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

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Repost from December 2009

Blake in his characteristic way, sees the birth of Christ as part of a larger picture. The Bible, John Milton, the history of religion, cosmology, and his own myth; each play a role in Blake's response to Jesus' birthday.

"On the Morning of Christ's Nativity"
The Blake Archive provides this in its introduction to "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity:"

"Blake's interest in the 'Nativity Ode' began some years before his execution of these water colors. His illuminated book, Europe a Prophecy (1794), clearly shows the influence of Milton's ode. By 1809, Blake may have taken a renewed interest in the poem because of his increasingly Christocentric theological views. His harsh criticism of classical civilization resonates with two of the 'Nativity' designs, 'The Old Dragon' and 'The Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods' (objects 3 and 4). Modern critics have been hard pressed to find Blake dissenting from Milton's own iconography and perspectives in the ode."

Milton, Nativity Ode

Europe a Prohecy (E61,2.12):

"Ah! I am drown'd in shady woe, and visionary joy.

And who shall bind the infinite with an eternal band?
To compass it with swaddling bands? and who shall cherish it
With milk and honey?                                    
I see it smile & I roll inward & my voice is past.

She ceast & rolld her shady clouds
Into the secret place.

           A PROPHECY

The deep of winter came;                           
What time the secret child,
Descended thro' the orient gates of the eternal day:
War ceas'd, & all the troops like shadows fled to their abodes."

Friday, December 30, 2011


Repost from December 2010

In December 2009 I posted four time on the nativity using Blake's illustrations to Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity. The fifth illustration of the series "The Flight of Molock" faithfully presents these lines from Milton's ode:

And sullen Moloch fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning Idol all of blackest hue;
In vain with Cymbals' ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue,Moloch, the second of Blake's Seven Eyes of God, called the executioner, required child sacrifice. Blake presents the theme of sacrificing children by showing the infant Jesus emerging from a 'fiery furnace.' Daniel tells of three men who emerged from such a furnace unscathed having met in the furnace a fourth who appeared as the 'Son of God.'

On plate 31 (E 177) of Jerusalem Blake tells us that:

"And the appearance of a Man was seen in the Furnaces;
Saving those who have sinned from the punishment of the Law,
(In pity of the punisher whose state is eternal death,)
And keeping them from Sin by the mild counsels of his love."

Two women (cf.1st Kings 3:16ff) are touching the child emerging from the furnace. One appears to be Jerusalem, the other Vala or Rahab. Both turn away from the child as they reach out to touch him. In The Mental Traveller we read of a babe whom none could touch:

The Mental Traveller, (E 484)
"Till from the fire on the hearth
A little Female Babe does spring

And she is all of solid fire
And gems & gold that none his hand
Dares stretch to touch her Baby form
Or wrap her in his swaddling-band"

Blake and Milton have supplemented the picture of the child who was laid in the manger as provided by Luke.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Chorus of Angels

Since the first image we form of ourselves is that of a body, we may formulate the idea that at some point the spirit enters the body and begins to express itself through the body. But as Blake explains here, it is the bodies which are made for the spirits which pre-exist.

As Albion represents the Universal Man, Jerusalem represents the Universal Woman: the 'vast family wondrous in beauty and love.' Albion is fourfold, Jerusalem is unified: the expression of the Divine Vision within the Universal Man.

In this passage, Blake presents the idea that redemption begins when 'the Lamb of God' becomes visible within the Unified Spiritual Body which is Jerusalem. The song of the angels, sung when the birth of Jesus was announced to the shepherds, is echoed in Blake's verses at this point.

2:8-12 - "There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendour of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David's town, a Saviour has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.'
2:13-14 - And in a flash there appeared with the angel a vast host of the armies of Heaven, praising God, saying, 'Glory to God in the highest Heaven! Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!'"

Four Zoas: Night the Eighth, Page 103 (E376):

"Enitharmon wove in tears Singing Songs of Lamentations
And pitying comfort as she sighd forth on the wind the spectres
And wove them bodies calling them her belovd sons and daughters

Employing the daughters in her looms & Los employd the Sons
In Golgonoozas Furnaces among the Anvils of time & space
Thus forming a Vast family wondrous in beauty & love
And they appeard a Universal female form created
From those who were dead in Ulro from the Spectres of the dead

And Enitharmon namd the Female Jerusa[le]m the holy
she saw the Lamb of God within Jerusalems Veil
The divine Vision seen within the inmost deep recess
Of fair Jerusalems bosom in a gently beaming fire

Then sang the Sons of Eden round the Lamb of God & said
Glory Glory Glory to the holy Lamb of God
Who now beginneth to put off the dark Satanic body

Now we behold redemption Now we know that life Eternal
Depends alone upon the Universal hand & not in us

2:25-32 - "In Jerusalem was a man by the name of Simeon. He was an upright man, devoted to the service of God, living in expectation of the 'salvation of Israel'. His heart was open to the Holy Spirit, and it had been revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the Lord's Christ. He had been led by the Spirit to go into the Temple, and when Jesus' parents brought the child in to have done to him what the Law required, he took him up in his arms, blessed God, and said - 'At last, Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace, as you promised! For with my own eyes I have seen your salvation which you have made ready for every people - a light to show truth to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.'"

