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

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.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Young's 'Night Thoughts'
Night VIII, page 23
The British Museum

The quote from Young which Blake was illustrating:
'When, through Death's Straits Earth's subtil Serpents creep,
Which wiggle into Wealth, or climb Renown,
As crooked Satan the Forbidden Tree,
They leave their party-coloured Robe behind,'

Four Zoas, Night VIII, PAGE 107 [115], (E 380)
"And this is the manner in which Satan became the Tempter

There is a State namd Satan learn distinct to know O Rahab
The Difference between States & Individuals of those States
The State namd Satan never can be redeemd in all Eternity
But when Luvah in Orc became a Serpent he des[c]ended into
That State calld Satan"

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The Compassion of Pharoah's Daughter
The Finding of Moses
from Victoria & Albert Museum
courtesy of 

 Songs & Ballads, (E 491)
"Auguries of Innocence

The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight"

[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.
[5] And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.
6] And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children.
[7] Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?
[8] And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother.
[9] And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it.
[10] And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

In the light of Blake's system of thought the babe in the picture of the finding of Moses means more than a simple illustration of an event. The appearance of the babe signals a transition to altered circumstances. The babe Moses became a seminal figure in the development of the culture of the Israelites. The sojourn and slavery on the Israelites in Egypt was brought to an end through the instrument of Moses. But the child was to absorb much from the culture of Egypt by being raised by the daughter of Pharoah.

Blake's poem The Mental Traveller can be seen to be related to the situation which Moses exemplified. He was taken in by the Egyptian culture, grew strong, overcame the ties which held him, and led his people to a new freedom. Blake sees the transformations which must occur in individual and societies in the symbol of the birth of the vigorous, insistent babe.

Songs & Ballads, (E 483)
"The Mental Traveller

I traveld thro' a Land of Men
A Land of Men & Women too
And heard & saw such dreadful things
As cold Earth wanderers never knew

For there the Babe is born in joy
That was begotten in dire woe
Just as we Reap in joy the fruit
Which we in bitter tears did sow

And if the Babe is born a Boy
He's given to a Woman Old
Who nails him down upon a rock
Catches his Shrieks in Cups of gold"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


After the death of his beloved younger brother Robert at the age of 19, Blake kept the notebook in which his brother had sketched. He continued to use the pages until they were crowded with poems, sketches and fragments of ideas. After Blake's death the book was in the possession of his friend Samuel Palmer; later it was purchased by Dante Gabriel Rossetti at which time it became known as the Rossetti Manuscript.

A late poem in the notebook sums up much of the character of our poet: his defiance, his faith and his all encompassing vision.

Songs & Ballads , Blake's Notebook, (E 477)
"Mock on Mock on Voltaire Rousseau
Mock on Mock on! tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind
And the wind blows it back again

And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye
But still in Israels paths they shine

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newtons Particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore
Where Israels tents do shine so bright"

Page from Blake's Notebook
BBC News Website

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Numbers 21
[5] And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
[6] And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
[7] Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
[8] And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
[9] And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
[10] And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth.

Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Moses & the Brazen Serpent

The pole on which Blake pictures the fiery serpent erected by Moses is in the shape of a cross. The serpent draped around the shoulders of Moses appears to be lifeless as are two other serpents on the right side of the picture. The two figures falling headfirst are encircled by serpents, a common symbol Blake uses for Satan or for Zoas being split from their unity. Several figures are in the position of penitent prayer.

The image of the serpent wrapped around a pole became the symbol of healing. Christ to whom we look for healing was raised upon the pole of the cross himself.

Although Blake considered Moses to be an inspired prophet he disagreed with Moses' accounts of God as vengeful. That God would send the fiery serpents on the people of Israel because they complained of their hardships, does not agree with the picture of the loving, forgiving God of the New Testament. A benevolent God could lead the people into finding a way to deal with a disease they encountered without having sent the disease as punishment.

Is this passage from Blake we find the right/left symbolism he used, and 'Satan wound round by the Serpent & falling headlong', in association with Moses and the Tables of Stone.

