|Preliminary Sketch Illustrations for Blair's The Grave|
In his book William Blake: Poet and Mystic Pierre Berger writes of the relationship of the soul and body as Blake understood it. This quote from page 107 begins with a few lines of a poem Blake included in a letter to Thomas Butts. (E 712)
"Each herb and each tree, Mountain, hill, earth and sea. Cloud, Meteor and Star, Are Men Seen Afar Such an interpretation is only natural to a man for whom nothing existed except the human spirit. Every object must also be a spirit like himself. Consequently, all things everywhere are human. The visible world is but the outward sign of bodies hiding a soul. And even this last assertion could not satisfy Blake, since to him, body and soul were not distinct things. The body is a part of the soul made visible, the expression of the soul to our our external senses. There is no separation of one from the other. The parting of soul and body is not the putting off of an old garment which can be utterly destroyed: it is the soul's release from its visible part, or, better still, its ceasing to be visible. The body was not only a prison in which the soul was enclosed and from which it now escapes; it was rather a product of the soul, as the cocoon is a product of the silkworm, an emanation from the soul, created by and attached to the soul, like a kind of vegetable growth, in order to give it a material visibility, and also for other and profounder reasons which will be explained later. Thus all material objects are bodies created by the souls which they at once display and hide, and in which they seem to be enclosed. This theory, while resembling the metempsychosis of the ancients, differs in some respects from it. For them, body and soul had an independent existence, the soul passing into the bodies of plants and animals, according to its tendencies in this life. But neither the animal nor the plant was an integral part of it. Blake, like the ancient Indians, held that the soul not merely decides what body it shall enter, but actually creates a body for itself, and perhaps passes in this way through a series of existences. He does not clearly say how this creation is worked : sometimes, indeed, he even adopts the common expression, and speaks of a soul imprisoned in its body of clay, and actually represents in pictures the separation and reunion of the soul and the body. But he never loses sight of his essential idea of the body as a part of the spirit made visible. ... Consequently, we are everywhere surrounded by spirits. We only see the visible part of them and are satisfied with that because we are men of simple, vision, living in the world of matter, which is illusion."