|Library of Congress|
If we find ourselves getting bogged down in details reading Blake's complex poetry it is helpful to find a passage which presents a larger picture from which we visualize an overall concept of Blake's intention. In Discussions of William Blake, Edited by John E Grant, the chapter Intellectual Symbolism in Blake's later Prophetic Writings, by Karl Kiralis, presents such an outline:
"The meaning of some of the symbols, Los and Albion for example, is obvious with only a cursory reading. Los (cf Sol) is the poet, the creative man, and . Albion is both the universal and individual man, the most extraordinary average man of English literature. The sons of Albion represent civilization and all its cruelties; the daughters, its female principles.
These definitions and the ones that follow might mean to the uninitiated reader of Jerusalem if he knew its basic 'plot,' which is revealed through the interactions of the symbolic characters. Very simply, man (or Albion) is dead to eternity because he has accepted certain delusions as reality. Two of his basic false beliefs are in moral virtue or a strict moral code (Rahab), and in reason alone (the spectre) as the guide to his life. The overall delusion is Vala, who represents earthly standards of truth and beauty as opposed to the eternal ones of Jerusalem. Vala constantly struggles to preserve her illusion of reality to keep Jerusalem subjugated. It is the self-imposed and difficult task of the poet (Los) to help man to eternity by ridding him of delusion throughout the course of mankind's history, to free him from the errors present in Judaism, deism, and even Christianity. Man gradually becomes aware of his various misconceptions by recognizing Vala-Rahab for what she is. Then once he has learned the lessons of liberty and forgiveness (Jerusalem), and of the primal innocence and beauty of the body and love (Erin), he becomes balanced fourfold (with reason in its proper place) and lives in eternity." (Page 104)
"The female will also acts through her component parts, the twelve daughters of Albion, especially Tirzah and Gwendolen." (Page 106)
Plate 81 of Jerusalem focuses attention on the type of deception and delusion which Kiralis associated with Vala in his description.
Jerusalem, Plate 81, (E 238)
"I have mockd those who refused cruelty & I have admired The cruel Warrior. I have refused to give love to Merlin the piteous. He brings to me the Images of his Love & I reject in chastity And turn them out into the streets for Harlots to be food To the stern Warrior. I am become perfect in beauty over my Warrior For Men are caught by Love: Woman is caught by Pride That Love may only be obtaind in the passages of Death.
In Heaven the only Art of Living
Is Forgetting & Forgiving
Especially to the Female
But if you on Earth Forgive
You shall not find where to Live
Let us look! let us examine! is the Cruel become an Infant Or is he still a cruel Warrior? look Sisters, look! O piteous I have destroyd Wandring Reuben who strove to bind my Will I have stripd off Josephs beautiful integument for my Beloved, The Cruel-one of Albion: to clothe him in gems of my Zone I have Named him Jehovah of Hosts. Humanity is become A weeping Infant in ruind lovely Jerusalems folding Cloud:
In Heaven Love begets Love! but Fear is the Parent of Earthly Love! And he who will not bend to Love must be subdud by Fear,"
Jerusalem, Plate 82, (E 239)
"The Twelve Daughters of Albion attentive listen in secret shades On Cambridge and Oxford beaming soft uniting with Rahabs cloud While Gwendolen spoke to Cambel turning soft the spinning reel: Or throwing the wingd shuttle; or drawing the cords with softest songs The golden cords of the Looms animate beneath their touches soft, Along the Island white, among the Druid Temples, while Gwendolen Spoke to the Daughters of Albion standing on Skiddaws top. So saying she took a Falshood & hid it in her left hand: To entice her Sisters away to Babylon on Euphrates. And thus she closed her left hand and utterd her Falshood: Forgetting that Falshood is prophetic, she hid her hand behind her, Upon her back behind her loins & thus utterd her Deceit."
From The Illuminated Blake, David V Erdman, Page 60."The point of course is the falsehood we come to expect from worldly wisdom, is only the truth turned inside out. It consists of the second half of Gwendolen's quatrain in mirror writing, 'But if you on Earth Forgive, You shall not find where to Live.' The true message? If you want to live in heaven, then start 'Forgetting & Forgiving,' which 'In Heaven [is] the only Art of Living' - the first half of the quatrain."