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Repost from December 2009

Returning to "The Morning of Christ's Nativity" by John Milton, for which Blake made two sets of five watercolor illustrations, there is a lot more to observe. Blake's pictures like Milton's poetry did not focus only on the supplanting of Apollo and heathen gods. The first and last pictures, like the beginning and ending of Milton's poetry present a more conventional portrait of the birth of the child based on accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Here is Blake's first illustration for On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.

Blake of course, added distinctive features to his illustrations. In her book Blake's Vision of the Poetry of Milton, Bette Charlene Werner, on page 119 and following, points out some things that speak of Blake's own philosophy. Quoting from her book:

> "With the angelic figure of Peace and the recumbent form of Nature the artist suggests the union of heaven and earth in the Word made flesh.
> the Huntington version of the design emphasizes the divinity, not only of Christ, but also by implication of man.
> The Child is pictured springing forth in unfettered freedom. The figure suggests at once the "Heav'n-born-childe" of Milton's ode and the preexistent soul whose material birth Blake describes in "Infant Sorrow" (E27, SoE48):
"My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I lept."
The Blessed Infant, ablaze with the radiance of spiritual existence, is the light that puts the inferior flame of the sun to shame.
> According to Blake "everything that lives is holy for the source of life / Descends to be a weeping babe." (E323) That understanding may explain his portrayal of Nature here, not as one whose ugliness requires a covering, but as a figure whose naked beauty is still apparent beneath the translucent covering of snow. The veiled form of Nature in this illustration is, like the Vala of Blake's own mythology, an embodiment of the vale of tears and the veil of materiality.
> Like Milton, Blake sees in the Incarnation not only the humility of Christ, emptying himself of his Godhead, but the glorification of man. He identifies Jesus, the Divine Humanity, with Imagination and insists: "Man is All Imagination God is Man & exists in us & we in him." (E664) This understanding makes the Nativity not only the fulfillment of God's becoming man, but a promise of salvation through the spiritual union of all men in in the One Man who is Jesus, the Savior."
End of Quotes

Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity


Thursday, December 22, 2011


Repost from December 2009

Generation to Blake was a gift from God to prevent the part of eternity that separated from the whole, from falling into nonentity. Each birth is a reenactment of that mercy which gives a new opportunity for a return to the wholeness of eternity.

The entry into the physical world of the immortal spirit, is what the images of nativity attempt to portray. Incorporation of the spiritual in the physical is a movement that sets off a process of evolving awareness of incarnation: the unity of body and spirit.

In Blake's words, the Nativity is concerned with the 'mortal birth.' Blake's primary interest was in the birth to immortality. Blake added TO TIRZAH to Songs of Experience in later copies of songs as his affirmation of the raising of the spiritual body. But just as 'generation is the image of regeneration', birth is the image of rebirth, and the child is the image of the new man.

Here is a passage from Jung in which consciousness itself is the child which is born daily, or moment by moment out of the inner depths.

"Consciousness does not create itself-it wells up from unknown depths. In childhood it awakens gradually, and all through life it wakes each morning out of the depths of sleep from an unconscious condition. It is like a child that is born daily out of the primordial womb of the unconscious. . . . It is not only influenced by the unconscious but continually emerges out of it in the form of numberless spontaneous ideas and sudden flashes of thought." ["The Psychology of Eastern Meditation," CW 11, par. 935.]

The consciousness that Blake tried to convey was that of being a part of the one body; and being open to a direct connection to the world which is unseen but always present: Eternity.

Songs of Innocence and Experience, Song 52 (E30)


"Whate'er is Born of Mortal Birth,
Must be consumed with the Earth
To rise from Generation free;
Then what have I to do with thee?

The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride
Blow'd in the morn: in evening died
But Mercy changd Death into Sleep;
The Sexes rose to work & weep.

Thou Mother of my Mortal part.
With cruelty didst mould my Heart.
And with false self-decieving tears,
Didst bind my Nostrils Eyes & Ears.

Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay
And me to Mortal Life betray:
The Death of Jesus set me free,
Then what have I to do with thee?"

