Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Reformatted from February 26, 2015.

We saw in a previous post that Blake thought Natural Religion an "Impossible absurdity." Something which calls itself religion and limits perception to sensing and reasoning, has misunderstood the meaning of the concept of religion. Without God religion is absurd. In one of Blake's earliest engraved poems he presented his argument that man sees only himself, not God, if he relies of his senses and his reasoning to provide him with a religion.

There is no Natural Religion, (E 2)
  The Author & Printer W Blake 
  The Argument   
Man has no notion of moral
  fitness but from Education.   
Naturally he is only a nat- 
   ural organ subject to Sense.     
 Man cannot naturally Per- 

cieve, but through his natural 
or bodily organs
As a natural man all data from the exterior world comes through the senses.

 Man by his reason- 
ing power. can only 
 compare & judge of 
what he has already 
  Man's reason can only process what it has received

From a perception of 
only 3 senses or 3 ele- 
ments none could de- 
duce a fourth or fifth
  Each sense is limited to its own ability to receive data.

None could have other
 than natural or organic 
thoughts if he had none 
but organic perceptions
  Sense perceptions provide only material which can be processed mechanically.

 Mans desires are 
limited by his percepti
ons. none can de 
-sire what he has not 
  Without the ability to perceive extra-sensory data man is cut off from desire for more.

The desires & percepti- 
ons of man untaught by
 any thing but organs 
of sense, must be limited 
to objects of sense.
  Without desire or additional means of perceptions, man is trapped in a state of 'single vision.'

  Mans percepti- 
ons are not bound- 
ed by organs of 
perception. he per- 
cieves more than 
sense (tho' ever 
so acute) can 
  Man's senses provide limited information. However man has the ability to perceive more than the narrow range which his eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin can sense.

Reason or the ra-
tio of all we have 
already known. 
is not the same that 
it shall be when
 we know more.
  If we were to depend on reason alone we would not be able to go beyond the limit that reason is able to discern.

[III lacking]  
The bounded is 
 loathed by its pos- 
sessor. The same 
dull round even 
of a univer[s]e would 
soon become a 
mill with complica- 
ted wheels.
  Input from outside of a limited system prevents it from becoming a continual repetition of the same events.

 If the many be-
come the same as 
the few, when pos- 
sess'd, More! More! 
is the cry of a mista 
-ken soul, less than 
All cannot satisfy  
  Continually treading the same ground cannot satisfy man no matter how often it is repeated.

If any could de- 
sire what he is in- 
capable of pos- 
sessing, despair must
be his eternal 
  The desire for more than man can access through his senses and reasoning power would lead to a dead end if he were incapable of perceiving more.

The desire of 
Man being Infi- 
nite the possession 
is Infinite & him- 
self Infinite
  If man is capable of desiring more than his limited faculties provide, he opens himself to achieving a perception of the Infinite through perceiving the Infinite within himself.

 If it were not for the 
Poetic or Prophetic 
character. the Philo- 
sophic & Experimen- 
tal would soon be 
at the ratio of all 
things & stand still,
 unable to do other
 than repeat the same
 dull round over a- gain
  There is a level of perception which is beyond that which is reached by sensing and reasoning. Poetry and Prophecy are expressions which allow man to reach outside of the static repetition of natural patterns.

He who sees the In- 
finite in all things 
sees God. He who 
sees the Ratio only 
sees himself only.
  Unless an individual develops the ability to go beyond depending on his own sense perception and reasoning power, he is trapped within himself. Seeing more than the surface - into the depths - will open the way to seeing the Infinite in all things and God. 

