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

Friday, August 31, 2012


Metropolitan Museum  of Art
Illustrations to Pastorals of Virgil
Thenot Remonstrates With Colinet
Here is a quote about Blake's illustrations to Thornton's Virgil (1821-21) from William Blake, by Martin Butlin, published by the Blake Trust:

"The impact of these exquisite designs is best expressed in the words of Samuel Palmer: 'I sat down with Mr. Blake's Thornton's Virgil woodcuts before me, thinking to give their merits my feeble testimony. I happened to think first of their sentiment. They are visions of little dells, and nooks, and corners of Paradise; models of the exquisitest pitch of intense poetry. I thought of their light and shade, and looking upon them found no word to describe them. Intense depth, solemnity, and vivid brilliancy only coldly and partially describe it. There is in all such a mystic and dreamy glimmer as penetrates and kindles the innermost soul, and gives complete and unreserved delight, unlike the gaudy daylight of this world. They are like all that wonderful artist's works the drawing aside of the earthly curtain, and the glimpse which all the most holy, studious saints and sages have enjoyed, that rest which remaineth to the people of God.' The designs had an over-whelming impact on Palmer's visionary works of the Shoreham period and also on the engravings of Edward Calvert." Page 138

It seems to have been impossible for Blake to be half-hearted about any project in which he engaged or to please any who were not inclined to respect his visionary art.  When John Linnell arranged for Blake to produce some illustrations for Dr Thornton's reprint of his Pastorals of Virgil, Blake learned the technique to woodcutting instead of using his usual engraving technique. We can follow the production process from the original watercolor sketches, through at least one conventional engraving, to the blocks of the woodcuttings, to the proof sheets, and to the prints in the book. Thornton was not satisfied with the original woodcuts but became reconciled to using them when he learned how highly they were respected by other artists. Thornton introduced Blake illustrations with faint praise.

The curator of the British Museum writes:
"Introducing Blake's illustrations to Philips's eclogue Thornton writes that they 'display less of art than genius', although he also boasts that they are by 'the famous Blake'. Certainly, Blake's wood engravings were extremely unconventional: they were also clearly more artistically ambitious than the numerous other illustrations in 'Pastorals of Virgil'".

Dr Thornton would have done well to read from Blake's Descriptive Catalogue to learn that the visionary artist is representing realities unseen by the 'mortal perishing organ of sight' which sees only 'a cloudy vapour or a nothing'. To the artist the imagination is the visionary eye through which spiritual existence is made known. The image he produces conveys the lineaments of the object represented, not the superficial appearance. Unless the viewer sees through his imagination to the underlying spirit which is animated, the picture is nothing but a misrepresentation of nature.

Descriptive Catalogue
, (E 541)

"The connoisseurs and artists who have made objections to
Mr. B.'s mode of representing spirits with real bodies, would do
well to consider that the Venus, the Minerva, the Jupiter, the
Apollo, which they admire in Greek statues, are all of them
representations of spiritual existences of God's immortal, to
the mortal perishing organ of sight; and yet they are embodied
and organized in solid marble.  Mr. B. requires the same latitude
and all is well.  The Prophets describe what they saw in Vision
as real and existing men whom they saw with their imaginative and
immortal organs; the Apostles the same; the clearer the organ the
more distinct the object.  A Spirit and a Vision are not, as the 
modern philosophy supposes, a cloudy vapour or a
nothing: they are organized and minutely articulated beyond all
that the mortal and perishing nature can produce.  He who does
not imagine in stronger and better lineaments, and in stronger
and better light than his perishing mortal eye can see does not
imagine at all.  The painter of this work asserts that all his
imaginations appear to him infinitely more perfect and more
minutely organized than any thing seen by his
mortal eye.  Spirits are organized men: Moderns wish to 
draw figures without lines, and with great and heavy shadows; 
are not shadows more unmeaning than lines, and more heavy? O 
who can doubt this!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


National Gallery of Art
Rosenwald Collection

The Pastorals of Virgil, 1821
Proof sheet printed by Blake
Samuel Palmer was only 19 years old when he was introduced to William Blake in 1824 by John Linnell. He remained under the influence of Blake 31 years later when he wrote this letter to Alexander Gilchrist for inclusion in his biography The Life of William Blake. Palmer along with the other 'Ancients' admired Blake's woodcuts for Thornton's publication of The Pastorals of Virgil.

From Samuel Palmer to Alexander Gilchrist:

