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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


British Library
Four Zoas Manuscript

Four Zoas, Title Page, (E 300) 
                    "THE FOUR ZOAS

          The torments of Love & Jealousy in 
                The Death and Judgement
               of Albion the Ancient Man

                 by William Blake 1797"
It seems that Blake did not originate the idea that he would write about Four Zoas and then develop his poetry around them. He began publishing his illuminated books in 1789 with the Book of Thel and Songs of Innocence. In about 1790 he began Marriage of Heaven and Hell (which he completed 2 years later.) In the books written between 1793 and 1795 there first appear personifications of contending factions within man. We learn of the activities of Urizen and Los, of Enitharmon and Ahania, of Orc and the Shadowy Female but the word Zoas does not appear.

The characters associated with the Zoas appeared in this order:
Urthona - 1792 - Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Enitharmon 1793 - America
Orc - 1793 - America
Los - 1794 - Europe
Shadowy Female - 1794 - Europe
Los and Urizen first appear as contending forces in the Book of Urizen - 1794
Ahania - 1795 - Book of Ahania
Tharmas - after 1797 - Four Zoas

Sometime during the time that Blake was composing Vala he integrated the entities he had created earlier into an organizing system to which he gave the name Zoas. He added a preliminary Night I to Vala around a new character, Tharmas, and renamed his poem the Four Zoas. The revised title page is the first appearance in Blake's poetry of Four Zoas. Outside of the Four Zoas the first reference is in the following passage from Milton.   

Milton, Plate  PLATE 35 [39], (E 135)
"So spake Ololon in reminiscence astonishd, but they
Could not behold Golgonooza without passing the Polypus
A wondrous journey not passable by Immortal feet, & none         
But the Divine Saviour can pass it without annihilation.
For Golgonooza cannot be seen till having passd the Polypus
It is viewed on all sides round by a Four-fold Vision
Or till you become Mortal & Vegetable in Sexuality
Then you behold its mighty Spires & Domes of ivory & gold        

And Ololon examined all the Couches of the Dead.
Even of Los & Enitharmon & all the Sons of Albion
And his Four Zoas terrified & on the verge of Death
In midst of these was Miltons Couch, & when they saw Eight
Immortal Starry-Ones, guarding the Couch in flaming fires        
They thunderous utterd all a universal groan falling down
Prostrate before the Starry Eight asking with tears forgiveness
Confessing their crime with humiliation and sorrow."
There are six references to Zoas in Milton, thirteen in Jerusalem, for a total of twenty mentions of the term in one form or another.

  George Anthony Rosso, Jr. in Blake's Prophetic Workshop comments on the significance of the Four Zoas in the development of Blake's body of work:

"The Four Zoas is also where Blake works out his mature epic vision, expanding his scope from the Lambeth to the epic prophecies. It is where he becomes the most original and daring of Romantic poets, experimenting with the nature and limits of narrative, reaching some dead ends, but exploring regions untrod in literature. It is the imaginative space which Blake seeks to induce what he calls prophetic or expanded vision, challenging readers to engage in intellectual battle, thereby helping to transform a divided world into a community." (Page 11)

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