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

Thursday, December 19, 2019


Wikipedia commons
Christ in the Sepulcher Guarded by Angels
From The Cabinet Gallery of Pictures by Allan Cunningham, Page 12:

"Blake, who always saw in fancy every form he drew, believed that angels descended to painters of old, and sat for their portraits. When he himself sat to Phillips for that fine portrait so beautifully engraved by Schiavonetti, the painter, in order to obtain the most unaffected attitude, and the most poetic expression, engaged his sitter in a conversation concerning the sublime in art. “We hear much,” said Phillips, “ of the grandeur of Michael Angelo; from the engravings, I should say he has been over-rated; he could not paint an angel so well as Raphael.” “He has not been over-rated, Sir,” said Blake, “and he could paint an angel better than Raphael.” “Well, but” said the other, “you never saw any of the paintings of Michael Angelo; and perhaps speak from the opinions of others; your friends may have deceived you.” “I never saw any of the paintings of Michael Angelo,” replied Blake, “but I speak from the opinion of a friend who could not be mistaken.” “A valuable friend truly,” said Phillips, “ and who may he be I pray?” “The arch-angel Gabriel, Sir,” answered Blake. “A good authority surely, but you know evil spirits love to assume the looks of good ones; and this may have been done to mislead you.”

“Well now, Sir,” said Blake “this is really singular; such were my own suspicions; but they were soon removed—I will tell you how. I was one day reading Young's Night Thoughts, and when I came to that passage which asks ‘who can paint an angel,” I closed the book and cried, “Aye! who can paint an angel?" A voice in the room answered, “Michael Angelo could.” “And how do you know,” I said, looking round me, but I saw nothing save a greater light than usual. “I know,” said the voice“for I sat to him : I am the archangel Gabriel.” “Oho!” I answered, “you are, are you: I must have better, assurance than that of a wandering voice; you may be an evil spirit—there are such in the land.” “You shall have good assurance,” said the voice“can an evil spirit do this " “I looked whence the voice came, and was then aware of a shining shape, with bright wings, who diffused much light. As I looked, the shape dilated more and more : he waved his hands; the roof of my study opened; he ascended into heaven; he stood in the sun and beckoning to me, moved the universe. An angel of evil could not have done that - it was the arch-angel Gabriel.

The painter marvelled much at this wild story; but he caught from Blake's looks, as he related it, that rapt poetic expression which has rendered his portrait one of the finest of the English school."

This account by Blake of being in the presence of and conversing with an angel is included in Allan Cunningham's book The Cabinet Gallery of Pictures. When Blake created images of Angels he captured some of the ethereal quality which he described to Phillips when he was sitting for the painting of his portrait. Having had vivid experiences of angelic visions, Blake communicated the Eternal Realities of the Spiritual World convincingly. 

Songs of Innocence, Plate 20, (E 13)
The sun descending in the west.
The evening star does shine.
The birds are silent in their nest,
And I must seek for mine,
The moon like a flower,
In heavens high bower;
With silent delight,
Sits and smiles on the night.

Farewell green fields and happy groves,
Where flocks have took delight;
Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves 
The feet of angels bright; 
Unseen they pour blessing, 
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom.

They look in every thoughtless nest,
Where birds are coverd warm;
They visit caves of every beast,
To keep them all from harm;
If they see any weeping,
That should have been sleeping
They pour sleep on their head
And sit down by their bed."

Letters (E 701)
"I find more & more that my Style of Designing is a Species
by itself. & in this which I send you have been compelld by my
Genius or Angel to follow where he led if I were to act otherwise
it would not fulfill the purpose for which alone I live. which is
in conjunction with such men as my friend Cumberland to renew the
lost Art of the Greeks" 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Library of Congress
Marriage of Heaven & Hell
Plate 10

As a mental exercise Blake tries to get his reader to look at his world in a different way. He asks us to look at 'reality' as something which is a product of of our own thinking rather than as objective facts which determine our interpretations and our actions. If you are an observer of other people you probably realize that your own mind and the minds of others are not congruent. Take that observation a step further and acknowledge that either individuals see through the lens of generally accepted conventions, or they use their own mental abilities to process the input they receive through their senses from an exterior world. If such is the case, the mind itself creates their 'reality' which does not arrive pre-processed as the events of history or the sights and sounds from outside of the body.