"Kensington, Aug. 23d, 1855. My Dear Sir,
I regret that the lapse of time has made it difficult to recall many interesting particulars respecting Mr. Blake, of whom I can give you no connected account; nothing more, in fact, than the fragments of memory; but the general impression of what is great remains with us, although its details may be confused; and Blake, once known, could never be forgotten.
His knowledge was various and extensive, and his conversation so nervous and brilliant, that, if recorded at the time, it would now have thrown much light upon his character, and in no way lessened him in the estimation of those who know him only by his works.
In him you saw at once the Maker, the Inventor; one of the
few in any age: a fitting companion for Dante. He was energy itself, and shed around him a kindling influence; an atmosphere of life, full of the ideal. To walk with him in the country was to perceive the soul of beauty through the forms of matter; and the high gloomy buildings between which, from his study window, a glimpse was caught of the Thames and the Surrey shore, assumed a kind grandeur from the man dwelling near them. Those may laugh at this who never knew such an one as Blake; but of him it is the simple truth.
He was a man without a mask; his aim single, his path straightforwards, and his wants few; so he was free, noble, and happy.
His voice and manner were quiet, yet all awake with intellect. Above the tricks of littleness, or the least taint of affectation, with a natural dignity which few would have dared to affront, he was gentle and affectionate, loving to be with little children, and to talk about them. "That is heaven," he said to a friend, leading him to the window, and pointing to a group of them at play.
Declining, like Socrates, whom in many respects he resembled, the common objects of ambition, and pitying the scuffle to obtain them, he thought that no one could be truly great who had not humbled himself " even as a little child." This was a subject he loved to dwell upon, and to illustrate.
His eye was the finest I ever saw: brilliant, but not roving, clear and intent, yet susceptible; it flashed with genius, or melted in tenderness. It could also be terrible. Cunning and falsehood quailed under it, but it was never busy with them. It pierced them, and turned away. Nor was the mouth less expressive; the lips flexible and quivering with feeling. I can yet recal it when, on one occasion, dwelling upon the exquisite beauty of the parable of the Prodigal, he began to repeat a part of it; but at the words, "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him," could go no further; his voice faltered, and he was in tears.
I can never forget the evening when Mr. Linnell took me to Blake's house, nor the quiet hours passed with him in the examination of antique gems, choice pictures, and Italian prints of the sixteenth century. Those who may have read some strange passages in his Catalogue, written in irritation, and probably in haste, will be surprised to hear, that in conversation he was anything but sectarian or exclusive, finding sources of delight throughout the whole range of art; while, as a critic, he was judicious and discriminating.
No man more admired Albert Diirer; yet, after looking over a number of his designs, he would become a little angry with some of the draperies, as not governed by the forms of the limbs, nor assisting to express their action; contrasting them in this respect with the draped antique, in which it was hard to tell whether he was more delighted with the general design, or with the exquisite finish and the depth of the chiselling; in works of the highest class, no mere adjuncts, but the last development of the design itself.
He united freedom of judgment with reverence for all that is great. He did not look out for the works of the purest ages, but for the purest works of every age and country—Athens or Rhodes, Tuscany or Britain; but no authority or popular consent could influence him against his deliberate judgment. Thus he thought with Fuseli and Flaxman that the Elgin Theseus, however full of antique savour, could not, as ideal form, rank with the very finest relics of antiquity. Nor, on the other hand, did the universal neglect of Fuseli in any degree lessen his admiration of his best works.
He fervently loved the early Christian art, and dwelt with peculiar affection on the memory of Fra Angelico, often speaking of him as an inspired inventor and as a saint; but when he approached Michael Angelo, the Last Supper of Da Vinci, the Torso Belvidere, and some of the inventions preserved in the Antique Gems, all his powers were concentrated in admiration.
When looking at the heads of the apostles in the copy of the Last Supper at the Royal Academy, he remarked of all but Judas,' Every one looks as if he had conquered the natural man.' He was equally ready to admire a contemporary and a rival. Fuseli's picture of Satan building the Bridge over Chaos he ranked with the grandest efforts of imaginative art, and said that we were two centuries behind the civilization which would enable us to estimate his /Egisthus.
He was fond of the works of St. Theresa, and often quoted them with other writers on the interior life. Among his eccentricities will, no doubt, be numbered his preference for ecclesiastical governments. He used to ask how it was that we heard so much of priestcraft, and so little of soldiercraft and lawyercraft.
The Bible, he said, was the book of liberty and Christianity the sole regenerator of nations. In politics a Platonist, he put no trust in demagogues. His ideal home was with Fra Angelico: a little later he might have been a reformer, but after the fashion of Savonarola.
He loved to speak of the years spent by Michael Angelo, without earthly reward, and solely for the love of God, in the building of St. Peter's, and of the wondrous architects of our cathedrals. In Westminster Abbey were his earliest and most sacred recollections. I asked him how he would like to paint on glass, for the great west window, his "Sons of God shouting for Joy," from his designs in the Job. He said, after a pause, "I could do it!" kindling at the thought.
Centuries could not separate him in spirit from the artists who went about our land, pitching their tents by the morass or the forest side, to build those sanctuaries that now lie ruined amidst the fertility which they called into being.
His mind was large enough to contain, along with these things, stores of classic imagery. He delighted in Ovid, and, as a labour of love, had executed a finished picture from the Metamorphoses, after Giulio Romano. This design hung in his room, and, close by his engraving table, Albert Diirer's Melancholy the Mother of Invention, memorable as probably having been seen by Milton, and used in his Penseroso. There are living a few artists, then boys, who may remember the smile of welcome with which he used to rise from that table to receive them.
His poems were variously estimated. They tested rather severely the imaginative capacity of their readers. Flaxman said they were as grand as his designs, and Wordsworth delighted in his Songs 0/ Innocence. To the multitude they were unintelligible. In many parts full of pastoral sweetness, and often flashing with noble thoughts or terrible imagery, we must regret that he should sometimes have suffered fancy to trespass within sacred precincts.
Thrown early among the authors who resorted to Johnson, the book-seller, he rebuked the profanity of Paine, and was no disciple of Priestley; but, too undisciplined and cast upon times and circumstances which yielded him neither guidance nor sympathy, he wanted that balance of the faculties which might have assisted him in matters extraneous to his profession. He saw everything through art, and, in matters beyond its range, exalted it from a witness into a judge.
He had great powers of argument, and on general subjects was a very patient and good-tempered disputant; but materialism was his abhorrence: and if some unhappy man called in question the world of spirits, he would answer him "according to his folly," by putting forth his own views in their most extravagant and startling aspect. This might amuse those who were in the secret, but it left his opponent angry and bewildered.
Such was Blake, as I remember him. He was one of the few to be met with in our passage through life, who are not, in some way or other, "double minded " and inconsistent with themselves; one of the very few who cannot be depressed by neglect, and to whose name rank and station could add no lustre. Moving apart, in a sphere above the attraction of worldly honours, he did not accept greatness, but confer it. He ennobled poverty, and, by his conversation and the influence of his genius, made two small rooms in Fountain Court more attractive than the threshold of princes.
I remain, my dear Sir,
Yours very faithfully,
Samuel Palmer. To Alexander Gilchrist, Esq."

