Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Furnace

The magnum opus of Northrop Frye was a two volume work about 'The Bible and Literature';  it crowned his career in the last years of his life.  The first one was called The Great Code' and the last one, written just before he died, was 'Words with Power'. (One exciting line of the link is "Blake's lifelong project was to produce his own revised and updated version of the Scriptures.")

'Words with Power' has in its Contents four 'variations', each one with it own chapter: "the Mountain, the Garden, the Cave and the Furnace." Obviously each of these is related to significant material in Blake's Works.  In this post we will concentrate on "The Furnace":
Jerusalem plate 6

In this picture we see Los, the Blacksmith at his shop. His furnace is going; above it the Spectre hovers.
"His spectre driv'n by the Starry Wheels of Albions sons, black and 
Opake divided from his back; he labours and he mourns!

For as his Emanation divided, his Spectre also 
In terror of those starry wheels: and the 
Spectre stood over Los 
Howling in pain: a blackning Shadow, blackning 
dark & opake
Cursing the terrible Los: bitterly cursing him 
for his friendship
To Albion, suggesting murderous thoughts 
Los rag'd and stamp'd the earth in his might & 
terrible wrath!
He stood and stampd the earth! then he threw down his hammer in rage &
In fury: then he sat down and wept, terrified! Then arose
And chaunted his song, labouring with the tongs and hammer:
But still the Spectre divided, and still his pain increas'd
In pain the Spectre divided: in pain of hunger and thirst:"(Erdman 148-49)

'Furnace' appears often in Blake's poetry (168 times); here is a fruitful one:

"Albion stood in terror: not for himself but for his Friend
Divine, & Self was lost in the contemplation of faith
And wonder at the Divine Mercy & at Los's sublime honour
Do I sleep amidst danger to Friends! O my Cities & Counties
Do you sleep! rouze up! rouze up. Eternal Death is abroad
So Albion spoke & threw himself into the Furnaces of affliction
All was a Vision, all a Dream: the Furnaces became
Fountains of Living Waters Howing from the Humanity Divine
And all the Cities of Albion rose from their Slumbers, and All
The Sons & Daughters of Albion on soft clouds Waking from Sleep
Soon all around remote the Heavens burnt with flaming fires
And Urizen & Luvah & Tharmas & Urthona arose into
Albions Bosom: Then Albion stood before Jesus in the Clouds
Of Heaven Fourfold among the Visions of God in Eternity"
(Jerusalem near the end)

On page 296 of Words with Power Frye wrote:
"The image of the furnace may be used for either the negative or
positive aspects of the lower world. The negative or demonic world
is the traditional hell which is a furnace of heat without light.
The positive one is purgatorial, a crucible from which the redeemed
emerge purified like metal in a smelting operation" ... and on and on.
(Get the book and read it; it's full of meaning.)

Professor Marx described it thusly:
"Frye's fourth variation and last chapter is called the Furnace. Its theme is 
"lower wisdom," relating it to the lower love of the previous chapter and to 
the higher wisdom of the mountain in chapter 5. The wisdom and power of 
the Furnace is not communicated from on high by God, but is forged within 
by His rivals. Frye calls that self-made wisdom titanic creative energy. Its 
primary concern is making or work or possession or property. What these 
apparently unrelated terms have in common is the self-driven extension of the 
self--that which one produces and thereby owns."

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