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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


The first illustration Blake made for Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was a print which he produced before 1822, perhaps much earlier. He created a white line engraving of The Man Sweeping the Interpreter's Parlor which illustrated the second lesson of the Interpreter to Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. The series of 28 watercolor illustrations to Pilgrim's Progress was painted in approximately 1824. 
Yale Center for British Art
Man Sweeping Interpreter's Parlour
Sin did not play the same role in Blake's theology as it did in Bunyan's. Because Blake believed that everything that lives is holy, his effort was directed toward releasing man's energies, not toward removing his sinfulness. Blake's picture The Man Sweeping the Interpreter's Parlor may be seen allegorically as Bunyan wrote his account: representing the sinful, corrupt nature of man which is brought under control by the Law & the Gospel. However Blake's image lends itself to further insight apropos to his own attitude to sin. Blake saw the child as born innocent, not as burdened by original sin which Bunyan saw to be the heritage of humanity from Adam and Eve. Sin to Blake was simply failure to exercise one's ability to perceive the Eternal. It was not man's sinfulness which had to be eradicated but his blindness to the bliss which he was meant to experience. The nearest Blake can to imputing sin was calling man to task for hindering - preventing others from developing their own spiritual potential.

To Blake man needed to cleanse himself of the idea that the world can be separated into 'good and evil.' There are functions of the psyche which perform different tasks but all are valuable and necessary to completeness. By picturing the Law as the Devil and the Gospel as the Angel, Blake impels us to think of how the Law functions in performing necessary tasks which complete the tasks performed by the Gospel. As Paul said in Galatians 3, 'The law is the pedagogue'.  

Although there is no mention of either in Bunyan's account, Blake pictures an angel and a devil in his engraving of The Man Sweeping the Interpreter's Parlor. Blake may well have been picturing the energies of the diabolic figure as removing, not sin, but the chains that bound man to the conventions of a tyrannical society and a repressive religion. In which case the angelic damsel who is descending the stair, represents reason, 'the bound and outward circumference of Energy.' Blake has encouraged us to see contraries united, not opposed but functioning together. Wrath and Pity, Woe and Joy, Time and Eternity, Evil and Good, Body and Soul, Energy and Reason: not combating but cooperating.

Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 4, (E 35)
                 "The voice of the Devil
  All Bibles or sacred codes. have been the causes of the
following Errors.
  1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a
  2. That Energy. calld Evil. is alone from the Body. & that
Reason. calld Good. is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his
  But the following Contraries to these are True
  1 Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is
a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses. the chief inlets
of Soul in this age
  2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is
the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
  3 Energy is Eternal Delight" 

By writing an allegory Bunyan attempted to pin down his metaphors to single meanings. Blake's mind could not allow a one-to-one correspondence between a word and the thoughts which could be attached to it. Blake saw such a correspondence as Urizenic and wrote extensively on the pitfalls of following the reasoning mind into the labyrinths of delusion.

Vision of The Last Judgment, (E 554)
                     "For the Year 1810
        Additions to Blakes Catalogue of Pictures 

     The Last Judgment when all those are Cast away who trouble
Religion with Questions concerning Good & Evil or Eating of the
Tree of those Knowledges or Reasonings which hinder the Vision of
God turning all into a Consuming fire  Imaginative Art &
Science & all Intellectual Gifts all the Gifts of the Holy Ghost
are [despisd] lookd upon as of no use & only Contention
remains to Man then the Last Judgment begins & its Vision is seen
by the [Imaginative Eye] of Every one according to the
situation he holds
      The Last Judgment is not Fable or Allegory
but   Vision Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct & inferior
kind of Poetry.  Vision or Imagination is a Representation of
what Eternally Exists.  Really & Unchangeably.  Fable or Allegory
is Formd by the Daughters of Memory.  Imagination is Surrounded
by the daughters of Inspiration who in the aggregate are calld

Galatians 3 
 [24] Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
[25] But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
[26] For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Romans 12
[14] Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
[15] Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
[16] Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
[17] Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
[18] If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
[19] Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
[20] Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
[21] Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Gerda Norvig's commentary on The Interpreter's Parlor is found on pages 48-61 of Dark Figures in the Desired Country.

Pilgrim's Progress
John Bunyan

CHR. Sir, said Christian, I am a man that am come from the City of Destruction, and am going to the Mount Zion; and I was told by the man that stands at the gate, at the head of this way, that if I called here, you would show me excellent things, such as would be a help to me in my journey.
{72} INTER. Then said the Interpreter, Come in; I will show that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light the candle, and bid Christian follow him: so he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it. It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back. It stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over his head.
CHR. Then said Christian, What meaneth this?
{73} INTER. The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children [1 Cor. 4:15], travail in birth with children [Gal. 4:19], and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ on his lips, it is to show thee that his work is to know and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men: and whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head, that is to show thee that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master's service, he is sure in the world that comes next to have glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going, hath authorised to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way; wherefore, take good heed to what I have shewed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death.
{74} Then he took him by the hand, and led him into a very large parlour that was full of dust, because never swept; the which after he had reviewed a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to sweep. Now, when he began to sweep, the dust began so abundantly to fly about, that Christian had almost therewith been choked. Then said the Interpreter to a damsel that stood by, Bring hither the water, and sprinkle the room; the which, when she had done, it was swept and cleansed with pleasure.
{75} CHR. Then said Christian, What means this?
INTER. The Interpreter answered, This parlour is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel; the dust is his original sin and inward corruptions, that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first, is the Law; but she that brought water, and did sprinkle it, is the Gospel. Now, whereas thou sawest, that so soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room by him could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to shew thee, that the law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, put strength into, and increase it in the soul, even as it doth discover and forbid it, for it doth not give power to subdue. [Rom. 7:6; 1 Cor. 15:56; Rom. 5:20]
{76} Again, as thou sawest the damsel sprinkle the room with water, upon which it was cleansed with pleasure; this is to show thee, that when the gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then, I say, even as thou sawest the damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean through the faith of it, and consequently fit for the King of glory to inhabit. [John 15:3; Eph. 5:26; Acts 15:9; Rom. 16:25,26; John 15:13]

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