Monday, August 27, 2012


Library of Congress
Marriage of Heaven & Hell
Plate 10, Copy D

T. S. Eliot captures much of Blake's character and independent nature in this passage. Blake's lack of formal education under the tutelage of orthodox authorities contributed to the confidence he had in his own ability to create his own system based on his own experience. F
rom the chapter Twentieth-Century Criticism, (T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays) in Blake's Poetry and Designs, edited by Mary Lynn Johnson and John E Grant, we read:

"It is important that the artist should be highly educated in his own art; but his education is one that is hindered rather than helped by the ordinary processes of society which constitute education for the ordinary man. For these processes consist largely in the acquisition of impersonal ideas which obscure what we really are and feel, what we really want, and what excites our interest. It is of course not the actual information acquired, but the conformity which the accumulation of knowledge is apt to impose, that is harmful. Tennyson is a very fair example of a poet almost wholly encrusted with opinion, which wholly merged with his environment. Blake, on the other hand, knew what interested him, and he therefore presents only the essential, only, in fact, what can be presented and need not be explained. And because he was not distracted, or frightened, or occupied in anything but exact statements, he understood. He was naked, he saw man naked, and from the centre of his own crystal. To him there was no more reason why Swedenborg should be absurd than Locke. He accepted Swedenborg, and eventually rejected him, for reasons of his own. He approached everything with a mind unclouded by current opinions. There was nothing of the superior person about him. This makes him terrifying."
(Page 508)

Milton, Plate 38 [43], (E 139)
"In the Eastern porch of Satans Universe Milton stood & said
Thy purpose & the purpose of thy Priests & of thy Churches
Is to impress on men the fear of death; to teach
Trembling & fear, terror, constriction; abject selfishness
Mine is to teach Men to despise death & to go on
In fearless majesty annihilating Self, laughing to scorn
Thy Laws & terrors, shaking down thy Synagogues as webs
I come to discover before Heavn & Hell the Self righteousness
In all its Hypocritic turpitude, opening to every eye
These wonders of Satans holiness shewing to the Earth
The Idol Virtues of the Natural Heart, & Satans Seat
Explore in all its Selfish Natural Virtue & put off
In Self annihilation all that is not of God alone:
To put off Self & all I have ever & ever Amen"


Saturday, August 25, 2012


This sketch was inscribed by John Linnell , 'at Hamstead Drawn by Mr Blake from the life. Intended as the Portrait of J. Linnell'. 
For a better view of the picture: right click on image, select open in new window, click to enlarge.
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Rosenwald Collection

Among the younger men who became Blake's friends later in his life, John Linnell (1792-1882) stands out. He was introduced to Blake in 1818 by a son of Blake's good long term friend George Cumberland. The two men, both artists, found that they enjoyed one another's company in spite of the difference of 35 years in their ages. One evidence of the regard they felt for each other is revealed in the copy of The Marriage of Heaven & Hell which Blake produced for Linnell in 1821. According to a statement in the Blake Archive, Blake took particular time and care in coloring and detailing a copy which he had printed thirty years previously. The effort Blake put into it was not reflected in the discount price at which the copy was sold to Linnell. Copy H of Marriage of Heaven & Hell can best be viewed at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

It was to Linnell that Blake entrusted the manuscript of Four Zoas. Blake had worked on the manuscript for about ten years and developed much of his system of thought through writing it. Although Blake discontinued work on the Four Zoas in about 1808, he wanted to see it preserved not lost. Linnell and his descendants fulfilled their obligation and the manuscript resides in the British Library. 

Letters, (E 778)
"To John Linnell Esqre, N 6 Cirencester Place,
Fitzroy Square
[Postmark: 2 July 1826]
My dearest Friend
     This sudden cold weather has cut up all my hopes by the
roots.  Everyone who knows of our intended flight into your
delightful Country concur in saying: "Do not Venture till summer
appears again".  I also feel Myself weaker than I was aware,
being not able as yet to sit up longer than six hours at a
time. & also feel the Cold too much to dare venture beyond my
present precincts.  My heartiest Thanks for your care in my
accomodation & the trouble you will yet have with me.  But I get
better & stronger every day, tho weaker in muscle & bone than I
supposed. As to pleasantness of Prospect it is All pleasant
Prospect at North End.  Mrs Hurd's I should like as well as
any--But think of the Expense & how it may be spared & never mind
     I intend to bring with me besides our necessary change of
apparel Only My Book of Drawings from Dante & one Plate shut up
in the Book.  All will go very well in the Coach. which at
present would be a rumble I fear I could not go thro.  So that
I conclude another Week must pass before I dare Venture upon what
I ardently desire--the seeing you with your happy Family once
again & that for a longer Period than I had ever hoped in my
health full hours
I am dear Sir
Yours most gratefully

Thursday, August 23, 2012


British Museum
Catherine Blake
1762 - 1831
by Frederick Tatham, Septr. 1828

Because Blake was convinced of the value of his work as a record of his visionary experience, he was careful to provide for its preservation. The quantity of his work which survives is testimony to his success. Often in his lifetime his work was sold to people who recognised the spiritual nature of his work and its value to posterity. Much of his work was maintained in his possession and passed to his wife Catherine on his death in August 1827. She continued to sell items during her lifetime but only if she thought her husband would have approved. Frederick Tatham received much of the residue of William's work on Catherine's death. 

