In the introduction to The Four Zoas, Blake's Poetry and Designs, edited by Mary Lynn Johnson and John E Grant, makes this statement about the overall structure of the poem:
"It [Vala or The Four Zoas] is an attempt to coordinate and extend the separate stories told in Blake's earlier books into one grand story of mankind from his origins to the end of time. As in the earlier prophecies, the action seems to take place simultaneously within the consciousness of the human race over the course of history and within the mind of each individual during his lifetime. Organized into nine 'Nights' on the model of Young's Night Thoughts, it depicts the nightmare of a cosmic man, now fallen into disunity, who once embodied the divine and the human, male and female, subject and object, mind and nature. The cause of the fall is the capitulation to his feminine portion, the deceptive goddess Vala, who represents Nature and the object of man's sexual desire. Her name and the veil she wears suggest the 'veil' of material appearance that obscures spiritual reality. As a counterpart or object of man's sexual and emotional needs, Vala has an essential role in life, but as the controller of man's total personality, or as an obsession, she cause man's ruin."
The way out of the horror of history is finally perceived in Night the Eighth. With the help of his own imagination, which is Los acting with him, Albion attains self-acceptance and a recognition of divinity within. In the ninth Night Albion is able to resume his life in Eternity; and once more the Zoas, with their Emanations, are subordinated to the total human personality, and rejoin one another for the good of mankind as a whole." (Page 214)
The theme of dividing was introduced in the Book of Urizen. In the Fours Zoas we view the 'anguish' of dividing which began in the Book of Urizen, as it played out and infected each aspect of the human psyche. As the Eternals look down into the void they see from the perspective of the divided man. What is taking place outwardly is a reflection of internal forces coming into conflict. Pictured here are Luvah, Los and Urizen without Tharmas. It could be said that what they are looking at is Vala: the confusion of the mind when the primary reality is located in the outer world of time and space.
|Yale Center for British Art|
Book of Urizen
Copy A, Plate 20
"7. In anguish dividing & dividing
For pity divides the soul
In pangs eternity on eternity
Life in cataracts pourd down his cliffs
The void shrunk the lymph into Nerves
Wand'ring wide on the bosom of night
And left a round globe of blood
Trembling upon the Void
Thus the Eternal Prophet was divided
Before the death-image of Urizen
For in changeable clouds and darkness
In a winterly night beneath,
The Abyss of Los stretch'd immense:
And now seen, now obscur'd, to the eyes
Of Eternals, the visions remote
Of the dark seperation appear'd.
As glasses discover Worlds
In the endless Abyss of space,
So the expanding eyes of Immortals
Beheld the dark visions of Los,
And the globe of life blood trembling"