Sunday, January 31, 2010
___Milton, Plate 18_____________________Milton, Plate 19
In The Illuminated Blake, Erdman goes through the illuminated works of William Blake plate by plate describing what he sees. This is not a commentary on the text, but on the images. But the text illuminates the pictures, just as the pictures illuminate the text.
Let's have a look at Milton, Plate 19, (E 110). Click on image and page down for enlarged view.
Without Erdman's explanation this image at the bottom of the page would be difficult to understand. Says Erdman, "Los shoots his limbs forth 'like the roots of trees' - and we see that he is almost headless...Urizen, nothing but head, peers from the ground and beholds 'the immortal Man'...Milton's task is to annihilate their separation...Looking at Plate 18 we can see that Milton is replacing Urizen's head."
Erdman considers this to be a representation of events in the poem, but also commentary on the politics of England. Milton was a supporter of the Civil War of 1649 which separated England's 'head and body'; "But the naked Milton now confronts the problem of making whole what is already asunder, of resurrecting the Spiritual Body."
So this is another expression of the old task of reconciling the division between Los and Urizen, imagination and reason, spirit and body, as well as the republicans and the monarchists.
Read more about it in Chapter 24 of Erdman's Prophet Against Empire including, "The moral is that Satan must be forgiven or vengeful slaughter will never end."
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Has there ever been a British (or American) war that the Religious Establishment hasn't approved and supported? The Bloody Sword subsumed the Prince of Peace. Nothing in Blake's world led to greater concern than this unpleasant reality.
The original Covering Cherub was the Prince of Tyre, a tyrannizer over the sacred soil of God's Chosen People. Ezekiel had something to say about that (I wonder if WB consulted with him on that point).
Milton, plate 37:
"...Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Paul, Constantine, Charlemaine, Luther, these seven are the Male-Females, the Dragon Forms Religion hid in War, a Dragon red & hidden Harlot. All these are seen in Miltons Shadow who is the Covering Cherub.."
And again: Jerusalem, plate 89:
"...Thus was the Covering Cherub reveald majestic image of Selfhood, Body put off, the Antichrist accursed Coverd with precious stones, a Human Dragon terrible And bright, stretchd over Europe & Asia gorgeous.In three nights he devourd the rejected corse Hidden within the Covering Cherub as in a Tabernacle Of threefold workmanship in allegoric delusion & woe .........A Double Female now appeard within the Tabernacle, Religion hid in War, a Dragon red & hidden Harlot Each within other, but without a Warlike Mighty-one Of dreadful power, sitting upon Horeb pondering dire And mighty preparations mustering multitudes innumerable of warlike sons..."
Well it looks like the Mighty-one of dreadful power sitting on Horeb seems to have instituted State Religion.
Friday, January 29, 2010
She further uses plate 17 of MHH to illuminate the threats in the"struggles between the side of ego-consciousness and the lesser known shadow side, or in the conflict between inner opposites of the masculine and the feminine, or in the battle between oneself and the tribal gods with their repeated demands for fealty, devotion, and sacrifice."
Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 17, (E 40)
"An Angel came to me and said. O pitiable foolish young man! O horrible! O dreadful state! consider the hot burning dungeon thou art preparing for thyself to all eternity, to which thou art going in such career.
I said. perhaps you will be willing to shew me my eternal lot & we will contemplate together upon it and see whether your lot or mine is most desirable
So he took me thro' a stable & thro' a church & down into the church vault at the end of which was a mill: thro' the mill we went, and came to a cave. down the winding cavern we groped our tedious way till a void boundless as a nether sky appeard beneath us & we held by the roots of trees and hung over this immensity; but I said, if you please we will commit ourselves to this void and see whether providence is here also, if you will not I will? but he answerd. do not presume O young-man but as we here remain behold thy lot which will soon appear when the darkness passes away
So I remaind with him sitting in the twisted root of an oak. he was suspended in a fungus which hung with the head downward into the deep:"
Blake gives an apt warning of the difficulty and danger of undertaking the alteration of the psyche which is initiated by choosing to explore the invisible world.
Which will we choose: the 'perilous path' or the 'paths of ease.'
In the Illuminated Blake, Erdman uses these words to describe this image; "A living form from the abyss".
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Those who build their lives as expressions of the 13th Chapter of First Corinthians are the 'golden builders'; they are 'becoming a building' - carefully built just as Blake's illuminated poetry was produced with 'well wrought blandishments' and 'well contrived words.' The structure of Golgonooza is the principles and attitudes through which we build our character, the furnishings are the way we behave to one another: 'curtains woven tears and sighs, woven into lovely forms.' The outcome is the 'joy' of losing the 'self'' by knowing the love in which we abide, and which abides in us.
Jerusalem, Plate 59'For they labor for life & love'
Jerusalem, Plate 12, (E 154)
"What are those golden builders doing?...
Becoming a building of pity and compassion? Lo!
The stones are pity, and the bricks, well wrought affections:
Enameld with love & kindness, & the tiles engraven gold
Labour of merciful hands: the beams & rafters are forgiveness:
The mortar & cement of the work, tears of honesty: the nails,
And the screws & iron braces, are well wrought blandishments,
And well contrived words, firm fixing, never forgotten,
Always comforting the remembrance: the floors, humility,
The cielings, devotion: the hearths, thanksgiving:
Prepare the furniture O Lambeth in thy pitying looms!
The curtains, woven tears & sighs, wrought into lovely forms
For comfort. there the secret furniture of Jerusalems chamber
Is wrought: Lambeth! the Bride the Lambs Wife loveth thee:
Thou art one with her & knowest not of self in thy supreme joy.
Go on, builders in hope: tho Jerusalem wanders far away,
Without the gate of Los: among the dark Satanic wheels."
