WILLIAM BLAKE: GOLDEN STRING

Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

PARADISE REGAINED 2

Fitzwilliam Museum  
Illustrations to Milton's Paradise Regained
Christ tempted by Satan to turn the stones into bread
Paradise Regained
Book 1
"pronounc'd me his,
Me his beloved Son, in whom alone [ 285 ]
He was well pleas'd; by which I knew the time
Now full, that I no more should live obscure,
But openly begin, as best becomes
The Authority which I deriv'd from Heaven.
And now by some strong motion I am led [ 290 ]
Into this Wilderness, to what intent
I learn not yet, perhaps I need not know;
For what concerns my knowledge God reveals.
... 
Full forty days he pass'd, whether on hill
Sometimes, anon in shady vale, each night
Under the covert of some ancient Oak, [ 305 ]
Or Cedar, to defend him from the dew,
Or harbour'd in one Cave, is not reveal'd;
Nor tasted humane food, nor hunger felt
Till those days ended, hunger'd then at last
Among wild Beasts: they at his sight grew mild, [ 310 ]
Nor sleeping him nor waking harm'd, his walk
The fiery Serpent fled and noxious Worm,
The Lion and fierce Tiger glar'd aloof.
But now an aged man in Rural weeds,
Following, as seem'd, the quest of some stray Ewe, [ 315 ]
Or wither'd sticks to gather; which might serve
Against a Winters day when winds blow keen,
To warm him wet return'd from field at Eve,
He saw approach; who first with curious eye
Perus'd him, then with words thus utt'red spake. [ 320 ]
Sir, what ill chance hath brought thee to this place
So far from path or road of men, who pass
In Troop or Caravan, for single none
Durst ever, who return'd, and dropt not here
His Carcass, pin'd with hunger and with droughth? [ 325 ]
I ask the rather, and the more admire,
For that to me thou seem'st the man, whom late
Our new baptizing Prophet at the Ford
Of Jordan honour'd so, and call'd thee Son
Of God; I saw and heard, for we sometimes [ 330 ]
Who dwell this wild, constrain'd by want, come forth
To Town or Village nigh (nighest is far)
Where ought we hear, and curious are to hear,
What happ'ns new; Fame also finds us out.
To whom the Son of God. Who brought me hither [ 335 ]
Will bring me hence, no other Guide I seek.
By Miracle he may, reply'd the Swain,
What other way I see not, for we here
Live on tough roots and stubs, to thirst inur'd
More then the Camel, and to drink go far, [ 340 ]
Men to much misery and hardship born;
But if thou be the Son of God, Command
That out of these hard stones be made thee bread;
So shalt thou save thyself and us relieve
With Food, whereof we wretched seldom taste. [ 345 ]
He ended, and the Son of God reply'd.
Think'st thou such force in Bread? is it not written
(For I discern thee other then thou seem'st)
Man lives not by Bread only, but each Word
Proceeding from the mouth of God; who fed [ 350 ]
Our Fathers here with Manna; in the Mount
Moses was forty days, nor eat nor drank,
And forty days Eliah without food
Wandred this barren waste; the same I now:
Why dost thou then suggest to me distrust, [ 355 ]
Knowing who I am, as I know who thou art?
Whom thus answer'd th' Arch Fiend now undisguis'd.
'Tis true, I am that Spirit unfortunate,
Who leagu'd with millions more in rash revolt
Kept not my happy Station, but was driv'n [ 360 ]
With them from bliss to the bottomless deep,
Yet to that hideous place not so confin'd
By rigour unconniving, but that oft
Leaving my dolorous Prison I enjoy
Large liberty to round this Globe of Earth, [ 365 ]
...
To see thee and approach thee, whom I know
Declar'd the Son of God, to hear attent [ 385 ]
Thy wisdom, and behold thy God-like deeds?
Men generally think me much a foe
To all mankind: why should I? they to me
Never did wrong or violence, by them
I lost not what I lost, rather by them [ 390 ]
I gain'd what I have gain'd, and with them dwell
Copartner in these Regions of the World,
If not disposer; lend them oft my aid,
Oft my advice by presages and signs,
And answers, oracles, portents and dreams, [ 395 ]
Whereby they may direct their future life.
Envy they say excites me, thus to gain
Companions of my misery and wo.
At first it may be; but long since with wo
Nearer acquainted, now I feel by proof, [ 400 ]
That fellowship in pain divides not smart,
Nor lightens aught each mans peculiar load.
Small consolation then, were Man adjoyn'd:
This wounds me most (what can it less) that Man,
Man fall'n, shall be restor'd, I never more." [ 405 ]

After the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan he was led into the wilderness where he was tested. In his illustrations to Paradise Regained, Blake followed the biblical account where Milton followed it, and followed Milton's account where he supplemented what is found in the Bible.