" To Ozias Humphry Esqre

The right hand of the Design is appropriated to the
Resurrection of the Just the left hand of the Design is
appropriated to the Resurrection & Fall of the Wicked
Immediately before the Throne of Christ is Adam & Eve
kneeling in humiliation as representatives of the whole Human
Race Abraham & Moses kneel on each side beneath them from the
cloud on which Eve kneels [ & beneath Moses & from the Tables
of Stone which utter lightnings] is seen Satan wound round
by the Serpent & falling headlong the Pharisees appear on the
left hand pleading their own righteousness before the Throne of

The fiery serpent in contemporary news is available in these articles: Wiki, Carter Center.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Here is an article titled Method in Blake's "Mad Song" by F. R. Duplantier.

So many meanings can be attached to these few lines from Blake's Poetical Sketches that they become a Rorschach test revealing the observer more than the observed.

This is what I can see in "Mad Song"; I invite you to look carefully for what you see in the words and how you respond to them.

In the first verse the speaker invites into himself the world of fear and woe. He knows he is turning away from pleasant things: light and warmth and joy. The interplay of the contraries at the intersection of night and day create the movement, the dance, the catalytic reaction. The day is too calm, too bright; he chooses to stay at that turbulent intersection where the unexpected may take place. The uncertainty, the insecurity, the unpredictability may be painful but it allows his brain to be seized by the light which is beyond his control: the ever welcome vision.

Poetical Sketches, MAD SONG, (E 414)

"The wild winds weep,
And the night is a-cold;
Come hither, Sleep,
And my griefs infold:

But lo! the morning peeps
Over the eastern steeps,
And the rustling birds of dawn
The earth do scorn.

Lo! to the vault
Of paved heaven,
With sorrow fraught
My notes are driven:
They strike the ear of night,
Make weep the eyes of day;
They make mad the roaring winds,
And with tempests play.

Like a fiend in a cloud
With howling woe,
After night I do croud,
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east,

From whence comforts have increas'd;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain."

This speaker has quite the opposite reaction to that of Thel when she withdrew from the opportunity to gain Experience.

'Like a fiend in a cloud'

Friday, November 11, 2011


Moses receiving law
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

To Blake the law resulted from the fall of man. It was given as a temporary measure by Urizen to exercise control over desire in the absence of the Eternal Vision. What Murry calls the 'disastrous separation of Desire and Reason' causes true reason to become false reason (Urizen) which holds desire in chains. "But in the symbolic figure of Orc 'desire is not weak enough to be restrained', and does not sink into the shadow of Desire. It is not indeed pure Desire, because of the fatal separation has occurred. But it is desire with enough memory of its former state of grace to be in rebellion against the bondage of false reason."

Quote is from John Middleton Murry's William Blake, Page 86.

Here is some of what Blake wrote about Moses and about the law.

Song of Los, Plate 3, (E 67)
"Moses beheld upon Mount Sinai forms of dark delusion"

The Everlasting Gospel, PAGES 48-52, (E 521)
"Jesus was sitting in
Moses Chair
They brought the trembling Woman There

commands she be stoned to Death
What was the sound of Jesus breath
He laid his hand on
Moses Law
The Ancient Heavens in Silent Awe
Writ with Curses from Pole to Pole
All away began to roll"

Annotations to Watson, (E 618)
"All Penal Laws court Transgression & therefore are cruelty & Murder
The laws of the Jews were (both ceremonial & real) the
basest & most oppressive of human codes. & being like all other
codes given under pretence of divine command were what Christ
pronouncd them The Abomination that maketh desolate. i.e State
Religion which is the Source of all Cruelty"

America, Plate 8, (E 54)
"The terror answerd: I am Orc, wreath'd round the accursed tree:
The times are ended; shadows pass the morning gins to break;
The fiery joy, that Urizen perverted to ten commands,
What night he led the starry hosts thro' the wide wilderness:
That stony law I stamp to dust: and scatter religion abroad
To the four winds as a torn book, & none shall gather the leaves;
But they shall rot on desart sands, & consume in bottomless deeps;
To make the desarts blossom, & the deeps shrink to their fountains,
And to renew the fiery joy, and burst the stony roof."

