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

Monday, March 16, 2015


Kathleen Raine became immersed in the study of William Blake when she was a student at Cambridge University. When, at the age of 85, she was interviewed by Donald Stanford, she was asked about the roots of Blake's sources which had formed the foundation of her masterwork Blake and Tradition, published in 1969, forty years after she received her masters degree from Cambridge. The following interview is available on the blog, Explorations: The Twentieth Century.

An Interview Conducted with Kathleen Raine on July 12, 1993
Donald E. Stanford

"The audio tape of the interview that follows with Kathleen Raine is housed among the Donald E. Stanford Papers in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections of the Louisiana State University Libraries, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Some of the questions that Donald Stanford posed in the interview, which took place, in London, in Kathleen Raine’s flat on July 12, 1993, were submitted by Herbert V. Fackler (January 23, 1942 – December 18, 1999) and Joseph Riehl, both members of the faculty of English at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Kathleen Raine had celebrated her 85th birthday on June 14."

"Stanford: Would you say a little more about this excluded tradition? 

Raine: We know that he had read Swedenborg and Paracelsus, because he tells us so in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The first important source I discovered was the new Platonic writings translated into English during Blake’s lifetime by Thomas Taylor the Platonist, whom Blake knew at one time. He was a friend of Blake’s friend Flaxman. Blake had certainly read many of the Neo-Platonic writings in the translations of Taylor, and Neo-Platonism is one important source. He had also read the Bhagavad-Gītī. This we know because he had made a painting, since lost, of Mr. Wilkins translating the Bhagavad-Gītī. He had read a great deal of the mythologies, all the traditions that were accessible to him. He knew the Greek myths, the Norse, a certain amount about the American Indian myths. He’d read the Koran. In fact, he was working within a tradition which holds the prime element of life to be mind and not matter, which, of course, is the normal view of the perennial philosophy throughout the world and throughout all civilizations prior to our own, which takes matter to be the basic substance within the universe. And Blake’s great contribution, his great battle cry, was to open the eyes of men into the inner worlds, into the worlds of thought. He was challenging the materialism of his time. He challenged the thought of Newton, Bacon, Locke, the whole movement of the Royal Society, and the whole Western trend which was at that time towards materialism. Blake went on affirming the primacy of mind, spirit, imagination, and in order to do so he had a great tradition to draw on. In fact, when it comes to Jung, they both had read many of the same works, which accounts to a great extent for their undoubted similarities
     Sanford: Kathleen, could you please tell us a little more about your procedures in researching your volumes of Blake and the Tradition?

Raine: Well, it was a life’s work. It was enormous fun, I must say. I started, as I have said, with Ruthven Todd and the sources that he had already pointed to, and then it was just that one thing led to another. One just went on winding in the golden thread and far from its being just a few odd books, like Bryant’s mythology and antiquities and so on, it proved that this golden thread wound in the works of Plato, the works of Plotinus, and the works of Jacob Boehme (of course one knows from Blake that these were his sources) and the works of Paracelsus. I spent weeks and months and years reading dusty volumes in the North Library of the British Museum, and my eyes were opened. I simply had no idea of the richness of the tradition which modern academia and our civilization as a whole, based as it is on material process, had exploded. It was virtually the wisdom of the world that Blake had drawn on. My most important contribution, I suppose, at that time was finding the importance of Thomas Taylor, the Platonist. Blake did not read Greek. Shelley of course did, and Coleridge, but Blake read only English and French. And his acquaintance with Thomas Taylor has since been verified by scholarship in a reference to Blake and [George] Cumberland. There is a description by a member of Cumberland’s family of visiting Thomas Taylor and finding him sitting talking with William Blake and expounding to him the theorem of Pythagoras and Blake saying, “Never mind the proofs, I can see it with my own eyes,” which is very characteristic of both, because Taylor, of course, was a mathematician and Blake was not. Well, I discovered quite early on that the Arlington Court tempera is an illustration of Porphyry’s work De antro nympharum and Keynes of course accepted that, but no other professional Blake scholars have done so hitherto, but it is just a plain fact that it is, every detail. Blake would have read it in Taylor’s “Essay on the Restoration of the Greek Theology by the Late Platonists” which was known to Blake. If two people live next door to one another the critics won’t accept that as evidence, it has to be in writing. And it is known that, for example, Taylor gave six lectures on Platonic theology at the house of Flaxman. It is known that Flaxman and Blake were close friends from youth, but “Oh, no,” they say; “this is no proof that Blake knew anything about Taylor,” you see. This is the sort of blinkered mentality of those who will only accept the evidence of written text. If people see each other every day, they don’t tend to write one another letters. On the whole, one writes letters to people one does not see every day.

    Raine: What I’ve been trying to do all my life is
British Museum
after Michelangelo
Copy of engraving by Adamo Ghisi
c. 1785
to challenge and reverse the premises of modern Western materialism. That is what Blake was attempting. That is why the hippies had a sort of feeling for him—they felt there was something there—and that is what Yeats was trying to do and that is why I was taking up the torch in very frail hands myself, I don’t compare myself with Blake or Shelley or Yeats, but nevertheless that is what my life’s work has also been trying to do."


 Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 21, (E 42)
  "I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of
themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident
insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning:
  Thus Swedenborg boasts that what he writes is new; tho' it
is only the Contents or Index of already publish'd books
  A man carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a
little wiser than the monkey, grew vain, and conciev'd himself as
wiser than seven men.  It is so with Swedenborg; he shews the
folly of churches & exposes hypocrites, till he imagines that all
are religious. & himself the single 
Plate 22
One on earth that ever broke a net.
  Now hear a plain fact: Swedenborg has not written one new
truth: Now hear another: he has written all the old falshoods.
  And now hear the reason.  He conversed with Angels who are
all religious, & conversed not with Devils who all hate religion,
for he was incapable thro' his conceited notions.
  Thus Swedenborgs writings are a recapitulation of all
superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no
  Have now another plain fact: Any man of mechanical talents
may from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten
thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg's.
and from those of Dante or Shakespear, an infinite number.
  But when he has done this, let him not say that he knows
better than his master, for he only holds a candle in sunshine."

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