Matthew's account is perhaps closest to what Blake portrayed in the second Illustration to Paradise Regained:

Matthew 4
[1] Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
[2] And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
[3] And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
[4] But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

The reply that Jesus make to the tempter was a quote from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy in which the commandments of God were relayed to Israel:

Deuteronomy 8
[1] All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.
[2] And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
[3] And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

It is from Milton's account that we see the tempter disguised as 'an aged man in Rural weeds.' The Gospel of Luke tells us that it was after fasting for 40 days that Jesus felt hunger. At that point the tempter attempted to undermine the confidence of Jesus that he was called the Son of God at his baptism. The tempter wanted Jesus to test God by commanding stones to be made bread :

Matthew 4
[3] And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

Milton and Blake were aware that in our world temptation is usually not easy to recognize because it hides itself in ordinary situations in which the possibility for harm is well concealed. The harm would not come from making bread from stone but from Jesus needing to prove that God had called him to be His Son. In Paradise Regained Satan twisted the account presented in Paradise Lost. Satan distorted his role from that of an enemy of man to that of a 'Copartner':

Paradise Regained
Book 1
"Men generally think me much a foe
To all mankind: why should I? they to me
Never did wrong or violence, by them
I lost not what I lost, rather by them [ 390 ]
I gain'd what I have gain'd, and with them dwell
Copartner in these Regions of the World,"

In Blake's illustration Satan in his first appearance to Jesus did not seem to be a threat, but a kindly old man trying to help. Jesus was not deceived.

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

PARADISE REGAINED I

Fitzwilliam Museum
Illustrations to Milton's Paradise Regained
Baptism of Christ
Milton's Paradise Regained followed his longer, more influential epic Paradise Lost. He continued to use biblical themes to explore man's circumstances in relationship to the Creator, and to the world in which he lived. Paradise Regained follows the New Testament account of Jesus resisting the temptation presented by Satan to which Adam had fallen prey. It covers the short period after Jesus' baptism when he struggled alone in the wilderness to understand how God intended him to accomplish the ministry to which he felt ordained.

In the first illustration Blake presented the Baptism of Jesus by his cousin John in the Jordan river. Here is the account of the event in the book of Mark:

Mark.1
[1] The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
[2] As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
[3] The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
[4] John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
[5] And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
[6] And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
[7] And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
[8] I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
[9] And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
[10] And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
[11] And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
[12] And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. In Paradise Regained Milton gives this account of the baptism of Jesus

Paradise Regained
Book 1
[Jesus speaks]

"I as all others to his Baptism came,
Which I believ'd was from above; but he
Strait knew me, and with loudest voice proclaim'd [ 275 ]
Me him (for it was shew'n him so from Heaven)
Me him whose Harbinger he was; and first
Refus'd on me his Baptism to confer,
As much his greater, and was hardly won;
But as I rose out of the laving stream, [ 280 ]
Heaven open'd her eternal doors, from whence
The Spirit descended on me like a Dove,
And last the sum of all, my Father's voice,
Audibly heard from Heav'n, pronounc'd me his,
Me his beloved Son, in whom alone [ 285 ]
He was well pleas'd; by which I knew the time
Now full, that I no more should live obscure,
But openly begin, as best becomes
The Authority which I deriv'd from Heaven."

Blake fills his illustration with detail from the Bible, from Milton, and from his own myth of fall and redemption which he saw repeated everywhere he looked. Blake used  the symbols which recur throughout his work, and in the body of esoteric thought with which his mind was filled.