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 2, (E 32)
Blake writes in a language that few people today know, so maybe we need an interpreter. I happen to be reading The Unholy Bible, by June Singer. It's largely an (Jungian) interpretation of MHH. Here are some of her interpretations:
"Rintrah is the personification of rage against the status quo" (and an apt description of the young Blake). Revolution was in the air, and Blake writes about a change (very timely!). The meek man is Joe Six Pack; he hasn't learned to read; his social, political, moral consciousness is minimal, and his exploitation by the 'villain' (let's say bankers) has driven Joe out into the wilderness, but "he's sick and tired, and he's not gonna take it any more." Times will be hard for everybody now.
The meek man and the villain: man is not one, but two. He's "Adam and the serpent, Jacob and Esau, outraged honesty and sneaking hypocrisy".
Speaking of Revolution: France was being bathed in blood, and America had already thrown off the sneaking villain.
So much for the political dimension (Erdman's Blake Prophet Against Empire has more). Psychologically the meek man is the good unconscious church goer; the villain is the Voltarian priest (the first priest was the first villain who met the first fool.) The meek man must some day wake up and gain a critical dimension.
Well I've just scratched the surface. This is poetry; poetry is
never (or at least rarely) about the literal; it's about the
intellectual, the spiritual. The Bible is poetry: beginning to end; not about material events; about spiritual events; events in your consciousness. Blake taught me how to read the Bible. One of his greatest gifts to me.
What does Blake (or the Bible) mean? That depends on you- and me.
Justin said: Justin has left a new comment on your post "Left the Paths of Ease":
This is a strange pronouncement: "poetry is
never (or at least rarely) about the literal; it's about the
intellectual, the spiritual." It's even stranger if you replace poetry with the more general literature: "Literature is never about the literal." But I think it's true somehow. Poetry is the contortion of the literal into the spiritual.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Blake absorbed ideas from everywhere, but he didn't accept them uncritically. He was a synthesizer. He wanted to figure out things for himself. He didn't mind sharing his insights with others, but he didn't expect others to accept them without thinking about them.
He would expect the same of us - that we 'hunt' for ideas, that we evaluate and sift through them, that we form our ideas into a valid system of thought, and that we share them with others.
Image from Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Plate 2, furnished by Adelaide e-books
A Descriptive Catalog, Page 44, (E 544)
"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 [P 45] 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."
Monday, January 25, 2010
Vision of the Last Judgment, Page 80, (E556)
"These States Exist now Man Passes on but States remain for Ever he passes thro them like a traveller who may as well suppose that the places he has passed thro exist no more as a Man may suppose that the States he has passd thro exist no more Every Thing is Eternal In Eternity one Thing never Changes into another Thing Each Identity is Eternal"
Vision of the Last Judgment, Page 79, (E 556)
"A Man can never become Ass nor Horse some are born with shapes of Men who may be both but Eternal Identity is one thing & Corporeal Vegetation is another thing"
Vision of the Last Judgment, Page 93, (E 565)
"Forgiveness of Sin is only at the Judgment Seat of Jesus the Saviour where the Accuser is cast out. not because he Sins but because he torments the Just & makes them do what he condemns as Sin & what he knows is opposite to their own Identity
It is not because Angels are Holier than Men or Devils that makes them Angels but because they do not Expect Holiness from one another but from God only"
John Middleton Murry, in his book William Blake on Page 32, clarifies the distinctions between Selfhood and Identity:
"To make it clearer we will employ two distinct words: the Self to denote the conscious and superficial self which is manifested as Will or deliberate Mind; and the
Identity (which comes from Blake's later language) to denote the unconscious, instinctive, positive self which is hindered or restrained by the Self...The Identity is, in one sense, passive: it is an instrument rather than an agent, a vehicle rather than an initiator, obedient rather than sovereign. But this passivity is a passivity only in respect to the conscious and willed activity of the Self. The identity is passive towards influences felt to come from greater depths than the Self: towards those influences it is obedient; but in obeying those influences it is active indeed.
"It is the thwarting of this active Identity which Blake considers indisputably evil, and the only evil. It is obedience to and expression of, this active Identity which he considers indisputably good, and the only good. Conversely, by allowing the Self to triumph in themselves, they are moved to thwart Identity and so to create Selfhood in others. Self breed Self, Evil begats Evil. Such is the genesis and operation of the Moral Law, in Blake's belief...The Moral Law as external ordinance is merely Selfhood objectified; as internal restraint it is a disguise for the Selfhood of the individual.
..If the Identities of all men could be released, Evil would disappear; not merely because all Evil proceeds from the Negation of Identity by the Self, but also because it is inconceivable that one Identity should thwart another. The very idea of restraining is impossible to an Identity."
The idea of the Identity is expressed by Paul in First Corinthians when he speaks of the time to come (or in Eternity) when we shall "see reality whole and face to face."
Corinthians I, 13:12
"At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!"
C.S. Lewis writes of the same condition of Identity in his novel Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold. In the final scene the heroine who has seen herself as she is, says to the Lord: "You yourself are the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?" When she had a face - Identity of her own - she can look into the Lord's face without questioning.
"And by his health, sickness, / Is driven away, / From our immortal day.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
"...myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestations." Joseph Campbell
It is interesting to observe the parallels visible between the mythological tradition and Blake's created myth. Here we have Joseph Campbell showing how the same concepts of fall and return which we encounter in Blake's poetry pervade the hero story.
From Joseph Campbell's, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Page 259:
"'For,' as Jesus states it, 'behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.' Indeed, the lapse of superconsciousness into the state of unconsciousness is precisely the meaning of the Biblical image of the Fall. The constriction of consciousness, to which we owe the fact that we see not the source of the universal power but only the phenomenal forms reflected from that power, turns superconsciousness into unconsciousness and, at the same time creates the world. Redemption consists in the return to superconsciousness and therewith the dissolution of the world. This is the great image and theme of the cosmogonic cycle, the mythical image of the world's coming into manifestation and subsequent return into the nonmanifest condition. Equally, the birth, life, and death of the individual may be regarded as a descent into unconsciousness and return. The hero is the one who, while still alive, knows and represents the claim of the superconsciouness which throughout creation is more or less unconscious. The adventure of the hero represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination - the nuclear moment when, while still alive, he found and opened the road to the light beyond the dark walls of our living death."...
