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

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I have posted several times recently on Vala in her various manifestations and have revisited the Arlington Tempera about which much more needs to be said. I plan to relate more of what Kathleen Raine writes in Blake and Tradition about the Arlington Tempera. However today I will first repost material from two of Larry's posts from September 2009 & 11. Raine treats the Arlington Tempera in a section of her book which she names: The Myth of the Soul. The Soul's journey is traced in the wanderings of Vala and in the imagery of the Arlington Tempera.

Larry Clayton's post:

" A most significant key to Blake's symbolism came to light only in 1947 when Arlington Court was bequeathed to the British National Trust. Among the furnishings there was a large tempera by Blake, called alternatively The Sea of Time and Space or The Cave of the Nymphs. This treasure had been hidden from public eyes for a century.

(Most of us are unlikely to see the original, but Blake and Antiquity by Kathleen Raine offers several glimpses of the picture with a detailed account of the symbols it contains. There is no better way to begin an understanding of Blake at the deeper level than to read carefully and study this small and accessible book.)

The picture contains the essential symbolism of Blake's myth; the theme goes back to Homer, then to Plato and Porphyry.

Blake and Taylor were approximately the same age and as young men close friends. Many people think that Taylor introduced Blake to the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions. It seems certain that Taylor's On the Homeric Cave of the Nymphs deeply influenced the painting of the Arlington Tempera. It also introduced a great number of the most common symbols used in Blake's myth; they were used over and over throughout Blake's work."

Continuing from another post:

"The last post included a link to the Arlington Tempera. You may see it as an excellent portrayal of the Circle of Destiny.

One of the common names for the picture is The Sea of Time and Space. However Damon suggested The Circle of Life as a more appropriate term.

The sea in the picture is only one of several vital scenes; it occurs in the left foreground. The right hand part portrays the Cave of the Nymphs, found in the 13th book of the Odyssey. In fact it's from an interpretation of the cave by Porphyry, a 3rd century a Neoplatonist philosopher.

The upper left portrays Eternity. The center shows two prominent characters. The man kneeling on the shore has been given several names: Odysseus by Kathleen Raine, Luvah by Damon, Albion/Jesus by Digby, or better yet, Everyman (you and I). He has gotten close to completion of the circle of destiny; without looking at the sea he is throwing the girdle of Leucothea which she had lent him to be able to swim ashore (Blake used Book 5 of the Odyssey for this feature).

Behind 'Everyman' stands a woman, perhaps Athena (Raine), Vala (Damon), the anima (Digby). (This shows how Blake says different things to different people -- much like the Bible!)

On the right side of the picture there's an image you might imagine as a double escalator with the right side going down and the left up. Down the northern come the souls with a hankering for mortal life. Up the southern may go Everyman:

Gates of Paradise, The Keys of the Gates, (E 269)
"13 But when once I did descry
The Immortal Man that cannot Die
14 Thro evening shades I haste away
To close the Labours of my Day"

We can only suppose that Everyman, responding to the radiant woman's signal, looked up and moved!"

To conclude here is a quote from Raine's Blake and Tradition:
"The figure of the soul is symbolized by a series of female figures, each a little more complex than the last - Thel, Lyca, Oothoon, Vala, and Jerusalem. All these experience descent, suffering and return... In Jerusalem the story of the soul is Christianized but retains traces of the earlier myths out of which grew this latest expression of Blake's mature spiritual insight and perfected artistry." (Page 67,68)

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