William Blake: From Antinomian Rebel To Prophet of Healing and Wholeness
Jonathan Lynn Harvey, MA
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
The Garden of Love
And Caiaphas was in his own mind
A benefactor to mankind.
The Everlasting Gospel
“Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn, no longer in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the sons of joy.”
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Go, tell them that the Worship of God, is honouring his gifts
In other men: & loving the greatest men best, each according
To his Genius: which is the Holy Ghost in Man; there is no other
God, than that God who is the intellectual fountain of Humanity;
Introduction – The Difficulty of Blake & a Key to Blake
William Blake is a distinctive poet of the early 19th century. He is both linked with the Romantic Movement in its rebellion against 18th-century rationalism, and with the culture of radical Christian movements, having been exposed in his early life to both the ideas of the Moravians and the Swedenborgians. Little known during his era and considered mad by many of his contemporaries, he was rediscovered in the 20th century. His reputation was heavily rehabilitated by classical composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, both of whom who set several of his poems to music and by literary critics such as Northrop Frye. (Britten’s setting of Blake’s The Sick Rose in his larger anthology Illuminations is particularly notable.) Blake also became a major influence on the counter-culture of the 1960s, for example on beat poet Allan Ginsberg and with lines from his work quoted in songs by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, The Doors, and other topical pop singers from the ‘60s and later. At the same time Blake later became a subject of interest to psychologists and radical Christian theologians.
Part of what has made Blake difficult to assess is the peculiar combination of the tremendous appeal of his early work and the deeply enigmatic (if not impenetrable) character of his later poems, although they are essential to a full understanding of Blake. They are deeply permeated by a highly private mythology which contains minimal reference to earlier Western traditions. Although Blake’s poetry may seem enigmatic in ways similar to that of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste-Land, Eliot (for all of his modernist and symbolist style) was conscious of working within a larger tradition of Western literature (as indicated by the many footnotes to classical writers such as Chaucer, Milton or Wagner in The Waste Land), while Blake was conscious of drawing on few sources outside of radical Christian ones. For example, commentators have noted that the Blakean character of Orc bears much resemblance to the Greek god Eros, but unlike most Renaissance artists Blake eschewed any borrowing from Greek mythology.
The mythology of Blake’s late work is simultaneously highly layered and enigmatic. To convey the problems raised by this, let me briefly discuss two modern mythical works that each has one problem but not the other. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is a mythology with multiple strata and layers of detail including multiple languages and rational species (Elves, Dwarves, and men), and so forth. On the other hand, Tolkien’s mythology is not especially enigmatic, but is rather straightforward, clear, and easy to parse. By contrast, the mythical world underneath the film 2001: A Space Odyssey is enigmatic, mysterious and open to interpretation, but not especially detailed. It is arguable that the mythology of Blake’s late poetry possesses both much of the intricate detail of Tolkien’s work and the enigmatic and mysterious qualities of Kubrick and Clarke’s Space Odyssey. As such, it is understandable that few commentators have tried to tackle the late works of Blake, at least not prior to the publication of Northrop Frye’s magisterial and seminal study Fearful Symmetry in 1947.
Nonetheless, the late work of Blake entails a major shift in the focus and character of his thinking and as such it must be tackled in any kind of comprehensive study of Blake. The gist of this shift is that while the early and middle Blake may be fairly characterized as an antinomian rebel against traditional religion and authority, the late Blake is working out his own “model of salvation” (to use the term loosely), working out what would constitute a genuinely humane, healthy, and living redemption of both the human spirit and society in a way that the largely rebellious earlier Blake is less focused upon. The early Blake is engaged with saying No to the “principalities and powers” of this world (which includes the traditional churches). The later Blake is engaged in saying Yes to his own vision of life. The early Blake rejects all forms of moralism which he perceives as more Pharisaic than the authorities in Jesus’ day. The later Blake is writing his own reading of the Everlasting Gospel. The younger Blake knows what he is against. The late Blake has figured out what he is for.
Blake viewed classical Christianity as an authoritarian, morbid, masochistic, oppressive morality, and as having a particularly abstract and immovable understanding of morality and God. Blake wanted to replace this with a spirituality that was humane, living, and breathing. Blake’s issues were further exacerbated by his general dislike of the 18th-century Enlightenment which he saw as lost in abstract generalities, powerless to address issues of the heart or provide any kind of inspirational motivation. Nothing could be further from Blake’s thinking that the title of Kant’s famous work Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. A religion of reason for Blake was just as dead and inert as the religion of “priests in black gowns” though for somewhat different reasons. As such, Blake’s thinking has arguably a slight affinity with religious existentialists such as Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky in this regard, although he is rightly classified as a Romantic.