"In any case, they are telling metaphors of the destiny of man, man's hope, man's faith, and man's dark mystery."
These are the processes of the human mind or of life as we experience it: analysis and synthesis (Chemistry), differentiation and integration (Mathematics), destruction and construction (Architecture), death and birth (Biology).
As Blake describes the breaking apart and bringing together and we join in the experience, hopefully we can focus as much on the synthesis as on the analysis.
Here Blake portrays Los as the Hero:
Jerusalem, Plate 38, (E 184)
"Then Los grew furious raging: Why stand we here trembling around
Calling on God for help; and not ourselves in whom God dwells
Stretching a hand to save the falling Man: are we not Four
Beholding Albion upon the Precipice ready to fall into Non-Entity:
Seeing these Heavens & Hells conglobing in the Void."
Saturday, January 23, 2010
It's about Sin and Righteousness for them-- Good and Evil; (look at Matthew 25). Not so for Blake; there's no such thing. For him it's about Truth and Error. He acknowledged that good and evil exist; but it doesn't apply to people; you and I can be in a state of Satan, but that will never be a permanent state. ("Good and Evil are Qualities in Every Man"; Erdman 563)
For C.R. the Last Judgment is about the final end of the world. Not so for Blake! For him it's a personal thing that happens often in your life, and it's one-sided. Blake IMO was Universalist rather than narrowly Christian. Look at this verse from the Divine Image:
"And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too."
".......................What are all the Gifts of the
Spirit but Mental Gifts whenever any Individual Rejects Error &
Embraces Truth a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual"
(from Notes on Vision of the Last Judgment, Erdman 562)
You and I and Blake may very well pray for the Last Judgment.
Friday, January 22, 2010
These two principles are apparent to me in the writings of William Blake. He looks at realities as two-fold, three-fold or four-fold, but always as parts of the whole. Albion is the whole of Humanity; Eternity is the wholeness unlimited by time and space; the body of his work reveals the wholeness of his mythopaeic system. He demonstrates the interconnectedness of the portions of the whole by showing how activities in one sphere have consequences in all others. The concepts of forgiveness, recognizing error, cyclical processes, responding to catastrophic events, creating conditions for new processes to become apparent, brotherhood: are all manifestations of an interconnected system.
The apocalyptic thrust of Blake's work speaks to the ecological principal of succession. Blake's state of generation is for the purpose not of sustaining itself but providing the condition in which the Savior may appear. Eternity is to be the final status as well as the initial, but it will be the Eternity of Experience not of Innocence, arrived at only through creation, fall, regeneration and apocalypse .
Milton, Plate 6, (E 100)
"But now the Starry Heavens are fled from the mighty limbs
Loud sounds the Hammer of Los, loud turn the Wheels of Enitharmon
Her Looms vibrate with soft affections, weaving the Web of Life
Out from the ashes of the Dead; Los lifts his iron Ladles
With molten ore: he heaves the iron cliffs in his rattling chains
From Hyde Park to the Alms-houses of Mile-end & old Bow
Here the Three Classes of Mortal Men take their fixd destinations
And hence they overspread the Nations of the whole Earth & hence
The Web of Life is woven: & the tender sinews of life created
And the Three Classes of Men regulated by Los's hammer."
Thursday, January 21, 2010
The seven writers who have been of the most help to me in attempting to understand Blake's poetry and thought have dramatically different perspectives on discerning the meaning in Blake's work.
Northrup Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake - reveals the symbolic language of Blake within a literary context.
David V. Erdman, Blake: Prophet against Empire - explores historical and political significance of Blake's writing.
Milton O. Percival, William Blake's Circle of Destiny - relates Blake's myth to esoteric symbols, including those in the Bible, Alchemy, and Astrology.
George Wingfield Digby, William Blake: Symbol and Image - sheds light on psychological implications and symbolic meanings through commentary on The Gates of Paradise and the Arlington Tempera.
John Middleton Murry, William Blake - expounds the teachings of Blake and includes the influence of Blake's personal experience on his work.
S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake - provides information on the major ideas in Blake's writing with references to locations of passages where they occur.
Kathleen Raine, Blake and Tradition - shows classical and literary sources and influences for Blake's ideas and images by placing him within traditional metaphysics.
It is because Blake thought and wrote over as broad a field of intellectual knowledge as was possible in London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, that scholars have been able to study his work from so many points of view. These authors have immersed themselves in the whole body of Blake's work and found themselves able to focus on specific areas where their interest and expertise could shed light onto what Blake communicated. There are more books to be written, perhaps you will write one.
You are invited to read Larry Clayton's unpublished book, Ram Horn'd with Gold, focusing on Blake's spiritual development.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
In the first is Milton fresh from his sojourn in Eternity, prepared to undertake the mission that Blake has assigned him. His lack of clothing is symbolic of his being outside of the world of materiality which he will soon rejoin.
Second we look at the image of Los, which is from the beginning of Jerusalem as our first image is from the beginning of Milton. Erdman points out that the positioning of the bodies of these two represents a mirror image. Unlike Milton, Los is clothed. This is the reversal of what we would expect if we were thinking naturally, since Milton is a human and Los is an Eternal. But the character Los, in the poem Jerusalem, is playing the opposite role to that played by Milton. He is leaving the material world to enter the stage where the Eternal drama will unfold. ________________________________
Our third image is of Urizen, clothed in a robe which seems to grow from his body as he is entering the dark world of his own creation. In other words he doesn't just wear the garment, he is the garment.
From this I understand that the degree of clothing can be used to hide or reveal the character's spiritual activity or condition.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Blake: Prophet Against Empire, David V. Erdman, Page 24,25 . Erdman writes:
"It is important to recognize this passage (America, plate 6 ) as Blake's poetic paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence because he frequently alludes to by repeating one or two of its central images,...The page is illuminated with a picture of a naked (resurrected) man sitting on the grave of his dead past and gazing confidently into the heavens."
