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

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Illustrations to Pilgrim's Progress
Plate 18
Christian Passes the Lions
William Blake created twenty-eight illustrations for John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress. Blake selected the passages he would illustrate in order to highlight sections of the book which lent themselves to understandings which were congruent with his own visionary perceptions.
Gerda Norvig, on page 127 of Dark Figures in the Desired Country, indicates the challenge Blake faced in illustrating a book which whose structure was in the form of allegory rather than vision: 
"[A]ccording to Blake, images at work within any genuinely visionary structure never simply substitute as fixed vehicles for displaced and equally fixed tenors. Instead they function as complex 'identities' that literally hold their own, evolving, unfolding, and yielding only to further images rendered meaningful through interrelations and extended contextual references."

Blake's objective was to transform what was less than visionary in Bunyan's allegory to a fully imaginative production.

Pilgrim's Progress
John Bunyan
"Now also he remembered the story that Mistrust and Timorous told him of; how they were frighted with the sight of the lions. Then said Christian to himself again, These beasts range in the night for their prey; and if they should meet with me in the dark, how should I shift them? How should I escape being by them torn in pieces? Thus he went on his way. But while he was thus bewailing his unhappy miscarriage, he lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side.
110} So I saw in my dream that he made haste and went forward, that if possible he might get lodging there. Now, before he had gone far, he entered into a very narrow passage, which was about a furlong off the porter's lodge; and looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two lions in the way. Now, thought he, I see the dangers that Mistrust and Timorous were driven back by. (The lions were chained, but he saw not the chains.) Then he was afraid, and thought also himself to go back after them, for he thought nothing but death was before him. But the porter at the lodge, whose name is Watchful, perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying, Is thy strength so small? [Mark 8:34-37] Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, no hurt shall come unto thee.

"Difficulty is behind, Fear is before,
Though he's got on the hill, the lions roar;
A Christian man is never long at ease,
When one fright's gone, another doth him seize."

{111} Then I saw that he went on, trembling for fear of the lions, but taking good heed to the directions of the porter; he heard them roar, but they did him no harm. Then he clapped his hands, and went on till he came and stood before the gate where the porter was. Then said Christian to the porter, Sir, what house is this? And may I lodge here to-night? The porter answered, This house was built by the Lord of the hill, and he built it for the relief and security of pilgrims. The porter also asked whence he was, and whither he was going.

{112} CHR. I am come from the City of Destruction, and am going to Mount Zion; but because the sun is now set, I desire, if I may, to lodge here to-night."

Blake's picture is his commentary on Bunyan's text. The path is narrow and beside it are beasts whose power and ferocity are frightening to men. But both Blake and Bunyan acknowledge that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. The lions are pacific, and chained as well. Lions in Blake's poetry, although capable of wrath, assume the role as protectors of the flock. In Songs of Experience the Lion acts as an Angel of Death taking a child and her parents to a lovely place where there is no longer any cause for fear. In Blake's illustration the presence of the lions is more than a threat to his safety. It serves to enable Pilgrim to resolve his fears and pass safely to the palace named Beautiful.

Songs of Experience, Plate 36, (E 21)
"The Little Girl Found
Famish'd, weeping, weak
With hollow piteous shriek

Rising from unrest,
The trembling woman prest,
With feet of weary woe;
She could no further go. 

In his arms he bore,
Her arm'd with sorrow sore;
Till before their way,
A couching lion lay.

Turning back was vain, 
Soon his heavy mane,
Bore them to the ground;
Then he stalk'd around,

Smelling to his prey.
But their fears allay,
When he licks their hands;
And silent by them stands.

They look upon his eyes
Fill'd with deep surprise:
And wondering behold,
A spirit arm'd in gold. 

On his head a crown
On his shoulders down,
Flow'd his golden hair.
Gone was all their care. 

Follow me he said,
Weep not for the maid;
In my palace deep,
Lyca lies asleep.

Then they followed, 
Where the vision led:
And saw their sleeping child,
Among tygers wild.

To this day they dwell
In a lonely dell
Nor fear the wolvish howl,
Nor the lions growl." 

If you are a reader of C S Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia you may be reminded in this passage from Blake's Marriage of Heaven & Hell of Lewis' portrayal of the ambiguities of the lion Aslan .
Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 8, (E 36)
"Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.

Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.

The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the
    stormy sea,    and the destructive sword. are portions of
    eternity too great for the eye of man."

Pilgrim's fears resemble those of Enitharmon who is given lines in the Four Zoas that express her fear of continuing along the path to salvation because of her awareness of past failures and disappointments.
Four Zoas, Night VII, Page 78, (E 369)
[Los speaks]
"Couldst thou but cease from terror & trembling & affright
When I appear before thee in forgiveness of ancient injuries
Why shouldst thou remember & be afraid. I surely have died in pain
Often enough to convince thy jealousy & fear & terror
Come hither be patient let us converse together because  
I also tremble at myself & at all my former life
Enitharmon answerd I behold the Lamb of God descending
To Meet these Spectres of the Dead I therefore fear that he
Will give us to Eternal Death fit punishment for such
Hideous offenders Uttermost extinction in eternal pain    
An ever dying life of stifling & obstruction shut out
Of existence to be a sign & terror to all who behold
Lest any should in futurity do as we have done in heaven
Such is our state nor will the Son of God redeem us but destroy" 

No comments:

Post a Comment