Here is a letter by Tatham included in Discussions of William Blake edited by John E. Grant:

"To Francis Harvey, [dealer]
June 8, 1864

Dear Sir,
The MS  you purchased of me was part of the possessions into which I came by legacy from Mrs. Blake, the widow of that extraordinary and excellent man, William Blake, Visionary, Poet and Painter, who had a consummate knowledge of the great writers in all languages...His knowledge was immense, his industry beyond parallel, and his life innocent, simple and laborious, far beyond that of other men. Childlike, indomitable, proud, and humble, he carried out a sort of purpose in his life which seemed only to produce what was invisible to the natural eye, to the despising of things which are seen: he therefore became wild and his theories wanted solidity; but he was the most delightful and interesting man that ever an intellectual lover of art could spend a day with; and he died as he lived. He was much associated with many of the great men of the age in which he lived, and was meek and companionable with them...
Very faithfully yours,
Frederick Tatham "

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


From Kathleen Raine's book, Golgonooza, City of Imagination, we can learn more of what Blake meant by 'Jesus the Imagination' and about the function of states in the journey through mortal life. Page 154-6

"But for Blake Jesus is something more specific: he is 'Jesus, the Imagination, the 'supreme state' of humanity which transcends, and releases from, all the states of good and evil through which human souls pass. The presence of Jesus the Imagination is with every man at all times present, born with every birth, accompanying every soul throughout life as the 'saviour' who releases the man from his present state. It is Satan, the Selfhood, who identifies the man with his present state; and who therefore is the Accuser who condemns; the Divine Humanity, Jesus the Imagination, is the ever-present way of release from the states. Imagination is called the 'savior' because the Person of the Divine Humanity is also able to:

'take away the imputation of Sin
By the Creation of States & the deliverance of Individuals
     Evermore Amen
But many doubted & despaird & imputed Sin & Righteousness       
To Individuals & not to States'
Jerusalem, Plate 25, (E 170)

'The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself'
Milton Plate 33 [36], (E 132)

Both the heavens and the hells Blake saw as alike remote from this state, the heavens of the self-righteous condemning in 'cruel holiness' the hells of the sinners; and he goes on to write:
'Yet they are blameless & Iniquity must be imputed only           
To the State they are enterd into that they may be deliverd:
Satan is the State of Death, & not a Human existence:
But Luvah is named Satan, because he has enterd that State.
A World where Man is by Nature the enemy of Man
Because the Evil is Created into a State. that Men               
May be deliverd time after time evermore.'

- and the passage concludes:

'Learn therefore O Sisters to distinguish the Eternal Human
That walks about among the stones of fire in bliss & woe
Alternate! from those States or Worlds in which the Spirit travels:
This is the only means to Forgiveness of Enemies'  
Jerusalem, Plate 49, (E 199) 
Human beings can be forgiven for they are not irrevocably 'evil' but can pass
through many states, and the supreme state is the goal of all.
Blake's own words best describe his vision of Jesus the Imagination as 
depicted in his Vision of the Last Judgement:  
'Around the Throne Heaven is opend & the Nature of Eternal Things Displayd All Springing from the Divine Humanity All beams from him, as he himself has said, All dwells in him. He is the Bread & the Wine; he is the Water of Life.' Vision of Last Judgement, (E 561)"

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Letters, (E 722)
[To Thomas Butts, 22 November 1802],
"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"

In a letter to William Hayley of October 1804, Blake reports that he has suddenly been revisited by the ability to see as he had seen in his youth. Blake's familiar lines concerning fourfold vision clarify understanding about levels of vision which may operate in our minds. Actually achieving the ability to enter into the higher vision and allow it to be expressed through one's actions is more difficult. Apparently Blake came to realise his vision had become clouded by the conflicts within his mind and within his life. It was not until his eyes were opened at the Truchsessian Gallery that he knew what he had been missing in his perception and his execution. 
Letters, (E756)
[To William Hayley]
[23 October 1804]
"O lovely Felpham, parent of Immortal
Friendship, to thee I am eternally indebted for my three years'
rest from perturbation and the strength I now enjoy.  Suddenly,
on the day after visiting the Truchsessian Gallery of pictures, I
was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and
which has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a
door and by window-shutters.  Consequently I can, with
confidence, promise you ocular demonstration of my altered state
on the plates I am now engraving after Romney, whose spiritual
aid has not a little conduced to my restoration to the light of
Art.  O the distress I have undergone, and my poor wife with me.
Incessantly labouring and incessantly spoiling what I had done
well.  Every one of my friends was astonished at my faults, and
could not assign a reason;
they knew my industry and abstinence from every pleasure for the
sake of study, and yet--and yet--and yet there wanted the proofs
of industry in my works.  I thank God with entire confidence that
it shall be so no longer--he is become my servant who domineered
over me, he is even as a brother who was my enemy.  Dear Sir,
excuse my enthusiasm or rather madness, for I am really drunk
with intellectual vision whenever I take a pencil or graver into
my hand, even as I used to be in my youth, and as I have not been
for twenty dark, but very profitable years.  I thank God that I
courageously pursued my course through darkness" 

Blake's image sometimes referred to as Glad Day, sometimes as Albion Rose, represents a youth who is filled with the exuberance of allowing imagination to flow through him and to be expressed in his body, mind and spirit. When Blake engraved this image in approximately 1805 it was a copy of colored engravings from 1796 (included in the Large Book of Designs for Ozias Humphrey). But Blake dated his later engraving 'inv 1780', the year he had first made sketches of the rejoicing, spirit-filled youth. This was a signal that the image represented the return to clarity of vision he experienced before there was a closing 'as by a door and by window-shutters' of his ability to be enlightened with the light he enjoyed in his youth.
British Museum
Large Book of Designs, 1796
Glad Day

National Gallery of Art
The Dance of Albion (Glad Day), 
c. 1803/1810
Rosenwald Collection

Another indication that Blake associated this image with his emerging back into the light after a long period of obscured vision is the inscription on the engraving:
'Albion rose from where he labourd at the Mill with Slaves / Giving himself for the Nations he danc'd the dance of Eternal Death'. The contrast in this inscription is between laboring as a slave and giving oneself freely to the Nations in this paradoxical life/death of experience.