Blake is entirely Biblical in his understanding that the law of sin and death, the law of commandments and retribution, is transcended through living in Jesus whom he calls the Imagination.

[1] There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
[2] For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


None can project forward and predict the route his journey through life will take. We encounter too many variables to see the end from the beginning. Blake set out on a journey which may have terminated in worldly success or in abject despair. Although it may have led him through both of these, in the end it led to his own peculiar vision of truth expressing his religion as his unique art.

As John Middleton Murry begins his biography, William Blake , he comments:

"My aim has been solely to discover and, as far as may be , expound the doctrine of William Blake: 'the Everlasting Gospel ' as he finally called it." (Page 7)

Near the end of his book, wrapping up his account of Blake's life and work, Murry had this to say:

"The structure of Christian Theology meant too little to him, the essence of Christian belief too much.
Blake's difficulty is evident. The farther one advances in understanding his work, the more impossible it becomes not to sympathize with his feeling that it was necessary for him to 'create a system' if he was not to be 'enslaved by another man's'. The system of orthodox Christianity was incapable of containing, without distortion, the vast and simple system which was Blake's message. The new wine would assuredly burst the old bottles.
He deliberately preferred incomprehensibility and poverty to compromise and a measure of success. Behind his private idiom lies concealed an heroic effort after a pure integrity...When he is inspired indeed, when he is using his own peculiar symbols with the freedom of complete unselfconsciousness, then...we see with his vision, and breathe with his breath. The most difficult of all writers can be the most totally understood." (Page 369-70)

This image was found on a Rochester University website. It is said to be from the Robert N Essick collection. Shoreham was a location where the Ancients gathered in Blake's last years.


British Museum
First Sketch
Among Blake's artistic productions the print called Pity is rare in that we can watch the development of the image from earlier stages of conception. There are two sketches for Pity and a preliminary trial print as well as three states of the print including one that was badly damaged by the application of varnish. The various elements from Shakespeare's lines are there from the beginning but Blake gradually adds details and brings them together into an integrated whole. One of the later details added is the covering of the reclining woman's feet as if with a shroud. Pity is one of a set of twelve designs known as the Large Color Printed Drawings of 1795.

British Museum

Second Sketch and Trial Print

Of course the original of the image was the vision which appeared in Blake's mind through his imagination. It is not known if this vision was stimulated by reading words in Act I, Scene 7 of Shakespeare's Macbeth but it may have been. Blake however may have resonated to Shakespeare's description of pity without associating it in his image with 'the horrid deed' and 'vaulting ambition' described in Shakespeare's passage.

Macbeth , Act 1, Scene 7
"... He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other."

If Blake was inspired by words from Shakespeare it was because both men had activated an archetypal image of integrating activities of the spirit at various levels of psychic activity. Blake's myth constructed worlds in which the mind could engage with the fourfold vision. Try looking at Blake's image from four perspectives: sensation (literal or descriptive); feeling (emotion or judgement); reason (rationality or analysis); or intuition (imagination or spirit). Perhaps this image could as well be titled Fourfold Vision.

Letter 23, to Thomas Butts, (E 722)
"Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


___________________________________Image from Songs of Innocence,
_____________________________________Little Black Boy

Blake with his unusually high intelligence can be assumed to have to have learned to read very early in his life. Very likely the Bible was among his preferred reading material. He seems to have been attracted to the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos whose influence is seen in his poetry.

It is interesting to think of Blake as a young child reading the Bible without instruction or supervision, as interacting in his own unique, superintelligent way. He got into some scholarship later and also absorbed the general understanding from his culture. Nevertheless his interaction and interpretation continued to be direct and unusual.

