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

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Two Ways

Wikipedia Commons  
Illustration to the Book of Job
Linnell Set
Job's Evil Dreams

This is an extract from Chapter Four (FAITH) of Ram Horn'd With Gold by Larry Clayton.  

The Two Ways

      In 'Milton' Blake speaks of two streams flowing from a fountain in a rock of crystal: one goes straight to Eden; the other is more torturous. They represent of course two possible journeys through life, and he could speak of both because he lived both. The first stream represents the child-like consciousness that enabled Blake (that enables anyone gifted with it) to live every moment in the light of Eternity. The other, more common path wanders all over this God-forsaken vale of tears, but it winds up at the same place.

      That's the most incredible good news for anybody who can hear it. The apostle Paul hinted at it a time or two; perhaps it was the truth that he was forbidden to tell. Origen believed it, no doubt one of the reasons the Church Fathers kicked him out. In the 19th Century an entire denomination arose whose primary emphasis was this particular good news--the Universalists. Actually this good news could not be pronounced with authority except by someone like Blake who had traveled both journeys; he knew whereof he spoke.

      If you believe that all came originally from the One and that in the fullness of time all things in Christ are gathered together in one, then as a consequence the two paths do meet at the end as Blake claimed. We can put this in a more properly theological context with Blake's expressed response to the Calvinistic doctrine of Double Predestination.

      Double Predestination contains as its lower half the grim old notion of Hell that has probably done as much as anything else in theology to discredit the Christian faith in the eyes of the modern world. Calvin taught the hoary old superstition that most of the world's population are destined to live without Christ and to die and move on to eternal torment; a lucky few have a happier destiny. The lucky few included Calvin of course and his friends, especially his obedient friends. In contrast Origen, perhaps Paul, and surely Blake believed in single predestination: the two streams converge at the end.

      Blake expended an enormous amount of his creative energy combating Double Predestination. He heaped scorn upon scorn on the Calvinistic God who curses his children. His break with Swedenborg followed his discovery that Swedenborg was a "Spiritual Predestinarian, more abominable than Calvin's". He later lamented over him and called him the "Samson, shorn by the Churches."

In Milton Blake ironically inverted the Calvinistic categories of 'elect' and 'reprobate'. With incredible elegance he used Jesus' words on Calvin like a two edged sword. He simply pronounced on behalf of Christ the obvious truth, as if to say, "Calvin, your doctrine is of the world, and your first shall be last in my kingdom."

      Double Predestination is a consequence of a more fundamental error of Rahab, the whore of Babylon, the organized Church, "Imputing sin and righteousness to individuals". Blake addressed that error with his doctrine of states, which we look at in a moment.

      In Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake examined most directly the conventional idea of Hell and pronounced it a delusion of a certain type of mind. In Visions of the Last Judgment he gave his straightforward views about the meaning of the biblical Hell. Again in 'Jerusalem', "What are the Pains of Hell but Ignorance, Bodily Lust, Idleness & devastation of the things of the Spirit?"

      However the conventional Hell does seem to have some biblical basis: Isaiah 66:24, Mark 9:43ff, Matthew 25:41 provide examples. How do you deal with all those scriptures? In the first place Blake felt perfectly free to discount anything in the Bible that he found incongruent with his vision, at least to discount its conventional meaning. The immediate experience always exercised authority over anything second hand. The inerrancy of scripture, another of the Five Fundamentals, meant just about as much to him as Double Predestination.

      In the second place, although the doctrine of hell has most often been used as a means of anathematizing those with whom one disagrees, there are certainly more creative ways to deal with it. Blake chose one of these, what he called the doctrine of states. In a conversation with the "seven Angels of the Presence" Milton is told by Lucifer: "We are not individuals but states.../ Distinguish therefore states from individuals in those states."