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 134,(E 402)
"Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field
Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air
Let the inchaind soul shut up in darkness & in sighing           
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years
Rise & look out his chains are loose his dungeon doors are open
And let his wife & children return from the opressors scourge
They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream
Are these the Slaves that groand along the streets of Mystery    
Where are your bonds & task masters are these the prisoners

Where are your chains where are your tears why do you look around
If you are thirsty there is the river go bathe your parched limbs
The good of all the Land is before you for Mystery is no more

Then All the Slaves from every Earth in the wide Universe        
Sing a New Song drowning confusion in its happy notes
While the flail of Urizen sounded loud & the winnowing wind of Tharmas
So loud so clear in the wide heavens & the song that they sung was this
Composed by an African Black from the little Earth of Sotha

Aha Aha how came I here so soon in my sweet native land
How came I here Methinks I am as I was in my youth

PAGE 135 
When in my fathers house I sat & heard his chearing voice
Methinks I see his flocks & herds & feel my limbs renewd
And Lo my Brethren in their tents & their little ones around them

The song arose to the Golden feast the Eternal Man rejoicd"

Milton, Plate 40 [46], (E 141)
"Before Ololon Milton stood & percievd the Eternal Form
Of that mild Vision; wondrous were their acts by me unknown
Except remotely; and I heard Ololon say to Milton

I see thee strive upon the Brooks of Arnon. there a dread
And awful Man I see, oercoverd with the mantle of years.   
I behold Los & Urizen. I behold Orc & Tharmas;
The Four Zoa's of Albion & thy Spirit with them striving
In Self annihilation giving thy life to thy enemies"
Jerusalem, Plate 95, (E 254)
"Her voice pierc'd Albions clay cold ear. he moved upon the Rock
The Breath Divine went forth upon the morning hills, Albion mov'd
Upon the Rock, he opend his eyelids in pain; in pain he mov'd
His stony members, he saw England. Ah! shall the Dead live again

The Breath Divine went forth over the morning hills Albion rose 
In anger: the wrath of God breaking bright flaming on all sides around
His awful limbs: into the Heavens he walked clothed in flames
Loud thundring, with broad flashes of flaming lightning & pillars
Of fire, speaking the Words of Eternity in Human Forms, in direful
Revolutions of Action & Passion, thro the Four Elements on all sides  
Surrounding his awful Members."

Letters, (E 766)
To William Hayley Esqre, Felpham
Decembr 11. 1805
"I speak of Spiritual Things.  Not of
Natural. of Things known only to Myself & to Spirits Good &
Evil. but Not Known to Men on Earth.  It is the passage thro
these Three Years that has brought me into my Present State. & I
know that if I had not been with You I must have

Friday, August 17, 2012


The time which Blake spent in Felpham was not the quiet respite from the pressures of London as he may have expected it would be. There were demands from Hayley which Blake may have been reluctant to fulfil, but the demands which came from inspiration through visions, he fulfilled gladly. He began his poems Milton and Jerusalem at Felpham to the disapproval of Hayley. Like Ezekiel he felt under orders from God to continue his real work. 
Letters,(E 730)
[To Thomas Butts]
Felpham July 6. 1803
"This Poem shall by Divine
Assistance be progressively Printed & Ornamented with Prints &
given to the Public--But of this work I take care to say little
to Mr H. since he is as much averse to my poetry as he is to a
Chapter in the Bible   He knows that I have writ it for I have
shewn it to him & he had read Part by his own desire & has lookd
with sufficient contempt to enhance my opinion of it.  But I do
not wish to irritate by seeming too obstinate in Poetic pursuits
But if all the World should set their   faces against This.  I
have Orders to set my face like a flint.  Ezekiel iii C   9 v.
against their faces & my forehead against their foreheads" 

Ezekiel 3 
[8] Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. 
[9] As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. 
[10] Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears. 
[11] And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. 
[12] Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the LORD from his place. 
[13] I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing.
 [14] So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.

In his letters Blake does not tell us of a particular event that marked a conversion experience but he tells us clearly through his poetry. Blake has a role for himself in in his book Milton in which he was able to give an account of the transformative experience of receiving the spirit which empowered him to write. Los, the prophetic entity of Blake's myth, plays the role of the Holy Spirit in descending to Blake and entering his Soul. This is a description of the empowering experience which removed for Blake any doubts about being called to speak as directed by God.
Milton, Plate 21 [23], (E 115)
"But Milton entering my Foot; I saw in the nether
Regions of the Imagination; also all men on Earth,               
And all in Heaven, saw in the nether regions of the Imagination
In Ulro beneath Beulah, the vast breach of Miltons descent.
But I knew not that it was Milton, for man cannot know
What passes in his members till periods of Space & Time
Reveal the secrets of Eternity: for more extensive               
Than any other earthly things, are Mans earthly lineaments.

And all this Vegetable World appeard on my left Foot,
As a bright sandal formd immortal of precious stones & gold:
I stooped down & bound it on to walk forward thro' Eternity."
Milton, Plate 22 [24], (E 116)
"And Ololon lamented for Milton with a great lamentation.
While Los heard indistinct in fear, what time I bound my sandals
On; to walk forward thro' Eternity, Los descended to me:         
And Los behind me stood; a terrible flaming Sun: just close
Behind my back; I turned round in terror, and behold.
Los stood in that fierce glowing fire; & he also  stoop'd down
And bound my sandals on in Udan-Adan; trembling I stood
Exceedingly with fear & terror, standing in the Vale             
Of Lambeth: but he kissed me and wishd me health.
And I became One  Man  with  him  arising in my strength:
Twas too late now to recede. Los had enterd into my soul:
His terrors now posses'd me whole! I arose in fury & strength."
Library of Congress
Plate 47, Copy D 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


In Felpham Blake had been given a new vision of light: he had seen the oneness of all things, and the particular expression of that oneness in every being. He knew these things at the visionary level but the outer world did not reflect the inner light. Instead he began to see the outer world, especially in the person of William Hayley, as opposing his following the truth he wanted to pursue. His vision was of peace and affirmation, but he found his daily struggle one of tension and dissension. The next stage of his spiritual development became finding a way to deal with the enemy of his spiritual development.
British Museum,
Plate 41, Copy A
Forgiveness, Blake knew, was the way that Jesus taught as the means of dealing with the enemy. Often we know we should forgive and we want to forgive, but our reasoning minds will not let us do it. Rationally there are obstructions like fear, self-preservation, justice, and obedience to the law, preventing us from forgiving. 