Jesus occupies the central position in the picture. There are figures to the right of Jesus [our left] which are beneficent and to the left which are sinister. John the Baptist, representing the past, faces away from us. Jesus faces the viewer directly inviting him to see Jesus 'thru' his spiritual eye, not 'with' his material eye. Satan with his serpent is expelled from the scene but will reappear when Jesus enters the wilderness. The spiritual nature of Jesus is represented by the descent of the dove and the light radiating from above. His physical nature is apparent as he stands in water and has it poured upon his head.

Blake created twelve illustrations for Paradise Regained. The information provided by the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge where they are housed dates them between 1816 and 1818. They were purchased from Blake by John Linnell in 1825. Like all of the illustrations by Blake to Milton's work they were produced not for publication but for private collectors. Blake delighted in illustrating the work of his hero Milton. His illustrations are a colloquy between himself and the author: he listens to what Milton says and replies out of his own experience. The biblical authors participate in the conversation as well.
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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

PRINTING HOUSE I

First published June 2011.

Blake described the Printing house in Hell on Plate 15 of Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Going through the five chambers we arrive at the sixth where books are arranged in libraries. This is all for the purpose of transmitting knowledge from generation to generation.

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 15, (E 39)
"I was in a Printing house in Hell & saw the method in which
knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.
In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the
rubbish from a caves mouth; within, a number of Dragons were
hollowing the cave,
In the second chamber was a Viper folding round the rock & the
cave, and others adorning it with gold silver and precious stones.
In the third chamber was an Eagle with wings and feathers of air,
he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite, around were
numbers of Eagle like men, who built palaces in the immense cliffs.
In the fourth chamber were Lions of flaming fire raging around
& melting the metals into living fluids.
In the fifth chamber were Unnam'd forms, which cast the metals
into the expanse.
There they were reciev'd by Men who occupied the sixth
chamber, and took the forms of books & were the arranged in libraries."








Joseph Viscomi takes us thought the process in which the Blakes engaged while making the illuminated books using the chambers of the Printing House of Hell.





Chamber 1: preparing the plate
Chamber 2: executing the design
Chamber 3: etching with acid
Chamber 4: inking the plate
Chamber 5: printing and coloring
Chamber 6: prints into books


Viscomi's article is available in the Blake Archive. Enjoy the detailed run through of producing Illuminated Books. (Click on Engraving or any chapter heading.)

Read more in Inquiry into Blake's Method of Color Printing by Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi.

See Blake's methods demonstrated by Michael Phillips.
Blake described the Printing House in Hell on Plate 15 of Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Read PRINTING HOUSE II for the psychological process.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

PRINTING HOUSE II

First published June 2011.

Wikimedia Commons   Small Book of Designs   Copy B, c. 1796   Book of my Remembrance  
Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 15, (E 39)
                            "A Memorable Fancy

   I was in a Printing house in Hell & saw the method in which
knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.
   In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the
rubbish from a caves mouth; within, a number of Dragons were
hollowing the  cave, 
   In the second chamber was a Viper folding round the rock & the 
cave, and others adorning it with gold silver and precious
stones.
   In the third chamber was an Eagle with wings and feathers of
air, he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite, around were
numbers  of Eagle like men, who built palaces in the immense
cliffs.
   In the fourth chamber were Lions of flaming fire raging around
&  melting the metals into living fluids.
   In the fifth chamber were Unnam'd forms, which cast the metals 
into the expanse.
   There they were reciev'd by Men who occupied the sixth
chamber,  and took the forms of books & were arranged in
libraries."

A previous post reduced the imagery of Plate 15 of Marriage of Heaven & Hell to prosaic terms describing Blake creating his illuminated books from copper, gravers, acid, inks, paper and paints. A more esoteric process can also be seen in the chambers of the printing house.
 
'clearing away the rubbish' The first chamber is the dark cavern of the unconscious. It is a typical starting point in any movement of psychological development. The Cosmic egg must be cracked, the cultural rut must be breached, the bottom must be reached or the need for change must be acknowledged. This prepares the surface of the copper (or the hardened rituals and routines) to receive the images which will modify and transform it.
 