Wikimedia Commons


The presence of God within man provides him with the ability to recognize that Presence. Through that recognition he develops the ability to see as God sees - the Infinite in all things. We are in the process of becoming with God. The whole of creation is an expression of God. As creation recognizes God, God becomes as we are and we as he is. God has chosen to be articulated through his creation. As creation strives to respond to the God which is embodied in it, Man and God become One

 John 17
[20] Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
[21] That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
[22] And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
[23] I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Romans 12
[2] And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Colossians 1
[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
[16] for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him.
[17] He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
[18] He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
[19] For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
[20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


“'All men yearn after God,' says Homer. The object of Plato is to present to us the fact that there are in the soul certain ideas or principles, innate and connatural, which are not derived from without, but are anterior to all experience, and are developed and brought to view, but not produced by experience. These ideas are the most vital of all truths, and the purpose of instruction and discipline is to make the individual conscious of them and willing to be led and inspired by them." [Quote from Philaletheians website]

Portland Vase    Engraved by Blake for Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden
Blake was eclectic is his approach to gathering ideas for his own system of thought. We have often focused on the Biblical references in his writings and pictures. Recently we have concentrated on the influences from ancient Greece in his work. But Blake reached much further than that to draw in insights from Norse poetry, alchemy, Gnostic teachings, Astrology, eastern religions and whatever literature and philosophy became available to him. We have posted 18 times in the last few months on aspects of the Greek influences which are apparent in his work. A thorough treatment of this subject is available in Kathleen Raine's Blake and Tradition. Today we will end our series of posts with a return to the Portland Vase.

The interpretation of the Portland Vase to which Blake was introduced found in it figures representing stages traversed in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The lesser mystery of the mortal journey was portrayed in one image, and the greater mystery of the journey through immortality in the image on the reverse side. On the handles there are two images of Pan who assisted in facilitating the return of Demeter to her life-giving function. One Pan displays his goat horns and the other shows him as he as he appeared with donkey ears. On the underside of the vase we see Atis, the great hierophant, or teacher of mysteries as the guide who leads one through the various episodes. To be initiated into the mysteries was an existential not a rational experience. What is known about the mysteries indicates that the initiate was led through a series of activities which impelled him deeper and deeper into incorporating psychic experiences of death and rebirth. To Blake this meant undergoing the experience of dying to the world of time and space and being born into the world of eternity.

Reading these myths enriches ones understanding of the images on the Portland Vase and of Blake's myth of creation, fall, wandering and return: Demeter (Earth mother), Persephone (Renewal), Pluto (Ruler of the underworld), and Pan (who located the hidden Demeter).

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 117, (E 386)
          Night the Ninth
          The Last Judgment

And Los & Enitharmon builded Jerusalem weeping    
Over the Sepulcher & over the Crucified body
Which to their Phantom Eyes appear'd still in the Sepulcher
But Jesus stood beside them in the Spirit Separating
Their Spirit from their body. Terrified at Non Existence 
For such they deemd the death of the body. Los his vegetable hands
Outstretchd his right hand branching out in fibrous Strength
Siezd the Sun. His left hand like dark roots coverd the Moon
And tore them down cracking the heavens across from immense to immense
Then fell the fires of Eternity with loud & shrill 
Sound of Loud Trumpet thundering along from heaven to heaven
A mighty sound articulate Awake ye dead & come
To judgment from the four winds Awake & Come away
Folding like scrolls of the Enormous volume of Heaven & Earth" 

As one looks at the minute details of Blake's engravings of the images on the Portland Vase, reads Erasmus Darwin's descriptive comments, and considers what is known about the Eleusinian Mysteries, one may see that, together, they contain archetypal themes which travel throughout Blake's work. We meet the garment, the portal between worlds, sleep and awakening, and contraries repeated with regularity. The traveller who journeys from one level to another, is with us throughout. Perhaps the lesser and greater mysteries of mortality and immortality were forever appearing in Blake's imagination. He may have written and illuminated Milton and Jerusalem as his own guidebooks through the mysteries as he encountered them.

A close reading of the import of the figures on the Portland vase as they relate to Blake's thought was published by Nelson Hilton in Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly as he reviewed Darwin's Botanic Garden

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Isaiah 20
[1] In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;
[2] At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.
[3] And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia;
[4] So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.
[5] And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.
[6] And the inhabitant of this isle shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?