On Page 72, of her biography, William BlakeKathleen Raine tells us that Blake pushes us to look deeper than surface ills to find ways to make changes to outer circumstances:        

"For Blake, outward events and circumstances were the expressions of states of mind, ideologies, mentalities, and not, as for the determanist-materialist ideologies of the modern world, their causes. Blake's 'dark Satanic Mills', so often invoked in the name of social reform, prove, when we read Milton (the poem in which these mills are most fully described) to be the mechanistic 'laws' of Bacon, Newton and Locke, of which industrial landscapes are a reflection and expression. Man has made his machines in the image of his ideology. So, always, Blake tries to discover the source of social and private ills within man. Only a change of the heart and mind of the nation can create a new society and new cities less hideous than those created by an atheist and mechanistic rationalism."

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 543)
"All had originally one
language, and one religion, this was the religion of Jesus, the
everlasting Gospel. Antiquity preaches the Gospel of Jesus.
The reasoning historian, turner and twister of causes and
consequences, such as Hume, Gibbon and Voltaire; cannot with all 
their artifice, turn or twist one fact or disarrange self 
evident action and reality 
Reasons and opinions concerning acts, are not history. 
Acts themselves alone are history, and these are
neither the exclusive property of Hume, Gibbon nor Voltaire,
Echard, Rapin, Plutarch, nor Herodotus. Tell me the Acts, O
historian, and leave me to reason upon them as I please; away
with your reasoning and your rubbish. All that is not action is
not worth reading. Tell me the What; I do not want you to
tell me the Why, and the How; I can find that out myself, as well
as you can, and I will not be fooled by you into opinions, that
you please to impose, to disbelieve what you think improbable or
impossible. His opinions, who does not see spiritual agency, is 
not worth any man's reading; he who rejects a fact because it is
improbable, must reject all History and retain doubts only."

Milton, Plate 26 [28], (E 123)

"And every Generated Body in its inward form,
Is a garden of delight & a building of magnificence,
Built by the Sons of Los in Bowlahoola & Allamanda
And the herbs & flowers & furniture & beds & chambers
Continually woven in the Looms of Enitharmons Daughters
In bright Cathedrons golden Dome with care & love & tears
For the various Classes of Men are all markd out determinate
In Bowlahoola; & as the Spectres choose their affinities
So they are born on Earth, & every Class is determinate
But not by Natural but by Spiritual power alone, Because
The Natural power continually seeks & tends to Destruction
Ending in Death: which would of itself be Eternal Death
And all are Class'd by Spiritual, & not by Natural power. 
And every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not
A Natural: for a Natural Cause only seems, it is a Delusion 
Of Ulro: & a ratio of the perishing Vegetable Memory."

Monday, December 16, 2019

Blake's Style

Wikipedia Commons   Jerusalem   Plate 37, Detail   

From Blake's Style published Oct 6, 2014   One simple clue to reading Blake concerns his use of dialogue; he spoke with many voices. He exercised this freedom especially with the larger prophecies, the three major works. These on first reading may seem to present insuperable difficulties, but the reader who pays close attention to the identity of the speaker at each point will thereby break down the forest into manageable groves of trees. In his three long poems Blake gave titles to various elements or speeches; they became units, landmarks or guideposts, casting light on what at first seemed general confusion. 

In Night i of 'The Four Zoas' for example we find Enitharmon's Song of Death (FZ1-10.9; E305), second the "Nuptial Song" of the "demons of the deep" (FZ1-13.20; E308), and third the message of the Daughters of Beulah, which they call the "Wars of Death Eternal"(FZ1-21.13; E311). These three songs comprise three of the many selves of the human psyche; needless to say their ideas and attitudes vary immensely. They all describe the same event, but they see it, oh, so differently. They use the same words with different meanings. For example consider that what the daughters call "Death Eternal" the demons call marriage. In this way Blake challenges the reader and stretches his mind and immensely rewards whoever will accept the challenge. He gives us the end of a golden string.