      And at the end of the first chapter of Jerusalem the daughters of Beulah pray as follows:
"Descend O Lamb of God & take away the imputation of Sin
By the Creation of States & the deliverance of Individuals  Evermore Amen...
But many doubted & despaird & imputed Sin & Righteousness       
To Individuals & not to States, and these Slept in Ulro"
      (Jerusalem, 25.12 Erdman 170)

      To distinguish states from individuals is the only means of forgiveness of sins. In the centuries since Blake enlightened Christians have learned to condemn sin without condemning the sinner. The most enlightened condemn no one, realizing that they themselves are as sinful as anyone else. For such a consciousness the only authentic preaching becomes confessional preaching.

      The relationship between Blake's doctrine of states and the conventional doctrine of hell becomes clear in Plate 16 of the Job series where Job and his wife watch the 'old man' in themselves take the plunge with their master "into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels". This of course is a spiritual or psychic event. The crude and ludicrous superstition of the conventional doctrine of hell stems from a spiritual blindness that attempts to impose the material upon the Beyond--once again the Lockian fallacy, the assumption that 'material' is 'real'.

      The Last Judgment in Blake is the consummation devoutly to be hoped for when truth takes its rightful place in man's psyche. Error is "burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it". The person wedded to error finds this a fearsome prospect; the one who wants to be free finds it a glorious one. We're all headed for the last judgment--by the direct childlike route or the torturous worldly route. It's the fervent hope of the eternalist and the bane of the materialist. Blake as was said before, traveled both routes. His exquisite lyrics attest to the first; his (often tormented) prophetic declamation to the second. The childlike route is so crystal clear as to need little explanation; the second obviously needs a great deal. Looking closely at the first may be good preparation for the second.

      An incident from Blake's last years suggests something of the nature of the torturous route which was Blake's life. The old poet was telling the story of the Prodigal Son. He got to the moment when the wandering boy at last returns to the Father. At that point Blake broke down in tears; he couldn't go on. The story casts a revealing light on a primitive relationship that must have provided a lot of the dynamic for Blake's creativity.

      Psychologists tell us that a person's early relationship with his father has a great bearing on his image of God. Applying that idea to Blake's poetry one could infer that Blake as a child had a gruesome relationship with his father. However we find little suggestion of this in the biography. On the contrary the preponderance of the evidence suggests a permissive and understanding parent. (The only exception seems to be the threat to beat the eight year old for his 'lie' about the tree full of angels.) In any event 'father' has unpleasant associations in Blake's poetry, especially in the theological realm. He adored Jesus, but he obviously had trouble believing Jesus' word about the loving Father.
The Neo-platonic interpreters have theorized that Blake couldn't forgive the Creator for condemning us to this prison house of mortal life. I think a more universal explanation fits the facts. Everyone has difficulty forgiving his father and/or creator for the dimensions of horror in life which threaten in one way or another to overwhelm the psyche. Few or none of us have done a really adequate job of this. Most often we've repressed the sensitive idealist; we've closed off from consciousness those unpleasant ultimate realities which seem to have no answer.

      "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" Has anyone really asked that question since 1794? Nietzsche asked it and went crazy. In our generation Jung has come closest, and that's what makes him great. Most of us, even the best of Christians, have partitioned off and closed out that ultimate question, the ultimate doubt expressed by the dying Saviour on the cross. This William Blake could not do; like Jesus he was condemned to face consciously the penalty of our finitude.

Songs of Innocence and Experience, Song 42, Erdman 24 
"The Tyger.                           

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.      
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?          
On what wings dare he aspire?     
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain, 
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,       
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!              

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?                
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:           
What immortal hand or eye,         
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?"

      Frye has spoken of the 'abyss of consciousness'. Enion, the primeval mother in 4Z is condemned to it by her love of her children. At the end of Night ii she calls our attention to this blindness which we have chosen and its opposite, the abyss of consciousness which she (and Blake in her) is condemned to face; here is her complaint.

      Something is terribly wrong in this created universe, and in the face of this underlying wrongness the idea of a loving Father as Creator simply doesn't fit all the facts. This consciousness, which Blake shared with Dostoevsky in the person of Ivan Karamazov, interrupted Blake's childlike innocence and precipitated the torturous journey "through the Aerial Void and all the Churches".