 Marriage of Heaven and Hell
"I also asked Isaiah what made him go naked and barefoot three
years? he answerd, the same that made our friend Diogenes the
 Blake's Memorable Fancy on Plates 12 and 13 of Marriage of Heaven and Hell uses the Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel to emphasize the point that a conventional mindset that follows the popular mores fails to understand the voice of prophecy. Isaiah and Ezekiel developed their ability to listen to the voice that spoke from within. To convey the message they received, they occasionally behaved in ways which startled their contemporaries. They sought to change their societies by demonstrating what were the consequences of continuing in behaviors which were leading to destruction. Blake further emphasized the technique of shocking people out of habitual nonproductive attitudes by indicating that Isaiah attributed his going naked and barefoot for three years to the influence of Diogenes who had practiced the same kinds of outrageous stunts to his Greek contemporaries.

Blake was not averse to looking to the Greek philosophy of Diogenes to reinforce his principle that man could not depend upon only data from his senses to interpret his environment and experience. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Diogenes risked being outcast from their societies in order to encourage men to have their intellect and courage opened to perceiving the limitations of conventional thinking. In writing Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake was engaging in similar strategies to those used by his heroes. He was presenting his ideas in forms and statements which were unacceptable to his public. He risked the ridicule of the critics and the indifference of potential readers by writing poetry which seemed ridiculous on the surface, and making images which appeared unpolished and obscure to current taste.
Library of Congress
Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Plate 21
We can judge that Blake had an affinity toward Diogenes from the label cynic which is often attached to the name of the fourth century BC philosopher. As a young man Blake wrote An Island in the Moon: satirical observations on the set of people with whom he was acquainted. He gave himself the name Quid the Cynic. The Greek word cynic was derived from a word meaning dog-like, and Diogenes was thought of as a dog by his critics. Perhaps the unexpected pictures of dogs in Blake's images is meant to point out his viewing whatever situation was being illustrated from a cynical perspective which he shared with Diogenes.

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, PLATE 12, (E 38)
                    "A Memorable Fancy.                            
   The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked
them how they dared so roundly to assert. that God spake to them; 
and  whether they did not think at the time, that they would be 
misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
   Isaiah answer'd. I saw no God. nor heard any, in a finite
organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in
every thing, and as  I was then perswaded. & remain confirm'd;
that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared
not for consequences but  wrote.
   Then I asked: does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?
   He replied.  All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination
this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable
of a firm perswasion of any thing.
   Then Ezekiel said. The philosophy of the east taught the first 
principles of human perception     some nations held one
principle for  the origin & some another, we of Israel taught
that the Poetic Genius (as  you now call it) was the first
principle and all the others merely  derivative, which was the
cause of our despising the Priests & Philosophers  of other
countries, and prophecying that all Gods [PL 13] would at last be
proved. to originate in ours & to be the tributaries of the
Poetic  Genius, it was this. that our great poet King David
desired so fervently  & invokes so patheticly, saying by this he
conquers enemies & governs kingdoms; and we so loved our God.
that we cursed in his name all  the deities of surrounding
nations, and asserted that they had rebelled; from these opinions
the vulgar came to think that all nations would at last be
subject to the jews.
   This said he, like all firm perswasions, is come to pass, for all 
nations believe the jews code and worship the jews god, and what
greater subjection can be
   I heard this with some wonder, & must confess my own
conviction.  After dinner I ask'd Isaiah to favour the world with
his lost works, he said none of equal value was lost.  Ezekiel
said the same of his.
   I also asked Isaiah what made him go naked and barefoot three
years? he answerd, the same that made our friend Diogenes the
   I then asked Ezekiel. why he eat dung, & lay so long on his
right  & left side? he answerd. the desire of raising other men
into a  perception of the infinite this the North American tribes
practise. & is he honest who resists his genius or conscience.
only for the sake of present  ease or gratification?"

