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

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Illustrations to The Divine Comedy
Plate 80
Lucia Carrying Dante in His Sleep
Perhaps Blake hesitated to illustrate Dante's Divine Comedy. He began the project only when he was at an advanced age and only when his friend John Linnell induced him to do so. Blake decided upon specific passages which he wished to illustrate, disproportionately settling on the punishments of the Inferno for which Dante had devised such ingenious tortures. But Blake selected other passages because of their congruence with his own inclinations and with the myth which illustrated his own understanding of God's design.

Among the latter passages is one in Canto IX in which Lucia assists Dante in achieving the transition from the Inferno to Purgatory. Dante had introduced Lucia in Canto II as a pivotal figure in Dante gaining the courage to make his initial move of entering the Inferno. Later Lucia was called upon to assist him in the final ascent from the Inferno to Purgatory.

The Divine Comedy, Inferno
Book 1, Canto II
by Dante Aligheri
Translated by Charles Eliot Norton

'Since thou wishest 
 to know so inwardly, I will tell thee briefly,' she replied to
me, 'wherefore I fear not to come here within. One ought to fear
those things only that have power of doing harm, the others not,
for they are not dreadful. I am made by God, thanks be to Him,
such that your misery toucheth me not, nor doth the flame of this
burning assail me. A gentle Lady is in heaven who hath pity
for this hindrance whereto I send thee, so that stern judgment
there above she breaketh. She summoned Lucia in her request, and
said, "Thy faithful one now hath need of thee, and unto thee I
commend him." Lucia, the foe of every cruel one, rose and came to
the place where I was, seated with the ancient Rachel. She said,
"Beatrice, true praise of God, why dost thou not succor him who
so loved thee that for thee he came forth from the vulgar throng?
Dost thou not hear the pity of his plaint? Dost thou not see the
death that combats him beside the stream whereof the sea hath no
vaunt?" In the world never were persons swift to seek their good,
and to fly their harm, as I, after these words were uttered, came
here below, from my blessed seat, putting my trust in thy upright
speech, which honors thee and them who have heard it.' After she
had said this to me, weeping she turned her lucent eyes, whereby
she made me more speedy in coming. And I came to thee as she
willed. Thee have I delivered from that wild beast that took from
thee the short ascent of the beautiful mountain. What is it then?
Why, why dost thou hold back? why dost thou harbor such cowardice
in thy heart? why hast thou not daring and boldness, since three
blessed Ladies care for thee in the court of Heaven, and my
speech pledges thee such good?"
As flowerets, bent and closed by the chill of night, after the
sun shines on them straighten themselves all open on their stem,
so I became with my weak virtue, and such good daring hastened to
my heart that I began like one enfranchised: "Oh compassionate
she who succored me! and thou courteous who didst speedily obey
the true words that she addressed to thee! Thou by thy words hast
so disposed my heart with desire of going, that I have returned
unto my first intent. Go on now, for one sole will is in us both:
Thou Leader, thou Lord, and thou Master." Thus I said to him; and
when he had moved on, I entered along the deep and savage road.

The Divine Comedy, Purgatory
Book 2, Canto IX
by Dante Aligheri
Translated by Charles Eliot Norton  
At the hour near the morning when the little swallow begins her
sad lays, perchance in memory of her former woes, and when our
mind, more a wanderer from the flesh and less captive to the
thought, is in its visions almost divine, in dream it seemed
to me that I saw poised in the sky an eagle with feathers of
gold, with wings widespread, and intent to stoop. And it seemed
to me that I was there[3] where his own people were abandoned by
Ganymede, when he was rapt to the supreme consistory. In myself I
thought, "Perhaps this bird strikes only here through wont, and
perhaps from other place disdains to carry anyone upward in his
feet." Then it seemed to me that, having wheeled a little, it
descended terrible as a thunderbolt, and snatched me upwards far
as the fire.[4] There it seemed that it and I burned, and the
imagined fire so scorched that of necessity the sleep was broken.
At my side was my Comforter only, and
the sun was now more than two hours high,[2] and my face was
turned toward the sea. "Have no fear," said my Lord; "be
reassured, for we are at a good point; restrain not, but increase
all thy force. Thou art now arrived at Purgatory; see there the
cliff that closes it around; see the entrance, there where it
appears divided. A while ago in the dawn that precedes the day,
when thy soul was sleeping within thee, upon the flowers
wherewith the place down yonder is adorned, came a lady, and
said, "I am Lucia; let me take this one who is sleeping; thus
will I assist him along his way.' Sordello remained, and the
other gentle forms: she took thee, and when the day was bright,
she came upward, and I along her footprints. Here she laid thee
down: and first her beautiful eyes showed me that open entrance;
then she and slumber went away together." Like a man that in
perplexity is reassured, and that alters his fear to confidence
after the truth is disclosed to him, did I change; and when my
Leader saw me without solicitude, up along the cliff he moved on,
and I behind, toward the height.

Blake would have been pleased that it was mercy, not justice, that allowed the fictional Dante to escape the punishments of hell. Dante introduced a dream sequence, featuring an eagle, to portray the inhibiting fear which retards the progress of spiritual development. In contrast mercy, in the shape of Lucia, transported Dante in his sleep to the Gate of Purgatory without any effort on his part. Scholars tell us that Dante used the eagle as a symbol of Rome's military power, in contrast to Lucia as a symbol of the Church's spiritual power.  

Whatever Dante may have implied by his words, Blake used his picture to show Dante effortlessly being carried by loving female arms to what we might call a higher level of consciousness: one in which forgiveness begins to wipe away fear of eternal punishment.

Blake attitude to the response which should be made to the sinner was diametrically opposed to that of Dante. Blake found moral judgement to be the villain which turned man away from perceiving the Divine within himself and his brother. 

Jerusalem, PLATE 45 [31], (E 194)
"Fearing that Albion should turn his back against the Divine Vision
Los took his globe of fire to search the interiors of Albions
Bosom, in all the terrors of friendship, entering the caves
Of despair & death, to search the tempters out, walking among 
Albions rocks & precipices! caves of solitude & dark despair,
And saw every Minute Particular of Albion degraded & murderd
But saw not by whom; they were hidden within in the minute particulars
Every Universal Form, was become barren mountains of Moral
Virtue: and every Minute Particular hardend into grains of sand:
And all the tendernesses of the soul cast forth as filth & mire,
What shall I do! what could I do, if I could find these Criminals
I could not dare to take vengeance; for all things are so constructed    
And builded by the Divine hand, that the sinner shall always escape,
And he who takes vengeance alone is the criminal of Providence;
If I should dare to lay my finger on a grain of sand
In way of vengeance; I punish the already punishd: O whom
Should I pity if I pity not the sinner who is gone astray!       
O Albion, if thou takest vengeance; if thou revengest thy wrongs
Thou art for ever lost! What can I do to hinder the Sons
Of Albion from taking vengeance? or how shall I them perswade.

So spoke Los, travelling thro darkness & horrid solitude:"
Lucia in song.

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