      Probably a majority of people will always refuse such an invitation; they will cling to the refuge of their Church, or Bible, or President, or fraternity, or whatever form of authority they have made their obeisance to, whatever they have found to block out the abyss of consciousness. A few will have at least a sympathetic or vicarious interest in the problem posed by Blake and Dostoevsky. A handful will perceive that to realize their full humanity and the God Within they must proceed beyond innocence. They, too, must take that long journey and plumb life to its wholeness. The art of Blake offers a good map for the trip.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


Wikipedia Commons
Woman Taken in Adultery


This is an extract from Chapter Four (FAITH) of Ram Horn'd With Gold by Larry Clayton.  

 If the primary moral wrong is hindering, the primary grace is forgiveness. Redemption came for Blake when forgiveness first entered the horizon of his vision; it increasingly came to dominate it. Prior to 1800 with all his denunciations of Urizen, the Restrainer, and of morality Blake was growing more and more into the role of judge. He was becoming in fact a judge of judges. The later Lambeth books witness the resultant decrease in vitality; in the language of Zion he suffered a loss of faith. It coincided with a slowly dawning realization that Urizen had infested his own mind all the while he was denouncing him in others. There awakened in his mind a new awareness of sin, a sin more basic than hindering others, or rather an awareness of the inner cause of hindering. He called it the Selfhood, the Spectre, Satan. As many of us have since that day, Blake realized that he saw the God-playing in others because he was so good at it himself. This new vision of his Selfhood led to the Moment of Grace.
      At Felpham, in the major crisis of his life, he faced the need to forgive both the impositions of his corporeal friend, Hayley, and the resentful thunderer, William Blake, as well. The appearance of his first Vision of Light marks the coming of Christ into his life with the power of this forgiveness; henceforth he called him Jesus, the Forgiveness.
      The old Urizenic monstrosity that had haunted him, first in the outer world and increasingly as a component of his own psyche, was recognized, accepted, subdued, and forgiven. It was undoubtedly the greatest event of his life, a new birth of hope at the age of 43. He shared with us the psychic unfolding of this experience in Night vii of 'The Four Zoas' where Los embraces his Spectre (equivalent to Jung's acceptance of the shadow) and soon thereafter finds Urizen miraculously changed:
      "Startled was Los; he found his Enemy Urizen now In his hands; he wonder'd that he felt love & not hate. His whole soul loved him; he beheld him an infant Lovely..."
Has anyone better portrayed the psychodynamics of forgiveness? In order to forgive you first withdraw the projection, then you forgive yourself. It's your baby!
      We can't say that's the end of the story; in Night viii Urizen continues to afflict life with his judgments, hostility and violence; Satan comes forth from his War. The Saviour dies for him, and we are still waiting for the ultimate victory. Nor was Blake himself fully delivered from the resentments and self justifications of the 'old man.' Hard times ahead, the deceitfulness and opprobrium of others continued to afflict and to warp his psyche and caused him to participate in sin (mostly by suffering through the sins of others against him), but now he knew the answer: through recurring awareness and Self-annihilation he could forgive again and again. The wheat and tares continued to grow together.
      Blake had a deep grasp of what students of the Bible have called the kenosis. At his Moment of Grace it became for him an existential reality. He rewrote 4Z to show Jesus throughout the drama coming from above, hovering over Mankind, descending into mortal flesh to join us and to take on our burdens, our sorrow and pain and travail. Blake referred to this as the "dark Satanic body". This is the body we all wear until Jesus glorifies it in us.
      According to Blake's faith this coming of Jesus is the ultimate act of forgiveness for what we have become in our brokenness. It empowers us to become through a new birth what we were originally and what we are called to be again. The new birth is an alteration of consciousness. Blake had an inkling of this as early as 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', where he referred to it as "an improvement of sensual enjoyment" In the same plate he referred to it as a cleansing of the "doors of perception" and likened the former state to life in Plato's cave.
      In the lovely "first Light" poem quoted above he used the thoroughly biblical figure of Jesus purging away "all my mire and my clay". Forgiveness is not a temporal event, but an eternal one. The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. We must forgive not once, but seventy times seven times. Blake deals with sin and forgiveness as ultimates in his notebook poem, "My Spectre around me night and day". The poem speaks primarily to the advanced student, but with crystal clarity stanza 14 bears on the primary grace:
    "& Throughout all Eternity
    I forgive you, you forgive me.
    As our dear Redeemer said:
    This the Wine & this the Bread."