[text on illustration: It is Raised a Spiritual Body]

Jerusalem, Plate 7 (E149)

"And the Religion of Generation which was meant for the
Of Jerusalem, become her covering, till the time of the End.
O holy Generation! [Image] of regeneration!
O point of mutual forgiveness between Enemies!
Birthplace of the Lamb of God incomprehensible!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


John Milton's poem Ode On the Morning of Christ's Nativity was illustrated twice by Blake: once in 1809 for Rev Thomas and once in 1815 for Thomas Butts. The third plate in the series, the old dragon, shows marked variation between the two series. Two of the passages in Milton's poem which are illustrated by Blake's pictures are from Book XVII and XVIII:
"With such a horrid clang
As on mount Sinai rang
While the red fire, and smouldring clouds out brake:
The aged Earth agast [ 160 ]
With terrour of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the center shake,
When at the worlds last session,
The dreadfull Judge in middle Air shall spread his throne."

"And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
Th' old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And wrath to see his Kingdom fail,
Swindges the scaly Horrour of his foulded tail."

In the picture for Butts, Blake seems to have used motifs from his own mythology to illustrate the underground dragon of Milton. The seven headed man holding the scepter and the sword is more clearly the seven Eyes of God through which humanity passes in the progression through history. Satan is portrayed in a transitional form between man and serpent. Going clockwise in the underground group (excluding Satan), upper left appears Enion/Tharmas, Urizen/Ahania follows, then Luvah/Vala, lower left would be Urthona/Los/Enitharmon. The transition from the underground serpent to the stars overhead is apparent.

The dominant theme of the picture is the contrast between the scene of peace and promise portrayed in the nativity scene above and the disorder and struggle represented by the characters underground.

As Milton says: "And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins"

The Thomas picture is also available in Wikimedia. For the most detail of both pictures visit the Blake Archive

Saturday, December 17, 2011


John 1
[14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Milton, Plate 21 [23], (E 115)
"There is in Eden a sweet River, of milk & liquid pearl,
Namd Ololon; on whose mild banks dwelt those who Milton drove
Down into Ulro: and they wept in long resounding song
For seven days of eternity, and the rivers living banks
The mountains wailld! & every plant that grew, in solemn sighs lamented.

When Luvahs bulls each morning drag the sulphur Sun out of the Deep
Harnessd with starry harness black & shining kept by black slaves
That work all night at the starry harness. Strong and vigorous
They drag the unwilling Orb: at this time all the Family
Of Eden heard the lamentation, and Providence began.
But when the clarions of day sounded they drownd the lamentations

And when night came all was silent in Ololon: & all refusd to lament
In the still night fearing lest they should others molest.

Seven mornings Los heard them, as the poor bird within the shell
Hears its impatient parent bird; and Enitharmon heard them:
But saw them not, for the blue Mundane Shell inclosd them in.

And they lamented that they had in wrath & fury & fire
Driven Milton into the Ulro; for now they knew too late
That it was Milton the Awakener: they had not heard the Bard,
Whose song calld Milton to the attempt; and Los heard these laments.
He heard them call in prayer all the Divine Family;
And he beheld the Cloud of Milton stretching over Europe.

But all the Family Divine collected as Four Suns
In the Four Points of heaven East, West & North & South
Enlarging and enlarging till their Disks approachd each other;
And when they touch'd closed together Southward in One Sun
Over Ololon: and as One Man, who weeps over his brother,
In a dark tomb, so all the Family Divine. wept over Ololon.

Saying, Milton goes to Eternal Death! so saying, they groan'd in spirit
And were troubled! and again the Divine Family groaned in spirit!

And Ololon said, Let us descend also, and let us give
Ourselves to death in Ulro among the Transgressors.
Is Virtue a Punisher? O no! how is this wondrous thing?
This World beneath, unseen before: this refuge from the wars
Of Great Eternity! unnatural refuge! unknown by us till now!
Or are these the pangs of repentance? let us enter into them"

Milton, Plate 43 [50]
New York Public Library
'To go forth to the Great Harvest'

Thursday, December 15, 2011


The Deity from Whom Proceed the Nine Spheres

Illustration 100 for Dante's Divine Comedy
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK

William Blake: poet and mystic, Pierre Berger

"It is to the world of the invisible that we now find ourselves transported, a world which existed before our material world, and which will exist always; the only one whose existence is real, though we are not aware of it, seeing only its shadow projected in time and space, and taking that shadow for substance. This world is organized like ours : it has its circles, its cosmography, its hierarchy of powers. Blake could have given an exact description of it, as the visionaries and the Gnostics did of theirs. Perhaps he did so. But in what remains of the Prophetical Books, we find only fragments of description, ' Here a little and there a little.' It is only by joining the fragments, by comparing them, by interpreting or by explaining some through others, that any definite idea of his conception of this universe and its inhabitants is reached. Even then, the description is not complete. There are many blanks to be filled, many contradictions and doubtful interpretations."

