Tuesday, May 15, 2018


I was delighted to hear this little poem spoken in a movie I recently viewed. The film Leonie is a semi-biographical account of a poet, his editor and their son the sculptor, Isamu Noguchi. When Leonie Gilmore was in Japan teaching English to a poet friend of Yone Noguchi, her student quoted the Blake poem out of respect for the English poet.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Plate 43, (E 25)
"Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go."

Wikipedia Commons
Fitzwilliam Museum
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Plate 43
The sunflower who daily follows the path of the sun as it traverses the firmament, longs to complete its travels in time and reach the sweet golden clime of Eternity. The Youth and the Virgin trapped in emotion and the body likewise seek to be released from the prison-house of time to enter their Eternal home. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Following his objective and exhaustive study of religious experience as a topic for observation, William James concluded The Varieties of Religious Experience with a chapter exploring religion from the subjective point of view. In his final chapter he developed his reasoning concerning his own experience of the practice of religion. He identified himself as one who sensed that religion as a personal experience is the means by which answers to the perennial and ultimate questions can best be explored.

From his earliest writings Blake expressed the idea that the Natural approach to experience of the Divine Presence was closed. The mind which relied on sense data and reasoned processing could not reach what was accessed through a different path. Blake found that his awareness of the numinous which had been present to him since childhood was enhanced after the death of his younger brother Robert. He continued to feel his brother's presence, hear his brother's voice and act from his brother's instruction. He realized that man cut himself off from his full human potential if he did not develop the dimension of himself which was connected to areas which were unconnected to matter and the reasoning mind. He choose 'Inspiration & Vision' as his 'Element' and 'Eternal Dwelling place.'
British Museum
Copy A, Plate 6
Los and his Spectre

Quotes from The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James - from Chapter XX, Conclusions
Page 489: "If religion be a function by which either God's cause or Man's cause is to be really advanced, then he who lives the life of it, however narrowly, is a better servant than he who merely knows about it, however much.

Page 490: "The sciences of nature know nothing of spiritual presences..."
Page 491: "Today, quite as much as in any previous age, the religious individual tells you that the divine meets him on the basis of his personal concerns.
Science, on the other hand, has ended by utterly repudiating the personal point of view."
Page 496: "...so long as we deal with the cosmic and the general, we deal only with symbols of reality, but as soon as we deal with private and personal phenomena as such, we deal with realities in the completest sense of the term."
Page 499: "The axis of reality runs solely through the egoistic places - they are strung upon it like so many beads."
Page 500: "I think, therefore, that however particular questions with our individual destinies may be answered, it is only by acknowledging them as genuine questions, and living in the sphere of thought which they open up, that we become profound...By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of ultimate reality at the only points at reality is given us to guard. Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all."

Page 515: "Confining ourselves to what is common and generic, we have in the fact that the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come, a positive content of religious experience which, it seems to me, is literally and objectively true as far as it goes." 

Page 519: "The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences that have meaning for our life also; and that in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in.
...the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow 'scientific, bounds.'"

No Natural Religion, (E 2)
"II  Reason or the ratio of all we have already known. is not
the same that it shall be when we know more."  
No Natural Religion, (E 3)
"VII The desire of Man being Infinite the possession is Infinite
& himself Infinite"

Milton, Plate 26 [28], (E 124)
"So they are born on Earth, & every Class is determinate
But not by Natural but by Spiritual power alone, Because         
The Natural power continually seeks & tends to Destruction
Ending in Death: which would of itself be Eternal Death
And all are Class'd by Spiritual, & not by Natural power.

And every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not
A Natural: for a Natural Cause only seems, it is a Delusion      
Of Ulro: & a ratio of the perishing Vegetable Memory."