America a Prophecy, Plate 6 , (E 53)
02 The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave
03 their stations;
04 The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
05 The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk & dry'd.
06 Reviving shake. inspiring move, breathing! awakening!
07 Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst;
08 Let the slave grinding at the mill, run out into the field;
09 Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;
10 Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,
11 Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years;
12 Rise and look out, his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
13 And let his wife and children return from the opressors scourge;
14 They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream.
15 Singing. The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning
16 And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
17 For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.
Quoting Erdman: "That document holds that all men are endowed with 'certain inalienable rights,' including:
life - "The morning comes...The grave is burst"
liberty - "Let the slave grinding at the mill, run out into the field"; "Let the inchained soul...look out"; "let his wife and children return from the opressors scourge."
and the pursuit of happiness - "Let him look up into the heavens & laugh...Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years", the reunited family "look behind at every step & believe it is a dream. Singing. The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning."
...it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a government...having in direct object the establishment of a absolute Tyranny - "For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease."
Blake's interest in the American Revolution centered around the establishment of liberty and justice. But he also saw revolution as a sign of the coming apocalypse. America is strewn with images suggesting that the new nation is a sign of a new beginning in world history where the Eternal breaks into the affairs of men.
I found this passage in Joseph Campbell's The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. In describing Great Seal of the United States, he shows the birth of America as symbolizing the kind of transformation Blake anticipated. Campbell, like Blake, is able to present the images embedded in experience.
Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Page 126:
Figure 16. Reverse, Great Seal of the United States.
"The present pyramid is not, however, of that first creation, but of a second, a 'new order of the world' (novus ordo seclorum), represented here as constituted of exactly 13 courses allegorical of our 13 original states. And whereas behind the new pyramid there is only a desert to be seen, before and around it are the sprouting signs of a new and fresh beginning, dated 1776: 1+7+7+6=21. Mankind, that is to say, has herewith come of age and taken to itself responsibility and authority for the shaping of human lives according to Reason.
"Moreover, between the dated course at the pyramid's base, which tells of an occurrence in Time, and the Eye at the top, which is of Eternity, there are 12 courses, this being the number of the belt of the zodiac as defining the limits of the physical world. The number 13, accordingly, which is that dated course at the base, represents a creative transcendence of the boundary: not death, as appears in the popular superstition of 13 at table, but an achieved life beyond death, as signified in the model of the table of the Last Supper, where the 12 Apostles were of the number of the signs of the belt of the zodiac by which the physical world is bounded, whereas the incarnate God who was about to die, though indeed among them in the field of Time, was of Eternity, beyond the pale of death. Thus the number 13 of our 13 originating states is here interpreted and celebrated as the sign of a resurrection of life out of death, fresh leaves from a desert, a wholesome gift of of the light of Reason as an awakener to maturity of the mind in its social conscience."
Sunday, January 17, 2010
In the Preface to The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis wrote:
"if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell." We may have to give up our right hand or our right eye.
Egocentricity, Self-centeredness, Narcissism, Selfishness, contempt for the 'neighbor', etc. etc! These are some of the attributes that Blake grouped together into the image of "The Selfhood". Blake saw these and other similar traits within himself; he saw them in others, and he saw them in the world.
For twenty years he fought injustice, greed, chicanery, deceit, exploitation; in all those things he was very much of a negative thinker. But at some point he turned: he was forgiven; he turned positive although he understood all too well that he, we, the world must annihilate the Selfhood in order to reach Eternity.
Blake also used the term 'Spectre'; it too was to be annihilated.
In the poem, Milton, we hear from the mouth of 'Milton' speaking to his Spectre:
"Such are the .......Laws of Eternity, that each shall mutually
Annihilate himself for others' good, as I for thee. . . .
In Self annihilation all that is not of God alone,
To put off Self and all I have, ever & ever . . ." (Milton plate 39; Erdman 139)
And "The Negation is the Spectre, the Reasoning Power in Man:
This is a false Body, an Incrustation over my Immortal
Spirit, a Selfhood which must be put off & annihilated alway. " (Milton 40; Erdman 142)
LAMB OF GOD
ALBION & LOS
SEVEN EYES OF GOD
Perhaps Plate 62 of Jerusalem is an attempted summation of Blake's myth up to that point. Putting all of the Old Testament and New Testament allusions in the text, as well as connecting the picture to text on a plate that falls much earlier in the story, points toward an amalgamation of various threads.
COLORED IMAGE: Jerusalem, Plate 62, Albion and LosThe picture itself goes beyond the stated imagery of the text on either Plate 62 or Plate 33. In the introduction to William Blake's Circle of Destiny, Percival presents the overall theme of his book: that when the long cycle comes to an end, it renews (repeats) itself if error is not cast off, or it reaches the Last Judgment which ends all temporal things. Percival sees Blake presenting the whole of the cycle: from the undifferentiated status of Eternity to the Apocalypse where time ends - in all its aspects of politics, science, history, sociology, psychology and religion.
In the Illumination on Plate 62, we have an example of how Blake presents the explicit and implicit simultaneously. The explicit is invariably the lessor of his communications. Although the seven spots direct us to the Eyes of God, there is a suggestion of twelve spots. The implied twelve suggests the Zodiac and other instances of twelve entities for which we may seek associations.
Through the images incorporated in this picture of Albion, Blake may be suggesting a turning point in cosmic events. The ouroboros (seen as a snake around Albion's head), as a representation of cyclical experience reminds us that Albion may break the cycle or repeat it. The peacock feathers surrounding the head remind us that this is a point of transition. The Eyes of God tell us that Albion is under the protection of the Eternals though he has not returned from the world of time. The twelve eyes point to the Zodiac, another image of cyclical movement. (Percival is able to correlate the stages traversed in Blake's myth with passage through the signs of the Zodiac in Chapter VIII of his book.)