      The unforgiving, accusing, egocentric, spectrous Selfhood is the stuff of Ulro, the life that is Eternal Death. Forgiveness through Self-annihilation is the stuff of that life which is life indeed. In the eternal realm Good and Evil, Virtue and Sin, all are forgiven and replaced by Truth and Error, which constitute the matter of the eternal wars of love. We fight these with Blake's weapons (the burning arrows of thought, etc.) or with Paul's "whole armor of God". Error meets an eternal consummation as we grow closer and closer to the Perfect Man. The apocalypse in Blake's structure of faith comes as an alteration of consciousness by which "this world" fades out (is consumed) and is replaced by the Eternal. Albion awakes. "Whenever any Individual Rejects Error and Embraces Truth, a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual".

Milton, Plate 39 [44], (E 140)  
"Suddenly around Milton on my Path, the Starry Seven
Burnd terrible! my Path became a solid fire, as bright
As the clear Sun & Milton silent came down on my Path.           
And there went forth from the Starry limbs of the Seven: Forms
Human; with Trumpets innumerable, sounding articulate
As the Seven spake; and they stood in a mighty Column of Fire
Surrounding Felphams Vale, reaching to the Mundane Shell, Saying

Awake Albion awake! reclaim thy Reasoning Spectre. Subdue        

Him to the Divine Mercy, Cast him down into the Lake
Of Los, that ever burneth with fire, ever & ever Amen!
Let the Four Zoa's awake from Slumbers of Six Thousand Years" 

       This was Blake's religion; unfortunately he does not seem to have found it in any of the churches which he knew. Instead many of his deepest convictions directly contravened the prevailing theology. He discovered that he "must create a system, or be enslaved by another mans". The pages that follow trace some of the contrarieties between Blake's vision of eternal reality and the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Wikipedia Commons 
Small Book of Designs
Copy A, Plate 11
This is an extract from Chapter Four (FAITH) of Ram Horn'd With Gold by Larry Clayton.

