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

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Blake had reservations about creating the illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy. Dante's ideas of sin, punishment and a God of vengeance were far from the image of God Blake knew from experience. Although he often created his illustrations with complete adherence to Dante's descriptions, as opportunity arose Blake altered the images to convey his own ideas.

Jerusalem, Plate 22, (E 168)

"Jerusalem then stretchd her hand toward the Moon & spoke

Why should Punishment Weave the Veil with Iron Wheels of War
When Forgiveness might it Weave with Wings of Cherubim" 
Jerusalem, Plate 31 [35], (E 177)
"And the Divine voice came from the Furnaces, as multitudes without
Number! the voices of the innumerable multitudes of Eternity.
And the appearance of a Man was seen in the Furnaces;            
Saving those who have sinned from the punishment of the Law,
(In pity of the punisher whose state is eternal death,)
And keeping them from Sin by the mild counsels of his love."

Inscriptions, On Blake's Illustrations to Dante, (E 688)
"Whatever Book is for Vengeance for Sin & whatever Book is
Against the Forgiveness of Sins is not of the Father but of Satan
the Accuser & Father of Hell"
British Museum
Illustrations to Dante's Divine Comedy
'Beatrice on the car, Matilda and Dante'
One illustration which Blake seems to have taken pleasure in working on is titled Beatrice on the car, Matilda and Dante. Dante has arrived at the river Lethe having passed through purgatory. Virgil who has been his guide through hell and purgatory was not to cross over with him to Eden, the Earthly Paradise, because he was a pagan. Henceforth Dante's guide will be Beatrice who awaits him in the procession on the far bank. The procession is composed of entities from the Book of Revelation: the candelabra with seven candles, the four-and-twenty elders and the griffin drawing the car in which Beatrice rides. The Griffin which is a combination of two animals, was used by Dante to symbolise Christ who is of a double nature. A point of disagreement between Dante and Blake concerns Beatrice who represents to Dante the church which to Blake was not the sole vehicle for salvation but a fallen destructive institution.  

The blessedness of Eden is represented in the light which radiates from the candelabra and stretches across the heavens in a rainbow. Dante is prepared to cross the river Lethe and bathe in its waters which will wash away his memories. He will cross another river also; the Eunoe whose waters will restore happy, helpful, life-giving memories to carry with him to the upper heavens.

Although Blake portrayed a positive uplifting scene, you may notice a long string of clouds surrounding much of the procession; these are the type of clouds which Blake associates with Vala who was in such opposition to Jerusalem. This is a reminder that Dante's system diverged from the truth Blake perceived.

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