These are the cosmic questions which always beg for answers: Why did the material world come into being? How is the world of matter related to the creative void from which it came? How can material beings shed their bonds and return to their Eternal Abode?
Blake never ceased to seek answers to these questions. His Art, poetic and visual, is the answer he found.
Illustration 5 "Malignant Fate sat by & smild The slippery verge her feet beguild she tumbled headlong in"
Illustration 6 "Nine times emerging from the flood "She mew'd to every watry God"
The occasion for Grey's writing Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat was the drowning of Walpole's cat Selina in a goldfish bowl in her attempt to make a meal of the fish. Blake's illustration shows, not a cat, but a woman plunging into the depths of a watery world having been pushed by Atropos. She enters the world of materiality and bodily sensation which she attempts to exclude by covering her head with her arms. She is overwhelmed by the flood of matter as she enters the sea of time and space. A more elaborate portrayal of the cycle of leaving the heavenly realm for the earthly one is presented in Blake's Arlington Tempera.
In commenting on the Arlington Tempera in an earlier post, I made this statement:
"Represented in this section is the Soul's being born to Death, and her dying to to Life Eternal. The womb of the cave has become a tomb because the entry into this new life ends the Soul's consciousness of life Eternal. Death is the metaphor for man's journey through experience to regain awareness of the Eternal.
Blake represents this birth/death in the metaphor of receiving a garment or body which clothes the soul in this world of mortality. The females in this section are in the process of descending or ascending; weaving a garment or receiving a woven garment; carrying their water or spilling their water; winding or unwinding the 'golden string'. Entering the world of generation is a blessing and a curse, a mercy and a trial; both aspects are suggested here."
Milton Klonsky indicates the parallel in Blake's final two illustrations of Gray's poem with the gnostic myth of Sophia being tempted by her own reflection into falling into materiality. The fish which previously have been benign are now armed and armored to imply the struggle which characterizes life in the physical world.
Man's plight in the material world is seen in the following passage. He had come to rely on his own mind and the resources of nature ignoring the Divine Vision which seeks his return.
Jerusalem, Plate 28, (E 175) "Then spoke the Spectrous Chaos to Albion darkning cold From the back & loins where dwell the Spectrous Dead I am your Rational Power O Albion & that Human Form You call Divine, is but a Worm seventy inches long That creeps forth in a night & is dried in the morning sun In fortuitous concourse of memorys accumulated & lost It plows the Earth in its own conceit, it overwhelms the Hills Beneath its winding labyrinths, till a stone of the brook Stops it in midst of its pride among its hills & rivers[.] Battersea & Chelsea mourn, London & Canterbury tremble Their place shall not be found as the wind passes over[.] The ancient Cities of the Earth remove as a traveller And shall Albions Cities remain when I pass over them With my deluge of forgotten remembrances over the tablet So spoke the Spectre to Albion. he is the Great Selfhood Satan: Worshipd as God by the Mighty Ones of the Earth Having a white Dot calld a Center from which branches out A Circle in continual gyrations. this became a Heart From which sprang numerous branches varying their motions Producing many Heads three or seven or ten, & hands & feet Innumerable at will of the unfortunate contemplator Who becomes his food[:] such is the way of the Devouring Power And this is the cause of the appearance in the frowning Chaos[.] Albions Emanation which he had hidden in jealousy Appeard now in the frowning Chaos prolific upon the Chaos Reflecting back to Albion in Sexual Reasoning Hermaphroditic Albion spoke. Who art thou that appearest in gloomy pomp Involving the Divine Vision in colours of autumn ripeness I never saw thee till this time, nor beheld life abstracted Nor darkness immingled with light on my furrowd field Whence camest thou! who art thou O loveliest? the Divine Vision Is as nothing before thee, faded is all life and joy Vala replied in clouds of tears Albions garment embracing"Becoming free from the illusion that man is trapped in his mortal body can set him free from perceiving time and space as the totality. Man is released to his true home which is Eternal and Infinite.
Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 52, (E 30) To Tirzah "Whate'er is Born of Mortal Birth, Must be consumed with the Earth To rise from Generation free; Then what have I to do with thee? The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride Blow'd in the morn: in evening died But Mercy changd Death into Sleep; The Sexes rose to work & weep. Thou Mother of my Mortal part. With cruelty didst mould my Heart. And with false self-decieving tears, Didst bind my Nostrils Eyes & Ears. Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay And me to Mortal Life betray: The Death of Jesus set me free, Then what have I to do with thee? [text on illustration: It is Raised a Spiritual Body] .