Sunday, January 28, 2018


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 
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 


Vincent said...

Thank you for this very clear exposition, Ellie. I shall have to take it with me, internalising what you have said here and pondering further. On one level you have indicated the direction of Blake's thought, which of course occurred many years before modern knowledge of the intricacies of matter, biology, genetics, psychology, psychoneurology and so on. On another level, we like Blake can contemplate reality via the apparatus of our own souls and bodies which cannot be much different from his; and gain a different kind of knowledge which we may call direct knowing, beyond intellectual concepts.

Somehow I feel that it's simple: that truth recognizes truth, in the silence of its own being. And then I recall visits to the brain-damaged children's refuge in Kingston Jamaica . . .

ellie said...

Don't forget they are Berger's words and Blake's ideas, not mine.

Images which become lodged in our minds become reminders of truth which is not easily expressed in words. A movie, 'Places of the Heart', which I saw years ago ends with an image which speaks to me of the shared spirit which is generated by the individual souls which interact however diverse and flawed they may be. The movie doesn't attempt to resolve all of the human failings and conflicts but in the last scene it shows a church service in which communion is being served. As the music plays the bread and wine are passed from person to person in the pews. I was slow to realize that the individuals feeding on the symbols of the blood and body of Christ couldn't be sitting there in that church together. First of all two of them had died in the beginning of the story. They were all there, black and white, rich and poor, saint and sinner, the oppressed and the oppressor. It was a family who were given time to understand, to heal, to forgive and to be forgiven.

Vincent said...

Oh sorry, I didn't notice that the quotation marks enclosed the whole thing apart from your introductory remarks.

When you say "Images which become lodged in our minds become reminders of truth which is not easily expressed in words", I see that it is exactly so. And these images may be triggered by unrelated stimuli.

And you've pointed me to that movie, "Places in the Heart", which I've now ordered as a DVD rental, to see if it speaks to us too of that shared spirit.