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

Thursday, February 6, 2014

GOD OF VENGEANCE

Blake's series of prints know as the Large Color Printed Drawings consists of twelve designs with one to three copies of each. The print "Lamech and his Two Wives " may be less familiar than others in the series. If we look at the source for the image we begin to understand why Blake thought it important enough to be included with other images representing essential facets of his teaching.

Blake's early biographer Alexander Gilchrist, in his The Life of William Blake, found little to recommend it other than technique. Gilchrist comments:

"'Lamech and his Two Wives' as a design will, perhaps, be regarded as the least interesting of the series, but in the actual printing will be found well worthy of study. Lamech, in the centre of the picture, turns with a gesture of horror, tearing his hair as he looks upon the body of the young man he has slain. His robe is of shadowed white. Beside him his goldenhaired wives cling together, the nearer in a drapery of pale lilac, her companion in white.

They stand upon a hill-top covered with green moss, and beyond are black mountain ranges fringed with wan light which fades above into dismal storm clouds, against which the figures glare in ominous pallor." (Page 410)

The book of Genesis has short mention of Lamech but considering Blake's feeling about vengeance, significant. 

Genesis 4
[9] Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"
[10] And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.
[11] And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.
[12] When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth."
[13] Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear.
[14] Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me."
[15] Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.
[16] Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
[17] Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.
[18] To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Me-hu'ja-el, and Me-hu'ja-el the father of Me-thu'sha-el, and Me-thu'sha-el the father of Lamech.
[19] And Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
[20] Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle.
[21] His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.
[22] Zillah bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Na'amah.
[23] Lamech said to his wives: "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say: I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 
[24] If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold."
Genesis 6
[5] The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
[6] And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
[7] So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them."

Museum Syndicate
Large Color Printed Drawings
Lamech and his Two Wives
Blake pictures the moment when Lamech reveals to his wives that he has killed a man. The anguish experienced by Lamech is seen in his face, his gestures and in his body. He has separated himself from those he loves by his act of violence. No vengeance taken against Lamech would have increased his suffering over the harm he had perpetrated. And yet he expected seventy-seven times the vengeance for his act.

This incident in Genesis takes us back to the first murder: that of Abel by Cain. God expelled Cain from his community and took away his ability to work the ground productively. But God ordered that vengeance not be taken against him. God reserved vengeance to himself. The thread of a God of vengeance permeates the Old Testament. But Jesus was sent to teach a better way. If man had a God of love revealed to replace the God of vengeance, man could grow a forgiving heart.
     
I Corinthians 12
[31] But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 14
[1]Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 

Jerusalem, Plate 45 [31], (E 194)
"And he who takes vengeance alone is the criminal of Providence;
If I should dare to lay my finger on a grain of sand
In way of vengeance; I punish the already punishd: O whom
Should I pity if I pity not the sinner who is gone astray!       
O Albion, if thou takest vengeance; if thou revengest thy wrongs
Thou art for ever lost! What can I do to hinder the Sons
Of Albion from taking vengeance? or how shall I them perswade.

So spoke Los, travelling thro darkness & horrid solitude:" 
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