Jerusalem, Plate 8, (E 151)
"All the infant Loves & Graces were lost, for the mighty Hand
Plate 9
Condens'd his Emanations into hard opake substances;
And his infant thoughts & desires, into cold, dark, cliffs of death.
His hammer of gold he siezd; and his anvil of adamant.
He siez'd the bars of condens'd thoughts, to forge them:
Into the sword of war: into the bow and arrow:                   
Into the thundering cannon and into the murdering gun
I saw the limbs form'd for exercise, contemn'd: & the beauty of
Eternity, look'd upon as deformity & loveliness as a dry tree:
I saw disease forming a Body of Death around the Lamb
Of God, to destroy Jerusalem, & to devour the body of Albion     
By war and stratagem to win the labour of the husbandman:
Awkwardness arm'd in steel: folly in a helmet of gold:
Weakness with horns & talons: ignorance with a rav'ning beak!
Every Emanative joy forbidden as a Crime:
And the Emanations buried alive in the earth with pomp of religion:          
Inspiration deny'd; Genius forbidden by laws of punishment:
I saw terrified; I took the sighs & tears, & bitter groans:
I lifted them into my Furnaces; to form the spiritual sword.
That lays open the hidden heart: I drew forth the pang
Of sorrow red hot: I workd it on my resolute anvil:              
I heated it in the flames of Hand, & Hyle, & Coban
Nine times; Gwendolen & Cambel & Gwineverra
Are melted into the gold, the silver, the liquid ruby,
The crysolite, the topaz, the jacinth, & every precious stone,
Loud roar my Furnaces and loud my hammer is heard:               
I labour day and night, I behold the soft affections
Condense beneath my hammer into forms of cruelty
But still I labour in hope, tho' still my tears flow down.
That he who will not defend Truth, may be compelld to defend
A Lie: that he may be snared and caught and snared and taken     
That Enthusiasm and Life may not cease: arise Spectre arise!

Thus they contended among the Furnaces with groans & tears;
Groaning the Spectre heavd the bellows, obeying Los's frowns;
Till the Spaces of Erin were perfected in the furnaces
Of affliction, and Los drew them forth, compelling the harsh Spectre."

Annotations to Reynolds, (E 660) 
mock Inspiration & Vision   Inspiration & Vision was then & now
is & I hope will
always Remain my Element my Eternal Dwelling place. how can I
then hear it Contemnd without returning Scorn for Scorn"   

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Type and Antitype

Reposted from 2014

The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, Chapter Four is entitled typology. This was a great discovery for me; in large part it unlocked the secret of Blake's use of the Bible (and of every other poet's use of it for that matter). Once you outgrow the naive notion of 'Biblical inerrancy' and the idea that every word of it is historically true, you are to some degree on your own. I long ago settled on the awareness that:
1. 'every word of the Bible is poetry' (you may certainly debate that if you wish)
2 'poetry is the highest form of truth."

Truth is in the mind of the believer. Our belief is a function of our psyche, and everyone's psyche is unique (unless you believe that we're all lemmings). So what does the Bible mean? Not history! History is subjective; everyone chooses his own history. Poetry is subjective in a more creative way; to a large degree it's a function of your experience (and mine - very different). What it boils down to is that one man's truth may (appear to) be another man's lie.

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 8, (E 37)
"Every thing possible to be believ'd is an image of truth."

Poetry doesn't claim to be the whole complete exclusive truth; it's not rigid; it's allusive. One of the most important truths about the Bible (and all subsequent literature) is that it uses typology.

In a few words the type is the earliest occurrence (of an idea); psychologists may call it an archetype. Subsequent occurrences Frye calls antitypes:

Type: Moses delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.
Antitype: Jesus delivered human beings from slavery to sin.
Antitype: Lincoln delivered black people from slaves of their southern 'owners'.
Antitype: Pope John delivered Catholics from outmoded legalities like the Latin Mass.

The type and all subsequent antitypes are incomplete. Hence there must and will be more.

Type: Elijah used a stony altar, flooded with water, and then fire to finish off the 450 prophets of Baal (1st Kings, 18:19).
Antitype: Jesus used stone jars, full of water, which became wine to bring Spirit to a wedding party (John 2).
British Museum 
llustrations to Young's Night Thoughts

Many events in the Bible have multiple occurrences. Many Old Testament events recur in the New Testament; some of them reoccur in later parts of the Old Testament.

