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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


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First post for Gray & Blake.

Yale Center for British Art
In illustration 1 for Gray's Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Blake created an image of a cat with vestiges of a woman; in illustration 3 he reverses his strategy creating a woman with vestiges of a cat. We are now invited to look at the poem and pictures as commenting on the human situation of the woman, not as a fable of a cat drowning in a fishbowl. The cat-like woman becomes enamored with the fully-human woman looking back at her from the watery world into which she gazes. This world is populated by flowers and fruit and embracing lovers, to which the fish have been transformed.

Blake tells us that Eternity is in love with the creations of time. If the cat or woman were dwelling in Eden and gazing into Beulah this picture might represent her experience. Her inner mental constructs are seen here as outer physical phenomena. She is still outside of the world of time and space, but she can enjoy it as a possibility into which she may enter through imagination. Perhaps the appeal is too great.

Blake chose these lines from Gray as the inscription for this picture:

3.    "The pensive Selima
      Her Ears of Jet & Emrald  Eyes
      She saw & purr'd applause"

Illustration 4 brings us back to the situation which impelled Gray to construct his poetic account of the death of Walpole's cat. Selina is at her most cat-like, intent on catching the fish who have assumed an angelic disguise. Only her hind feet and scarf reveal her human identity. Fate makes her appearance in the upper right-hand corner of the picture to seal the destiny of the predator who is about to become prey. Atropos is prepared to cut the thread of Selina's life.
These are lines from Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat selected by Blake for this illustration:

4.    "Still had she gazd but midst the tide
      Two Angel forms were seen to glide.
      The hapless nymph with wonder saw
      A Whisker first & then a Claw &c"

Book of Thel, Plate 1, (E 3)
"The daughters of Mne Seraphim led round their sunny flocks.  
All but the youngest; she in paleness sought the secret air.
To fade away like morning beauty from her mortal day:
Down by the river of Adona her soft voice is heard:
And thus her gentle lamentation falls like morning dew.          

O life of this our spring! why fades the lotus of the water?
Why fade these children of the spring? born but to smile & fall.
Ah! Thel is like a watry bow. and like a parting cloud.
Like a reflection in a glass. like shadows in the water.
Like dreams of infants. like a smile upon an infants face,       
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air;
Ah! gentle may I lay me down, and gentle rest my head.          
And gentle sleep the sleep of death. and gentle hear the voice 
Of him that walketh in the garden in the evening time."

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