"Whosoever of you are justified by the law: ye are fallen from grace" Galatians 5:4
Just as he redefined hell, so Blake redefined sin. The only sin for Blake in hindering, oneself or another: "Murder is Hindering Another, Theft is Hindering Another." To subvert one's individuality is the sin against the Holy Spirit. "He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence".
      The responsibility for hindering another falls upon the Lawmaker and Enforcer, who has polluted life with his prohibitions: "over the doors Thou shalt not" (EUROPE, a Prophecy, 12.28; Erdman 64). One could say that Blake took Paul's letters to the Romans and to the Galatians too seriously. Luther had taken those epistles seriously enough to throw off the Roman yoke. Blake took them more radically and threw off the mosaic yoke--as Paul had suggested.
      Paul had identified the Law with the flesh and opposed it with the Spirit. Our poet took with utmost seriousness these stirring passages calling the Christian to freedom from the Law. He didn't have the benefit of the 'interpretations' of such ideas afforded by the educational process. Sin stems from our ideas of morality, which Blake called hindering. When we presume to know what someone else should or must do, we have entered the state of Caiaphas, the Pharisee, who crucified Jesus, but "was in his own Mind/a benefactor to Mankind."
      We lay down the law to another--our law--and thus violate the other's nature: "One law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression". We tell him what to do, and then we use the power of the Accuser, the God of this World, to compell him to do it and to punish him for his failures. This is sin, the way life happens in Ulro. As we have seen, Blake didn't call it life, he called it Eternal Death. Paul had said, "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life."
      The categories of sin and righteousness divide mankind. The division often proceeds to the point of physical violence. Corporeal war always rests upon a base of self righteousness and condemnation of the sins of the enemy. Religion too often allies itself with those attitudes and their violent results. Long before the peaceniks of the sixties Blake said in effect, "Make love, not war!" He said it at great length in dozens of different ways. He saw war as the ultimate end of hindering another. In the Book of Urizen we read how Urizen, the great Lawgiver (who lives in all of us!) discovers that none of his children can obey his laws, "for he saw that no flesh nor spirit could keep His iron laws one moment" (Cf There is none righteous, no, not one).
Annotations to Lavater, (E 601)
 "Every mans leading propensity ought to be calld his
leading Virtue & his good Angel    But the Philosophy of Causes &
Consequences misled Lavater as it has all his cotemporaries. 
Each thing is its own cause & its own effect   Accident is the
omission of act in self & the hindering of act in another,  This
is Vice but all Act from Individual propensity is
Virtue.  To hinder another is not an act  it is the
contrary  it is a restraint on action both in ourselves & in the
person hinderd. for he who hinders another omits his own duty. at
the time 
     Murder is Hindering Another 
     Theft is Hindering Another 
     Backbiting. Undermining Circumventing & whatever is
Negative is Vice 
     But the origin of this mistake in Lavater & his
contemporaries, is, They suppose that  Womans Love is Sin.  in
consequence all the Loves & Graces with them are Sin" 
      So we see that Blake opposed the idea of sin; he opposed morality; he opposed Law. Paradoxically Blake lived a very law abiding life. Only such a person can afford the luxury of antinomianism without losing his integrity. For example Blake despised the marriage laws--and lived as a faithful and dutiful husband for forty years. But beyond the surface absurdities of his anarchism Blake tells us something profound about life: Goodness cannot be compelled; goodness grows only in a context of freedom. "To the pure all things are pure". Blake was basically pure; one of his mottoes was "everything that lives is holy". That in itself would have been enough to make him famous.
      If we can suspend our judgments about people's conduct and stop tormenting ourselves because of our failures to do the good which we have laid upon ourselves, if we can accept what we have called bad, but which may be simply disowned facets of our true nature, in Blake's terminology if we can forgive, then we can put sin behind us and receive the gift of eternal life. Blake, drinking deeply from the primary fountains of scripture, intuitively expressed these universal truths in poetic terms. One hundred years later Jung came along and clothed them with the respectability of a scientific jargon.
      From what has been said it is obvious that Blake didn't believe in Sin as it is commonly understood: "Satan thinks that Sin is displeasing to God; he ought to know that Nothing is displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil". Jerusalem, Blake's symbol of the redeemed and pure consciousness, speaking to Vala, his symbol of the fallen mind, expressed Blake's candid evaluation of Sin as such: "Oh Vala...what is sin but a little error & fault that is soon forgiven?" (Jerusalem, 20.22; E165) 

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 654)
"Christ come
as he came at first to deliver those who were bound under the
Knave not to deliver the Knave He  Comes to Deliver Man the
[Forgiven] Accused & not Satan the Accuser  we do not
find any where that Satan is Accused of Sin  he is only accused of
Unbelief & thereby drawing Man into Sin that he may accuse him. 
Such is the Last Judgment a Deliverance from Satans Accusation
Satan thinks that Sin is displeasing to God he ought to know that
Nothing is displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the Tree
of Knowledge of Good & Evil 
     Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have
curbed & governd their Passions or have No Passions but because
they have Cultivated their Understandings.  The Treasures of
Heaven are not Negations of Passion but Realities of Intellect
from which All the Passions Emanate Uncurbed in their Eternal
Glory   The Fool shall not enter into Heaven let him be ever so
Holy.  Holiness is not The Price of Enterance into Heaven Those
who are cast out Are All Those who having no Passions of their
own because No Intellect.  Have spent their lives in Curbing &
Governing other Peoples by the Various arts of Poverty & Cruelty
of all kinds   Wo Wo Wo to you Hypocrites"   

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


The Fall of Man
This picture is obviously one of those in which Blake was trying to bring together his message in one single statement. We can either focus on the minute particulars and let them lead us in multiple directions or we can let ourselves be absorbed in a total, inclusive portrayal of the dynamics of life. The title FALL OF MAN falls short of the action which can be discerned in the image.

