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

Thursday, March 12, 2015


The container which is Gray's poem could no longer hold the vision which Blake wished to communicate. Contemplating the death of a cat could not adequately reveal the mysteries of the fall into materiality of a being whose home was Eternity. But this vision took hold of Blake's imagination and he was compelled to represent it in the last two illustration to Gray's Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat.

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]


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