The New Testament writers found O.T. types for many events in the O.T.: Psalm 22 practically describes the Crucifixion. N.T. writers often quoted O.T. sources. What happened in the N.T. a was a realized form of something foreshadowed in the O.T. For instance Christian baptism became the antitype of the saving of mankind from the flood of Noah.
In Romans 1:17 Paul wrote "the just shall live by faith", making Habbakuk 2:4 the type of his antitype.

Blake adopted this kind of typology for his own verbal creations; he frequently quoted Holy Scripture, and more often used it allusively. All this boils down to the simple fact that his poetry found its main source in the Bible. As for Blake, so for Milton, so for Shakespeare and for the other handful of sources that he mentioned in his letter to Flaxman. 
Letters, to Flaxman, (E 707) "Now my lot in the Heavens is this; Milton lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in riper years gave me his hand Paracelsus & Behmen appeard to me. terrors appeard in the Heavens above"
Here's an assignment for a Blake student:
You need these two resources: Complete Works and a Complete Bible.
Now read Blake (wherever you're interested, pick out a key word, go to your Bible, select Search and put your 'Blake word' in the search window. You may find 'a Blake type' and a 'Bible antitype.' You may also find types and antitypes by searching the Complete Works with a word from the Bible.

Frye devoted two chapters of The Great Code to typology. An advanced Blake student might do well to absorb them as well as he can.

This may be hard to believe, but someone said that in Western culture all discourse, religious, secular, atheist, or a foul-mouthed sailor are using antitypes to the King James Bible. That's worth thinking about.

Welcome to Blake Studies.

Friday, May 04, 2018


New York Public Library
Plate 30
Only once in his illuminated books did Blake use the word simplicity. In mirror writing as an epigraph for the Second Book of Milton he wrote these words:

"How wide the Gulf & Unpassable! between Simplicity & Insipidity
Contraries are Positives A Negation is not a Contrary"

The gulf between simplicity and insipidity is not that of contraries which in Beulah may be equally true. Insipidity is a negation of simplicity. Blake's intends his poetry to be clear and unadorned, not encumbered by superfluous ornamentation. Neither does he choose to direct his poetry to those who concentrate their attention on triviality and frivolity. Simple truth and simple beauty are expressions of inner verities to which he gave his attention.

If complexity is the contrary of simplicity, the two are not mutually exclusive. Discovering the order of a complex pattern elucidates the simplicity which underlies it. What appears to be simple on the surface may depend on intricate, complex execution to produce the final product. But if either the complex or the simple is misunderstood as being reducible to the superficial it becomes insipid, providing false reasoning about its true nature. Often Blake's simplicity hides deep hidden meaning; and his complexity becomes simple truth when it is understood.

In his drawings, paintings and engravings Blake aimed to achieve clarity and simplicity by making his lines firm and definite. The bounding line separated the definite from amorphous undefined exterior. Blots and blurs confused the distinction between truth and falsehood. The certainty which was Blake's aim came from the knowledge of the Presence guiding the hand and eye that shapes the fearful symmetry.
Milton, Plate 30, (E 129)
[mirror writing)
"How wide the Gulf &
Unpassable! between Simplicity & Insipidity 

Contraries are Positives
A Negation is not a Contrary"

Descriptive Catalogue, Page 21, (E 536)
  "The Plowman is simplicity itself, with wisdom and strength
for its stamina.  Chaucer has divided the ancient character of
Hercules between his Miller and his Plowman.  Benevolence is the
plowman's great characteristic, he is thin with excessive labour,
and not with old age, as some have supposed."             

Letters, To Flaxman, (E 710)
"Dear Sculptor of Eternity
     We are safe arrived at our Cottage which is more beautiful
than I thought it. & more convenient.  It is a perfect Model for
Cottages & I think for Palaces of Magnificence only Enlarging not
altering its proportions & adding ornaments & not principals.
Nothing can be more Grand than its Simplicity & Usefulness.
Simple without Intricacy it seems to be the Spontaneous Effusion
of Humanity congenial to the wants of Man.  No other formed House
can ever please me so well nor shall I ever be perswaded I
believe that it can be improved either in Beauty or Use"

Letters, To Butts, (E 733)
 "Dear Sir This perhaps was sufferd to Clear up some doubts &
to give opportunity to those whom I doubted to clear themselves
of all imputation.  If a Man offends me ignorantly & not
designedly surely I ought to consider him with favour &
affection.  Perhaps the simplicity of myself is the origin of all
offences committed against me.  If I have found this I shall have
learned a most valuable thing well worth three years
perseverance.  I have found it!  It is certain! that a too
passive manner. inconsistent with my active physiognomy had done
me much mischief I must now express to you my conviction that all
is come from the spiritual World for Good & not for Evil."