A key motif of Blake’s later works is the search for human wholeness. Blake’s ideal is a man fully alive whose senses, imagination, and feeling are all working in harmony and at full capacity. Traditional religion fails for Blake, not because of its problematic appeal to supernatural revelation (as a modern rationalists such as Julian Huxley would argue), but because its devotional program turns its acolytes into emotional cripples (a view with which a rationalist like Tom Paine would agree). At the same time Blake puts forward this vision in poetry with a so much apocalyptic imagery, that Harold Bloom has labeled Blake an “apocalyptic humanist” although to some modern ears such a phrase may seem like an oxymoron. While the earlier anti-traditional motif plays out mainly in the 1790 book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, this work only hints at the seeds of ideas much more fully developed in the later long epics, the unpublished 1797 book The Four Zoasand in Milton: a Poem (c.1804–c.1811) and Jerusalem: The Emanation of The Giant Albion (1804–1820).
In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake’s major complaint is against what he sees as the psychologically repressive and/or passive character of the traditional Christian style of devotion (including the more conservative branch of Swedenborgianism.) However, in later works Blake addresses the question of what is actually the healthiest and best way to integrate the driving “energy” of the holistic body/spirit with the ordering mandates of reason in order to live authentically? What is a wholesome and fruitful way to affirm human vital energy? In later works such as The Four Zoas, Blake sees the spirit of revenge and vindictiveness to be just as much of a problem as the problem of repression. As such, one cannot interpret Blake to be in any way an advocate of libertinism or libertarianism. Mere gratification of appetite is not an option, especially not for the later Blake. A devouring hunger rooted in neurosis or rage or lust may need to be denied, but only by working out the spiritual issues of the wounds that underlie it and in light of a vision of a whole and complete humanity. As such, the search for integrity is a major issue for thatlater Blake, while rebellion against repression is the focus for the earlier Blake. Thus in spite of the densely enigmatic character of Blake’s later writings, a comprehensive overview of his work must tackle them.
Where Blake differs from much classical religious thought is in seeing the main sources of the death of the soul largely in abstract thinking (though subsequently also in feelings of revenge) rather than in sexuality. In terms of his positive vision, Blake insists on understanding human destiny as a life of wholeness rather than any ideal which might be deemed ethereal. A modernist Pauline theologian might see affinities between Blake’s thinking and Paul’s dichotomy of life under Law vs. life under grace, but Blake goes further, thinking that the passions as such have been scapegoated by Christianity in a manner that has backfired, a cure worse than the disease.
Finally, it must be added that the middle and late Blake should not be understood in isolation from Blake’s much more widely read early masterpiece Songs of Innocence and Experience, which is often discussed in isolation from the rest of his work probably due to its vastly greater popularity and its relatively non-theological character. But in spite of the absence of theological musings from that work, Songs does discuss in a very personal way a spiritual problem for Blake which the late poems are dealing with just as much as they are with theological issues.
Interpreting Blake- Successors and Predecessors
Because Blake, at least up to a point, wants to celebrate what since Nietzsche has come to be known as the Dionysian, as opposed to Apollonian, nature of humanity, much modern work on Blake reads him through the eyes of Friedrich Nietzsche and/or Carl Jung. (One of Blake’s most quoted sayings from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is “The road of excess leads to the palaces of wisdom”). In particular, at least two writers see Blake as advocating an ideal comparable to the Jungian notion of a coniunctio oppositorum, a being that has synthesized the light and dark elements of the human psyche. In Jungian thought, such a person has come to grips with the darker and Dionysian forces within the human psyche but has not been drowned or overwhelmed by them. At least two full-length studies of Blake argue that his entire oeuvre is an anticipation of this concept. It is also natural to read Blake through Jungian eyes because there is such a strong affinity between his fourfold model of the human psyche (of which Blake even did a pictorial diagram) and Jung’s notion of the four faculties of the soul. The four Zoas of Blake’s poem by that same name are loosely modeled on the four beasts of the Book of Revelation. In Blake’s mythology they are Los/Urthona (symbolizing imagination), Urizen (symbolizing intellect- a pun on “your reason”), Luvah/Orc (symbolizing passion), and Tharmas (symbolizing instinct). Compare these to Jung’s four faculties of the soul which are intuition, sensation, thinking and feeling. The notion of man as fourfold is not completely original to Jung. Plato spoke of four (rather different) faculties of the soul, and Galen spoke of four humors of the body, but the match between Jung’s model and Blake’s in The Four Zoas is very close. As such, combined with the obvious affinity of Jung’s ideal of theconiunctio oppositorum and Blake’s ideal in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the motive behind Jungian readings of Blake is especially clear. Blake’s issues in Marriage come out of earlier concerns about rebellion against repression, while the issues in Four Zoas emerge out of subsequent concerns about the real nature of being a whole person with complete integrity, the latter being an problem left unresolved after Blake has vented his rants about the former.
