Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Turning Point

First Posted July 2010.
The Moment of Grace

Life is made up of turning points, but if you're fortunate, somewhere along life's crooked path you may take a most significant turning point to the right:

The parable of the prodigal son is archetypal; we can focus on similar occurrences since Jesus spoke those words.

Wikimedia Commons

Songs of Innocence and of Experience 

Plate 45

Luke 15

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my
father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
[18] I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
[19] And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way
off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his
neck, and kissed him.

That Moment in our poet's life has for me an endless fascination. Blake might have been a famous man, teacher to the Royal Family, world renowned artist; he might have dedicated his life to the Main Chance, but he found a better way. The critical Moment (the darkness before the dawn) came after Hayley had given William and Catherine a comfortable cottage and a comfortable care free life as a miniaturist, but "he came to himself". He returned to London, penniless, but free. Thereafter the main chance ceased to be a temptation. Blake celebrated that decisive Moment in letter 16 to his true (spiritual) friend, Captain Butts.

Letters, Letter 16, (E 713)
     "To my Friend Butts I write
     My first Vision of Light
     On the yellow sands sitting
     The Sun was Emitting
     His Glorious beams
     From Heavens high Streams
     Over Sea over Land
     My Eyes did Expand
     Into regions of air
     Away from all Care
     Into regions of fire
     Remote from Desire
     The Light of the Morning
     Heavens Mountains adorning
     In particles bright
     The jewels of Light
     Distinct shone & clear--
     Amazd & in fear
     I each particle gazed
     Astonishd Amazed
     For each was a Man
     Human formd...

     These are guards of My Fold
     O thou Ram hornd with gold"

He also mentioned it in another letter to William Hayley....

Letters, Letter 51, (E 756)
"I have entirely reduced that spectrous Fiend to his station, whose annoyance has been the ruin of my labours for the last passed twenty years of my life. He is the enemy of conjugal love and is the Jupiter of the Greeks, an iron-hearted tyrant, the ruiner of ancient Greece.......I was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and which has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by window-shutters."

The imprint of that Moment fills the pages of his poetry:
In the 9th Night of The Four Zoas you may read of the regeneration and awakening of Vala, the "sinless soul", the incorrigible female. (This passage owes a lot to the Greek myth, Cupid and Psyche.)

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 128, (E 397)
"So spoke the Sinless Soul & laid her head on the downy fleece 
Of a curld Ram who stretchd himself in sleep beside his mistress
And soft sleep fell upon her eyelids in the silent noon of day

Then Luvah passed by & saw the sinless Soul
And said   Let a pleasant house arise to be the dwelling place
Of this immortal Spirit growing in lower Paradise" 

After the Moment of Grace annihilation of the Selfhood became a primary theme for Blake. In Milton he put these words in the mouth of the hero returned from Heaven, addressed to Ololon, his emanation:

Milton Plate 40 [46], (E 142)
"But turning toward Ololon in terrible majesty Milton Replied. 

Obey thou the Words of the Inspired Man
All that can be annihilated must be annihilated
That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery
There is a Negation, & there is a Contrary
The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre; the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal
Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off & annihilated alway
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination.
Plate 41 [48]:
To bathe in the Waters of Life; to wash off the Not Human
I come in Self-annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering
To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination
To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration"
Milton is a difficult poem, but Blake must have written it shortly after his Moment of Grace.

Blake celebrated the (miraculous?) turning point of Odysseus (my, your, Albion's, Everyman's) with his famous Arlington Tempera, called the Circle of Destiny.

In Blake's poetry, which is above all autobiographical, he marked the moment of truth for Los and all the rest of his characters who made up various elements of his psyche, of mine, yours or Albion's.

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