Annotations to Berkeley, (E 664)
"Jesus supposes every Thing to be Evident to the Child & to
the Poor & Unlearned Such is the Gospel
The Whole Bible is filld with Imaginations & Visions from
End to End & not with Moral virtues that is the baseness of Plato
& the Greeks & all Warriors The Moral Virtues are continual
Accusers of Sin & promote Eternal Wars & Domineering over others"

Annotations to Berkeley, (E 664)
"Man is All Imagination God is Man & exists in us & we in him"

Jonathan Roberts and Christopher Rowland contributed a chapter to the Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature in which they present their views on Blake's use of the Bible (Page 376):
"This emphasis on the importance of individuals (and their social contexts) in interpreting the Bible means that Blake is particularly concerned with replacing a literalist hermeneutic with one that considers the Bible to be a stimulus to the imagination. This means above all engaging readers in the interpretation of the text, rather than demanding they accept it as in object above and beyond them. To this end Blake provides a consistent polemic against the preoccupation with the literal sense of the text, and against a reverence for the text that comes at the expense of what an imaginative and life-affirming encounter with the Bible might offer. These two tasks required a thoroughgoing assault on the ways in which the Bible had been constructed and reduced to a focus on the sacrificial death of Jesus and a religion of moral virtue. Blake would have no truck, for example, with the view that humans are inherently sinful: that God must be appeased by a sacrifice (of Christ); and that God - having made that sacrifice - then expects humanity to behave morally in order to stay in relationship with him (i.e. by keeping his commandments). Such an outlook, Blake thought, led to a denial of aspects of the human person and the subjection of some human beings to others."

Blake seemed to continue to read the Bible as he had as a child - with an open mind. He didn't look back to what the words had meant when they were written exclusively, but to what they meant in the immediate present to his own imaginative ability. His conversations with Ezekiel and Isaiah may have begun long before he wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and continued long after.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Although Blake recognized the possibility that pity may become a false, destructive emotion, he acknowledged the Eternal dimension of pity. In the large colour print called Pity he is portraying pity as an expression of caring and compassion which is the Soul's response to another Soul in need.

The pity of Los and Enitharmon in giving bodies to the dead from the ranks of Urizen's war is an expression of the healing which results from Enitharmon's sorrow over her sons and Los' moderating his fury. Pity and wrath become constructive rather than destructive forces.

Four Zoas, Night VII, PAGE 98 [90], (E 370)
"Then I can sigh forth on the winds of Golgonooza piteous forms
That vanish again into my bosom but if thou my Los
Wilt in sweet moderated fury. fabricate forms sublime
Such as the piteous spectres may assimilate themselves into
They shall be ransoms for our Souls that we may live"

Four Zoas, Night VII, Page 98 [90], (E 371)
"But Los loved them & refusd to Sacrifice their infant limbs
And Enitharmons smiles & tears prevaild over self protection
They rather chose to meet Eternal death than to destroy
The offspring of their Care & Pity Urthonas spectre was comforted
But Tharmas most rejoicd in hope of Enions return
For he beheld new Female forms born forth upon the air
Who wove soft silken veils of covering in sweet rapturd trance
Mortal & not as Enitharmon without a covering veil"
Night 8
"Then Los said I behold the Divine Vision thro the broken Gates
Of thy poor broken heart astonishd melted into Compassion & Love
And Enitharmon said I see the Lamb of God upon Mount Zion
Wondring with love & Awe they felt the divine hand upon them
For nothing could restrain the dead in Beulah from descending
Unto Ulros night tempted by the Shadowy females sweet
Delusive cruelty they descend away from the Daughters of Beulah
And Enter Urizens temple Enitharmon pitying & her heart
Gates broken down. they descend thro the Gate of Pity
The broken heart Gate of Enitharmon She sighs them forth upon the wind
Of Golgonooza Los stood recieving them
For Los could enter into Enitharmons bosom & explore
Its intricate Labyrinths now the Obdurate heart was broken"

image from wikimedia

This pity which expresses the Divine Vision results from absorbing suffering into the psyche and embracing it as thread from which Life Eternal is woven. In Blake's image pity is not a one way street from those who have to those who have not. It is involvement in an organic relationship among the breath of God, the incarnate spirit, newborn babe and the receptive human.