Although Blake had no interest in Greek mythology, his thinking was deeply permeated by imagery from the Bible, although he rejected traditional readings of it passionately. Blake coined the aphorism that the Bible is the “Great Code” from which all Western art sprang, a phrase which Northrop Frye used in writing his book The Great Code in 1983, thirty-five years after the publication of his magnum opus on Blake. Blake’s own writings have been read both as irreverent parodies of the Bible and as radical reinterpretations of the Bible. At the end of the major poem of his middle years The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he said that he wanted to produce a “Bible of hell.” Jungian analyst June Singer sees his late works as coming precisely out of that proposed program, though one might argue they are a Bible of the subsequent marriage of heaven and hell rather than merely of hell per se. Whether or not Blake and Frye are right that the Bible is the “Great Code” from which all Western art sprang, it is certainly the “Great Code” from whichBlake’s art sprang, which in turn is coupled with Blake’s deeply conflicted love-hate relationship with the Christian tradition motivated by a deep love of the figure of Jesus as well as much of the Bible, combined with a disdain and contempt for classical Western Christianity.
Two Christian thinkers with which Blake directly wrestled were the more radical Emmanuel Swedenborg and the poet John Milton. Blake’s poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hellmentions Swedenborg directly and it is widely held that the title implies it is a response to Swedenborg’s own work Heaven and Hell. Blake’s long epic poem Milton is a saga about Milton purging himself of some of his more arrogant notions and emerging redeemed with a bolder and newer vision that incorporates the best elements of his older piety and elements of Blake’s vision. Thus major sources of to Blake’s thinking are the Bible and various radical Christian groups such as the Moravians and Swedenborgians and the poet Milton.
Blake also anticipates many motifs of modern thought. Arguably a major successor to Blake is Carl Jung (although it is unlikely Jung was directly familiar with Blake) while a distant cousin in spirit to Blake is Friedrich Nietzsche who like a non-identical twin is both similar and radically different from Blake, but with whom Blake can be fruitfully put in dialogue. Blake’s celebration of “sacred sexuality” anticipates D.H. Lawrence.
Some mention should be made of Blake’s utter indifference to classical Greece and Rome. Blake both lacked a classical education, and saw Greek culture as tainted by the rationalism that he loathed in the 18th century (of which Blake’s exemplars are Locke and Newton). It is easily argued Blake was unfair here. Fine distinctions separating Greek rationalism from modern scientific rationalism and the diversity of Greek culture were not relevant to Blake. Blake rejected Greek culture as a lump sum in toto. For this reason, Blake developed a highly idiosyncratic mythology of his own borrowing partly from the Bible and radical Christian thinking and otherwise from his fertile imagination.
Modern commentators on Blake are as diverse as the United Church of Canada minister Northrop Frye, self-proclaimed “Jewish Gnostic” Harold Bloom (both of whom are professional literary critics), and radical death-of-God theologian Thomas Altizer. The latter is unusual in having partly interpreted Blake in Hegelian terms. This paper will draw on the insights of all three as well as political commentators on Blake such as G.R. Sabri-Tabrizi and David Erdman.
A brief survey of Blake’s poetry
Two of Blake’s earliest engraved pieces of poetry are extremely short with overtly polemical titles. They are There is no Natural Religion (printed in two versions) and All Religions are One. By early 21st-century standards, they espouse views that don’t fit neatly into modern pigeon-holes of progressive or traditional theology. The first is a rebuttal to modern rationalism and the latter a rebuttal to exclusivist religion. However, both positions are motivated by Blake’s conviction that the root of religion lies in what he calls “Poetic Genius.” While modern advocates of religious naturalism might resonate with the appeal to poetry, Blake is a classic (and extreme) product of what sociologist Max Weber called “the disenchantment of the world” which he saw as stemming from both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. The fact that Weber’s phrase continues to be discussed in the artistic and philosophical community today shows that Blake is not idiosyncratic in his thinking. The last half of All Religions are One reads (emphasis added)
PRINCIPLE 4. As none by traveling over known lands can find out the unknown. So from already acquired knowledge Man could not acquire more. therefore an universal Poetic Genius exists
PRINCIPLE. 5. The Religions of all Nations are derived from each Nations different reception of the Poetic Genius which is every where call’d the Spirit of Prophecy.