If you have been carefully observing the images which are posted in this blog you will be reminded of figures which Blake used elsewhere: in his Illuminated Books, in his illustrations to books by other authors, in his illustrations to the Bible, and in the individual drawing which came spontaneously from his pen, pencil, graver or brush. Each figure becomes a word which identifies a symbol which becomes part of a vocabulary. Using the vocabulary he makes statements which define relationships which tell the story of humanity.

When Blake wrote this passage commenting on his illustration to Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, he was recognizing that the archetypal states are expressed in individuals and reveal to us stages along the journey of life.

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 536)
"Every age is a Canterbury Pilgrimage; we all pass on, each sustaining one or other
of these characters; nor can a child be born, who is not one of
these characters of Chaucer, The Doctor of Physic is described as
the first of his profession; perfect, learned, completely Master
and Doctor in his art. Thus the reader will observe, that
Chaucer makes every one of his characters perfect in his kind,
every one is an Antique Statue; the image of a class, and not of
an imperfect individual."

But Blake may also have been suggesting an alternative way to view this image. What is going on in the outer experience of humanity is also going on in the inner experience of the individual's mind. Blake is showing the divisions which the psyche experiences internally just as as he was showing it in his four zoas, in his emanations and in Albion and his sons and daughters. So you can look in the image for the major divisions which psychology recognizes as the way the mind is organized, and for particular expressions which may be part of your own psyche.

It is easy to see various compartments in the picture and figures outside of the compartments. When we see the picture as the FALL OF MAN, the figures are in a process of descent on the right side of the picture and assent on the left side. Even the figures trapped in the lowermost darkest levels or compartments are being invited to begin the journey upward. And most notable is that the figure on the throne at the top of the picture is looking with compassion at those who are falling, and is in the process of stepping down instead of remaining distant.

Learn more from the post Day of Judgment.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


Wikimedia Commons
Original in Fitzwilliam Museum
Illustrations to Paradise Regained 
Satan tempts Christ with the Kingdoms of the Earth

This is an extract from Chapter Four (FAITH) of Ram Horn'd With Gold by Larry Clayton.

Heaven and Hell

       Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isaiah 33:14)
 No one knows of the Beyond. Still men throughout history have seen visions of it. These visions have informed their faith and galvanized them to the words and deeds by which they have lived. Look now at Blake's visions of Heaven and Hell:

       For Isaiah (and Blake) 'everlasting burnings' had connotations opposite to those of conventional thinking.Indeed throughout the Bible fire symbolizes God more often than the Devil: "our God is a consuming fire". Note also the burning bush seen by Moses and the forks of flame at Pentecost. In Eden every bush burns and flaming tongues fill the air; Blake referred to them as burning arrows of thought.

       Blake's eternity, both here and hereafter, is characterized by two intense activities, War and Hunting (Milton: Plate 35:2), "the Two Fountains of the River of Life". Both are intellectual in nature and aimed at growth into Truth. In this world they have been prostituted into "corporeal war" and the killing of the innocent. War and Hunting of course exhaust the eternals, so periodic rest is provided in what might be called Lower Heaven; Blake called it Beulah:
    "There is from Great Eternity a mild & pleasant rest Nam'd Beulah, a soft Moony Universe, feminine, lovely, Pure, mild & Gentle, given in Mercy to those who sleep, Eternally created by the Lamb of God around, On all sides, within & without the Universal Man."
           4Z (Night 1 5:29-31)
       Blake tells us relatively little about Eden, but in his larger poems he had a lot to say about Beulah. He described it as a sort of way station between Eden and Ulro, which we might roughly translate as this vale of tears. Two way traffic passes through Beulah. Those who reach it from Ulro are in good shape and headed for something better. Those coming from the other direction are also okay for the moment but in deadly peril if they go farther.

