the world of suppressed desire is all inside the mind of the dreamer. There would no longer be any difference, except one of perspective, between the group and the individual, as all individuals would be members of one human body. Everything in the world, including the sun, moon and the stars, would be part of this human body, and everything would be identical with everything else. This does not mean that all things would be separate and similar like peas in a pod or 'identical' twins: it means identical in the sense that a grown man feels identical with himself at the age of seven, though he is identifying himself with another human being, quite different in time, space, matter, form and personality.
For Blake, Christianity is the religion which teaches that this is in fact the real shape of things, that the only God is universal and perfect Man, the risen Jesus. It is man, not of course natural man, but man as a creator, struggling to achieve his real human form, that God is interested in. The Bible speaks of an apocalypse or revelation of a world transformed into an infinite city, garden, and human body, as the state from which man fell, and to which he will again be restored. The Bible calls this redeemed man Adam or Israel; Blake, being an Englishman, calls him Albion. What Albion is looking for is Jerusalem, 'a City, yet a woman, ' the human form that is at once his bride and his own home. The world of the apocalypse is not a future ideal, like the natural stars, always out of reach. It is a real presence, the authentic form of what exists here and now, and is not something to be promised to the dead, but something to be manifested to the living.
Everything that Blake means by 'art' is the attempt of the trained and disciplined human mind to present this concrete, simple outrageously anthropomorphic view of reality. 'Jesus & his Apostles & Disciples were all Artists,' Blake says. Such a statement may seem nonsense as long a we think of art in conventional terms, according to which Reynolds and Blake were eighteenth-century English painters. Blake means that reason alone, no matter how rarefied a way it may be conceived, cannot comprehend the human shape of reality, for reason sooner of later will come to terms with persisting presence of subhuman nature, and start suppressing desire. The desire which rebels against reason cannot comprehend it either, as, whether it take the form of a lusting individual or a revolutionary society, it is looking for something in the external world to gratify it. Only the effort of a mind which intelligence and love are equally awake, a mind in the creative state that Blake calls imagination, can know what it means to
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour."
Jerusalem, Plate 3, (E 146) "Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place: the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts--the mild & gentle, for the mild & gentle parts, and the prosaic, for inferior parts: all are necessary to each other. Poetry Fetter'd, Fetters the Human Race! Nations are Destroy'd, or Flourish, in proportion as Their Poetry Painting and Music, are Destroy'd or Flourish! The Primeval State of Man, was Wisdom, Art, and Science."
Songs and Ballads, (E 490) " Auguries of Innocence To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour" Laocoon, (E 273) "The whole Business of Man Is The Arts & All Things Common Christianity is Art & not Money Money is its Curse The Old & New Testaments are the Great Code of Art Jesus & his Apostles & Disciples were all Artists Their Works were destroyd by the Seven Angels of the Seven Churches in Asia. Antichrist Science SCIENCE is the Tree of DEATH ART is the Tree of LIFE GOD is JESUS"