Ellie added:
In the early pages of the Four Zoas the disintegration process was presented from various perspectives. Although it was Albion, the totality, who was coming apart, it was the broken factions who were left to explain what was happening. Enitharmon who had been released from her parents and her twin brother promised to sing a Song of Death. The death of the old order she saw an opportunity. By turning away and refusing to 'look upon the Universal Vision' she would 'drink up' all the powers of man.

Four Zoas, Night 1, Page 9, (E 305)
"But the two youthful wonders wanderd in the world of Tharmas
Thy name is Enitharmon; said the fierce prophetic boy
While thy mild voice fills all these Caverns with sweet harmony
O how our Parents sit & mourn in their silent secret bowers
Page 10
But Enitharmon answerd with a dropping tear & frowning
Dark as a dewy morning when the crimson light appears
To make us happy let them weary their immortal powers
While we draw in their sweet delights while we return them scorn
On scorn to feed our discontent; for if we grateful prove
They will withhold sweet love, whose food is thorns & bitter roots.
We hear the warlike clarions we view the turning spheres
Yet Thou in indolence reposest holding me in bonds  
Hear! I will sing a Song of Death! it is a Song of Vala!
The Fallen Man takes his repose: Urizen sleeps in the porch
Luvah and Vala woke & flew up from the Human Heart
Into the Brain; from thence upon the pillow Vala slumber'd.
And Luvah siez'd the Horses of Light, & rose into the Chariot of Day
Sweet laughter siezd me in my sleep! silent & close I laughd
For in the visions of Vala I walkd with the mighty Fallen One 
I heard his voiceI heard his voice among the branches, & among sweet flowers. 
Why is the light of Enitharmon darken'd in dewy morn
Why is the silence of Enitharmon a terror & her smile a whirlwind
Uttering this darkness in my halls, in the pillars of my Holy-ones
Why dost thou weep as Vala? & wet thy veil with dewy tears,
In slumbers of my night-repose, infusing a false morning?
Driving the Female Emanations all away from Los 
I have refusd to look upon the Universal Vision
And wilt thou slay with death him who devotes himself to thee
Once born for the sport & amusement of Man now born to drink up all his Powers
Page 11
I heard the sounding sea; I heard the voice weaker and weaker;
The voice came & went like a dream, I awoke in my sweet bliss.
Then Los smote her upon the Earth twas long eer she revivd
He answer'd, darkning more with indignation hid in smiles
I die not Enitharmon tho thou singst thy Song of Death" 

Los, whose emanation Enitharmon was, made his protest by striking Enitharmon. His regret over this act of violence led to a proposed marriage between the two which was celebrated at the Nuptial Feast. Rather than repairing the breach the Nuptial Feast awoke the 'Demon of Waves' who initiated 'vegetative life' with 'Spirits of Flaming fire on high' to govern 'the mighty Song.' The process had moved out of the control of Los and Enitharmon as additional forces were turned loose.

Four Zoas, Night 1, Page 13, (E 308)
"And Los & Enitharmon sat in discontent & scorn 
The Nuptial Song arose from all the thousand thousand spirits 
Over the joyful Earth & Sea, and ascended into the Heavens
For Elemental Gods their thunderous Organs blew; creating
Delicious Viands. Demons of Waves their watry Eccho's woke!
Bright Souls of vegetative life, budding and blossoming 
Page 14
Stretch their immortal hands to smite the gold & silver Wires
And with immortal Voice soft warbling fill all Earth & Heaven.
With doubling Voices & loud Horns wound round sounding
Cavernous dwellers fill'd the enormous Revelry, Responsing!
And Spirits of Flaming fire on high, govern'd the mighty Song. 
And This the Song! sung at The Feast of Los & Enitharmon" 

Those observing the events from the perspective of Beulah, gave a report to the divine presence. Their account focused on Urizen and Luvah, two aspects of the human psyche, who began a plot to gain power over Jerusalem, the emanation of Albion.