Using alchemical symbolism, Percival makes this observation, "The feminine mercury passes from black to white through an intermediate stage in which all the colors assert themselves. The symbol of this stage is the peacock's tail. The appearance of this symbol is a good omen; it means that the fire is doing its work, that death is awakening into life, or, as Paracelsus puts it alchemically, "it showeth the workings of the philosopher's mercury on the vulgar mercury."
Milton O. Percival, William Blake's Circle of Destiny, Page 206.
Just as Blake wanted us to think of the events of the Old and New Testaments as we read the words of the text, in the illumination he is calling to our minds the seven days of creation, the twelve tribes of Israel, and whatever associations with the numbers seven and twelve which we may have from our reading of history, literature and numerology. The feet, cold to the point of blue death, are surrounded by the fires of destruction and redemption. And what about how Albion grasps the stone tenaciously? The face of fear, anguish and confusion suggests an agonizing decision making process like that undergone by Jesus in the Garden.
Blake bombards us with images, as he makes us ask the question, "Which direction will Albion choose?"
Thanks to Jim and Mark for ideas included in this post.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
ALBION (Glad Day) was Blake's name for Everyman, Adam Kadman, Cosmic Man, the Eternal Great Humanity Divine (See Milton, plates 2 and 30) or in Quakereze 'that of God in Everyone'. Albion asleep is an apt commentary on Blake's age-- and ours.
"Every human life is part of Albion and can realize more or less the Cosmic Man's total nature... Albion suffers and triumphs in each individual, as is described in ...Jerusalem
..The Dance of Eternal Death" Digby p.12.
ETERNAL DEATH: Blake used this phrase 78 times; it's mortal life;I translate it to 'this vale of tears', the Sea of Time and Space from which we may emerge at the end; "whenever any Individual Rejects Error & Embraces Truth a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual.." [[A Vision of the Last Judgment] PAGE 85] (Erdman 562)
From Milton: In Heaven, having heard the Bard's Song,
"Milton said, I go to Eternal Death! The Nations still
Follow after the detestable Gods of Priam; in pomp
Of warlike selfhood, contradicting and blaspheming.
When will the Resurrection come; to deliver the sleeping body.."
JERUSALEM: This image cannot be defined; we can only begin a journey of 1000 miles. The Concordance has 288 occurences and Damon has 7 pages trying to describe it. Blake used it as the title for his largest poem; 'Jerusalem' the (smaller) poem, appears in the Preface to Milton (and in many hymnbooks): "till we have built Jerusalem in Englands green and pleasant land."
Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (the conventional church considers itself to be the bride of Christ, but to Blake the bride of Christ was the human race). Jerusalem was Albion's wife-- until he went to sleep; at that point he turned to Vala.
VALA is fallen Jerusalem. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the relationship betwem Vala and Jerusalem can be best understood in this plate (click on the pic for an enlargement). Jerusalem stands out in light with (supposedly) her three daughter, while Vala, in a dark vale, attempts to entice Jerusalem into her darkness. The two battle through The Four Zoas and Jerusalem (the large poem). In your life you can see the 'good girl' and 'bad girl' fighting for supremacy. A woman may become a thief, and/or she may give birth to a spiritual genius. Such is life.
Blake did not believe in 'good and bad'; he believed in Truth and Error. At the Last Judgment Error is burned up and we live (eternally) in Truth.
Friday, January 15, 2010
False religions he recognized as taking many forms. Here are some:
Creating individual requirements and forcing them on others;
Milton, Plate 11 (E103)
"Where Satan making to himself Laws from his own identity.
Compell'd others to serve him in moral gratitude & submission
Being call'd God: setting himself above all that is called God."
Naming behaviors sin and devising punishments;
Milton, Plate 9 (E102)
"He created Seven deadly Sins drawing out his infernal scroll,
Of Moral laws and cruel punishments upon the clouds of Jehovah
To pervert the Divine voice in its entrance to the earth
With thunder of war & trumpets sound, with armies of disease
Punisbments & deaths musterd & number'd; Saying I am God alone
There is no other! let all obey my principles of moral individuality"
Using religion to confine perception to that of the senses;
Song of Los, Plate 4, (E 68)
"Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave
Laws & Religions to the sons of Har binding them more
And more to Earth: closing and restraining:
Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete
Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke"
Assuming the role of intermediary between God and man through secrecy;
Urizen, Plate 2, (E 70)
"Of the primeval Priests assum'd power,
When Eternals spurn'd back his religion;
And gave him a place in the north,
Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary."
Creating terror, despair and cruelty through self-righteousness;
Milton, Plate 22, (E 116)
"Miltons Religion is the cause: there is no end to destruction!
Seeing the Churches at their Period in terror & despair:
Asserting the Self-righteousness against the Universal Saviour,
Mocking the Confessors & Martyrs, claiming Self-righteousness;
With cruel Virtue: making War upon the Lambs Redeemed;
To perpetuate War & Glory. to perpetuate the Laws of Sin:"
Forbidding the joys that flow from following God;
Jerusalem, Plate 9, (E 151)
"Every Emanative joy forbidden as a Crime:
And the Emanations buried alive in the earth with pomp of religion:
Inspiration deny'd; Genius forbidden by laws of punishment:
I saw terrified;"
Creating a mask that obscures the true relationship of man and God;
Jerusalem, Plate 38, (E 184)
"A pretence of Art, to destroy Art: a pretence of Liberty
To destroy Liberty. a pretence of Religion to destroy Religion"
Allowing consciousness of of sin to obscure consciousness of the spirit;
Jerusalem, Plate 41, (E 188)
"Alas!--The time will come, when a mans worst enemies
Shall be those of his own house and family: in a Religion
Of Generation, to destroy by Sin and Atonement, happy Jerusalem,
The Bride and Wife of the Lamb. O God thou art Not an Avenger!"
