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

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cupid and Psyche

National Gallery Victoria
Designed by George Cumberland
Engraved by William Blake
Reposted from October 13, 2012
                                                 Cupid and Psyche

(Cupid is God; Psyche is the soul.)

       Blake had read Taylors' translation of Apuleius' Marriage of Cupid and Psyche.
 In her discussion of Blake's use of Cupid and Psyche Raine refers us to a passage in
Night ii of The Four Zoas:

"And I commanded the Great deep to hide her in his hand
Till she became a little weeping Infant a span long
I carried her in my bosom as a man carries a lamb
I loved her I gave her all my soul & my delight
I hid her in soft gardens & in secret bowers of Summer
Weaving mazes of delight along the sunny Paradise
Inextricable labyrinths, She bore me sons & daughters
And they have taken her away & hid her from my sight."
(Erdman 317)

       This is a "paradise of shadows" (Raine 24). Blake described here the coming of an eternal soul into generation;  in this (long!) poem Blake provided a creative rational for 'generation' (the descent of the soul).

       In this passage Luvah has (more or less) created Vala, and then (for an unknown reason here) he found himself shut off from her and she from him.

       Cupid provides a magnificent house for Psyche, and Luvah does the same thing for Vala, just as Solomon had done (your house is traditionally a symbol of your body). Cupid, Luvah, Solomon build houses for Psyche, Vala, and the Shulamite respectively. They made a house for them, just as God makes a house for us all.

Psyche's House (From Apuleius):

"And when she had refreshed her selfe sufficiently with sleepe,
she rose with a more quiet and pacified minde, and fortuned to
espy a pleasant wood invironed with great and mighty trees. Shee
espied likewise a running river as cleare as crystall : in the midst
of the wood well nigh at the fall of the river was a princely Edifice,
wrought and builded not by the art or hand of man, but by the mighty
power of God : and you would judge at the first entry therin, that it
were some pleasant and worthy mansion for the powers of heaven.
For the embowings above were of Citron and Ivory, propped and
undermined with pillars of gold, the walls covered and seeled with
silver, divers sorts of beasts were graven and carved, that seemed to
encounter with such as entered in. All things were so curiously and
finely wrought, that it seemed either to be the worke of some Demy
god, or of God himselfe. The pavement was all of pretious stones,
divided and cut one from another, whereon was carved divers kindes
of pictures, in such sort that blessed and thrice blessed were they that
might goe upon such a pavement : Every part and angle of the house
was so well adorned, that by reason of the pretious stones and inestimable
treasure there, it glittered and shone in such sort, that the chambers,
porches, and doores gave light as it had beene the Sunne."

       Words of Vala:
"My Luvah here hath placd me in a Sweet & pleasant Land
And given me fruits & pleasant waters & warm hills & cool valleys
Here will I build myself a house & here Ill call on his name
Here Ill return when I am weary & take my pleasant rest
So spoke the Sinless Soul and laid her head on the downy fleece
Of a curld Ram who stretchd himself in sleep beside his mistress
And soft sleep fell upon her eyelids in the silent noon of day
Then Luvah passed by & saw the sinless Soul
And said Let a pleasant house arise to be the dwelling place
Of this immortal Spirit growing in lower Paradise
He spoke & pillars were builded & walls as white as ivory
The grass she slept upon was pavd with pavement as of pearl. Beneath her rose a downy bed & a cieling coverd all"
(Night 9 of 4Z 128:20-33; quoted by Raine on page 26)

       The pleasant house has the symbolic meaning of the Beloved's (that's us!) body. In the Song of Solomon we have this duet:

"If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. If she is a door, we will enclose her
with panels of cedar.

I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment."
(Song of Solomon 8:9-10)

       All of these three ladies (Psyche, Vala, and the Shulamite) mourn the absence of her husband. Each lady's husband acts as a surrogate for God. Descending into mortal life is a downer that stays with us until the mortal end.
       With a rhapsodic verse from Solomon re his "beloved" in Blake and Tradition (but not Blake and Antiquity) Raine makes for us an extremely significant revelation:

Song of Solomon 6:4:
"Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem"
In the Bible Tirzah is a city, but something entirely different to Blake.

       As you read 4Z, it becomes more and more apparent that Tirzah is the type of Vala fallen. Jerusalem represent's Vala redeemed.

"Blake took the name Tirzah to be a symbolic reference to worldly materialism, as opposed to the spiritual realm of Jerusalem." (from Wikipedia)

An earlier version of this can be found here.

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