Four Zoas, Night 1, Page 21, (E 311) 
"So spoke the Ambassadors from Beulah & with solemn mourning 
They were introducd to the divine presence & they kneeled down
In Conways Vale thus recounting the Wars of Death Eternal 
The Eternal Man wept in the holy tent Our Brother in Eternity Even Albion
Even Albion whom thou lovest wept in pain his family
Slept round on hills & valleys in the regions of his love
But Urizen awoke & Luvah woke & thus conferrd 
Thou Luvah said the Prince of Light behold our sons & daughters 
Reposd on beds. let them sleep on. do thou alone depart
Into thy wished Kingdom where in Majesty & Power
We may erect a throne. deep in the North I place my lot
Thou in the South listen attentive. In silent of this night
I will infold the Eternal tent in clouds opake while thou 
Siezing the chariots of the morning. Go outfleeting ride
Afar into the Zenith high bending thy furious course
Southward with half the tents of men inclosd in clouds
Will lay my scepter on Jerusalem the Emanation
On all her sons & on thy sons O Luvah & on mine 
Till dawn was wont to wake them then my trumpet sounding loud
Ravishd away in night my strong command shall be obeyd
For I have placd my centinels in stations each tenth man
Is bought & sold & in dim night my Word shall be their law" 

So the fall of man can appear as release from constrains as it did to Enitharmon, as an imposition of a new order of governing as it did at the nuptials of Los and Enitharmon, and as distancing of man from his connection to the Infinite, as it did to Unizen and Luvah when they sought to overthrow the established psychic order. There are among the processes which Blake describes in detail as he develops his characters and leads his reader along the path to regeneration.

Friday, December 13, 2019


First posted Saturday, August 30, 2014
New York Public Library
Plate 8

'Reprobate' appears 7 times in Milton and once in Jerusalem. 
When Blake wrote Milton he had a developed new concept of 
the sorts of people.

The conventional understanding of the classes if men: 
1. The Elect are best known and admired class; they more or less run things in the materialistic culture in which we, like Blake, live. The Elect live in the top rung of society. 
2. The redeemed are middle class people who obey the Elect, but with some reservations. They are conventional people who lack 'their own system' of values and more or less follow the herd of the materialistic majority of the population.
3. The reprobates are thought of as lower class of people, very much like Jesus was thought of by the privileged class.

In this post we will attempt to show what Blake meant  by these classes.

From an earlier post:
"Orthodox religion designated three positions which man may have in relation to God. The Elect were those were accepted by God because they were obedient to his Laws. The Redeemed were those who may be saved if they repented of their wrongdoing and believed. The Transgressors had broken the Law and were condemned to eternal punishment.

Blake redefined the three types. The Elect to him were the conventional law-abiders like the pharisees who prevented the entry of the spirit. The Redeemed were oppressed by the Elect because they were led by the spirit and not the law. The Transgressors or Reprobate were willing to break the law or move outside of the orthodox structure for the sake of the oppressed."   

In this way Blake's category of the Elect was linked to Satan, the Redeemed was linked to Palamabron, and the Reprobate to Rintrah. 

(Following in the train of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell which reversed Angels and Devils, the three classes are a general reversal of ordinary ideas.)

Milton, Plate 13: (E 107)
"The Elect shall meet the Redeem'd. on Albions rocks they shall meet
Astonish'd at the Transgressor, in him beholding the Saviour."

Jerusalem, Plate 83, (E 241) 
"O Albion, my brother!
Jerusalem hungers in the desart! affection to her children!
The scorn'd and contemnd youthful girl, where shall she fly?
Sussex shuts up her Villages. Hants, Devon & Wilts
Surrounded with masses of stone in orderd forms, determine then
A form for Vala and a form for Luvah, here on the Thames
Where the Victim nightly howls beneath the Druids knife:
A Form of Vegetation, nail them down on the stems of Mystery:
O when shall the Saxon return with the English his redeemed brother!
O when shall the Lamb of God descend among the Reprobate!"