Four Zoas, Night II, (E 323)
"Night passd & Enitharmon eer the dawn returnd in bliss
She sang Oer Los reviving him to Life his groans were terrible
But thus she sang. I sieze the sphery harp I strike the strings

At the first Sound the Golden sun arises from the Deep
And shakes his awful hair
The Eccho wakes the moon to unbind her silver locks
The golden sun bears on my song
And nine bright spheres of harmony rise round the fiery King

The joy of woman is the Death of her most best beloved
Who dies for Love of her
In torments of fierce jealousy & pangs of adoration.
The Lovers night bears on my song
And the nine Spheres rejoice beneath my powerful controll

They sing unceasing to the notes of my immortal hand
The solemn silent moon
Reverberates the living harmony upon my limbs
The birds & beasts rejoice & play
And every one seeks for his mate to prove his inmost joy

Furious & terrible they sport & rend the nether deeps
The deep lifts up his rugged head
And lost in infinite hum[m]ing wings vanishes with a cry
The fading cry is ever dying
The living voice is ever living in its inmost joy

Arise you little glancing wings & sing your infant joy
Arise & drink your bliss
For every thing that lives is holy for the source of life
Descends to be a weeping babe"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Blake's familiar hymn from plate 1 of Milton uses the symbol of Jerusalem to represent the ideal spiritual condition, and England to represent the fallen, material condition.

Milton, Plate 1, (E 95)
"And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land."

In Galatians Paul uses the symbols of Abraham's two sons to represent the same dichotomy of spirit and flesh: one by a freewoman and one by a bondwoman. Paul presents this as allegory of the two covenants; the one of bondage the other of freedom. He calls the condition of freedom Jerusalem but specifies that he speaks of the Jerusalem which is above: the mother of all.

The same desire that Blake has for building Jerusalem in England is expressed as Paul's desire that Christ be formed in those he addresses as little children. Paul calls the children of the freewoman the children of promise.

Galations 4
[ 19] My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
[20] I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
[21] Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
[22] For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
[23] But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
[24] Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
[25] For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
[26] But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
[27] For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
[28] Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
[29] But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
[30] Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
[31] So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

Blake on plate 77 of Jerusalem seems to have written a continuation of the poem in Milton. In it Blake has Jerusalem call to her sister England to awake. He again recalls the ancient time of joy and love which can return if the Lamb of God but be received.

Jerusalem, PLATE 77, (E 231)
"England! awake! awake! awake!
Jerusalem thy Sister calls!
Why wilt thou sleep the sleep of death?
And close her from thy ancient walls.

Thy hills & valleys felt her feet,
Gently upon their bosoms move:
Thy gates beheld sweet Zions ways;
Then was a time of joy and love.

And now the time returns again:
Our souls exult & Londons towers,
Recieve the Lamb of God to dwell
In Englands green & pleasant bowers.

Image from Blake's illustrations for Milton's Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity
Painted for Thomas Butts in 1815

Sunday, December 11, 2011


The engraved copper plates for Blake's illuminated books have all been lost except for a small scrap of one plate. However the plates from which he printed the Illustrations to the Book of Job are preserved in the British Museum. John Linnell who initiated the project of having Blake engrave his illustrations to Job, was Blake's partner in printing and publishing the 22 plates of the book.

When Blake engraved Job, he was 66 years old and his health was failing, but he produced what many consider his masterpiece. The weakening of his body did not seem to affect the acuity of his eye, the steadiness of his hand or the concentration of his mind; all of which were required for such precise and sustained work.

The plates were given to the British Museum
in 1919 by H. Linnell, a presumed descendant of John Linnell.

These two images from the British Museum show the engraved plate and the printed image of picture seven of the series.



The inscriptions on the plate are from this passage in Job.

Job 2
[7] So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.
[8] And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.
[9] Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
[10] But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
[11] Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.
[12] And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.
[13] So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.

Edinger (Encounter with the Self, A Jungian Commentary on William Blake's Illustrations to the Book of Job) sees the three friends or comforters as repressed aspects of Job's psyche which
surface with the breakdown of the ego. Blake's images in the border suggest the grief of Job at the upper corners, and the failure of the guardian shepherds to keep watch in the lower corners.

This website allows one conveniently to view all the illustrations for Job.

Friday, December 9, 2011


In 1818 the 61 year old William Blake met the 26 year old John Linnell through the son of his friend George Cumberland. The two became friends and collaborators in artistic pursuits. Linnell was important in making the final decade of Blake's life pleasant and productive.

In 1821 Linnell painted a miniature portrait of Blake in watercolor on ivory which is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The Notes from an
Exhibition at the Fitzwilliam in 2001 include as quote from John Linnell’s Autobiographical Notes, (f.57-58)

This image from the portrait extracted from William Blake, his life, character and genius (1893) Story, Alfred Thomas and is available from wikimedia.

Miniature in watercolor on ivory as seen at the Fitzwilliam.

