Tuesday, November 01, 2016

BLAKE & JOB

Anything that one reads or hears may either be accepted at face value as literally true or may be understood and interpreted in accordance with one's own value structure. If one reads commentary on the Book of Job one learns that the document which is in the Old Testament already represented multiple sources, points of view and authors. Readers through centuries have continued to struggle to discern in it a message which has application to their own experience. Although an orthodox interpretation developed, alternative responses continued to surface and still do. William Blake, within his own system of belief, sought to hear what the Book of Job said about God and man, about good and evil, and about worldly life and Eternal life.  

Perhaps from the time he was a child Blake had been troubled by the Book of Job's image of a God who was distant, hidden and punishing. Blake knew the God who was accessible, revealed and accepting. In the 1780's or 90's Blake began responding to the Book of Job by creating images illuminating the Book of Job. His final work with Job was a book of twenty two engraving published in 1823.

We begin our study with an ink and wash drawing which he made in 1793. In it we see the suffering Job. He had lost his seven sons and three daughters, his flocks and herds. What he had left are his wife and his health and three friends who want to convince him that his reversal of fortune is the consequence of his own sinfulness.   

Achenbach Foundation
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
www.famsf.org
Complaint of Job
Ink and Wash, 1793

Blake followed the wash drawing with a large engraving of the same subject which he offered for sale by Prospectus along with another engraving, six illuminated books and two small books of engravings .
Prospectus, (E 692)   
     TO THE PUBLIC        October 10, 1793.
...
 The following are the Subjects of the several Works now
published and on Sale at Mr. Blake's, No. 13, Hercules Buildings,
Lambeth.

     1.  Job, a Historical Engraving.  Size 1 ft.7 1/2 in. by 1
ft. 2 in.: price 12s."
British Museum
Engraving
"What is Man That thou shouldest Try him Every Moment? Job VII C 17 & 18 V"
Job 7
[14] Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions:
[15] So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.
[16] I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity.
[17] What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?
[18] And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?
[19] How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?
[20] I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?
[21] And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.
Milton, Plate 18 [20], (E 111)                                        
"And Tharmas Demon of the Waters, & Orc, who is Luvah

The Shadowy Female seeing Milton, howl'd in her lamentation
Over the Deeps. outstretching her Twenty seven Heavens over Albion

And thus the Shadowy Female howls in articulate howlings

I will lament over Milton in the lamentations of the afflicted   
My Garments shall be woven of sighs & heart broken lamentations
The misery of unhappy Families shall be drawn out into its border
Wrought with the needle with dire sufferings poverty pain & woe
Along the rocky Island & thence throughout the whole Earth
There shall be the sick Father & his starving Family! there      
The Prisoner in the stone Dungeon & the Slave at the Mill
I will have Writings written all over it in Human Words
That every Infant that is born upon the Earth shall read
And get by rote as a hard task of a life of sixty years
I will have Kings inwoven upon it, & Councellors & Mighty Men    
The Famine shall clasp it together with buckles & Clasps
And the Pestilence shall be its fringe & the War its girdle
To divide into Rahab & Tirzah that Milton may come to our tents
For I will put on the Human Form & take the Image of God
Even Pity & Humanity but my Clothing shall be Cruelty    
And I will put on Holiness as a breastplate & as a helmet
And all my ornaments shall be of the gold of broken hearts
And the precious stones of anxiety & care & desperation & death
And repentance for sin & sorrow & punishment & fear
To defend me from thy terrors O Orc! my only beloved!"            

2 comments:

Susan J. said...

thanks, Ellie - I've not checked the blog in several weeks, and this Job post is perfect for me today :-)

we think of y'all often - hope to see you this winter some time ---

ellie said...

We never thought you would be away from Florida so long when you left. So much has changed since then. It is our faith in a benevolent God which sustains us through all the Joys & Woes.

See you soon.