Letters, To Trusler, (E 702)
you ought to know that What is Grand is necessarily obscure to
Weak men.  That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not
worth my care.  The wisest of the Ancients considerd what is not
too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction because it rouzes the
faculties to act.  I name Moses Solomon Esop Homer Plato"

Letters, To Cumberland, (E 703)
     "I ought long ago to have written to you to thank you for
your kind recommendation to Dr Trusler which tho it has faild of
success is not the less to be rememberd by me with Gratitude--
     I have made him a Drawing in my best manner he has sent it
back with a Letter full of Criticisms in which he says it accords
not with his Intentions which are to Reject all Fancy from his
Work.  How far he Expects to please I cannot tell.  But as I
cannot paint Dirty rags & old Shoes where I ought to place Naked
Beauty or simple ornament.  I despair of Ever pleasing one Class
of Men--Unfortunately our authors of books are among this Class
how soon we Shall have a change for the better I cannot Prophecy."

Jerusalem, Plate 55, (E 205)
"They Plow'd in tears, the trumpets sounded before the golden Plow
And the voices of the Living Creatures were heard in the clouds of heaven
Crying: Compell the Reasoner to Demonstrate with unhewn Demonstrations
Let the Indefinite be explored. and let every Man be judged
By his own Works, Let all Indefinites be thrown into Demonstrations
To be pounded to dust & melted in the Furnaces of Affliction:
He who would do good to another, must do it in Minute Particulars 
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel hypocrite & flatterer:
For Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power.
The Infinite alone resides in Definite & Determinate Identity
Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falshood continually    
On Circumcision: not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion

So cried they at the Plow. Albions Rock frowned above
And the Great Voice of Eternity rolled above terrible in clouds
Saying Who will go forth for us! & Who shall we send before our face?"

Jerusalem, Plate 80, (E 237)
"And Rahab like a dismal and indefinite hovering Cloud
Refusd to take a definite form. she hoverd over all the Earth
Calling the definite, sin: defacing every definite form;
Invisible, or Visible, stretch'd out in length or spread in breadth:
Over the Temples drinking groans of victims weeping in pity,   
And joying in the pity, howling over Jerusalems walls."

Public Address, (E 576)
     "I have heard many People say Give me the Ideas.  It is no
matter what Words you put them into & others say Give me the
Design it is no matter for the Execution.  These People know
Nothing Of Art.  Ideas cannot be Given
but in their minutely Appropriate Words nor Can a Design be made
without its minutely Appropriate Execution. The unorganized
Blots & Blurs of Rubens & Titian are not Art nor can their Method
ever express Ideas or Imaginations any more than Popes
Metaphysical jargon of Rhyming. Unappropriate Execution is the
Most nauseous affectation & foppery He who copies does
not Execute he only Imitates what is already Executed   Execution
is only the result of Invention"

 Annotations to Reynolds, (E 646)
  "The Man who asserts that there is no Such Thing as Softness
in Art & that every thing in Art is Definite & Determinate has
not been told this by Practise but by Inspiration & Vision
because Vision is Determinate & Perfect & he Copies That without
Fatigue Every thing being Definite & determinate   Softness is
Produced Alone by Comparative Strength & Weakness in the Marking
out of the Forms
     I say These Principles could never be found out by the Study
of Nature without Con or Innate Science"