PRINCIPLE 6 The Jewish & Christian Testaments are An original derivation from the Poetic Genius. this is necessary from the confined nature of bodily sensation
PRINCIPLE 7th As all men are alike (tho’ infinitely various) So all Religions & as all similars have one source1
while There is No Natural Religion concludes
Conclusion. If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character. the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things & stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again
Application. He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only.
In both poems we see that “Poetic Genius” is considered to be a faculty common to all human cultures, while at the same time Blake sees it as in opposition to any kind of understanding that involves numerical measurement or use of mathematical or scientific concepts to understand the world as shown by his disdain for any notion that “the Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things”.
Shortly after publishing these two works, Blake published the first half of his most enduring and popular work, the Songs of Innocence, later followed by Songs of Experience with the two eventually being published together as one work the Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. Poems in the first collection are pastoral in nature, interestingly both commending a close relationship with God and free love, while poems in the second collection are dismal and dreary in tone portraying a mood of disillusionment. Several poems in one collection have a counterpart in the other, such as the two poems entitled Holy Thursday. One is a sweet, merry, and idyllic picture of children singing (like ‘lambs’) at a church service, the other an agonized and sorrowful poem about the prevalence of social and moral injustice (especially the suffering of children “Babes reduced to misery”) in an ostensibly religious country.
The most famous in this set are The Lamb (from Innocence) and The Tyger (fromExperience). The latter is not only one of Blake’s best-known poems; it is also one of his most analyzed, as well as one of his most-quoted. It is only 24 lines long, yet an entire book-length anthology of essays devoted only to The Tyger has been written, and the book The Top 500 Poems: A Columbia Anthology ranks Tyger as the single most anthologized poem ever in the English language.2 It is also believed to be Blake’s most anthologized poem in his lifetime. Scholars speak of the field of “’Tyger’ studies.3
The poem may be read as a miniature statement of the problem of genuine evil, and as such is a microcosm of the main theme that pervades the entire Songs of Innocence and Experienceanthology. Tigers held a special terror for the 18th-century imagination. Moreover, Blake wrote in 1794 in which the promise of the French Revolution (which he supported) had disintegrated into a Reign of Terror. Blake asks the question “What immortal hand or eye,/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” and later
When the stars threw down their spears
Is the tiger an expression of God as much as the Lamb?
Blake did not view either of these two states of being, innocence or experience, as preferable or desirable. Two other early poems of Blake are Tiriel and The Book of Thel. Bloom interprets the one as a song about the failure of Experience and the other as a song about the failure of Innocence.4 The titular character of Tiriel is an embittered King Lear-like figure. He is an aged tyrant-king whose throne has been usurped by his children. While foreshadowing Blake’s later images of religious tyranny, it is clear that Tiriel’s bitterness has motivated his malicious behavior, and as such he represents a danger or a poor response to Experience. By contrast the Book of Thel is the story of a naive shepherd-girl and her inability to come to grips with the trials and sorrows of life that are inevitable. Thel wishes to retreat to a world of idealistic fantasy in a way that evades any self-sacrifice or responsibility. Both Tiriel’s sorrow and Thel’s desire to hand onto ephemeral childlike pleasures compromise them.
1 This and all William Blake poems may be found in the David Erdman anthology both in print and published electronically at http://www.blakearchive.org/blake/erdman.html. The same URL accesses all of Blake’s poems. However, the plate numbers are missing in the electronic edition.
2 William Blake: The Tyger edited by Winston Weathers. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1969. and Harmon, William, editor. The Top 500 Poems: A Columbia Anthology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. See p. 1077
Blake’s middle poetry
After the publication of Songs of Innocence and Experience, Blake published The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It is generally understood that Marriage is both a protest against traditional religion, but particularly a protest against the thinking of Emmanuel Swedenborg whose radical thinking Blake did not think went deep or far enough. The poem is one of Blake’s most consciously irreverent and provocative ones, arguably much more so than late works like Milton and Jerusalem. After all Jesus is pretty much the chief hero of Jerusalem, while for all practical purposes, Satan verges on being the hero of Marriage. A core emerging notion for Blake is all opposition to any Christianity which is dualistic or advocating of passivity. In this poem, hell is not a place of real punishment but a place of repressed Dionysian energy. Heaven is a place that is over-regulated, static, and morbidly authoritarian. Bad religion comes from an enslaving over-systematization of the animism of ancient poets. Blake wants to overturn this regime and break the bonds of repression.