If this picture is approached by the Reasoning Spectre, it fails to communicate a coherent message. The Spectre may ask exactly which figure is pity and what is the nature of the pity expressed. To ask whose baby it is and why the lady is lying alone is trying to explain the picture by 'analytics' which yields only confusion. Entering into the picture through imagination invites the various figures to act as a whole which can speak to one intuitively.

Psalms 34
[18] The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

Another post on Pity.
Pity at the Metropolitan.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Erdman, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, lists A Divine Image as SONG 55 and states that it was included in one late copy of Songs of Innocence & of Experience. In his The Illuminated Blake, however he states that it was unpublished by Blake although it was originally etched in about 1791 for Songs of Experience. Blake substituted in Songs of Experience The Human Abstract as a contrary to The Divine Image of Songs of Innocence.

SONGS 55, (E 32)

"Cruelty has a Human Heart
And Jealousy a Human Face
Terror, the Human Form Divine
And Secrecy, the Human Dress

The Human Dress, is forged Iron
The Human Form, a fiery Forge.
The Human Face, a Furnace seal'd
The Human Heart, its hungry Gorge."

There is no doubt that Blake felt deeply the failure of man which is expressed in the lines of A Divine Image, but that was not the note on which he wanted to end Songs of Experience or the myth of Creation, Fall and Return which he assembled in the body of his work. If the Selfhood were to have the last say he may express it in the words of A Divine Image .

But the note on which Blake would like to end Songs of Innocence & of Experience may be expressed in these words from Milton Percival in William Blake's Circle of Destiny.

"The most that can be accomplished [in the Last Judgment], so far as the Elect are concerned, is to destroy their power over others. Mortal life and a Last Judgment exist that the Redeemed may be freed from error's power as it is constantly exercised by the Elect. The restless rational mind will never be stilled. Doubt will always arise, the principle of self will remain; but the Redeemed who live largely by their emotions, will have freed themselves from the Elect, who live by rational doubts and fears. They will have learned to disregard the rationalists who harass them and to live in the translucence in their own hearts, the Christ himself."

Blake's intention was that the term Divine Image be reserved for the aspects of God and Man which are expressed in this section from Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, Plate 96, (E 256)
"Jesus replied Fear not Albion unless I die thou canst not live
But if I die I shall arise again & thou with me
Albion replyd. Cannot Man exist without Mysterious
Offering of Self for Another, is this Friendship & Brotherhood
I see thee in the likeness & similitude of Los my Friend

Jesus said. Wouldest thou love one who never died
For thee or ever die for one who had not died for thee
And if God dieth not for Man & giveth not himself
Eternally for Man Man could not exist. for Man is Love:
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little Death
In the Divine Image nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood"


Saturday, November 5, 2011


Blake's task in the final three poems of Songs of Innocence and of Experience is reconciling the disparate attitudes which result from seeing the world as pure and holy and seeing the world as damaged and defiled. Those who see only as Innocents are escapists; those who see only through Experience are cynics or tyrants. In his little lines from Auguries of Innocence, Blake suggests an answer to this conundrum:

Songs and Ballads, Auguries of Innocence, (E 491)
"It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands"

Although Blake was inconsistent in the arrangement of the poems in Songs of Innocence and of Experience most of the later copies have the same three poems to conclude the series. Since he had been 'Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul', we may be justified in expecting a resolution of the contraries here at the end.

To Tirzah resolves the issue of the contraries by leaving behind the sexual organization of generation to assume the spiritual body free from earthly considerations. It is our 'Mortal part' which is bound to sensory perceptions. Blake, in To Tirzah, is showing that confining our perception to that provided by the material mortal body, closes us to freedom to live in the spirit which Jesus offers.

The Schoolboy focuses attention of imagination as the means through which our minds learn to experience eternal values. The Schoolboy was originally included in Songs of Innocence where it functions well, but placed at the end of Experience it serves the purpose of showing how the development of the imagination opens a gate into the Eternal.

Voice of the Ancient Bard pulls together contraries in invitation and warning. The 'image of truth new born' can be pursued if we avoid the old traps into which we habitually fall.