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 550)
  "The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is
this: That the more distinct, sharp, and wirey the
bounding line, the more perfect the work of art; and the less
keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak imitation,
plagiarism, and bungling.  Great inventors, in all ages, knew
this: Protogenes and Apelles knew each other by this line.
Rafael and Michael Angelo, and Albert Durer, are known by this
and this alone.  The want of this determinate and bounding form
evidences the want of idea in the artist's mind, and the       t
pretence of the plagiary in all its branches.  How do we 
distinguish the oak from the beech, the horse from the ox, but 
by the bounding outline? How do we distinguish one face or 
countenance from another, but by the bounding line and its 
infinite inflexions and movements? What is it that builds a house 
and plants a garden, but the definite and determinate? What is it 
that distinguishes honesty from knavery, but the hard and wirey 
line of rectitude and certainty in the actions and 
intentions.  Leave out this line and you leave out life itself; 
all is chaos again, and the line of the almighty must be drawn 
out upon it before man or beast can exist.  Talk no more then of 
Correggio, or Rembrandt, or any other of those plagiaries of 
Venice or Flanders.  They were but the lame imitators of lines 
drawn by their predecessors, and their works prove themselves 
contemptible dis-arranged imitations and blundering misapplied 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

How Blake Read the Gospel

First posted by Larry Nov 2010.

All his life Blake read the Bible, loved it, and engaged in dialogue with its immortal authors. Virtually every line of his poetry and every picture he painted had direct reference to some biblical idea that Blake had meditated upon.

In vivid contrast many of the orthodox don't read the Bible at all; they just wave it! Little wonder they dislike Blake. His early ironic description of his work as the Bible of Hell certainly helped to confirm their prejudice.

"Thou read'st black where I read white."
Everlasting Gospel (E 524)

There are essentially two ways to read the Bible; Blake referred to them as black and white. What did he mean? We might look at Urizen's Book of Brass as the black book. It's a book of rules, a book of law. It tells people what to do, and more poignantly, what not to do.

Even today ordinary people see the Bible in this way, which helps to explain why hardly anyone reads it today. The few who do read it dutifully and dully. Such a reading constrains consciousness; it makes the reader obedient and unimaginative. The faithful few who feel that they should read their Bible often approach it in a child like way bordering on the childish. Reading the black book inhibits the imagination, deadens the mind and prevents spiritual development. At its worst it has led to many instances of religious persecution and mass murder.

Wikimedia Commons
There Is No Natural Religion
But Blake read it white. The white book is not a book of rules, but a book of visions, a book of wonders. It provokes thought, causes the imagination to soar. Blake must have learned to read at about the age of four, when he had his first vision-- the frightful face at the window. Perhaps we've all been frightened by the Bible in one way or another; most people have had a sufficiently negative experience to leave it strictly alone. But little William overcame his fright and kept reading, and the next vision we hear of was more positive--a tree full of angels.

All the evidence suggests that for the next sixty five years Blake's Bible reading and his visions went hand in hand; his art is the record of it all. Whoever becomes really interested in Blake's visions will find himself reading the Bible because that's where most of them begin. In spite of this his secular critics have looked all over the world for his sources.

One of the greatest things that Blake has to offer the reader is that he makes you see and read the Bible in a new and better way. Not for nothing did the youthful circle of admirers of Blake's last years refer to him as the Interpreter.

The black book has most often been read as law, as history, in a restricted, literal interpretation. If the priest can get people to see it this way, and only this way, then he has secure control over his flock of sheep. In contrast Blake suggests that it's symbolic. Although written in categories of time and space, the temporal dimension is only instrumental; it points to the Beyond, the Eternal, the Real.

Too often people reading 'black' concern themselves with foolish questions such as "Did it really happen? Was Jonah really swallowed by the whale, or rather by the big fish?" But in Blake's vision that isn't the important thing. The important thing is "What does it mean?" The reader of the black book gets himself tied up in knots about the veracity or historicity of Jonah and his aquatic friend.

Blake shows you the Jonah in your psyche and helps you get some grasp of what the turbulent sea means to you personally. It's experiential, exciting! it puts you in touch with reality!, which is not material at all but spiritual. Literal or symbolic is black or white, and probably the two minds will never meet. At this point I simply urge you to join Blake and read white:
    "Why is the Bible more Entertaining & Instructive than any other book? Is it not because [it is] addressed to the Imagination which is Spiritual Sensation, and but mediately to the Understanding or Reason?"
    (Letter To Trusler; Erdman 702-3)