       We could also call Ulro "this world". In a sense "this world" is as close to the conventional hell as Blake got. In Blake as in the Bible, especially in Paul, "this world" has a technical meaning. It does not mean the present stage of life as opposed to a heavenly (or hellish) existence beyond physical death. Basically "this world" means a level of consciousness that sees only the material, which Blake called the corporeal. Ulro is the state in which "Reality was forgot, and the Vanities of Time and Space only Remembered and called Reality" (Vision of the Last Judgment; Erdman 555; his comments on an astounding canvas; it concerns Revelation 20:11-15).

       Ulro, Blake's hell, denotes a form of blindness or sleep, from which one may awaken:
    "Of the Sleep of Ulro! and of the passage through Eternal Death! and of the awaking to Eternal Life..." (Jerusalem Chapter One)
       This is his theme, Blake tells us. Students of the New Testament know that sleep and waking are thoroughly biblical figures for the spiritual realities which concerned Blake here. He envisioned Eternal Death as the fallenness of "this world" through which we pass before "awaking to Eternal Life". Blake thus saw hell as man's fallen state before the coming of Jesus to awaken us and set us free.

       The biblical writers as they are generally understood had not adequately grasped the fullness of Jesus' power to rescue mankind totally from the darkness which Blake called Eternal Death. They wrote most of the New Testament in a time of persecution. In their effort to stiffen the spine of the believer in the face of that persecution they retreated into a degree of thralldom to the Old Testament God of Wrath, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards' sermon,"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".

       One can readily understand why the worldly ecclesiastics who followed Peter and Paul picked up on the angry God. All too often he became their primary weapon; the image of hell is the ultimate form of coercion. Blake made no such mistake, probably because of the ten years which he had spent confronting and subduing that "shadow from his wearied intellect", years of suffering, but it turned to glory.

"Albion walkd on the steps of fire before his Halls
And Vala walkd with him in dreams of soft deluding slumber.
He looked up & saw the Prince of Light with splendor faded       
Then Albion ascended mourning into the porches of his Palace
Above him rose a Shadow from his wearied intellect:
Of living gold, pure, perfect, holy: in white linen pure he hoverd
A sweet entrancing self-delusion a watry vision of Albion
Soft exulting in existence; all the Man absorbing!"
(Jerusalem, Plate 43 [29], Erdman 191) 
       In those years he laid to rest the Punisher who has afflicted the minds of believers through the centuries, but he retained the creative possibility which represents the best of the Christian faith. The rationalists and deists had thrown out both and confined us to Ulro, which today threatens to engulf mankind. The reader must decide for himself whose hell is most real--the place of unending punishment or the sleep from which man may awaken.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


Wikipedia Commons 
Illustrations to The Grave
Designed by Blake engraved by Schiavonetti
This is an extract from Chapter Two of Ram Horn'd With Gold by Larry Clayton. 

If its visions of love express the quality of a culture, so also does the face which it presents to death. Our society expends enormous sums on the professional removal of all evidence of death from our consciousness, even in the teeth of the stark reality. Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, showed the ubiquity of this impulse in American culture. His title, a poetic term, can just as easily mean one thing as the other. Like all symbols of value we encounter good denials of death and bad ones.
The poetry of Walt Whitman expresses one of the best. Like our poet Whitman was so sure of Eternity that the end of natural life had no terrors for him. He gained first hand experience with death as a hospital volunteer during the Civil War. Exceptionally memorable is his address to a dying soldier, "I don't commiserate, I congratulate you". Here is the exact opposite of the forms of denial most often exercised by the mortician, who simply does all he can to encourage us not to think about it.