Milton, Plate 8, (E 102)
"But Rintrah who is of the reprobate: of those form'd to destruction                                       

Milton, Plate 11 [12], (E 105)
"the Class of Satan shall be calld the Elect, & those
Of Rintrah. the Reprobate, & those of Palamabron the Redeem'd
For he is redeem'd from Satans Law, the wrath falling on Rintrah"

Milton, Plate 13 [14], (E 107)
"He died as a Reprobate. he was Punish'd as a transgressor! 
Glory! Glory! Glory! to the Holy Lamb of God 
I touch the heavens as an instrument to glorify the Lord! 
And the Elect shall say to the Redeemd. We behold it is of Divine 
Mercy alone! of Free Gift and Election that we live.
Our Virtues & Cruel Goodnesses, have deserv'd Eternal Death."
John 1
[14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, 
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

First John 2
[1] My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin,
 we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
[2] And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins 
of the whole world.


Thursday, December 12, 2019


First posted by Larry on Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's doubtful that Blake knew much about being a human father, but he had serious misgivings about 'the Heavenly Father':
Gates of Paradise 
Emblem 11
Gates of Paradise, For the Sexes, (E 268) 
[Revised 1818]
The Keys...
"10 In Times Ocean falling drownd
In Aged Ignorance profound
11 Holy & cold I clipd the Wings
Of all Sublunary Things
12 And in depths of my Dungeons
Closed the Father & the Sons"

Aged Ignorance! what might that be?

Could it be Jehovah, who came with a thump on the head!

Or the Father, who whips (stunts) the growing sprout, for
whatever reason, basically for not obeying a convention?

Could it be School! which systematically molds (or tries to mold) the pupil into obedience?

Blake (so far as we know) was never a biological father. But perhaps he understood that no father (or at least very few) adequately raise a son without (at least some) clipping.

The clipped son becomes a father; he may swear he'll never do to his sons what his father did to him; but he does.

And so it goes: inadequate fathers, inadequate schools, inadequate conventions, inadequate lives for the multitude--raised without creativity or imagination.

The dutiful multitude are the Redeemed; 
the rulers or the Elect are the schoolmasters, judges, senators. 
A few who escaped the clipping (or at least were clipped less) may hear the call to prophesy. They are the Reprobate.

From Milton, Plate 7, (E 100)
"The Elect from before the foundation of the World:
The second, The Redeem'd. The Third. The Reprobate & Form'd
To destruction from the mothers womb: follow with me my plow.
Of the first class was Satan: with incomparable mildness;
His primitive tyrannical attempts on Los: with most endearing love
He soft intreated Los to give to him Palamabrons station"

Aged Ignorance is really a very searching critique of society. We all could do better. Urizen was terrified of futurity. Thank God for the Saviour who brought to us forgiveness.

Read again the Intro to the fourth chapter in Jerusalem. 
To the Christians: Plate 77 (E 231)
"We are told to abstain from fleshly desires that we may lose no
time from the Work of the Lord. Every moment lost, is a moment
that cannot be redeemed every pleasure that intermingles with
the duty of our station is a folly unredeemable & is planted
like the seed of a wild flower among our wheat. All the
tortures of repentance. are tortures of self-reproach on account
of our leaving the Divine Harvest to the Enemy, the struggles of
intanglement with incoherent roots. I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination.
Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of
body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination.
Imagination the real & eternal World of which this Vegetable
Universe is but a faint shadow & in which we shall live in our
Eternal or Imaginative Bodies, when these Vegetable Mortal
Bodies are no more."

Saturday, December 7, 2019


Wikipedia Commons
Arlington Court Devon
Arlington Tempera

First posted by Larry January 16, 2015

Blake was a highly symbolic poet (and painter); to understand much of his thought requires acquaintance with a body of symbols that go back to the dawn of civilization, and up to the 19th century. In an age when only the material seemed to matter Blake was (and continues to be) highly opaque to the pure materialist. Such a person will find most of Blake's ideas meaningless.

But at the deepest level his ideas are the veritable stuff of life: love and hate, good and evil, life and death, and many ideas with urgent meaning. A high proportion of people prefer to turn aside from these questions, but you can be sure that their unconscious is full of them.

Above all Blake is about matter and spirit, at the great dividing line: do you see yourself primarily as a body or as spirit?