Worshiping Satan instead of God;
Jerusalem, Plate 52, (E 200)
"Will any one say: Where are those who worship Satan under the
Name of God! Where are they? Listen! Every Religion that Preaches
Vengeance for Sins the Religion of the Enemy & Avenger; and not
the Forgiver of Sin, and their God is Satan, Named by the Divine
Name Your Religion O Deists: Deism, is the Worship of the God
of this World by the means of what you call Natural Religion and
Natural Philosophy, and of Natural Morality or
Self-Righteousness, the Selfish Virtues of the Natural Heart.
This was the Religion of the Pharisees who murderd Jesus. Deism
is the same & ends in the same."
Imposing chastity which divides man from woman;
Jerusalem, Plate 69, (E 222)
"A Religion of Chastity, forming a Commerce to sell Loves
With Moral Law, an Equal Balance, not going down with decision
Therefore the Male severe & cruel filld with stern Revenge:
Mutual Hate returns & mutual Deceit & mutual Fear."
Bringing hate and destruction under the guise of religion;
Jerusalem, Plate 77, (E 231)
"I stood among my valleys of the south
And saw a flame of fire, even as a Wheel
Of fire surrounding all the heavens: it went
From west to cast against the current of
Creation and devourd all things in its loud
Fury & thundering course round heaven & earth
And I asked a Watcher & a Holy-One
Its Name? he answerd. It is the Wheel of Religion"
God Answers Job out of the Whirlwind
Making a concise statement about the nature of true religion, Carl Jung has this to say:
"The religious attitude is quite different from faith associated with a specific creed. The latter, as a codified and dogmatized form of an original religious experience, simply gives expression to a particular collective belief. True religion involves a subjective relationship to certain metaphysical, extramundane factors."
Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self, Complete Works, Vol. 10, par. 507
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Blake went to school for part of one day; that's all the formal education he seems to have acquired. Of course he had some journeyman training. However he appeared to be the most learned person of his generation, which makes him what we call an autodidact -- self-educated.
Very likely his learning began with the Bible; that's demonstrated by the use he made of the Bible in his creative work. He had a thorough acquaintance with the Bible, but he never confined himself to a literal understanding; he didn't see it as history -- no, as poetry. The primary difference is that poetry is susceptible to various meanings, depending on the perception of the reader. Likewise the meaning of any element of the Bible is various, depending on the perception of the reader.
Among the Books of the Bible that he favored he named Ezra and Isaiah; but in MHH he mentioned Ezekiel; he had a conversation with Ezekiel (plate 13). Some of his works demonstrated a considerable acquaintance with Revelation, in the same way that John had shown an extensive acquaintance with The Old Testament.
In a Letter to Flaxman Blake wrote:
"Now my lot in the Heavens is this; Milton
lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face, Ezra
came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in
riper years gave me his hand; Paracelsus & Behmen
appeard to me."
If you're serious about William Blake here's your reading list:
Jacob Boehme: Aside from the Bible nothing meant more to Blake than William Law's translation of this German mystic (some would say Gnostic). The more of Boehme you read, the more Blake you will see and understand. (the English called him Behmen.)
John Milton: Blake identified strongly with Milton -- and had some marked differences with him. Paradise Lost had a great influence on him. In Plate 6 of MHH he said that Milton "was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it". In Vision, writing The Book of Milton he found it necessary to call Milton back from Heaven to correct his spiritual mistakes (much like God sent his Son to save the world).
Swedenborg: Blake's parents had been attracted to this Swedish philosopher and mystic. He and his wife likely attended the Swedenborg Church in London. But he soon saw the man's deficiencies -- and lampooned him in some early works. He undoubtedly learned something from Swedenborg and lamented about him in Milton, "O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the Churches! "
Shakespeare is given by Blake as one of his significant literary relationships. I haven't found that in reading Blake. David Whitmarsh apparently has a lot of say on that score.
Paracelsus (1493-1541): To learn how this man affected Blake you might best consult Milton Percival's Circle of Destiny (probably the best introduction to Blake). He has a chapter on Alchemical Symbolism, and reading this will help you understand how and why the furnaces come up so often in the major prophecies.
Although Thomas Taylor was one year younger than Blake, his translations of Plato and the Neo-Platonists led our poet's interests emphatically in that direction. Thereafter the Greek and Roman myths loomed large in Blake's poetry and pictures.
Homer was a major source for Blake's works. Although he expressed some contempt for Homer, he drew heavily on Homer's stories, using Ovid more often than Homer himself. To get some understanding of how Blake used Homer take a look at my file on myths. The Sea of Time and Space is directly about the Odyssey, a pictorial description in fact (of course it's about a lot of other things as well).
Hermes Trismegistus was a special interest of Blake's as well as a dozen similar arcane and esoteric works too numerous to discuss in this post. But perhaps there will be more to come.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The mother Mary is the virgin, yet she is the mother of Jesus' material side. The list of the maternal line includes some disreputable women of the OT. Blake's class of redeemed, may include his mother since she bore the suffering and rejection on her worldly side without losing sight of the spiritual.
Mary Magdalen with the reputation of a 'sinner', seems to have had greater awareness of Jesus' spiritual nature than did his mother. Blake often uses the term 'experience' to mean participation in the condition of contrariness - divided or conflicted. If Magdalen is both the woman taken in adultery, and the first to see the risen Christ; she represents one who has passed through 'experience' and reached unity - Eternity. ( "But I thy Magdalen behold thy Spiritual Risen Body." )
The third Mary, the sister of Lazarus may be closer to a state of 'innocence.' She, as Jesus says, has 'chosen the better part.' Her sister Martha represents the material side. Mary learns from Jesus; she weeps with Jesus. She is patient, loving, undemanding. Unblemished by sin or doubt she is like a child. She is more 'innocent' than Magdalen, since she is not known to have passed through 'experience' as Magdalen did.
Jerusalem, Plate 61, (E 211)
" Should I
Marry a Harlot & an Adulteress? Mary answerd, Art thou more pure
Than thy Maker who forgiveth Sins & calls again Her that is Lost
Tho She hates. he calls her again in love."