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Wikimedia Commons
Drawings for Pastorals of Virgil
Thenot and Colinet Converse Seated Beneath Two Trees

An example of Greek philosophy which played an essential place in Blake's thought is the doctrine of contraries. Like Heraclitus, Blake believed in the unity of all things. From this unity both derived the conviction that contraries are not opposites but alternatives which can be resolved by recognizing the contribution which each makes to the whole. Dividing a pair of contraries such as Reason and Energy into desirable and undesirable, cuts man off from understanding the totality of his own being. 

It is the denial of the possibility of unifying the contraries - body and soul, female and male, repose and activity - that creates the Negation: that false reasoning power which can be called the Selfhood.

Jerusalem, Plate 5, (E 147) 
"O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:
Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!"

Marriage of heaven & Hell, Plate 3, (E 34)
"Without Contraries is no progression.  Attraction and 
Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to
Human existence.
  From these contraries spring what the religious call Good &
Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason[.] Evil is the active
springing from Energy.
  Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.
  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

Jerusalem, Plate 43 [29], (E 191)
"And thus the Voice Divine went forth upon the rocks of Albion    

I elected Albion for my glory; I gave to him the Nations,
Of the whole Earth. he was the Angel of my Presence: and all
The Sons of God were Albions Sons: and Jerusalem was my joy.
The Reactor hath hid himself thro envy. I behold him.
But you cannot behold him till he be reveald in his System       
Albions Reactor must have a Place prepard: Albion must Sleep
The Sleep of Death, till the Man of Sin & Repentance be reveald.
Hidden in Albions Forests he lurks: he admits of no Reply
From Albion: but hath founded his Reaction into a Law
Of Action, for Obedience to destroy the Contraries of Man[.]     
He hath compelld Albion to become a Punisher & hath possessd
Himself of Albions Forests & Wilds! and Jerusalem is taken!
The City of the Woods in the Forest of Ephratah is taken!
London is a stone of her ruins; Oxford is the dust of her walls!
Sussex & Kent are her scatterd garments: Ireland her holy place! 
And the murderd bodies of her little ones are Scotland and Wales
The Cities of the Nations are the smoke of her consummation
The Nations are her dust! ground by the chariot wheels
Of her lordly conquerors, her palaces levelld with the dust
I come that I may find a way for my banished ones to return      
Fear not O little Flock I come! Albion shall rise again.

So saying, the mild Sun inclosd the Human Family." 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


The distinctive characteristic of the Arlington Tempera is the incorporation in it of a full cycle of creation, fall, redemption, and apocalypse. The process that absorbed Blake's attention throughout his work is presented in this one inclusive image. That Blake could use the myth of the return of Odysseus from the Trojan War as the metaphor for the cycle of wandering experienced by people seeking wholeness in innumerable settings, speaks to his mastery of a universal myth. Although Blake first assimilated the accounts of man's creation, alienation, seeking and resolution from reading the accounts in the Bible of the the tribe of Israel, he could appreciate that the same process was repeated in the tales of peoples throughout time and space. Thus he turned to a legend from Greek mythology to represent in a single picture the summary of the soul of man journeying through his process of experiencing mortal life. 

Morgan Library and Museum
The Circle of the Life of Man
Preliminary Sketch for Arlington Tempera
ca. 1821
These posts treat the individual images incorporated in the complete symbolic representation:






Milton, Plate 17 [19], (E 111) 
"For travellers from Eternity. pass outward to Satans seat, 
But travellers to Eternity. pass inward to Golgonooza."

Jerusalem, Plate 62, (E 213)
"Jesus replied. I am the Resurrection & the Life.
I Die & pass the limits of possibility, as it appears
To individual perception. Luvah must be Created                  
And Vala; for I cannot leave them in the gnawing Grave.
But will prepare a way for my banished-ones to return
Come now with me into the villages. walk thro all the cities.
Tho thou art taken to prison & judgment, starved in the streets
I will command the cloud to give thee food & the hard rock       
To flow with milk & wine, tho thou seest me not a season
Even a long season & a hard journey & a howling wilderness!
Tho Valas cloud hide thee & Luvahs fires follow thee!
Only believe & trust in me, Lo. I am always with thee!"