Begin with the conclusion, to be supported by an overwhelming body of evidence stretching from Heraclitus in the 6th century BC to the present:Our mortal life is a vale of tears to which we have lapsed from Eternity and from which we will (may?) eventually escape back into the Higher Realm. This myth conforms very closely to the Gnostics, the Platonists, and of course most of Eastern Religion. In the Christian tradition one can find vestiges of it in many of the mystics, notably Meister Eckhart, in Mexican folk culture and in fact universally.

The western mind revolts from this "never-never land" at least on the conscious level, but Freud, Jung, and many other psychologists find strong evidence for it in the unconscious. At this point many readers may dismiss Blake's myth as not worth their attention.
The select few who remain may rightfully expect an entirely new world of grace and enchantment to open before their minds. The Biblically oriented may perceive that all Blake's poetic and artistic work fits into a scheme of cosmic/psychic meaning; closely following the Bible it describes the pattern of Paradise, the Fall, a gradual redemption, and the final Rapture.  

Understanding Blake's myth can be expedited by the study of Blake's women. A most significant key to Blake's symbolism came to light only in 1947 when Arlington Court was bequeathed to the British National Trust. Among the furnishings there was a large tempera by Blake, called alternatively The Sea of Time and Space or The Cave of the Nymphs. This treasure had been hidden from public eyes for a century.

       (Most of us are unlikely to see the original, but Blake and Antiquity by Kathleen Raine offers several glimpses of the picture with a detailed account of the symbols it contains. There is no better way to begin an understanding of Blake at the deeper level than to read carefully and study this small and accessible book.)

       The picture contains the essential symbolism of Blake's myth; the theme goes back to Homer, then to Plato and Porphyry. (To understand Blake's myth one would be well advised to study this link with care--at least the first part of Taylor's article.)

       Blake and Taylor were approximately the same age and as young men close friends. Many people think that Taylor introduced Blake to the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions. It seems certain that Taylor's On the Homeric Cave of the Nymphs deeply influenced the painting of the Arlington Tempera. It also introduced a great number of the most common symbols used in Blake's myth; they were used over and over throughout Blake's work.

       Another good introduction to Blake's myth is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It comes from an angry young man pouring his scorn on the conventions that cripple us; the language is pungent, the words are pointed, provocative, and outrageous.

       A conventional person will find this whole work offensive and repulsive, but the young person at the stage of life where he's ready to kick over the traces, is quickly attracted-- if he has enough wit to understand irony and not take everything at face value.

       We might call it an ironic satire. In 1789 Blake was 32, at the height of his physical (though perhaps not mental) powers. He had experienced the Divine Vision.  He knew it was meant for mankind, but so far limited to Jesus and a few others. But with the advent of the French Revolution he foresaw its spread throughout the world. (Of course in that he was soon doomed to disappointment-- with the appearance of Madame Guillotine.) Nevertheless with a peak of spiritual exuberance he proceeded to announce the coming New Age: 

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 14, (E 39)The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire
at the end of six thousand years is true. as I have heard fromHell. For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded toleave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the wholecreation will be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy whereasit now appears finite & corrupt...If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing wouldappear to man as it is: infinite.For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern

Europe, Plate 10, (E 63)
In thoughts perturb'd, they rose from the bright ruins silent following
The fiery King, who sought his ancient temple serpent-form'dThat stretches out its shady length along the Island white.Round him roll'd his clouds of war; silent the Angel went,Along the infinite shores of Thames to golden Verulam.
There stand the venerable porches that high-towering rear Their oak-surrounded pillarsTheir oak-surrounded pillars, form'd of massy stones, uncutWith tool; stones precious; such eternal in the heavens,Of colours twelve, few known on earth, give light in the opake,Plac'd in the order of the stars, when the five senses whelm'd In deluge o'er the earth-born manIn deluge o'er the earth-born man; then turn'd the fluxile eyesInto two stationary orbs, concentrating all things.The ever-varying spiral ascents to the heavens of heavensWere bended downward; and the nostrils golden gates shutTurn'd outward, barr'd and petrify'd against the infinite.
Thought chang'd the infinite to a serpent; that which pitieth:
To a devouring flame; and man fled from its face and hid In forests of nightIn forests of night; then all the eternal forests were dividedInto earths rolling in circles of space, that like an ocean rush'd And overwhelmed all except this finite wall of fleshAnd overwhelmed all except this finite wall of flesh.
Then was the serpent temple form'd, image of infiniteShut up in finite revolutions, and man became an Angel;Heaven a mighty circle turning; God a tyrant crown'd. Now arriv'd the ancient Guardian at the southern porch,That planted thick with trees of blackest leaf, & in a valeObscure, inclos'd the Stone of Night; oblique it stood, o'erhungWith purple flowers and berries red; image of that sweet south, Once open to the heavens and elevated on the human neck,Now overgrown with hair and coverd with a stony roof,Downward 'tis sunk beneath th' attractive north, that round the feet
A raging whirlpool draws the dizzy enquirer to his grave:"