Everlasting Gospel, Pages 48-52, (E 520)"Was Jesus Chaste or did he
Give any Lessons of Chastity
The morning blushd fiery red
Mary was found in Adulterous bed
Earth groand beneath & Heaven above
Trembled at discovery of Love
Jesus was sitting in Moses Chair
They brought the trembling Woman There
Moses commands she be stoned to Death
What was the sound of Jesus breath
He laid his hand on Moses Law
The Ancient Heavens in Silent Awe
Writ with Curses from Pole to Pole
All away began to roll
The Earth trembling & Naked lay
In secret bed of Mortal Clay
On Sinai felt the hand Divine
Putting back the bloody shrine
And she heard the breath of God
As she heard by Edens flood
Good & Evil are no more
Sinais trumpets cease to roar
Cease finger of God to Write
The Heavens are not clean in thy Sight
Thou art Good & thou Alone
Nor may the sinner cast one stone
To be Good only is to be
A Devil or else a Pharisee
Thou Angel of the Presence Divine
That didst create this Body of Mine
Wherefore has[t] thou writ these Laws
And Created Hells dark jaws
My Presence I will take from thee
A Cold Leper thou shalt be
Tho thou wast so pure & bright
That Heaven was Impure in thy Sight
Tho thy Oath turnd Heaven Pale
Tho thy Covenant built Hells Jail
Tho thou didst all to Chaos roll
With the Serpent for its soul
Still the breath Divine does move
And the breath Divine is Love
Mary Fear Not Let me see
The Seven Devils that torment thee
Hide not from my Sight thy Sin
That forgiveness thou maist win
Has no Man Condemned thee
No Man Lord! then what is he
Who shall Accuse thee.
Three Maries at the Sepulcher
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Egg Shaped World of Los
Blake managed to remain upbeat in his expectation for the outcome of the grand experiment which we know as life and intelligence. We too, with consciousness and vision, may become aware of the possibility of Eternity becoming manifest in all creation. Milton Percival ( William Blake's Circle of Destiny, Page 248.) outlines Blake's struggle in delineating and living the faith he had in God's wisdom and mercy. Percival's words:
"It is none too certain, however, that the world will take the path of deliverance. An outward and feminine religion of Mystery challenges the masculine gospel of Christ. But when Mystery is at last stripped of its trappings, and the grinning skeleton of Deism stands revealed, it is time for the Last Judgment. With Deism the wheel of Natural Religion, which began its circuit centuries ago, has swung full circle, and must now submit to Christ or swing round once again. Which will it do? Will the world today, having come to the edge of the abyss over the path of mutual fear, renounce that policy and enter into the ways of peace? Are we purged and pure - true gold - or must we be cast, as dross, once more into the furnaces of affliction? The question haunted Blake, as it haunted Shelley. The prophet in him, especially around the year 1790, filled him with hope of the great renunciation. The Spectre in him pointed out the power of error to renew itself. Where Babylon ends Babylon might begin again. Generation might not be swallowed up in regeneration. This fear is never absent from Los's mind or Blake's. Los's Herculean efforts are necessary, that the "wheel of religion" may disappear in the current of creation." He dare not relinquish his activities, lest the creation itself (the egg-shaped world of Los, and Blake's symbol for what had already been accomplished in a regenerative way) be destroyed. But, though Blake's fear was great, his will to believe was greater. He persuaded himself that man would take the path of Job taken in the Illustrations. He would cast his pride and selfhood (which betrayed him into the cruelty of Natural Religion) into the lake of fire, and be transformed into the likeness of Christ."
Milton, Plate 24 , (E 118)
"But Los dispersd the clouds even as the strong winds of Jehovah,
And Los thus spoke. O noble Sons, be patient yet a little
I have embracd the falling Death, he is become One with me
O Sons we live not by wrath. by mercy alone we live!
I recollect an old Prophecy in Eden recorded in gold; and oft
Sung to the harp: That Milton of the land of Albion.
Should up ascend forward from Felphams Vale & break the Chain
Of jealousy from all its roots; be patient therefore O my Sons
These lovely Females form sweet night and silence and secret
Obscurities to bide from Satans Watch-Fiends. Human loves
And graces; lest they write them in their Books, & in the Scroll
Of mortal life, to condemn the accused: who at Satans Bar
Tremble in Spectrous Bodies continually day and night
While on the Earth they live in sorrowful Vegetations
O when shall we tread our Wine-presses in heaven; and Reap
Our wheat with shoutings of joy, and leave the Earth in peace
Remember how Calvin and Luther in fury premature
Sow'd War and stern division between Papists & Protestants
Let it not be so now! O go not forth in Martyrdoms & Wars
We were plac'd here by the Universal Brotherhood & Mercy
With powers fitted to circumscribe this dark Satanic death
And that the Seven Eyes of God may have space for Redemption.
But how this is as yet we know not, and we cannot know;
Till Albion is arisen; then patient wait a little while,
Six Thousand years are passd away the end approaches fast;
This mighty one is come from Eden, he is of the Elect,
Who died from Earth & he is returnd before the Judgment.
This thing Was never known that one of the holy dead should willing return
Then patient wait a little while till the Last Vintage is over:"
Angel of Revelation
Percival obviously shared Blake's fears and his faith, as well as his strenuous effort on the part of regeneration.
Monday, January 11, 2010
like he freely used biblical ideas, platonic and neo-platonic
ideas and many other ideologies. Here's an extract from a
google book (click on the image to blow it up):
But there is certainly a relationship. Blake's myth involved
four levels: Eternity, Beulah, Ulro, generation/regeneration.
"In the Gnostic view, Hylics, also called Somatics (from Gk το σώμα, soma the body or of the body), were the lowest order of the three types of human. The other two were the Psychics and the Pneumatics (from Gk το πνεύμα, spirit, breath). So humanity comprised matter-bound beings, matter-dwelling spirits and the matter-free or immaterial, souls." in the Free Dictionary.