If The Tyger is Blake’s most widely anthologized poem, The Marriage of Heaven and Hellmay be his most influential, quotations from it appearing in many other poetic works and philosophical discussions. Lines from this work about cleansing the doors of perception, and “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” are quoted frequently, the former having provided both the title of Aldous Huxley’s work on his mescaline experiences and the name of the ‘60s rock band “The Doors”. Phillip Pullman’s anti-Miltonic fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials depicts the overturn of a false imposter God in ways overtly influenced by this poem. Not one but two pop bands have recorded entire albums based on this poem, one being Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by the Norwegian avant-garde band Ulver in 1998 as well as three successive albums beginning in 1994 beginning with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part I by Heavy Metal band “Virgin Steele”.
Blake’s late poetry
Following Marriage, Blake released a series of poems often referred to as his “prophetic books”, which blend political commentary on real-world political events (particularly the French Revolution) with elements of his emerging private mythology. These poems are especially notable for often providing a psychological interpretation or explanation of political realities through mythical symbol, a mixture of styles of commentary that is fairly rare. They introduce major characters that play a pivotal role in his three major epics.
Finally, in addition to a few more short poems, Blake wrote three epic poems. The first of these, the unpublished The Four Zoas, lends itself the most easily to psychoanalytic reading since it entails the interactions of four living beings each of whom symbolizes a different faculty of the human psyche: imagination, reason, feeling, and sensing. Interacting with all of them is the earth-spirit Vala, a seductive earth-mother spirit representing nature in a fallen and flawed state of being. The action of the poem details the progressive corruption of each of the four Zoas, followed by their redemption, and re-integration. The poem Milton is about the spirit of the poet Milton who in the story undergoes a spiritual transformation in which he drops much of his older theology. Finally, Blake’s magnum opus is Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion. It tells of the fall of Great Britain (titled Albion) into disunity, both social and psychological. For Blake, an “emanation” is, as one Blake dictionary puts it, “a feminine counterpart that has separated from an integrated masculine entity.” Each of the four sections is preceded by a short essay in which Blake outlines what he is trying to say. Legalistic religion is rebutted in Part 2, while Deistic natural religion is rebutted in Part 3, while the redemption of Albion in which fragmented and fallen Zoas reunite in a spirit of forgiveness and redemptive love is in the final Part 4.
Online Blake dictionary. ttp://www.blakearchive.org/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=blake/texts/glossary.xml&style=/blake/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=glossary&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&clear-stylesheet-cache=yes
Blake in context- poetic and religious
Blake in the context of Romanticism
Romanticism has been described as a rebellion against the rationalism of the 18th-century Enlightenment, and its apparent scientific mechanization of nature, especially with regard to the ‘clockwork universe’ of Isaac Newton. Romantics celebrated nature, sublimity, and folk art. It was especially opposed to industrialism and placed a new value on some aspects of medieval sensibilities. Given how little-acknowledged Blake was in his time, he cannot be described as a seminal or influential figure in the Romantic movement (as opposed to William Wordsworth), but his sensibilities are deeply Romantic nonetheless. Statements like “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s” embody Romanticism to an extreme. Romantics felt that 18th-century rationalism devalued beauty to the point that it made man a soulless machine. A major manifesto of the Romantic movement was the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth. According to Duncan Wu and David Miall, prior to the 1970s, British Romanticism was identified with its “Big Five” (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats) but only in this century was Blake added to make a “Big Six”.
There are to sure some elements of commonality between the Enlightenment and Romantic culture. As Richard Tharnas has observed
Ultimately, the two movements went in divergent directions. Tharnas notes that this resulted in a bifurcation of Western sensibility with some figures such as Goethe, Hegel, or Jung trying to unite a scientific and humanist outlook on life. However, their efforts did not prevent outbreaks in European thinking of various forms of nihilism and existentialism symptomatic of a new sense of human homelessness. Blake cannot be easily counted among those who tried to heal the split; however, as we shall see in his late work he did envision redemption of rationality in which reason and inspirational imagination were properly integrated.