Part of what Blake needed to realize was what he later stated in this passage in Jerusalem. He needed to know that God forgives without condition: that we acknowledge our participation in God's family by forgiving and being forgiven. If his reasoning mind prevented him from accepting this he must change his reasoning mind.

Jerusalem, Plate 61, (E 212)
"Saying, Doth Jehovah Forgive a Debt only on condition that it shall
Be Payed? Doth he Forgive Pollution only on conditions of Purity
That Debt is not Forgiven! That Pollution is not Forgiven
Such is the Forgiveness of the Gods, the Moral Virtues of the
Heathen, whose tender Mercies are Cruelty. But Jehovahs Salvation
Is without Money & without Price, in the Continual Forgiveness of Sins
In the Perpetual Mutual Sacrifice in Great Eternity! for behold!
There is none that liveth & Sinneth not! And this is the Covenant
Of Jehovah: If you Forgive one-another, so shall Jehovah Forgive You:
That He Himself may Dwell among You."

The realization that the Selfhood, the internal need of self-justification and self-preservation is the cause of the failure to forgive, led Blake to formulate his means of forgiving. This he learned to do by recognising the opposing force as a part of himself. He could not eliminate his enemy but he could identify the enemy as a part of himself which he could love. 
Milton, PLATE 38 [43], (E 139)
"In the Eastern porch of Satans Universe Milton stood & said
Satan! my Spectre! I know my power thee to annihilate
And be a greater in thy place, & be thy Tabernacle               
A covering for thee to do thy will, till one greater comes
And smites me as I smote thee & becomes my covering.
Such are the Laws of thy false Heavns! but Laws of Eternity
Are not such: know thou: I come to Self Annihilation
Such are the Laws of Eternity that each shall mutually     
Annihilate himself for others good, as I for thee[.]
Thy purpose & the purpose of thy Priests & of thy Churches
Is to impress on men the fear of death; to teach
Trembling & fear, terror, constriction; abject selfishness
Mine is to teach Men to despise death & to go on            
In fearless majesty annihilating Self, laughing to scorn
Thy Laws & terrors, shaking down thy Synagogues as webs"

Milton, Plate 42, (E 142)
"There is a Negation, & there is a Contrary
The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre; the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal           
Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off & annihilated alway
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination."

Jerusalem, Plate 49, (E 199)
"A World where Man is by Nature the enemy of Man
Because the Evil is Created into a State. that Men               
May be deliverd time after time evermore. Amen.
Learn therefore O Sisters to distinguish the Eternal Human
That walks about among the stones of fire in bliss & woe
Alternate! from those States or Worlds in which the Spirit travels:
This is the only means to Forgiveness of Enemies[.]" 

Letter to Hayley, ( E 757)
23 October 1804
"I thank God with entire confidence that
it shall be so no longer--he is become my servant who domineered
over me, he is even as a brother who was my enemy."

Four Zoas, Night VII, Page 95,  (E 367)
"Los embracd the Spectre first as a brother
Then as another Self; astonishd humanizing & in tears
In Self abasement Giving up his Domineering lust"

Sunday, August 12, 2012


The mood of rejoicing which Blake experienced when he moved to Felpham and wrote of his 'first vision of light' was shortlived. The visionary experience impelled him to continue writing prophetic poetry and follow the lead of his imagination wherever it took him. The last illuminated book he had completed was the Song of Los in 1795. Work on an epic which began as Vala and continued as the Four Zoas had been in progress for several years but was bogged down in an incomplete state. A new phase in Blake's career was about to begin, initiated by a clarifying of his vision of God and man and the prophetic role he might play.

British Museum  
Plate 29, Copy A

Although Blake was called to a new mission and message by the new vision which he reported in his letter to Butts, it was not a turn away from Christianity but to a closer commitment to the Jesus whom he knew and loved. He experienced new conflicts as he reoriented his priorities. In November 1802 Blake reassured Butts that the challenges he was facing were being withstood. In January 1803 he expands on the battle which had been consuming his mind and energy.

Letters, (E 720)
Mr Butts, Gr Marlborough Street
Felpham Novr. 22: 18O2
"And now let me finish with assuring you that Tho I have been
very unhappy I am so no longer I am again Emerged into the light
of Day I still & shall to Eternity Embrace Christianity and Adore
him who is the Express image of God but I have traveld thro
Perils & Darkness not unlike a Champion I have Conquerd and shall
still Go on Conquering Nothing can withstand the fury of my
Course among the Stars of God & in the Abysses of the Accuser My
Enthusiasm is still what it was only Enlarged and confirmd"

Letters, (E 724) 
Felpham Jany 10. 180[3] 
"It gives me the greatest of torments, I am not
ashamed afraid or averse to tell You what Ought to be Told.  That
I am under the direction of Messengers from Heaven Daily &
Nightly but the nature of such things is not as some suppose.
without trouble or care.  Temptations are on the right hand &
left behind the sea of time & space roars & follows swiftly he
who keeps not right onward is lost & if our footsteps slide in
clay how can we do otherwise than fear & tremble. but I should
not have troubled You with this account of my spiritual state
unless it had been necessary in explaining the actual cause of my
uneasiness into which you are so kind as to Enquire"

The vision which had been given him and his commitment to Christ tore him from worldly pursuits which might earn money and please his patron William Hayley. But he responded by incorporating the very conflicts which absorbed him into the writing of another prophetic book which he named Milton. Appropriately Jesus appears at the culmination of Milton:

Milton, Plate 49, (E 143)
"Jesus wept & walked forth
From Felphams Vale clothed in Clouds of blood, to enter into     
Albions Bosom, the bosom of death & the Four surrounded him
In the Column of Fire in Felphams Vale; then to their mouths the Four
Applied their Four Trumpets & them sounded to the Four winds

Terror struck in the Vale I stood at that immortal sound
My bones trembled. I fell outstretchd upon the path              
A moment, & my Soul returnd into its mortal state
To Resurrection & Judgment in the Vegetable Body"
Blake commitment to Jesus is seen in these passages in the Four Zoas and Jerusalem. We see also his understanding of the suffering such commitment may bring.