Linnell on Blake

“I soon encountered Blake’s peculiarities and [was] somewhat taken aback by the boldness of some of his assertions. I never saw anything the least like madness, for I never opposed him spitefully, as many did - but being really anxious to fathom, if possible, the amount of truth which might be in his most startling assertions, I generally met with a sufficiently rational explanation in the most really friendly and conciliatory tone. Even when John Varley, to whom I introduced to Blake, and who readily devoured all the marvellous in Blake’s most extravagant utterances - even to Varley, Blake would occasionally explain unasked how he believed that both Varley and I could see the same visions as he saw - making it evident to me, that Blake claimed the possession of some powers, only in a greater degree, that all men possessed, and which they undervalued in themselves but lost through love of sordid pursuits - pride, vanity, and the unrighteous mammon” John Linnell’s Autobiographical notes, f.57-58

This letter from Blake to Linnell's wife shows something of the camaraderie and playfulness which existed among the friends.

Letters, (E 774)
To Mrs Linnell, Collinss Farm North End, Hampstead

Tuesday 11 October 1825
Dear Madam
I have had the Pleasure to see Mr Linnell set off safe in a
very comfortable Coach. & I may say I accompanied him part of the
way on his journey in the Coach for we both got in together &
with another Passenger enterd into Conversation when at length we
found that we were all three proceeding on our Journey. but as I
had not paid & did not wish to pay for or take so long a Ride.
we with some difficulty made the Coachman understand that one of
his Passengers was unwilling to Go. when he obligingly permitted
me to get out to my great joy. hence I am now enabled to tell you
that I hope to see you on Sunday morning as usual which I could
not have done if they had taken me to Gloucester
I am D.r Madam yours Sincerely

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Blake originally used this image as the frontispiece of Europe a Prophecy. However he reused the copper plate to make additional prints which are known by the title 'Ancient of Days'. Two passages which appear to be sources for the image are from the Bible and from Paradise Lost.

Europe a Prophecy
New York Public Library

S. Foster Damon, in A Blake Dictionary gives this description of the process of creation as Blake understood it:
"Creation is not the beginning of existence, for all things are eternal: it is a consequence of the fall toward 'Eternal Death' (separation from Eternity)...
The process of Creation is one of dividing up the original Unity. Beginning with the separation of light from darkness, it proceeds through the six Days of Creation, culminating in the separation of man from God. After that the sexes are divided in the creation of Eve; Good and Evil, in the eating of the fruit; man and happiness in the expulsion from the Garden; soul and body, in the first murder; man from his brother in the confusion of tongues at Babel." (Page 94)

This print in the
Whitworth Gallery, University of Manchester, is thought to be the last print of this image made by Blake

Proverbs 8
[22] The LORD possessed me [Wisdom] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
[23] I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
[24] When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
[25] Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
[26] While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
[27] When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 7
"and in his hand
He took the golden Compasses, prepar'd
In Gods Eternal store, to circumscribe
This Universe, and all created things:
One foot he center'd, and the other turn'd
Round through the vast profunditie obscure,
And said, thus farr extend, thus farr thy bounds,
This be thy just Circumference, O World.
Thus God the Heav'n created, thus the Earth,"

Auguries of Innocence, (E 495)
"Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day"

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Deuteronomy 32
[48] And the LORD spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying,
[49] Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, that is over against Jericho; and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession:
[50] And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
[51] Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.
[52] Yet thou shalt see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither unto the land which I give the children of Israel.

Representing a stage in the psychic/spiritual development of mankind, Moses gains dominance and then fades as he is replaced by the next stage. The death of Moses represents a transition in psychic/spiritual development. Moses brought release from bondage to Druiadic thought, he introduced a covenant with God based on a code of conduct, he brought his people to the verge of the Promised Land. The land of Promise, however, turned out to be not Eden (the realization of Eternity) but Canaan (a degraded materialism.)

[9] Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil
he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a
railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

Michael and Satan struggled not over Moses but over the body of Moses. The body of work which remained from the life of Moses became the material from which further prophecy would evolve. Michael would direct Moses' work toward the realization which would take place through Jesus; Satan would direct his work toward another bondage of struggle for religious repression, political dominance, and isolation from individual consciousness of the God within.

The struggle between wrath and pity was not resolved in Moses or through Moses. Blake used the Bard's Song in Milton to exemplify the struggle between wrath and pity which remained to be solved by prophetic vision. The soul of man was/is divided by pity (which tolerates weakness) thereby being incompatible with wrath (which is moved to destroy failure.) The contraries take many forms. The work in Los' furnaces is the repeated resolution of the dichotomies as they appear in multiple forms as an individual travels through states or as societies travel through the Eyes of God.

Blake means for us to get an impression of struggle between Michael and Satan in this passage from the Bard's Song in Milton. Various qualities and behaviors appear in each character but nevertheless we can see wrath and pity contending, being split apart and being sent back to fight another round.

