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

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Plate 9 [10] of the book of Urizen shows a muscular man who appears to be struggling to free himself form the confines of of a tight enclosure. It seems that the weight of a heavy rock must be lifted to release him from his oppressive cavern. The text suggests that the opposite process is underway; the cavern in closing around Urizen squeezing him into a space which limits his movement.

On plate 8 we are told of the frightening change in the natural world taking places around Los as the result of the emergence of Urizen into a material form.

Urizen, Plate 8 (E 74)
"1: Los smitten with astonishment
Frightend at the hurtling bones

2: And at the surging sulphureous
Perturbed Immortal mad raging

3: In whirlwinds & pitch & nitre
Round the furious limbs of Los

4: And Los formed nets & gins
And threw the nets round about

5: He watch'd in shuddring fear
The dark changes & bound every change
With rivets of iron & brass;

6. And these were the changes of Urizen."

On plate 10 we watch with Los as Urizen is progressively losing the consciousness of the Eternal world and the powers which were his when Eternity was his home.

Urizen , Plate 10, (E 74)
"1. Ages on ages roll'd over him!
In stony sleep ages roll'd over him!
Like a dark waste stretching chang'able
By earthquakes riv'n, belching sullen fires
On ages roll'd ages in ghastly

Sick torment; around him in whirlwinds
Of darkness the eternal Prophet howl'd
Beating still on his rivets of iron
Pouring sodor of iron; dividing
The horrible night into watches.

2. And Urizen (so his eternal name)
His prolific delight obscurd more & more
In dark secresy hiding in surgeing
Sulphureous fluid his phantasies.
The Eternal Prophet heavd the dark bellows,
And turn'd restless the tongs; and the hammer
Incessant beat; forging chains new & new
Numb'ring with links. hours, days & years

3. The eternal mind bounded began to roll
Eddies of wrath ceaseless round & round,
And the sulphureous foam surgeing thick
Settled, a lake, bright, & shining clear:
White as the snow on the mountains cold.

4. Forgetfulness, dumbness, necessity!
In chains of the mind locked up,
Like fetters of ice shrinking together
Disorganiz'd, rent from Eternity,
Los beat on his fetters of iron;
And heated his furnaces & pour'd
Iron sodor and sodor of brass

5. Restless turnd the immortal inchain'd
Heaving dolorous! anguish'd! unbearable
Till a roof shaggy wild inclos'd
In an orb, his fountain of thought.

6. In a horrible dreamful slumber;
Like the linked infernal chain;
A vast Spine writh'd in torment
Upon the winds; shooting pain'd
Ribs, like a bending cavern
And bones of solidness, froze
Over all his nerves of joy.
And a first Age passed over,
And a state of dismal woe."

When Blake was producing Urizen, he exposed himself to the forces of the unconscious world just as Jung did when he was producing the Red Book. The images which Blake produced during the period when the he was most aware of the darkness of his unconscious have a power and immediacy rare in his later work.

Martin Butlin writes of the distinctive characteristics of Blake's methods and illustrations during this period.

William Blake , Published by Tate Gallery, Compiler Martin Butlin, (Page 48)

"At the same time [c 1794] Blake drastically altered the method by which he coloured the illustrations to his books. Up to and including the first copy of Europe to be coloured, the colouring was done in watercolour, but in Urizen and in other early copies of Europe he turned to a form of colour printing... The new technique was also used for the copies Blake printed about this time of some of his earlier books, Visions of the Daughters of Albion, the Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Songs of Experience.
The colour printing seems to have been done by applying thick, tacky pigments to the engraved plates from which the text and outlines had already been printed and then taking an impression. The colours seem to have mixed with carpenter's glue creating a very rich, textured heavy effect similar to his later tempera paintings; he sometimes called this medium 'fresco'. The designs were normally tidied up with pen and watercolour. The impact of the colour-printed illustrations in Urizen is unparalled in Blake's books. It is no coincidence that they accompany Blake's most negatively pessimistic expression of his views on man's predicament... Urizen concentrates on the Creation as a definition of material reality in its most horrific and negative form. The material opacity of the illustrations could not be better attuned to this theme."

When Blake reproduced the image from Plate 10 of Urizen as a plate in the Small Book of Deigns he added the inscription:

"Does the soul labour thus/In caverns of the grave."

Small Book of Designs
British Museum

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