Four Zoas, Night VIII, 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

 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
 Is aught but death In individual weakness sorrow & pain"

 Jerusalem, Plate 25, (E 170)
"As the Sons of Albion have done to Luvah: so they have in him
Done to the Divine Lord & Saviour, who suffers with those that suffer:
For not one sparrow can suffer, & the whole Universe not  suffer also,
In all its Regions, & its Father & Saviour not pity and  weep.
But Vengeance is the destroyer of Grace & Repentance in the bosom
Of the Injurer: in which the Divine Lamb is cruelly slain:
Descend O Lamb of God & take away the imputation of Sin
By the Creation of States & the deliverance of Individuals Evermore Amen"

Saturday, August 11, 2012


The period in Blake's life immediately before, after and during the time he resided in Felpham, was critical to his spiritual development. Before his move from London in September 1800, he was discouraged by political conditions and by personal experiences.

Yale Center for British Art
Blake's Watercolours
for the Poems of Thomas Gray
We can follow some of the developments in Blake's life through letters he wrote to Thomas Butts from Felpham. 

In the second letter we have from Blake to Thomas Butts he enclosed a poem rejoicing in the new setting in which he found himself. He wrote of 'My first Vision of Light', of 'each particle' seen as 'a Man'. He identified himself with the 'Ram hornd with gold' awakening 'from sleep' and being introduced to the Fold by the visionary voice.

There is no doubt that Blake was reporting a true and immediate experience in his poem. He introduces it by saying: "verses such as Felpham produces by me tho not such as she produces by her Eldest Son." That is to say the verses are by his true identity, his imagination, and not by his reasoning powers: the Elder Brother who was conformed to this world and not to the eternal.

Blake may have identified the experience described in the poem to Butts as turning toward God and the beginning of a new life lived in God's kingdom. However there would be pitfalls and turning points to come because he would be tried by 'the Devil' as are many who are young in Christ. Jesus himself encountered Satan after he consented to baptism by John in the Jordan. For a detailed account of the attempts of 'Our Father Below' to subvert the newly committed Christian's attempts to alter his priorities and behavior, read C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters.

Letters, (E 713)
[To] Mr [Thomas] Butts, Great Marlborough Street
Felpham Octr 2d 1800
I have not got any
forwarder with the three Marys or with any other of your
commissions but hope, now I have commenced a new life of industry
to do credit to that new life by Improved Works: Recieve from me
a return of verses such as Felpham produces by me tho not
such as she produces by her Eldest Son. however such as they
are.  I cannot resist the temptation to send them to you

To my Friend Butts I write
 My first Vision of Light
 On the yellow sands sitting
 The Sun was Emitting
 His Glorious beams
 From Heavens high Streams
 Over Sea over Land
 My Eyes did Expand
 Into regions of air
 Away from all Care
 Into regions of fire
 Remote from Desire
 Saying.  Each grain of Sand
 Every Stone on the Land
 Each rock & each hill
 Each fountain & rill
 Each herb & each tree
 Mountain hill Earth & Sea
 Cloud Meteor & Star
 Are Men Seen Afar
 My Eyes more & more
 Like a Sea without shore
 Continue Expanding
 The Heavens commanding
 Till the jewels of Light
 Heavenly Men beaming bright
 Appeard as One Man
 Who Complacent began
 My limbs to infold
 In his beams of bright gold
 Like dross purgd away
 All my mire & my clay
 Soft consumd in delight
 In his bosom sun bright
 I remaind.  Soft he smild
 And I heard his voice Mild
 Saying This is My Fold
 O thou Ram hornd with gold
 Who awakest from sleep" 
 In Blake's letters and poetry written over the next few years we can follow some of the 
roadblocks he encountered and some of the breakthroughs he achieved. 
We hear echoes of his poem in the letter to Butts in Milton and Jerusalem

Milton, Plate 22 [24], (E 116)
"While Los heard indistinct in fear, what time I bound my sandals
On; to walk forward thro' Eternity, Los descended to me:
And Los behind me stood; a terrible flaming Sun: just close
Behind my back; I turned round in terror, and behold.
Los stood in that fierce glowing fire; & he also stoop'd down
And bound my sandals on in Udan-Adan; trembling I stood
Exceedingly with fear & terror, standing in the Vale
Of Lambeth: but he kissed me and wishd me health.
And I became One Man with him arising in my strength:
Twas too late now to recede. Los had enterd into my soul:
His terrors now posses'd me whole! I arose in fury & strength."

Jerusalem, Plate 99, (E 257)
"All Human Forms identified even Tree Metal Earth & Stone. all
Human Forms identified, living going forth & returning wearied
Into the Planetary lives of Years Months Days & Hours reposing
And then Awaking into his Bosom in the Life of Immortality.
And I heard the Name of their Emanations they are named Jerusalem

The End of The Song
of Jerusalem"


Thursday, August 9, 2012


British Museum
Plate 96
Copy A

Tharmas the last named of the Four Zoas was also 'the parent power.' He emerged from the water like the first living land creatures which appeared in the evolutionary process. He is not as active and articulate as the other three Zoas. His role is that of a motivating force, always seeking and searching and impelling others to speak and act. The object of his search is his emanation Enion whose reunion with Tharmas is a feature at the feast of the Eternals at the culmination of the Four Zoas.Link
The image of Albion's reunion with England could represent Tharmas' reunion with Enion.