Milton, Plate 8, (E 102)
"They Plow'd in tears! incessant pourd Jehovahs rain, & Molechs
Thick fires contending with the rain, thunder'd above rolling
Terrible over their heads; Satan wept over Palamabron
Theotormon & Bromion contended on the side of Satan
Pitying his youth and beauty; trembling at eternal death:
Michael contended against Satan in the rolling thunder
Thulloh the friend of Satan also reprovd him; faint their

But Rintrah who is of the reprobate: of those form'd to destruction
In indignation. for Satans soft dissimulation of friendship!
Flam'd above all the plowed furrows, angry red and furious,
Till Michael sat down in the furrow weary dissolv'd in tears
Satan who drave the team beside him, stood angry & red
He smote Thulloh & slew him, & he stood terrible over Michael
Urging him to arise: he wept! Enitharmon saw his tears
But Los hid Thulloh from her sight, lest she should die of grief
She wept: she trembled! she kissed Satan; she wept over Michael
She form'd a Space for Satan & Michael & for the poor infected[.]
Trembling she wept over the Space, & clos'd it with a tender Moon

Los secret buried Thulloh, weeping disconsolate over the moony Space"

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
The Devil Rebuked (The Burial of Moses) 
c. 1805
Complete text of Plate 8 of Milton from the Blake Archive.

Image in the Blake Archive (click to enlarge for detail)

Here is more on the difficult transition to higher consciousness represented by the struggle between Michael and Satan from Fearful Symmetry by Northrop Frye:
Page 366
"Canaan, therefore, is Egypt all over again, and the crossing of the Jordan is entry into Egypt or Ulro, the mundane shell or cave of the mind. The Jordan is in the Bible more or less what the Styx or Lethe is in Classical Mythology. The fact that Moses never entered Canaan thus has a twofold significance. His death outside the Promised Land means that what he represents, the spirit of the Hebrew law or vision of Jehovah, was not good enough; but his death outside of the fallen Canaan means that he was redeemed and not rejected by Jesus, which is why he appears with Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration."
Page 391
"The Biblical symbolism in which the crisis of vision is presented centers on the figure of Moses. Moses is the Hebrew historical cycle which began as Orc in Egypt, attained its vision of Jehovah, and ran its natural course. When Moses comes within sight of the Promised Land he represents Hebrew culture at a crisis corresponding to that of Deism. This is later referred to as a dispute between Michael, the guardian angel of Israel, and Satan over Moses' body. Satan was trying to drag him into the fallen Canaan; Michael was trying to take him to the real Promised Land, the Eden where Elijah, according to the old tradition, also awaits the apocalypse. Both sides won, and separated Hebrew civilization into the literal law of the Pharisees and the letter of the law spiritualized by Jesus."

Blake characterized the periods through man travels in his evolution as the Eyes of God.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Moses Indignant at the Golden Calf
circa 1799-1800

Tate Collection
Blake Archive
Exodus 32

[1] And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

15] And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.
[16] And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.

[19] And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
[20] And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the
water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

[26] Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
[27] And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.
[28] And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

Blake understood that the stage of psychological development of the time of Moses was earlier than is ours. The emphasis on assimilating a code of moral behavior is representative of the stage of developing a superego in the order of psychic evolution. Moses represented the period of cultural development when external and internal controls on the impulsive behaviors of the id had not yet been firmly established. The expressions of wrath by God and those acting for God, which were acceptable at the time of the Exodus, appear abhorrent to the mentality of Jesus.

The vision that men have of God reflects their own consciousness. Blake's fascination with the accounts of events in the Old Testament resulted from the insight into the evolution of awareness of the cosmic relationship of God and man which they provide.

Annotations to Watson, E 617
Watson 'every fact recorded in them may be true'
WB "Impossible for the facts are such as none but the actor
could tell, if it is True Moses & none but he could write it
unless we allow it to be Poetry & that poetry inspired
[P 16] If historical facts can be written by inspiration
Miltons Paradise Lost is as true as Genesis. or Exodus. but the
Evidence is nothing for how can he who writes what he has neither
seen nor heard of. be an Evidence of The Truth of his history
I cannot concieve the Divinity of the Bible
to consist either in who they were written by or at what time or
in the historical evidence which may be all false in the eyes of
one man & true in the eyes of another but in the Sentiments &
Examples which whether true or Parabolic are Equally useful as
Examples given to us of the perverseness of some & its consequent
evil & the honesty of others & its consequent good This sense of
the Bible is equally true to all & equally plain to all. none can
doubt the impression which he recieves from a book of Examples.
If he is good he will abhor wickedness in David or Abraham if he
is wicked he will make their wickedness an excuse for his & so he
would do by any other book"

From Fearful Symmetry, Northrup Frye:
Page 346
"Blake's poem [Milton] attempts to recreate the central vision of life, based on the Bible, which made Milton a great Christian poet...Blake is therefore, trying to do for Milton what the prophets and Jesus did for Moses: isolate what is poetic and imaginative, and annihilate what is legal and historical."