       For this gem Blake drew upon Genesis and Plato.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Reading the Gospel

British Museum
Illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts

First posted Nov 2010

How Blake Read the Gospel

All his life Blake read the Bible, loved it, and engaged in dialogue with its immortal authors. Virtually every line of his poetry and every picture he painted had direct reference to some biblical idea that Blake had meditated upon.

In vivid contrast many of the orthodox don't read the Bible at all; they just wave it! Little wonder they dislike Blake. His early ironic description of his work as the Bible of Hell certainly helped to confirm their prejudice.
"Thou read'st black where I read white."

(Everlasting Gospel)
There are essentially two ways to read the Bible; Blake referred to them as black and white. What did he mean? We might look at Urizen's Book of Brass as the black book. It's a book of rules, a book of law. It tells people what to do, and more poignantly, what not to do.
Even today ordinary people see the Bible in this way, which helps to explain why hardly anyone reads it today. The few who do read it dutifully and dully. Such a reading constrains consciousness; it makes the reader obedient and unimaginative. The faithful few who feel that they should read their Bible often approach it in a child like way bordering on the childish. Reading the black book inhibits the imagination, deadens the mind and prevents spiritual development. At its worst it has led to many instances of religious persecution and mass murder.

But Blake read it white. The white book is not a book of rules, but a book of visions, a book of wonders. It provokes thought, causes the imagination to soar. Blake must have learned to read at about the age of four, when he had his first vision-- the frightful face at the window. Perhaps we've all been frightened by the Bible in one way or another; most people have had a sufficiently negative experience to leave it strictly alone. But little William overcame his fright and kept reading, and the next vision we hear of was more positive--a tree full of angels.

All the evidence suggests that for the next sixty five years Blake's Bible reading and his visions went hand in hand; his art is the record of it all. Whoever becomes really interested in Blake's visions will find himself reading the Bible because that's where most of them begin. In spite of this his secular critics have looked all over the world for his sources.

One of the greatest things that Blake has to offer the reader is that he makes you see and read the Bible in a new and better way. Not for nothing did the youthful circle of admirers of Blake's last years refer to him as the Interpreter.

The black book has most often been read as law, as history, in a restricted, literal interpretation. If the priest can get people to see it this way, and only this way, then he has secure control over his flock of sheep. In contrast Blake suggests that it's symbolic. Although written in categories of time and space, the temporal dimension is only instrumental; it points to the Beyond, the Eternal, the Real.

Too often people reading 'black' concern themselves with foolish questions such as "Did it really happen? Was Jonah really swallowed by the whale, or rather by the big fish?" But in Blake's vision that isn't the important thing. The important thing is "What does it mean?" The reader of the black book gets himself tied up in knots about the veracity or historicity of Jonah and his aquatic friend.

Blake shows you the Jonah in your psyche and helps you get some grasp of what the turbulent sea means to you personally. It's experiential, exciting! it puts you in touch with reality!, which is not material at all but spiritual. Literal or symbolic is black or white, and probably the two minds will never meet. At this point I simply urge you to join Blake and read white:
    "Why is the Bible more Entertaining & Instructive than any other book? Is it not because [it is] addressed to the Imagination which is Spiritual Sensation, and but mediately to the Understanding or Reason?"
    (Letter To Trusler; Erdman 702-3)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  All of the above is taken from Chapter Six of the Blake Primer.                                                                                                                                       .