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 132, (E 400):
"The feast was spread in the bright South & the Regenerate Man
Sat at the feast rejoicing & the wine of Eternity
Was servd round by the flames of Luvah all Day & all the Night
And when Morning began to dawn upon the distant hills
a whirlwind rose up in the Center & in the Whirlwind a shriek
And in the Shriek a rattling of bones & in the rattling of bones
A dolorous groan & from the dolorous groan in tears
Rose Enion like a gentle light & Enion spoke saying

O Dreams of Death the human form dissolving companied
By beasts & worms & creeping things & darkness & despair
The clouds fall off from my wet brow the dust from my cold limbs

Into the Sea of Tharmas Soon renewd a Golden Moth
I shall cast off my death clothes & Embrace Tharmas again
For Lo the winter melted away upon the distant hills
And all the black mould sings. She speaks to her infant race her milk
Descends down on the sand. the thirsty sand drinks & rejoices
Wondering to behold the Emmet the Grasshopper the jointed worm
The roots shoot thick thro the solid rocks bursting their way
They cry out in joys of existence. the broad stems
Rear on the mountains stem after stem the scaly newt creeps
From the stone & the armed fly springs from the rocky crevice
The spider. The bat burst from the hardend slime crying
To one another what are we & whence is our joy & delight
Lo the little moss begins to spring & the tender weed
Creeps round our secret nest. Flocks brighten the Mountains
Herds throng up the Valley wild beasts fill the forests

Joy thrilld thro all the Furious form of Tharmas humanizing
Mild he Embracd her whom he sought he raisd her thro the heavens
Sounding his trumpet to awake the Dead on high he soard
Over the ruind worlds the smoking tomb of the Eternal Prophet

PAGE 133

The Eternal Man arose he welcomd them to the Feast
The feast was spread in the bright South & the Eternal Man
Sat at the feast rejoicing & the wine of Eternity
Was servd round by the flames of Luvah all day & all the night"

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Blake offers us four levels of existence in time, plus a level of existence outside of time: Great Eternity.

The first thing to focus on in considering Great Eternity is that Eternity is not time. Eternity is not an extension of time. Eternity may contain time, but time cannot contain Eternity. Eternity may interact with time. There is a flexibility in Eternity that does not exist in time, because time is a restraint allowing only sequential experience (access.) Without time multiplicity and unity are not contradictory. In Eternity essence remains, appearances fluctuate.

"Then those in Great Eternity met in the Council of God
As one Man for contracting their Exalted Senses
They behold Multitude or Expanding they behold as one
As One Man all the Universal family & that one Man
They call Jesus the Christ & they in him & he in them
Live in Perfect harmony in Eden the land of life
Consulting as One Man above the Mountain of Snowdon Sublime"

This passage in Night the First of the Four Zoas, Page 21, (E 310), uses the word one, five times in seven lines. It seems that Blake wanted to emphasize that in Great Eternity there is no division. Blake does not envision Great Eternity as a static place but as one in which the movement does not result in separation. Envisioning Eternity is impossible for mortals, but these are characteristics Blake offers:

1 Contracting their Exalted Senses, they see Multitude (Four Zoas, Page 21)
2 Expanding they see as One (Four Zoas, Page 21)
3 Visions of Human Life & Shadows of Wisdom & Knowledge are expandable (Milton, Plate34)
4 War & Hunting are the Two Fountains of the River of Life (Milton, Plate35)
5 Universal Brotherhood exists in Eternity (Four Zoas, E300, Lines 3.4-3.5)
6 Ideas may not be slain (they are the Divine Members) (Milton, Plate35)
7 Every particular form is the Divine Vision (Jerusalem, Plate 54)
8 Every form Emanates its Light which is its Garment (Jerusalem, Plate 54)
9 There is Continual Forgiveness of Sins and Perpetual Mutual Sacrifice (Jerusalem, Plate 61, Line 23-4)
The Eternal can be expressed but it cannot be contained.
We can be present to it, and it can be present to us as imagination and inspiration.
Forgiveness and Brotherhood are expressions of the Eternal.
Divisions and limitations disappear in Eternity.
Life and Light participate in the great exchange.
The energies of the mind and body and spirit interact freely and cooperatively in Great Eternity.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

British Museum
Young's Night Thoughts

Blake's relationship with God was intimate. God was brother and friend to him. God was within his breast, his brain and his hand. His Imagination was filled with God. Human nature was God's image which man should adore.

Jerusalem, Plate 4, (E 146)
"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!"

Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 11, (E 38)
"Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast."

Annotation to Berkley, (E 664)
"Man is All Imagination God is Man & exists in us & we in him What Jesus came to Remove was the Heathen or Platonic Philosophy which blinds the Eye of Imagination The Real Man"

Annotations to Lavater, (E 597)
"human nature is the image of God"

Everlasting Gospel, (E 520) "God wants not Man to Humble himself
This is the trick of the ancient Elf This is the Race that Jesus ran
Humble to God Haughty to Man Cursing the Rulers before the People
Even to the temples highest Steeple And when he Humbled himself to God
Then descended the Cruel Rod If thou humblest thyself thou humblest me
Thou also dwellst in Eternity Thou art a Man God is no more
Thy own humanity learn to adore For that is my Spirit of Life"
Milton, Plate 2, (E 96)  "Come into my hand  
By your mild power; descending down the Nerves of my right arm
From out the Portals of my Brain, where by your ministry
The Eternal Great Humanity Divine. planted his Paradise,
And in it caus'd the Spectres of the Dead to take sweet forms In likeness of himself. "