"When the Morning Stars Sang Together" Illustrations to the Book of Job (Butts Set) Click on picture for details.
The somatic (or hylic) level corresponds roughly to Paul's
appellation or his 'slackers': "their god is their stomach"
(Philippians 3:19). For Blake they dwell in Ulro.
The psychic dwell in matter, but that's not the only thing on their
minds. For Blake they are the created, the redeemed, those
struggling for a spiritual dimension under the care of Los.
They may eventually rise to Beulah.
The Pneumatic is matter free. We're told that in the gospel of
Judas Jesus was pneumatic and his disciples were somatic.
Jesus, the Universal Man, came down from Eternity for our
sakes. Blake calls his universal man Albion. He came down to
Beulah, passed through the two lower types, and finally at the
end of Jerusalem became synonymous with Jesus.
Blake perceived that as the eventual fate of all of us.
So did Blake get his levels of humanity from this gnostic
system? Who can tell? He may have developed his system
from any number of sources. He was a voracious reader. A
good way to learn about Blake's sources is by reading the
Perennial Philosphy, which contains thousands of sources of
divine meaning throughout Western civilization.
Saturday, January 09, 2010
What was Blake saying with this Picture?
It's about the world, and about everyone:
The biblical source is obvious (Genesis 3), the Garden scene:
Adam and Eve and the snake! Just before the fatal meal that
made us all mortal. But who's the 3rd figure above our
ancestors with the snake all coiled around him? Well Genesis
3 mentions a third figure called "cherubim and a flaming
sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of
Now look at Blake's myth:
The third figure has a thousand faces: serpent, Satan, Covering Cherub...Urizen! above all the Spectre, the Selfhood!
Blake, the world, you and I are three: masculine, feminine,
Man and woman work together amicably-- with love;
the spectre, (Satan, Lucifer, Urizen, the Covering Cherub!)
is jealous; his thoughts are evil.
The Fall of Man began Blake's myth, and he wrote many ends (the Bible does as well). One of Blake's earliest and most dramatic ones come in Plate 14 of MHH:
"The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell.
For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite, and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt."
Once again the poem, My Spectre Round me Night and Day tells the whole story in microcosm.
click on picture for enlargement; the date indicates that this is one of Blake's last works.
When Divine Spirits fall into the world of mortality, they are not left unprotected. The Eternals elected seven of their own to guide and protect them until the day of their return. These seven are the Seven Eyes of God. Blake sees them as forming structures which allow the Soul to exist in the conditions and stage of development in which the Soul finds itself. Each of the Seven eyes is associated with a historic period of religious development. So they may be seen as the evolution of Spiritual consciousness in the collective society. Thus Blake calls the seven by names of characters prominent in Biblical accounts:
Lucifer, Molech, Elohim, Shaddai, Pahad, Jehovah, Jesus.
Like the world of Generation, they are created as mercies that man may not fall into the abyss of non-existence. They are not perfect solutions to the condition of man. Percival identifies the chief characteristic of each stage. Lucifer is pride, Molech is impatience, Elohim is vengeance, Shaddai is anger, Pachad is fear, Jehovah is mystery, and Jesus is deliverance. 'The Seven are one within the other'. (Four Zoas, Page 21)
The psychic stages through which man passes, frequently follow the same path that is represented by the progression through the Seven Eyes. Blake's Illustrations of the Book of Job presents the development of Job's relationship to God as progressing through the Seven Eyes and returning. During the process Job's psyche is altered as well as is his perception of God.
Here are the six passages in which Blake mentions the Eyes of God:
1) Four Zoas, Page 21, (E 312)
"So spoke the Messengers of Beulah. Silently removing
The Family Divine drew up the Universal tent
Above High Snowdon & closd the Messengers in clouds around
Till the time of the End. Then they Elected Seven. called the
SevenEyes of God & the Seven lamps of the Almighty The Seven are one within the other the Seventh is named Jesus"
2) Milton, Plate 23, (E 118)
"We were plac'd here by the Universal Brotherhood & Mercy
With powers fitted to circumscribe this dark Satanic death
And that the Seven Eyes of God may have space for Redemption.
But how this is as yet we know not"
3) Milton, PLATE 24  (E 118)
"& the Seven Eyes of God continually
Guard round them, but I the Fourth Zoa am also set
The Watchman of Eternity, the Three are not! & I am preserved
Still my four mighty ones are left to me in Golgonooza
Still Rintrah fierce, and Palamabron mild & piteous
Theotormon filld with care, Bromion loving Science"
4) Milton, Plate 29, (E 127)
"But Enitharmon and her Daughters take the pleasant charge.
To give them to their lovely heavens till the Great Judgment Day
Such is their lovely charge. But Rahab & Tirzah pervert
Their mild influences, therefore the Seven Eyes of God walk round
The Three Heavens of Ulro, where Tirzah & her Sisters
Weave the black Woof of Death upon Entuthon Benython"
5) Milton, Plate 35, (E 135)
"But the Larks Nest is at the Gate of Los, at the eastern
Gate of wide Golgonooza & the Lark is Los's Messenger
PLATE 36 
When on the highest lift of his light pinions he arrives
At that bright Gate, another Lark meets him & back to back
They touch their pinions tip tip: and each descend
To their respective Earths & there all night consult with Angels
Of Providence & with the Eyes of God all night in slumbers
Inspired: & at the dawn of day send out another Lark
Into another Heaven to carry news upon his wings
Thus are the Messengers dispatchd till they reach the Earth again"
6) Jerusalem, Plate 55, (E 203)
"The Stars in their courses fought. the Sun! Moon! Heaven! Earth.
Contending for Albion & for Jerusalem his Emanation
And for Shiloh, the Emanation of France & for lovely Vala.
Then far the greatest number were about to make a Separation
And they Elected Seven, calld the Seven Eyes of God;
Lucifer, Molech, Elohim, Shaddai, Pahad, Jehovah, Jesus.
They namd the Eighth. he came not, he hid in Albions Forests"