'folding round the rock & the cave, and others adorning it' The second chamber in which the design is executed allows the rational mind to have its say. A plan is made and transferred to the surface. The plate is not the image itself but the means by which the image may come forth. The plate is incised, reversed, manipulated. It is a material object or state but it is only a transient stage in the evolutionary process. 
 
'caused the inside of the cave to be infinite' The Eagle of Imagination occupies the third chamber where the acid bath removes copper which has not been protected by waxed applications. This is the stage which is not controlled by the artist but by the action of the acid which acts as the agent of the imagination. The furnaces of Los are forever engaged in this process of removing what can and must be discarded.
 
'melting the metals into living fluids' In the fourth chamber the inks are prepared using fire and fluids. They are applied to the surfaces which stand elevated as mountains above the valleys of etched copper.
 
'cast the metals into the expanse' All that went before this step was preparation, The fifth chamber sees the inked plates meet the expanse of paper which are ready to receive them and prove that the process has brought forth the product of imagination first conceived.
 
'took the forms of books' In the sixth chamber the artists prepare to release their 'children' to go into the world. What had been internal has become external, what had been eternal has become temporal, what had been a seed has come to fruition. The cocoon has released the butterfly.
 
'This is all for the purpose of transmitting knowledge from generation to generation.' In this our world of generation this is the method through which Blake can transmit his knowledge to the generations which come after. But unless the printed pages open the minds of men to the 'perception of the infinite', we remain in the first chamber amidst our clutter.

Milton, Plate 28 (30), (E 126)
"But others of the Sons of Los build Moments & Minutes & Hours
And Days & Months & Years & Ages & Periods; wondrous buildings
And every Moment has a Couch of gold for soft repose,
(A Moment equals a pulsation of the artery)    ,
And between every two Moments stands a Daughter of Beulah
To feed the Sleepers on their Couches with maternal care.
And every Minute has an azure Tent with silken Veils.
And every Hour has a bright golden Gate carved with skill.
And every Day & Night, has Walls of brass & Gates of adamant,
Shining like precious stones & ornamented with appropriate signs:

And every Month, a silver paved Terrace builded high:
And every Year, invulnerable Barriers with high Towers.
And every Age is Moated deep with Bridges of silver & gold.
And every Seven Ages is Incircled with a Flaming Fire.
Now Seven Ages is amounting to Two Hundred Years
Each has its Guard. each Moment Minute Hour Day Month & Year.
All are the work of Fairy hands of the Four Elements    
The Guard are Angels of Providence on duty evermore
Every Time less than a pulsation of the artery
Is equal in its period & value to Six Thousand Years.
PLATE 29 [31]
For in this Period the Poets Work is Done: and all the Great
Events of Time start forth & are concievd in such a Period
Within a Moment: a Pulsation of the Artery." 
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Saturday, July 6, 2019

MILTON & QUAKERS

Reposted from March 2012.
 
The Quaker movement began during the English Civil Wars. Milton was a young man when George Fox began preaching his message of radical dissent from established religion. Milton became an official of the Commonwealth and the Cromwell government which offered hope for religious freedom but were not able to deliver it. When the monarchy was restored and Milton returned to his quiet life of scholarship he developed an association with Quakers. Although this was a period of Quaker persecution under acts of Parliament which prohibited their meeting and preaching, Milton had friends among the Quakers.

Milton's doctor was a friend of the Quaker Isaac Pennington, who was acquainted with a young Quaker who wanted to study Latin. Pennington arranged with Dr Paget for Thomas Ellwood to read in Latin to the blind Milton. Although Ellwood had some knowledge of Latin, he first received instruction on pronunciation since he was unaware of proper Latin pronunciation. Milton discerned when Ellwood needed help with understanding what he was reading and gave him assistance. A trusting relationship developed as evidenced by Ellwood arranging for a place in a Quaker community for Milton and his family to live when the plague made it unsafe for them to stay in London.


British Museum
John Milton & Thomas Ellwood
Sketch by James Barry, a friend of William Blake

Ellwood continued to be a welcome visitor to Milton's home after the Latin lessons had ceased. On a visit to Milton's home in 1665 Ellwood was shown a manuscript of Paradise Lost which he was allowed to take home and read. When he returned the manuscript to Milton, after some discussion, he inquired of Milton what he may have to say about 'Paradise Found'. From this conversation, Milton later told Ellwood, came the sequel to Paradise Lost: Paradise Regained.