From Chapter Six of the Blake Primer, Larry Clayton:
"Although when we read without blinders, we can see their consciousness of God changing before our eyes. Note Abraham bargaining with God for the survival of his nephew in Sodom and Moses simply defying God if he refuses to forgive the worshippers of the golden calf. In the spirit of these two revealing passages Blake in his own recreation of the biblical story dramatically portrayed an evolving God consciousness, which the black book simply cannot permit. It was Blake's willingness to let the old die that made him notably ready for the new birth. The dark night of the soul had intensified until it became the Sickness unto Death."


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Blake has produced a powerful image of God communicating in the form of the tablets of the law, with man in the form of Moses. Moses is bowed in humility below the feet of God occupying a separate enclosed space where he is protected from the full impact of God's presence. The account of Moses receiving the law is repeated several times in the Bible with details which emphasize various aspects. The accounts may focus on the tablets of the law themselves, but just as important is the experience of Moses in encountering God through the images of fire, cloud, symbolic periods of time, thunderings, lightnings and the noise of the trumpet. Blake incorporates many of these symbols in his picture plus many faces of humans or angels surrounding the events.

Exodus 20
[18] And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
[19] And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
[20] And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
[21] And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
[22] And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
Exodus 24
[12] And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.
[13] And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.
[14] And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them.
[15] And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount.
[16] And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
[17] And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
[18] And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.
Exodus 32
[15] And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.
[16] And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
God Writing upon the Tables of the Covenant
National Galleries of Scotland

It is not the person Moses or the written law which Blake held in high regard, it is the fact that God works in and through men. Blake saw that Moses encountered God on the mountaintop and came away with an image of God which would further the psychological and spiritual development of man.

Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 23, (E 43)
"if Jesus Christ is the
greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now
hear how he has given his sanction to the law of ten
commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the
sabbaths God? murder those who were murderd because of him? turn
away the law from the woman taken in adultery? steal the labor of
others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted making
a defence before Pilate? covet when he pray'd for his disciples,
and when he bid them shake off the dust of their feet against
such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist
without breaking these ten commandments: Jesus was all virtue,
and acted from impulse: not from rules."

Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 556)
"beneath the falling figure of Cain is Moses casting his tables of
stone into the Deeps. it ought to be understood that the Persons
Moses & Abraham are not here meant but the States Signified by
those Names the Individuals being representatives or Visions of
those States as they were reveald to Mortal Man in the Series of
Divine Revelations. as they are written in the Bible these
various States I have seen in my Imagination when distant they
appear as One Man but as you approach they appear
Multitudes of Nations."

Jerusalem, Plate 73, (E 228)
"And all the Kings & Nobles of the Earth & all their Glories
These are Created by Rahab & Tirzah in Ulro: but around
These, to preserve them from Eternal Death Los Creates
Adam Noah Abraham Moses Samuel David Ezekiel
Dissipating the rocky forms of Death, by his thunderous Hammer
As the Pilgrim passes while the Country permanent remains
So Men pass on: but States remain permanent for ever"

Sunday, November 27, 2011


[13] And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:
[14] And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
[15] And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:
[16] And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.
Chapter 2
[1] And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
[2] And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.
[3] And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
[4] And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

The infant set afloat on the Nile or the Hiding of Moses in the Tate Collection is not available for publication but here is a link to it.

Blake's picture of the infant Moses set afloat on the Nile calls our attention first to the fact that the scene took place in Egypt, the land to which the Israelites voluntarily moved to escape famine in their homeland. When their benefactor was no longer in power they became slave labor for the Egyptians. To control increase in the Israelite population the Pharaoh ordered that the male infants be killed. In order to avoid having her son killed, Moses' mother hid him in a floating basket on the edge of the Nile. In this scene the mother is leaving the infant to an unknown fate. The child is rescued by a daughter of Pharaoh and grows up in an Egyptian household.

The anxiety of the mother and father is evident in the picture. Realistically, they feared that the child would not survive. However the fears of the parents were not realized. The role that Moses played in the history of his people is well known. He secured their release from slavery, led them through the wilderness, presented them with a covenant from God and received the commandments from God which were to define and shape the people of Israel.

Images which Blake created of the infant Jesus and his parents closely resemble Moses and his parents. Blake was emphasizing that the role of Jesus in the New Testament and of Moses in the Old Testament are parallel. Both had their lives threatened by the authorities as infants, both emerged from the land of Egypt to introduce new teachings to their people. Both offered freedom to enslaved people: those enslaved in Egypt, and those enslaved to the 'law of sin and death'.

Notice the similarity in this illustration to Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.
This tempera painting of the nativity which Blake produced for Thomas Butts is available on wikipedia. The original is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The culmination of the spiritual development which was traced through the events of the Old Testament and hinged on the character of Moses, came to fruition in Jesus. Blake in his characteristic way ties together disparate events: in this case through visual rather than verbal images.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Engraving of Hiding of Moses

Friday, November 25, 2011


All Religions Are One
Title Page

Blake produced about eight images from the life of Moses. They were not produced as a set; they are in various media and they are is multiple locations now. Several are not available for publication on the internet but all can be viewed through links.