Each of these three poems mentions being born. The resolution of the contraries of innocence and experience, the joy and woe of life, is rebirth to an understanding of the error in each so that it may be annihilated. An adequate 'Image of Truth' is fully aware of the Eternal nature underlying reality, and assimilates an awareness of shortcomings of our minds and the world we create through our errors of perception.

SONGS 52, (E 30)
To Tirzah

"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]

SONGS 53, (E 31)
The School Boy

"I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour.
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro' with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father & mother, if buds are nip'd,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip'd
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and cares dismay,

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear,
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear."

SONGS 54, (E 31)
The Voice of the Ancient Bard.

"Youth of delight come hither:
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born.
Doubt is fled & clouds of reason.
Dark disputes & artful teazing.
Folly is an endless maze,
Tangled roots perplex her ways,

How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but care
And wish to lead others, when they should be led"

Image from British Museum
Songs of Innocence and of Experience

This image was included as a final plate in three early copies of Songs of Innocence and of Experience; later it was replaced by the poem To Tirzah. Erdman (The Illuminated Blake) writes of this picture: "the children gathering here are supporting the Savior in the sense that their belief (like the piper's in Songs 27) enable them and us to see his human form. When Blake replaced this picture with 'To Tizrah' he was choosing another way to say 'It is Raised a Spiritual Body.'" (Page 388) Erdman also says that looking at this plate we can 'understand that the Eternal Man 'has risen,' out of the realm of 'Contrary States,' (Page 94)

Friday, November 4, 2011


Blake's best known short poem is from:
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, (E 24)
The Tyger

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

A second occurrence of the line from Tyger, ' the stars threw down their spears,' appears in the Four Zoas, Night V, Page 64 (E344). Urizen is speaking.

"O Fool could I forget the light that filled my bright spheres
Was a reflection of his face who calld me from the deep

I well remember for I heard the mild & holy voice
Saying O light spring up & shine & I sprang up from the deep
He gave to me a silver scepter & crownd me with a golden crown
& said Go forth & guide my Son who wanders on the ocean

I went not forth. I hid myself in black clouds of my wrath
I calld the stars around my feet in the night of councils dark
The stars threw down their spears & fled naked away
We fell. I siezd thee dark Urthona In my left hand falling

I siezd thee beauteous Luvah"

Judging from the amount of interest there is in Blake's Tyger, it hooks into an archetypal reality which is easily activated. There is much agreement that Tyger is saying something important, but little agreement on what it is saying. Here is another stab.

One mystifying line in the poem, "when the stars threw down their spears," appears also in the Four Zoas at a critical moment when Urizen/Satan refuses obedience to the Almighty. At that point a chain reaction begins - with the stars. So the line in Tyger reminds us of the cataclysmic event when Urizen fell and took with him Urthona and Luvah.

Three Zoas Falling

It is easy for me to see Tyger as autobiographical. The conflict within Blake of his reason and imagination, is expressed in the dynamic battle between Urizen and Los thoughout Blake's myth. The Tyger himself can represent the battlefield Blake sees within. Forces of beauty, restraint, explosive activity and expanded consciousness compete for dominance. Blake's struggle is to achieve that balance which will allow his imagination a free reign of expression, without becoming an uncontrolled destructive force.

Look at the words in Tyger that make one think
of Los: fire, hammer, anvil, furnace, chain;
of Urizen: bright, aspire, seize, stars;
of Luvah: heart, began to beat;
of Jesus: tears, smile, work, Lamb.

The multiple parts within the human mind make possible an internal state of competition. But the use of the word 'symmetry' signifies to me the balanced pattern in which Blake saw the Four Zoas as aspects of the psyche. The symmetry becomes fearful when the delicate alignment is disturbed. We have seen how every aspect of the Divine Humanity is affected by any refusal of a Zoa to accept his appointed role. (See blog post Fallen Zoas) All are 'members of one another'. (Paul - Ephesians 4:25)

The Tyger's fascination may come from the unresolved tension which it portrays - a state we each frequently experience.