Ellwood was entrusted with a portion of the papers of Milton at his death. Miltons republican-letters : or a collection of such as were written by command of the late Commonwealth of England from the year 1648 to the year 1659 was published in 1682. The book includes this statement: 'originally writ by the learned John Milton, secretary to those times ; and now translated into English by a wel-wisher of England's honour'.

As a tribute to his teacher and friend, Ellwood wrote an epitaph which can be read at this site. Ellwood however turned his interest away from Milton to the publication, in 1694, of George Fox's Journal. The task of editing Fox's Journal rested partly on Milton's encouragement and careful training of Ellwood when he was embarking on a serious path of learning.

From The History of Thomas Ellwood Written by Himself:
'He, on the other hand, perceiving with what earnest desire
I pursued learning, gave me not only all the encouragement but all
the help he could; for, having a curious ear, he understood by my
tone when I understood what I read and when I did not; and
accordingly would stop me, examine me, and open the most difficult
passages to me.'

Blake was of the opinion that we are all capable of performing miracles because astonishing and comforting things are performed, not by us, but through us. Perhaps Milton, Ellwood and Fox could each see his work as miracle.

Annotations to Watson, (E 616)
"Jesus could not do miracles where unbelief hinderd hence we
must conclude that the man who holds miracles to be ceased puts
it out of his own power to ever witness one The manner of a
miracle being performd is in modern times considerd as an
arbitrary command of the
agent upon the patient but this is an impossibility not a miracle
neither did Jesus ever do such a miracle. Is it a greater
miracle to feed five thousand men with five loaves than to
overthrow all the armies of Europe with a small pamphlet
.
look over the events of your own life & if you do not find that
you have both done such miracles & lived by such you do not see
as I do True I cannot do a miracle thro experiment & to
domineer over & prove to others my superior power as neither
could Christ But I can & do work such as both astonish &
comfort me & mine
"

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

SPENSER

The Characters in Spencer's Faerie Queene
Fine Arts Prints

When in about 1825 Blake painted a large picture illustrating the Characters of Spenser's Faerie Queene, he included the minute detail which Spencer has lavished upon his poem. As usual when Blake illustrated his predecessors he was commenting on aspects of their thought with which he agreed and on what he found to be in error. Spenser was one of the authors whose work Blake found contained vision even though as an allegory it failed to represent what Exists in Eternity. 

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 554)
"The Last Judgment is not Fable or Allegory
but Vision Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct & inferiorkind of Poetry.
Vision or Imagination is a Representation of

what Eternally Exists.  Really & Unchangeably.  Fable or Allegory
is Formd by the Daughters of Memory.  Imagination is Surrounded
by the daughters of Inspiration who in the aggregate are calld
Jerusalem     Fable is Allegory but what Critics call The
Fable is Vision itself   The Hebrew Bible & the Gospel of
Jesus are not Allegory but Eternal Vision or Imagination of All
that Exists  Note here that Fable or Allegory is Seldom without
some Vision   Pilgrims Progress is full of it the Greek Poets the
same but 
Allegory & Vision& Visions of Imagination ought
to be known as Two Distinct Things & so calld for the Sake of
Eternal Life"  
The Blake Archive has published an article on Blake's The Characters in Spenser’s Faerie Queene. The authors John E. Grant Robert E. Brown have made a detailed analysis of the individuals in the picture which were included in the Faerie Queene. Blake included numerous Spencer characters, many of whom are not clearly visible. As Blake did in his illustration of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, he portrayed the essential identity of each individual as the author delineated them. Grant and Brown use Blake's illustration to make it possible to grasp a sense of Spenser's allegory through seeing men and women interacting with one another.

Here is a sample from the The Faerie Queene: Book I, Canto I provided by the Poetry Foundation 
By Edmund Spenser 
lv
Long after lay he musing at her mood,
Much griev'd to think that gentle Dame so light,
For whose defence he was to shed his blood.
At last dull wearinesse of former fight
Having yrockt a sleepe his irkesome spright,
That troublous dreame gan freshly tosse his braine,
With bowres, and beds, and Ladies deare delight:
But when he saw his labour all was vaine,
With that misformed spright he backe returnd againe.  

The Gutenberg Press published Book 1 of The Faerie Queene edited and introduced by George Armstrong Wauchope. He provides thorough introductory information on the setting, form and content of the work.

Wauchope writes:
"That the allegory of the poem is closely connected with its aim and ethical tendency is evident from the statement of the author that "the generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline. Which for that I conceived should be most plausible and pleasing, being coloured with an historical fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for varietie of matter then for profite of the ensample." The Faerie Queene is, therefore, according to the avowed purpose of its author, a poem of culture. Though it is one of the most highly artistic works in the language, it is at the same time one of the most didactic. 'It professes," says Mr. Church, "to be a veiled exposition of moral philosophy.'"

It easy to see how there would be much in Spenser's allegory which would not appeal to Blake's mythopoetic sensibilities.

Elizabeth Jane Darnill, in her thesis submitted to the University of Exeter, titled "Four-fold vision see": Allegory in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser and William Blake makes this statement which clarifies the relationship between imagination, seeing 'thru' the eye, and reading allegory for its visionary content:

"For Blake, the imagination is a continually lived experience, though he is fully aware of the extent to which readers fail to acknowledge and engage with their imaginations. Instead of seeing the “Infinite & Eternal,” readers often confine and limit their minds to the scope of the rational and sensible. A major theme within Blake’s verse, especially in Milton, The Four Zoas and Jerusalem, is the reawakening of the imagination, the awareness of alternative ways of viewing and interpreting. He sought to invite his readers to think and to see more deeply and profoundly. In this sense, the imagination working in partnership with allegory, guides and prompts a greater awareness of multiple levels of viewing. Just as Spenser’s allegorical work encourages readers to use their imagination, Blake’s imaginative verse inspires a deep interrogation of the text and the revelation of the allegorical meanings within it. Readers who see not 'with' but 'through' the eyes are using their minds – their imaginative faculties – when evaluating a scene, rather than relying purely upon the singular dimension of sight when reading the text (“Auguries of Innocence” ll. 125-26). Through allegorical-imaginative didacticism, Blake strives to convey the power of the human imagination."

Manchester City Gallery
Edmund Spenser
for William Hayley's Library

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

BLAKE & SENDAK

Wikimedia Commons
For the Children: Gates of Paradise
Plate 11

I was surprised to learn that Maurice Sendak, the author of numerous children's picture books, was influenced by William Blake. Sendak knew that he could not comprehend the poetry of William Blake but he loved it anyway. His mind did not function like Blake's mind but below the surface of consciousness they shared a common willingness to explore the dark unknown which lay beneath.They both knew that the mind of the child was foundational to penetrating the subconscious which was key to understanding the way that the conscious mind organizes and expresses itself. It is more than coincidental that Sendak's companion of fifty years was the psychiatrist, Eugene Glynn.

Sendak's final book, My Brothers Book, was a tribute to his brother Jack who had died eighteen years previously. Several of the pictures in it are echos of Blake images including this one from the book Milton using a pose in which Blake portrayed himself and his deceased brother Robert in mirror images. Another illustration is reminiscent of the final image of The Four Zoas.

Sendak acknowledged that his work was not specifically directed toward children. He produced books that came from his imagination and they fell into the hands of those who could respond to them. Children responded enthusiastically making Where the Wild Things Are, beloved, although parents may have been unsettled.

Sendak's use of nudity in his illustrations, such as those for In The Night Kitchen, may have owed something to his appreciation of Blake's freedom to draw the human body without obscuring its outlines with garments. Sendak, like Blake, was an iconoclast: he refused to abide within the narrow restraints dictated by the majority culture.    

Songs of Innocence, Introduction, (E 7)
"Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child.
And he laughing said to me.

Pipe a song about a Lamb;    
So I piped with merry chear,
Piper pipe that song again--
So I piped, he wept to hear.

Drop thy pipe thy happy pipe
Sing thy songs of happy chear,        
So I sung the same again
While he wept with joy to hear

Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read--
So he vanish'd from my sight.
And I pluck'd a hollow reed.

And I made a rural pen,
And I stain'd the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear"  
 
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