In one of his earliest writings Blake explored the meaning of death to an ordinary young man and his loved ones. The Couch of Death (Erdman 441) voices the common fears of humanity but moves to the faithful reality that Blake possessed throughout his days, ending "and the youth breathes out his soul with joy into eternity".
Couch of Death 
"...Sorrow linked them together,
leaning on one another's necks alternately--like lilies, dropping
tears in each other's bosom, they stood by the bed like reeds
bending over a lake, when the evening drops trickle down.  His
voice was low as the whisperings of the woods when the wind is
asleep, and the visions of Heaven unfold their visitation. 
Parting is hard, and death is terrible; I seem to walk through a
deep valley, far from the light of day, alone and comfortless!
The damps of death fall thick upon me! Horrors stare me in the
face! I look behind, there is no returning; Death follows after
me; I walk in regions of Death, where no tree is; without a
lantern to direct my steps, without a staff to support me."
Blake's idealism found expression in the simple inversion of death, an idea that goes back as far as Heraclitus, who speaking of the Eternals said, "we live their death, and we die their life". The thought comes down to us through Euripides, Plato, and many others as late as Thomas Wolfe.
Most often when Blake speaks of "Death Eternal" he expresses the viewpoint of the Eternals; they meant by the term "this mortal life". Three times in Plate 14 of Milton the poet in Heaven, having heard the "Bard's Song" about Satan and recognizing Satan as his own Self- hood, says, "I go to Eternal Death!". He clearly means to return to this world, reenacting the kenosis (self emptying) of Christ.

Otherwise Blake used the word 'death' more straightforwardly than he had used 'love' and in two general senses. In fairly common parlance death is the opposite of the creative. Speaking of the Law in 'Jerusalem' the Divine Voice says:
"No individual can keep these Laws, for they are death To every energy of man and forbid the springs of life."

If you read Paul's epistles, you will discover that he used 'death' in the same ways. For example "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Paul is always reminding the Christian that he participates in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Secondly, Blake used 'death' in its most proper sense as the end of mortal life, but whenever he touched this subject, he always denied the materialistic viewpoint that death is the end. A clear example comes in Gates of Paradise, a short synoptic and pictorial description of Blake's myth of life:
" But when once I did descry The Immortal Man that cannot Die, Thro' evening shades I haste away To close the Labours of my Day."

Though he lived intensely, the love of the Ideal and his life long visions of Eternity led Blake to yearn for the Beyond and to depreciate material existence. Like the apostle Paul he had a "desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better". Blake made a deliberate attempt through the aid of the doctrine of correspondences to live each moment of earthly life in the eternal realm, "to see a World in a Grain of Sand". Expressed negatively,
"I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance & not Action; it is as the Dirt upon my feet, No part of Me."

And as stated in CHAPTER ONE he died with a song of praise on his lips. His life and all his art provide a convincing testimony for the reality of the Beyond. It was really Death that was "Dirt upon his feet".

Finally Blake used 'death' in the uniquely Christian context of self giving. At the end of 'Jerusalem' Jesus explains to Albion the meaning of his own death and its significance as a universal form of relationship:
      "...Fear not Albion: unless I die thou canst not live;
But if I die I shall arise again & thou with me.
This is Friendship & Brotherhood: without it Man is Not. ...
....Wouldest thou love one who never died
For thee, or ever die for one who had not died for thee?
And if God dieth not for Man & giveth not himself
Eternally for Man, Man could not exist; for Man is Love
As God is Love; every kindness to another is a little Death 
In the Divine Image, nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood.
     These explorations of 'love' and 'death' may help the reader to grasp some of the poetic meanings attached to Blake's other terms of value, words like heaven and hell, good and evil, truth and error. Always watch for irony, for the other point of view, the reverse side of the coin. In such ways Blake continually provokes the intellect. He delights the person who enjoys an intellectual challenge--and frustrates others. He intimated as much in a letter to Dr. Trusler, who likely belonged to the second category:
" But you ought to know that What is Grand is necessarily
obscure to Weak men. That which can be made Explicit to
the Idiot is not worth my care. The wisest of the Ancients
consider'd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for
Instruction, because it rouzes the faculties to act. I
name Moses, Solomon, Esop, Homer, Plato."