The infant set afloat on the Nile
Tate Collection

Pharoah's daughter finding Moses

Victoria & Albert Museum

Moses encounters the burning bush
Victoria & Albert Museum

He receives commandments from God
National Galleries of Scotland

Moses and the tablets of the law
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Moses raging at the golden calf
Tate Collection

Moses producing water from the rock
Lutheran Church of America, Glen Foerd at Torresdale, Philadelphia
Scroll down for thumbnail image

He erects the brazen serpent
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Satan contends for body of Moses
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Image from Songs of Experience

Northrup Frye, in Fearful Symmetry, develops his own metaphor for reading Blake's poetry on Page 143.

"As far as the poetic effect of Blake's mythology goes, it cannot of course be denied that when a character is presented as an individual or a god and his relationship to an archetype is left to take care of itself, an advantage in vividness is often gained. Blake was, it is obvious, so conscious of the shape of his central myth that his characters become almost diagrammatic. The heroism of Orc or the ululuation of Ololon do not impress us as human realities, like Achillies or Cassandra, but as intellectual ideographs. It all depends on weather the reader has a taste for this kind of metaphysical poetry or not, on whether he is willing to read so uncompromising an address to the intellectual powers. It is not necessary to assume that qualities of poetry which are certainly not in Blake are qualities which Blake tried and failed to produce. One looks at a poet for what is there, and what is there in Blake is a dialectic, an anatomy of poetry, a rigorously unified vision of the essential forms of the creative mind, piercing through its features to its articulate bones. The figure is perhaps not one that he would have approved: his own is:

I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you in at Heavens gate,
Built in Jerusalems wall."
Jerusalem, Plate 77, (E 231)

It might be said that Blake that in these passages offered additional metaphors for reading his poetry.

Jerusalem, Plate 88, (E 246)
"When in Eternity Man converses with Man they enter
Into each others Bosom (which are Universes of delight)
In mutual interchange. and first their Emanations meet
Surrounded by their Children. if they embrace & comingle
The Human Four-fold Forms mingle also in thunders of Intellect"

Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 560)
" If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his
Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his
Contemplative Thought if he could Enter into Noahs Rainbow or
into his bosom or could make a Friend & Companion of one of these
Images of wonder which always intreats him to leave mortal things
as he must know then would he arise from his Grave then would he
meet the Lord in the Air & then he would be happy General
Knowledge is Remote Knowledge it is in Particulars that Wisdom
consists & Happiness too."

Monday, November 21, 2011


The only way I know to get any grasp of this picture is by reading George MacDonald's Lillith which you can do online at this site. MacDonald takes one into a cavern where the dead sleep until they are healed and awake to the reality Blake calls Eternity. Like Blake, MacDonald was interested in revealing the world which is real and spiritual to those who perceive only the false and material. Both men created myths which reveal truth which cannot be contained in the forms of logic and rationality.

Descent into Death
British Museum

In the image which appears as the frontispiece of Jerusalem is shown Los entering a door leading down into a dark space which he must explore to restore Albion to wholeness. The present image could be an elaboration on Blake's image for Robert Blair's The Grave which is named The Soul exploring the recesses of the Grave.

Notice that Blake portrays the individual in multiple statuses simultaneously. The individual in a natural body is exploring or observing; as spiritual body or soul, the individual also illumines and guides; the individuals who has entered death are in repose within the various caverns.

The shifting meanings of death, the grave, sleep, awakening and annihilation are seen in this passage from Milton. The image of descending into the recesses of the grave, and poetry from Milton complement one another and shed light for understanding both.

, Plate 14 [15], (E 108)
"Then Milton rose up from the heavens of Albion ardorous!
The whole Assembly wept prophetic, seeing in Miltons face
And in his lineaments divine the shades of Death & Ulro
He took off the robe of the promise, & ungirded himself from the
oath of God

And Milton said, I go to Eternal Death! The Nations still
Follow after the detestable Gods of Priam; in pomp
Of warlike selfhood, contradicting and blaspheming.
When will the Resurrection come; to deliver the sleeping body
From corruptibility: O when Lord Jesus wilt thou come?
Tarry no longer; for my soul lies at the gates of death.
I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave.
I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!
I will go down to self annihilation and eternal death,
Lest the Last Judgment come & find me unannihilate
And I be siez'd & giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood
The Lamb of God is seen thro' mists & shadows, hov'ring
Over the sepulchers in clouds of Jehovah & winds of Elohim
A disk of blood, distant; & heav'ns & earth's roll dark between
What do I here before the Judgment? without my Emanation?
With the daughters of memory, & not with the daughters of
I in my Selfhood am that Satan: I am that Evil One!
He is my Spectre! in my obedience to loose him from my Hells
To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death."

Another post.