Sunday, November 25, 2018

Myth in Blake 5

Yale Center for British Art
Plate 19
Always fiercely eclectic, Blake has gathered his symbols here from a number of sources into a new creation: sleeping man equals fallen man living in darkness; this most general symbol fills the New Testament. For example, "Awake thou that sleepest, and Christ shall give thee light". We live by the light of reason (not always Christ's light!). Urizen, the Sun God, must be asleep to allow Luvah, like the Greek adolescent, Phaethon, to seize his Horses of Light and rise into the Chariot of Day. Zeus struck Phaethon down with a thunderbolt in the story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Blake used Ovid as a primary source for his borrowings from Greek mythology.

In Night ii we will find Urizen casting Luvah into the furnaces of affliction, where there is much heat but no light. What was once eternal delight has become unmitigated hell.

Luvah and Vala personify the masculine and feminine dimensions of feeling, and s├ęparated from Luvah, Vala becomes the goddess of fallen nature. Luvah's seizure of the sun and Vala's dalliance on the pillow express in different ways the same event. The Prince of Love is bound to get his wings scorched, and the sleeping Albion is rather foolish to allow this to happen; he has lost his head over a part of himself.

Blake used this double event to say many things to us at many levels. Fundamentally Blake is saying that Man has lost his heavenly wholeness (which he calls the Divine Image) and begun to worship the material, a relatively insignificant part of himself. He turns his back upon the Divine Vision in his dream of Vala. The former is Eternal Life and the latter Eternal Death. The dalliance of Albion with Vala leads to the Eternal Death (fallenness) that we read about in the first six nights. Blake described it symbolically, in many ways, for example, "to converse in the wilds of Newton and Locke". We find here Blake's primary dialectic, between eternal vision and fallen materialism.

Other accounts of this decisive event occur at various places throughout the poem. The most definitive is that of Ahania. Her dream relates the central event, the primary fall, to an idolatrous worship; just so Blake evaluated organized religion. Albion's worship of his shadow has two immediate consequences: he breaks out with the boils of Job, a biblical symbol of the Fall of Mankind, and he exiles Luvah and Vala from their rightful place in the psychic economy.
There are at least six occurrences of the story which I call the central event of the Fall:
K=Keynes, E=Erdman

Enitharmon's Song of Death     Night i. 261-80 K 271-2 --- (E 305)
Ambassadors from Beulah                    i. 484-559 K277-9 --- (E 311)
Ahania's vision                                      iii. 42-102 K 292-4 --- (E 326)
The Spectre of Urthona (first)              iv. 84-110 K 299-300 --- (E 334)
The Shadow of Enitharmon                vii. 239-64 K 326 --- (E 358)
The Spectre of Urthona (second)       vii. 277-98 K 327 --- (E 359)

No comments: