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

Monday, October 31, 2011


SONGS OF INNOCENCE, Number 16, (E 11)

"Sweet dreams form a shade,
O'er my lovely infants head.
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams,
By happy silent moony beams.

Sweet sleep with soft down,
Weave thy brows an infant crown.
Sweet sleep Angel mild,
Hover o'er my happy child.

Sweet smiles in the night,
Hover over my delight.
Sweet smiles Mothers smiles
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes.
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep sleep happy child.
All creation slept and smil'd.
Sleep sleep, happy sleep,
While o'er thee thy mother weep.

Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me

Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see,
Heavenly face that smiles on thee.

Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are his own smiles.
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles." 
Blake has a way of setting the stage for the development of his future complex system in his early works. Looking at A Cradle Song from the perspective of Jerusalem we see both the intimation of his process of speaking through images and the particular images which came to speak volumes in his mature works. The word 'image' appears twice in this double poem.

First the mother is able to see the creator in the countenance of he child:

"Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace."

Later she prays that the child himself may ever see the image of the creator:

"Thou his image ever see,
Heavenly face that smiles on thee."

So the child is in the image of God, and the God whom the child may see is an image also. Blake consistently presents the world of matter as the reflection of another world, the Eternal, more real than this one. We see the Eternal world through images not through our senses. Throughout his art and poetry Blake is presenting us with images of the Eternal for us to integrate into our mental processing.

Among the words in this poem which will frequently appear as images as we continue to read Blake are: dream, shade, infant, moon, sleep, weave, Angel, child, night, delight, mother, weep, babe, face, maker, holy, see, heaven, earth, peace. As images the words point to configurations of associated ideas drawn from our own experience and from the experience of those who influence us. Blake builds his image vocabulary in this poem and in whatever he writes or pictures. We are assisted in building our vocabularies of images through Blake's vast assimilation of ideas from past thinkers and through his gift for seeing through images to the Eternal realities beyond.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Image from British Museum
Songs of Innocence
Blake was 32 years old in 1789, married and living on Poland Street in London. In the previous year he had begun experimenting with relief engraving by producing two small booklets: There is No Natural Religion and All religions are One. Now he engraved another book in the relief technique combining his poems and images to illustrate and enhance them. Songs of Innocence, simple enough for a child to understand and profound enough to be appreciated through a lifetime, continued to be printed by Blake into his last decade.

Blake addressed his book to children as innocent of the struggles of living; he wrote it from the perspective of one who had not been disappointed and damaged by the harshness of life; and he wrote it to demonstrate the state of innocence which resulted from living in harmony with eternal principles. Throughout the poems there runs a thread of gentleness and security. No difficulty fails to be resolved in a beneficial way. He may have been projecting an idea of Eden before the fall. There is no stress in this land of innocence for the helping hand is always reaching out.

It is not likely that Blake wrote Songs of Innocence without intending to follow it with poems which would complement and complete the perspective offered in Songs of Innocence. An ideal existence of simplicity, serenity and stability cannot represent the totality of human life. Man lives in a world of challenges and possibilities. Innocence is a temporary state; it may be entered periodically or returned to when complexities have been resolved. Whatever permanence innocence has may only be visited when the mind can eliminate the darker side which provides through experience the dynamics of living.

After Blake issued Songs of Experience, he ceased producing Songs of Innocence as a separate volume; the two were necessary to each other.

Here are some short, memorable quotes from Songs of Innocence which provide a flavor of its substance:

Songs of Innocence, Songs 4, (E 7)

"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"

Songs of Innocence, Song 8, (E 8)
The Lamb

"Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee"

Songs of Innocence, Song 9, (E 9)
Little Black Boy

"And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
Ill shade him from the heat till I can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me."

Songs of Innocence, Song 16, (E 12)
Cradle Song

"Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me"

Songs of Innocence, Song 18, (E 12)
"The Divine Image

"For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress."

Songs of Innocence, Song 20, (E 13)

"The feet of angels bright;
Unseen they pour blessing,
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom."

Song 21
"For wash'd in lifes river,
My bright mane for ever,
Shall shine like the gold,
As I guard o'er the fold."

Songs of Innocence, Song 24, (E 15)
Nurse's Song

"When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And every thing else is still"

Songs of Innocence, Song 27, (E 17)
On Anothers Sorrow

"O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan"

Commenting on the frontispiece of Songs of Innocence in The Illuminated Blake, David Erdman states:

"In various ways in different copies the cloud is strongly emphasized: the child is divine, celestial, a human form of the bird of innocence; the realm is that of imagination. The cloud is here, inside the protection of the branching trees; he rests on a fold of it - and the piper's head is in it." (Page 43)

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Yale Center for British Art
Paul Mellon Collection
Plate 19
Albion in his fallen state

Before Los initiates the process of restoring Albion to the Humanity
Divine, each of the four Zoas has fallen to the point that his outlook is totally opposite to his role in eternity.

Jerusalem, Plate 38, (E184)
"They [the Four Zoas] saw their Wheels rising up poisonous against Albion
Urizen, cold & scientific: Luvah, pitying & weeping
Tharmas, indolent & sullen: Urthona, doubting & despairing
Victims to one another & dreadfully plotting against each other
To prevent Albion walking about in the Four Complexions."

Urizen, meant to be the active intellect involving itself in interfacing with information and developing understanding of relationships, has become cold and detached. He has reduced interactions to measurements, and objective descriptions from his frozen mind.

Luvah, meant to be the source of empathy and delight through the expression of emotional attachments, has been reduced to regret and depression. The spontaneous outpouring of approval or disapproval no longer flows from his detached heart.

Tharmas, meant to be energetic and active, involved in giving outer expression to inner dynamics, is passive and lifeless. The energy which should be generated through sensory perception and the impetus to create life is not flowing in his lethargic body.

Urthona, meant to be faith and vision, the connective function which holds together disparate parts, has lost the 'blessed assurance' and fallen into a dark pit of isolation. The connection of the body with the wholeness of purposeful living finds no expression without imagination.

One's greatest gifts can turn into one's worst liabilities if not recognized as gifts and put to work in the service of the giver. The Zoas will recover their gifts as Albion is restored to Eternity through the work of Jesus and Los.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Othello and Desdemona
Dated about 1780
from Thomas Butts collection
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
acquired 1890

In the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is a group of Blake's illustrations to Shakespeare which are said to have been painted around 1780. Each picture is a close-up portrait of one or two characters in a play of Shakespeare. The pictures were later in Thomas Butts' collection although the estimated date of production is years before Butts is known to have been purchasing Blake's art.

In 1779 Blake had completed his apprenticeship as an engraver with Basire. He was enrolled in the Royal Academy Schools and was seeking to establish himself as a painter as well as an engraver. The Shakespeare pictures are conventional subjects painted in a conventional style, far from the subject matter and methods of production Blake was to employ as he matured.

Here are more of Blake's illustrations for Shakespeare's plays in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston:
Lear and Cordelia

Cordelia and Sleeping Lear

Lear Grasping a Sword

Falstaff and Prince Hal

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Juliet Asleep

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Yale Center for British Arts
Paul Mellon Collection
Jerusalem, Plate 62

Frequently Blake used a shorthand to present his ideas. He quoted words or phrases from his sources to evoke larger bodies of ideas without stating them explicitly.

On Plate 62 of Jerusalem he points our attention to various Biblical passages to expand the context of the statements he is making about Jesus and about his own developing myth. To facilitate a more complete understanding of part of Plate 62, here are some Biblical passages which incorporated phrases from Blake's poem.

John 20:
11-12 - But Mary [Maglalen] stood just outside the tomb, and she was crying. And as she cried, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white who sat, one at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had lain.

20:13 - The angels spoke to her, "Why are you crying?" they asked. "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him!" she said.
20:14 - Then she turned and noticed Jesus standing there, without realising that it was Jesus.
20:15 - "Why are you crying?" said Jesus to her. "Who are you looking for?" She, supposing that he was the gardener, said, "Oh, sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you have put him and I will take him away."
20:16 - Jesus said to her, "Mary!" At this she turned right round and said to him, in Hebrew, "Master!"

Mark 1:
2 - just as the prophet Isaiah had written: "Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way.

Numbers 10:
12 - and the sons of Israel set out on their journeys from the wilderness of Sinai. Then the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran.

Nehemiah 9:
19 - You, in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go

Exodus 17:
5-6 -
The Lord answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Exodus 16:
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.

John 11:
24 - "I know," said Martha, "that he [her brother Lazarus]

will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
25-26 - "I myself am the resurrection and the life," Jesus
told her. "The man who believes in me will live even though he
dies, and anyone who is alive and believes in me will never die
at all. Can you believe that?"

John 14:28 - You have heard me say, 'I am going away and I am
coming back to you. ' If you really loved me, you would be glad
because I am going to my Father, for my Father is greater than I.
And I have told you of it now, before it happens, so that when
it does happen, your faith in me will not be shaken.

Revelation 14:20 - And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

This may seem like a lot of Biblical references for one short passage but with some effort you can find even more.

Jerusalem, Plate 62, (E 213)
[Jerusalem speaking:]
"These are the Daughters of Vala, Mother of the Body of death
But I thy Magdalen behold thy Spiritual Risen Body
Shall Albion arise? I know he shall arise at the Last Day!
I know that in my flesh I shall see God: but Emanations
Are weak. they know not whence they are, nor whither tend.

Jesus replied. I am the Resurrection & the Life.
I Die & pass the limits of possibility, as it appears
To individual perception. Luvah must be Created
And Vala; for I cannot leave them in the gnawing Grave.
But will prepare a way for my banished-ones to return
Come now with me into the villages. walk thro all the cities.
Tho thou art taken to prison & judgment, starved in the streets
I will command the cloud to give thee food & the hard rock
To flow with milk & wine, tho thou seest me not a season
Even a long season & a hard journey & a howling wilderness!
Tho Valas cloud hide thee & Luvahs fires follow thee!
Only believe & trust in me, Lo. I am always with thee!

So spoke the Lamb of God while Luvahs Cloud reddening above
Burst forth in streams of blood upon the heavens & dark night
Involvd Jerusalem. & the Wheels of Albions Sons turnd hoarse
Over the Mountains & the fires blaz'd on Druid Altars
And the Sun set in Tyburns Brook where Victims howl & cry.

But Los beheld the Divine Vision among the flames of the Furnaces
Therefore he lived & breathed in hope."

As you may gather after viewing the plate, Blake is attempting to convey much more in this Plate than has been suggested in this post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Los plays many roles in Blake's mythology but among the most compelling and disturbing is his relationship to his son Orc.

When the psyche is divided into competing entities the problem of jealousy arises and is projected outward. The unresolved struggle between Urthona (Los) and Luvah (Orc) results from Urthona's inability to assimilate Luvah into the psychic structure. Intuition as the imaginative function protects his own interests from the initiatives of the emotions. The emotions which should be valued and released become dysfunctional and are likely to be expressed explosively.

Blake gives us a vivid portrayal poetically and graphically of the result of failing to allow expression to psychic traits which are unrecognized or undervalued.

British Museum
A Large Book of Designs
From Book of Urizen

Book of Urizen, Plate 20, (E 79)
Chap. VII.

"1. They named the child Orc, he grew
Fed with milk of Enitharmon

2. Los awoke her; O sorrow & pain!
A tight'ning girdle grew,
Around his bosom. In sobbings
He burst the girdle in twain,
But still another girdle
Opressd his bosom, In sobbings
Again he burst it. Again
Another girdle succeeds
The girdle was form'd by day;
By night was burst in twain.

3. These falling down on the rock
Into an iron Chain
In each other link by link lock'd

4. They took Orc to the top of a mountain.
O how Enitharmon wept!
They chain'd his young limbs to the rock
With the Chain of Jealousy
Beneath Urizens deathful shadow

5. The dead heard the voice of the child
And began to awake from sleep
All things. heard the voice of the child
And began to awake to life."

Four Zoas, Night V
, Page 62, (E 342)
"But when returnd to Golgonooza Los & Enitharmon
Felt all the sorrow Parents feel. they wept toward one another
And Los repented that he had chaind Orc upon the mountain
And Enitharmons tears prevaild parental love returnd
Tho terrible his dread of that infernal chain They rose
At midnight hasting to their much beloved care
Nine days they traveld thro the Gloom of Entuthon Benithon
Los taking Enitharmon by the hand led her along
The dismal vales & up to the iron mountains top where Orc
Howld in the furious wind he thought to give to Enitharmon
Her son in tenfold joy & to compensate for her tears
Even if his own death resulted so much pity him paind

But when they came to the dark rock & to the spectrous cave
Lo the young limbs had strucken root into the rock & strong
Fibres had from the Chain of Jealousy inwove themselves
In a swift vegetation round the rock & round the Cave
And over the immortal limbs of the terrible fiery boy
In vain they strove now to unchain. In vain with bitter tears
To melt the chain of Jealousy. not Enitharmons death
Nor the Consummation of Los could ever melt the chain
Nor unroot the infernal fibres from their rocky bed
Nor all Urthonas strength nor all the power of Luvahs Bulls
Tho they each morning drag the unwilling Sun out of the deep
Could uproot the infernal chain. for it had taken root"

Monday, October 24, 2011


On the back of a sketch for the final plate for Milton these words appear:

Notebook, Inscriptions, (E 674)
"Father & Mother I return
From flames of fire tried & pure & white"

John Milton ends Paradise Regained with the statement that Jesus returned to his home and mother, while Luke and Matthew state simply that Jesus returned to Galilee. Blake uses this last illustration to Paradise Regained, which was his final illustration of Milton's works, to tie together the Biblical temptation, Paradise Regained and his own teaching about the role of the feminine. To Blake the process described in Jesus' encounter with temptation in the wilderness was incomplete until the relationship of Jesus with the feminine was included.

Paradise Regained ends with these words:

Paradise Regained
"Hail, Son of the Most High, heir of both Worlds,
Queller of Satan! On thy glorious work
Now enter, and begin to save Mankind."
Thus they the Son of God, our Saviour meek,
Sung victor, and, from heavenly feast refreshed,
Brought on his way with joy. He, unobserved,
Home to his mother's house private returned. "

The wilderness experience in Luke ends with these words:

[13] And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.
[14] And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.

Jesus is about to enter a new phase of his life. His time in the wilderness (40 days, a symbolic period of testing and preparation) completed, Jesus returns to his home, his mother, the community of which he had been a part. The man who comes back is not the man who left. His relationship with his mother is altered. She had been a cord who tied him to the physical world of family, neighbors and mundane responsibilities. Now he sees the female dimension differently. Man must be united with the feminine as his emanation, his Jerusalem, the connectivity between heaven and earth. The incarnation which Jesus would teach depended on reuniting the contraries of masculine and feminine which are divided in the world of generation.

Jerusalem, PLATE 39 [44],(E 187)
"Man is adjoind to Man by his Emanative portion:
Who is Jerusalem in every individual Man: and her
Shadow is Vala, builded by the Reasoning power in Man
O search & see: turn your eyes inward: open O thou World
Of Love & Harmony in Man: expand thy ever lovely Gates."

Blake is teaching us to distinguish the characteristics of the Eternal world from those of the world of our experience, the world of generation.

Paradise Regained
Image # 12
Christ returns to His mother

At the physical level the feminine is split from the masculine. If the feminine (substance) competes with the masculine aspect (spirit), a destructive paradigm results. As a perfect unity the feminine exists as an aspect of the complete male. If the return to his mother's house meant return to the divided condition which existed before the temptation, Blake would have portrayed separation and disintegration in his illustration. Instead he portrays the feminine as Jerusalem the spiritual nature which binds together man's multiple dimensions and binds man to man.

Jerusalem , Plate 71, (E 224)
"As the Soul is to the Body, so Jerusalems Sons,
Are to the Sons of Albion: and Jerusalem is Albions Emanation
What is Above is Within, for every-thing in Eternity is translucent:
The Circumference is Within: Without, is formed the Selfish Center
And the Circumference still expands going forward to Eternity."

Jerusalem, Plate 88 (E246), we learn why the female Emanations are so essential to man:
"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
But if the Emanations mingle not; with storms & agitations
Of earthquakes & consuming fires they roll apart in fear
For Man cannot unite with Man but by their Emanations
Which stand both Male & Female at the Gates of each Humanity"

Jerusalem, Plate 4,(E 146)
"Where hast thou hidden thy Emanation lovely Jerusalem
From the vision and fruition of the Holy-one?
I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! we are One; forgiving all Evil; Not seeking recompense!
Ye are my members O ye sleepers of Beulah, land of shades!"

The contrasting condition which the sexes play in the fallen condition is epitomized in this passage:

Jerusalem, Plate 92 (E 251)
"Los answerd swift as the shuttle of gold. Sexes must vanish & cease
To be, when Albion arises from his dread repose O lovely Enitharmon:
When all their Crimes, their Punishments their Accusations of Sin:
All their Jealousies Revenges. Murders. hidings of Cruelty in Deceit
Appear only in the Outward Spheres of Visionary Space and Time.
In the shadows of Possibility by Mutual Forgiveness forevermore
And in the Vision & in the Prophecy, that we may Foresee & Avoid
The terrors of Creation & Redemption & Judgment. Beholding them
Displayd in the Emanative Visions of Canaan in Jerusalem & in Shiloh
And in the Shadows of Remembrance, & in the Chaos of the Spectre
Amalek, Edom, Egypti, Moab, Ammon, Ashur, Philistea, around Jerusalem"

How different is the female in her eternal dimension:

Four Zoas, Page 104 (FIRST PORTION), (E 376)
"And Enitharmon namd the Female Jerusa[le]m the holy
Wondring 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"

Joseph Anthony Wittreich, in his chapter 'Opening the Seals' in Blake's Sublime Allegory, considers Paradise Regained and its theme of return to hold the essence of Blake's myth.
"It should be said that, for Blake, Paradise Regained was the one poem in epic tradition to which he could give his allegiance, the one poem from which he would accept 'dictation.' The form of Blake's Milton and the form of Blake's Jerusalem emphasize return. Both poems pick up where Paradise Regained leaves off - with the true poet-prophet-orator (Milton-Los-Blake), having annihilated selfhood, which is Satan, returning to civilization to begin the work of redemption. By withstanding the temptation of the pinnacle, Christ displays his enormous love for God; by returning to his mother's house he displays his enormous love for man. This moment of return is Christ's deed above heroic, and it constitutes the moment when contemplation, having unfolded into vision, is translated into form and action. Blake's designs to [Paradise Regained] - the last complete set of illustrations to Milton that Blake did (and he did them during the time when Jerusalem was being etched) - fasten attention on the moment on the pinnacle and to the moment of return." (Page 51-2)

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Quoting from Larry Clayton's online Blake book, RAM HORN'D WITH GOLD concerning the role that the male/ female dichotomy plays in Blake's system, we read:

"Man in Eternity is androgynous. In Beulah, which means Married, the sexes are divided into loving and restful contraries. With the Fall the Female Will becomes dominant; the Human Form deteriorates to the sexual in which male and female, spirit and matter, exist in a state of constant warfare. Man has fallen into the fourth world of Ulro. But whatever falls may rise again."

Larry quoted the following passage from Milton Percival who quoted it from Franz Hartman; it is worth passing on again: "Woman as such represents the will (including love and desire), and man as such represents intellect (including the imagination).Woman represents substance; man represents spirit. Man imagines; woman executes. Man creates images; woman renders them substantial.
"The divine man (the angel) is male and female in one; such Adam was before the woman became separated from him. He is like the sun; the woman as such resembles the moon, receiving her light from the sun, and man without woman (in him) is a consuming fire in want of fuel."

Larry Clayton says: " This means that Blake (and Paracelsus) in their use of sex have a primarily metaphysical rather than a physical connotation."

Read more in RAM HORN'D WITH GOLD.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


The moment when Jesus completely envisioned the trust he must place in God's love, was (and is) the decisive moment in the redemption of man. It is followed by a realization of being under the care of the spiritual forces through which the cosmos is ordered and maintained. Blake used angels also in the third image of his illustrations to Paradise Regained: Andrew and Peter searching for Christ.

Matthew 4
[11] Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Milton elaborates the ministration of the angels and echos the angel songs of the nativity:

Paradise Regained
"From his uneasy station, and upbore,
As on a floating couch, through the blithe air;
Then, in a flowery valley, set him down
On a green bank, and set before him spread
A table of celestial food, divine
Ambrosial fruits fetched from the Tree of Life,
And from the Fount of Life ambrosial drink, [590]
That soon refreshed him wearied, and repaired
What hunger, if aught hunger, had impaired,
Or thirst; and, as he fed, Angelic quires
Sung heavenly anthems of his victory
Over temptation and the Tempter proud:
'True Image of the Father, whether throned
In the bosom of bliss, and light of light
Conceiving, or, remote from Heaven, enshrined
In fleshly tabernacle and human form,
Wandering the wilderness whatever place, [600]
Habit, or state, or motion, still expressing
The Son of God, with Godlike force endued
Against the attempter of thy Father's throne
And thief of Paradise! Him long of old
Thou didst debel, and down from Heaven cast
With all his army; now thou hast avenged
Supplanted Adam, and, by vanquishing
Temptation, hast regained lost Paradise, '"

Paradise Regained

Image # 11
Angels ministering to Christ
The angels appeared in the previous illustration to Paradise Regained as insurance that Jesus would not dash his foot against a stone. They appear in this image enveloping him in the light of Eternity. Blake is emphasizing that Jesus has passed through any doubt or indecision concerning the determination to follow the path God was opening to him. The angels offer him the bread and wine: spiritual food which will sustain his Spiritual Body.

Milton has the angels announce that Jesus 'by vanquishing Temptation, hast regained lost Paradise.' Blake's symmetrical image incorporating multiple symbols of completion, reinforces the idea that integration has been achieved restoring paradise.

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

Here are a few words from Peter Ackroyd's biography: Blake, commenting on Blake's development as an artist and the use to which he put his art.

"Blake has liberated himself from the stern dictates of 'the bounding line' and 'determinate and bounding form' that had been so much an aspect of his exhibition catalogue. He is less inclined to linearity, and is therefore more painterly. The same fluency and fluidity are to be seen in the set of twelve illustrations to Paradise Regained, but the freer manner is not achieved at the expense of Blake's spiritual intensity; the figure of Christ is illuminated with an extraordinary radiance and, with such watercolors as 'Christ in the Wilderness' and Christ's Troubled Dream', we explore the art of a man who has removed himself from the world and from all worldly hopes. It is spiritual art, too, because of the extraordinarily posed and poised figures surrounded by the blue and yellow of vision; the hieratic and numinous qualities of each scene are powerfully evoked, since this is a true nineteenth-century spiritual art that has no counterparts and no proper successors."
(Page 308)

Friday, October 21, 2011


If you have an interest in reading the early books about William Blake as well as what is being written about him in our own day, you will find a tremendous resource in Google books. Many of the out of copyright Blake books have been digitized by Google. Unlike the copyright books which Google makes available, these books are published in their entirety without deletions. Furthermore they are available as text files as well as image files so that passages can be copied and saved for your own individual use or to share with others.

You may find that early works about Blake's writing offers critical information and analysis which you are less likely to find in current books. The early writers were closer to Blake's times. They were frequently giving their full attention to understanding the content of his work. Current works sometimes assume the basic mastery of Blake's content and focus on 'minute details' of literary criticism. So have a look at these out of print, out of copyright volumes which are at your fingertips.

Here is a sample passage from the introduction to The prophetic books of William Blake: Milton by William Blake, Eric Robert Dalrymple Maclagan, Archibald G Russell:

"The substance of the poem [Milton] is almost entirely autobiographical. Blake himself tells us, in one of his letters, that it is descriptive of ' the spiritual acts ' of his ' three years' slumber on the banks of ocean.' Both the characters and the action have their counterparts in the drama which had been enacted at Felpham. The disguise is often a close one: but we are told that it is a ' sublime allegory,' and ' allegory addressed to the intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal understanding,' is Blake's 'definition of the most sublime poetry.' The writing was 'from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation, and even against' his ' will.' ' Thus,' he writes, ' the time it has taken in writing was rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists ... all produced without labour or study.' The purpose of the book is clearly stated on p[late]. 36, 11. 21-25 [E 137]:

'. . When Los join'd with me he took me in his fiery whirlwind:
My vegetated portion was hurried from Lambeth's shades:
He set me down in Felpham's vale and prepar'd a beautiful
Cottage for me, that in three years I might write all these visions,
To display Nature's cruel holiness: the deceits of natural religion.'"

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The third and final temptation of Jesus comprises 6 verses in Luke. The devil quotes scripture as he invites Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle to which he has brought him. Jesus replies using scripture as well. The devil ceases the testing of Jesus following his reply.

[9] And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence:
[10] For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee:
[11] And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
[12] And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
[13] And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.

Psalms 91
[11] For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
[12] They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Deuteronomy 6

[16] Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.

Millton follows the Biblical account adding greater detail:

Paradise Regained
" I here have had
To try thee, sift thee, and confess have found thee
Proof against all temptation, as a rock
Of adamant and as a centre, firm
To the utmost of mere man both wise and good,
Not more; for honours, riches, kingdoms, glory,
Have been before contemned, and may again.
Therefore, to know what more thou art than man,
Worth naming the Son of God by voice from Heaven,
Another method I must now begin." [540]
So saying, he caught him up,
There, on the highest pinnacle, he set
The Son of God, and added thus in scorn: [550]
"There stand, if thou wilt stand; to stand upright
Will ask thee skill. I to thy Father's house
Have brought thee, and highest placed: highest is best.
Now shew thy progeny; if not to stand,
Cast thyself down. Safely, if Son of God;
For it is written, 'He will give command
Concerning thee to his Angels; in their hands
They shall uplift thee, lest at any time
To whom thus Jesus: "Also it is written, [560]
'Tempt not the Lord thy God.'" He said, and stood;
But Satan, smitten with amazement, fell."

Blake illustrated the third temptation in the series for Paradise Regained between 1816 and 1818. Several years earlier (1803-05) he had included the third temptation as one of a series of Biblical illustration for Thomas Butts.

Image in Victoria and Albert Museum______________Image in Fitzwilliam Museum

The image of Jesus in the two illustration provides dramatic contrast. The first image presents Jesus as calm, composed and static. In the image for Milton's Paradise regained we see Jesus balanced by one toe on the pinnacle, with his arms raised in praise or joy. Blake frequently used the position of outstretched arms as a reminder of the crucifixion as well. It would appear that Blake was affirming the more approachable, inviting Jesus (or perhaps even the resurrected Christ) in the second image. He appears to emphasize the Son of God in the first image and the Brother of Mankind in the second.

Jerusalem, Plate 96, (E 255)
"Then Jesus appeared standing by Albion as the Good Shepherd
By the lost Sheep that he hath found & Albion knew that it
Was the Lord the Universal Humanity, & Albion saw his Form
A Man. & they conversed as Man with Man, in Ages of Eternity
And the Divine Appearance was the likeness & similitude of Los"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Blake's Illuminated Books weren't created like most other books; they were created one plate at a time. Blake himself didn't always bind the plates in the same order and he sometimes added, or deleted plates from particular copies. It was poetry he was writing, and pictures he was engraving. Many plates can 'stand alone' as poetry or as pictures without the rest of the book.

This makes it possible, and perhaps beneficial to study Blake in increments. In a recent post I made, it was the picture that led me to study the context. In times past the words were available, but the pictures were usually inaccessible. The online resources have made possible viewing Blake's work as it was meant to be seen and read. With the plates we have the words and pictures together to complement one another. But don't expect the illumination to illustrate the text in the conventional way. His pictures may add to the text, may refer you to previous text, or lead to subsequent text, or may recall images on other plates and the context of the tale they tell.

Preludium to Book of Urizen
Here is a good example of a stand alone plate, a lovely image and a short poem to introduce the poem and the poet. But the words and visual images aren't meant to give us a static experience. Just as the woman and babe must stay in motion to remain suspended, we are meant to keep moving too. The air-borne babe takes us back to early plates in Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience; and will be seen again in plate 20 of The Book of Urizen. Another baby suspended in the air can be found in the Good and Evil Angels. The flames and the words, 'dark visions of torment', warn of what we can expect. We are left with questions, 'Who are the lady and babe?', 'Who are Urizen and the primeval Priest?' The answers will develop over time as Blake unfolds his complex myth of fall and return, disintegration and integration, death and rebirth. But first we can be satisfied with a graceful lady, her soaring child and the prospect of the 'swift winged words' to be dictated.

The irony of the of way Blake presented his material is that each individual piece was a 'minute particular,' complete in itself, but was essential to the organic body of the whole. How like each individual human being as a part of the Body of Christ.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


In image 9 of Blake's illustrations to Paradise Regained he continues to draw upon his own methods of presenting psychological and spiritual content in illustrating Milton.
Dominating this image, titled 'Morning chasing away the phantoms', is the lovely female presence which personifies morning, an awakening from the dreams which troubled the sleep of Jesus. Blake like Milton can paint word pictures of the waking of the day in 'minute particulars' of nature coming to life.

Paradise Regained

"till Morning fair
Came forth with pilgrim steps, in amice grey,
Who with her radiant finger stilled the roar
Of thunder, chased the clouds, and laid the winds,
And griesly spectres, which the Fiend had raised [430]
To tempt the Son of God with terrors dire.
And now the sun with more effectual beams
Had cheered the face of earth, and dried the wet
From drooping plant, or dropping tree; the birds,
Who all things now behold more fresh and green,
After a night of storm so ruinous,
Cleared up their choicest notes in bush and spray,
To gratulate the sweet return of morn.
Nor yet, amidst this joy and brightest morn,
Was absent, after all his mischief done, [440]
The Prince of Darkness; glad would also seem
Of this fair change, and to our Saviour came;"

Milton, Plate 30 [33], (E 131)
"First eer the morning breaks joy opens in the flowery bosoms
Joy even to tears, which the Sun rising dries; first the Wild Thyme
And Meadow-sweet downy & soft waving among the reeds.
Light springing on the air lead the sweet Dance: they wake
The Honeysuckle sleeping on the Oak: the flaunting beauty
Revels along upon the wind; the White-thorn lovely May
Opens her many lovely eyes: listening the Rose still sleeps
None dare to wake her. soon she bursts her crimson curtaind bed
And comes forth in the majesty of beauty; every Flower:
The Pink, the Jessamine, the Wall-flower, the Carnation
The Jonquil, the mild Lilly opes her heavens! every Tree,
And Flower & Herb soon fill the air with an innumerable Dance
Yet all in order sweet & lovely, Men are sick with Love!
Such is a Vision of the lamentation of Beulah over Ololon"

In his image Blake goes beyond the arrival of the new light of day to show the night visitors which have been dispelled. In the air, the territory of Urizen, the demons of thought flee from the wakening Jesus. Blake pictures three, one of whom displays the bat wings of Satan. Sinking back into the earth, the territory of Urthona, are unconscious elements of the psyche which surfaced in the dream state. The figure of 'morn' is more than ego consciousness returning as ordinary sleep is dispelled; she is Eternal consciousness which is being strengthened in Jesus' growing awareness.

'Morn' displays a blue halo: the the moon's reflected sunlight. The feminine aspect of the 'undivided essence' of humanity is symbolized by the moon. The radiant light that surrounds the head of Jesus indicates the transition in consciousness which is transforming the way he perceives reality.

The divisions which must be overcome in achieving the Universal Manhood in the 'morn of ages' is indicated in his passage.

Four Zoas , Night VII, PAGE 84, (E 359)
"The Spectre said [to Vala]. Thou lovely Vision this delightful Tree
Is given us for a Shelter from the tempests of Void & Solid
Till once again the morn of ages shall renew upon us
To reunite in those mild fields of happy Eternity
Where thou & I in undivided Essence walkd about
Imbodied. thou my garden of delight & I the spirit in the garden
Mutual there we dwelt in one anothers joy revolving
Days of Eternity with Tharmas mild & Luvah sweet melodious
Upon our waters. This thou well rememberest listen I will tell
What thou forgettest. They in us & we in them alternate Livd
Drinking the joys of Universal Manhood."

Sunday, October 16, 2011


In the last five images for Blake's illustrations to Paradise Regained Blake availed himself of the opportunity to elaborate his ideas on Milton's text. Milton and Blake used the arrangement of the temptations of Jesus in the order of Luke's rather than Matthew's version. In Luke the final temptation involves Jesus being taken to the pinnacle of the temple.
After Jesus withstood the second temptation to accept worldly power, Milton inserted this account of a night where Jesus' dreams are fraught with terrifying images.
Paradise Regained
"for at his head
The Tempter watched, and soon with ugly dreams
Disturbed his sleep. And either tropic now
'Gan thunder, and both ends of heaven; the clouds [410]
From many a horrid rift abortive poured
Fierce rain with lightning mixed, water with fire,
In ruin reconciled; nor slept the winds
Within their stony caves, but rushed abroad
From the four hinges of the world, and fell
On the vexed wilderness, whose tallest pines,
Though rooted deep as high, and sturdiest oaks,
Bowed their stiff necks, loaden with stormy blasts,
Or torn up sheer. Ill wast thou shrouded then,
O patient Son of God, yet only stood'st [420]
Unshaken! Nor yet staid the terror there:
Infernal ghosts and hellish furies round
Environed thee; some howled, some yelled, some shrieked,
Some bent at thee their fiery darts, while thou
Sat'st unappalled in calm and sinless peace.
Thus passed the night so foul,"

Blake portrays the calmly sleeping Jesus surrounded by serpents indicating that the storms and destruction described by Milton are works of the serpent form of Satan. Most terrifying is that the serpents appear to be emerging from the image of God at the top of the page. Blake was aware of distorted images of the Divine which resulted from man projecting his own vengefulness, anger and deceit upon his God. Jesus could sleep in peace in spite of these dreams because his vision of God was not the weak, worn out, distracted creature with darkened wings and halo which emerged in the dream state.

The appearance of the serpents and the image at the top of the page, which seems to be a combination of Satan and Jehovah, is Blake's own response to the night of troubling dreams. The final plate of Gates of Paradise: for the Sexes, comments on the illusion from which man must awake to be freed from the "God of this World."

The dream state is portrayed in Blake's Milton but in these passages the Seven Angels of the Presence provide the protection which create a '
dream beatific.'

Milton, Plate 15 [17], (E 109)
"The Seven Angels of the Presence wept over Miltons Shadow!

As when a man dreams, he reflects not that his body sleeps,
Else he would wake; so seem'd he entering his Shadow: but
With him the Spirits of the Seven Angels of the Presence
Entering; they gave him still perceptions of his Sleeping Body;
Which now arose and walk'd with them in Eden, as an Eighth
Image Divine tho' darken'd; and tho walking as one walks
In sleep; and the Seven comforted and supported him."

Milton, Plate 32 [35], (E 131)
"Such is a Vision of the lamentation of Beulah over Ololon

And Milton oft sat up on the Couch of Death & oft conversed
In vision & dream beatific with the Seven Angels of the Presence

I have turned my back upon these Heavens builded on cruelty
My Spectre still wandering thro' them follows my Emanation
He hunts her footsteps thro' the snow & the wintry hail & rain
The idiot Reasoner laughs at the Man of Imagination
And from laughter proceeds to murder by undervaluing calumny"

Geoge W. Digby, in Symbol and Image in William Blake states:
"This projected image, call it by what name you will, is ultimately man's greatest enemy. It is a mental phenomenon, which spring from the mind and is limited by the mind. It is the dream of the traveller who has gone astray, who has lost his way. It is necessary to realize the illusion of this." (Page 53)

Blake is illustrating his perception that Jesus has freed himself from the illusion that he can be harmed by the a projected image of serpents or the tempter.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Vision of the Last Judgment, (E 565)
"Mental Things are alone Real what is Calld Corporeal Nobody Knows
of its Dwelling Place is in Fallacy & its Existence an
Imposture Where is the Existence Out of Mind or Thought Where is
it but in the Mind of a Fool."

Milton, Plate 36, (E 135)
"Thus are the Messengers dispatchd till they reach the Earth again
In the East Gate of Golgonooza, & the Twenty-eighth bright
Lark. met the Female Ololon descending into my Garden
Thus it appears to Mortal eyes & those of the Ulro Heavens
But not thus to Immortals, the Lark is a mighty, Angel.

For Ololon step'd into the Polypus within the Mundane Shell
They could not step into Vegetable Worlds without becoming
The enemies of Humanity except in a Female Form
And as One Female, Ololon and all its mighty Hosts
Appear'd: a Virgin of twelve years nor time nor space was
To the perception of the Virgin Ololon but as the
Flash of lightning but more quick the Virgin in my Garden
Before my Cottage stood for the Satanic Space is delusion"

Blake always asks us to go at least one step farther. If we reach the point where we can see the Lark as the messenger of Los, he wants us to see the Angelic presence in the Lark. And to see that the Lark is a delusion as is everything in our mind created world. He would that we may see as 'the flash of lightening.'

I think that he means that we have access to the phenomenal world through our mental images. Our senses provide input from the exterior, but mental processing creates the image we form. If we think that what we sense is reality we are delusional.

Concerning Blake's poem 'To Tirzah' from Songs of Experience, Damon (William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols, Page 281) writes:

"Blake undoubtedly wrote this poem when trying to interpret the unfilial remark of the child Jesus in the Temple: 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' (John ii. 4). Blake's conclusion was that Jesus was interrupted in his consideration of spiritual matters by the intrusion of her who bound him to the corporeal world. This is the case with every man. For the mortal body is of the earth, and will return to it, a temporary delusion; the true body is the spiritual body: a distinction made by Paul (I Cor. xv. 44 - which is quoted by Blake in the marginal decorations to this poem)."

If Blake sees all life in this world as a temporary delusion, the Lark too is part of this delusion. The Angel is from Eternity, so has another level of existence, but is only a carrier of the message.

Although Blake believed that 'every thing that lives is Holy', the holiness comes from the Eternal nature not from the temporal or perishable nature.

The point is that Blake's sentence "The Lark is a Mighty Angel", points beyond the Lark to the Angel, its identity in Eternity. But that isn't the end of the chain of reference. The answer to every question is another question. We are finite, we cannot grasp the Infinite. But we can continue to approach. If we stop at the Lark or the Angel we miss what lies beyond.

Image to Mortal Eyes 

British Museum
Illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts

Frontispiece to second volume: The Resurrection, illustration to Young's 'Night Thoughts'; Christ ascends over two sleeping soldiers. c.1795-7 Pen and grey ink, with grey wash and watercolour.