Roy Porter is a historian of medicine who has written extensively on how both 18th-century Enlightenment rationalism and 19th-century Romanticism influenced the understanding of the human body, and the understanding of the nature of the self. He sees the 18th-century as an era which brought human nature down to earth, creating an emerging vision that saw body and soul as a unity. The 18th century discarded otherworldly concepts of the human soul. But he realizes that since this new thinking threatened in the eyes of some to jeopardize any kind of interior life at all, there was an inevitable mystical backlash against what was perceived to be a mechanistic materialism. Blake in particular chafed at any notion which regarded the mind as passive. But Blake was not hostile to all elements of the Enlightenment as he sympathized a great deal with Thomas Paine’s attack on traditional Christianity in the latter’s work The Age of Reason. On the one hand,
On the other hand, Blake thought that “Christianity as taught by the church that was established by law…was…a travesty of truth.” Blake wrote that Thomas Paine was a better Christian than Bishop Watson, even though Paine had repudiated Christianity altogether. Porter writes, “What Blake did share with Paine was the conviction that Christianity as established by law was punitive and puritanical regime- the law oppressing true spirit.” Like many others, Porter reads Blake’s “The Garden of Love” as a poem that exposes orthodoxy as
Finally, Porter notes that
M. H. Abrams in his book survey of Romanticism Natural Supernaturalism sees the key to Blake’s work as being a story of a human fall into fragmentation and a recovery of internal unity of a Universal Man who is a collective representation of EveryMan.
Abrams relates this motif from Blake’s late work to the earlier Songs of Innocence and Experience in a way that sets up a contrast with other Romantic writers and with popular misconceptions about Romanticism.
For Abrams, the central doctrine Blake embodies in his “myth of active existence” is that man “must earn his way from simple innocence back and up to a higher paradise of “organized innocence.” Abrams sees this theme developed much more fully in Blake than in Romanticism’s founding figure Wordsworth, and thinks this accounts for Blake’s dislike of Wordsworth’s Prospectus. In sum, the “innocence of ignorance” is bad, but must be disciplined by knowledge. Innocence and experience are ultimate to be wedded just as much as heaven and hell.
Blake and radical ChristianityBlake uses the phrase “Everlasting Gospel” in both his final book Jerusalem and in a short unfinished poem by that name (which opens with the lines “The vision of Christ that thou dost see, Is my vision’s greatest enemy.”) That phrase has been traced back to disciples of the medieval mystic Joachim of Flora (who in turn found it in the Book of Revelation 14:6) who taught a doctrine of three ages of humanity, the age of the Father (corresponding to the Old Testament), the age of the Son (that of the New Testament) and the forthcoming Age of the Spirit. It was a phrase bounced around in various dissenting Christian circles, including Swedenborg’s work The True Christian Religion.
Blake grew up exposed to the then-radical sect known as Moravians (to which Swedenborg was also exposed as an adult), a sect often referred to as a “religion of the heart.” Moravians were among the earliest readers of Swedenborg in English. They in turn had been influenced by earlier radical religious movements including mystics like Jacob Boehme and Joachim of Flora. (Blake admitted in private correspondence to have been influenced by the mystic Jacob Boehme.) These were associated with what was then called “enthusiasm” (which modern Americans might call “holy rollers”) and had ties to various antinomian sects, all of which to lesser or greater degrees considered Christians to be free of older moral strictures. Moravian hymns often sounded the suggestion that moral law had been abandoned, and as such they were often accused of antinomianism, in particular by John Wesley. In these groups, Jesus is viewed as a liberator of mankind. Blake was sufficiently in tune with these groups that he viewed Christianity as democratic in spirit.
Prominent in that era were various antinomian groups including ranters. They held that God is within every creature, an idea heavily echoed in Blake (“All gods reside in the human breast”). Government saw them as a threat to social order and early Methodists and Quakers were stigmatized by their alleged association with them. Some historians believe the extent of their influence was greatly exaggerated by alarmist conservatives as it became a common term of opprobrium. Regardless, they were stigmatized as embodying the worst of antinomian thinking. Some scholars have tried to find direct links between Blake and ranters, but Robert Rix believes “a more satisfying solution may be to see Blake filtering a number of contemporary discourses.”Many ideas associated with current antinomianism can be found throughout Blake such as in the concluding section of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell entitled Song of Liberty, in which a rebellious Christ-figure appears freeing humanity from law and sin. While it contrasts with the shepherd-Christ found in Songs of Innocence, it is similar to the Jesus found in The Everlasting Gospel.
Antinomianism has its roots in radical interpretations of the Lutheran notion of justification by faith rather than works. Some Protestant groups, such as Calvinists, held that for the elect the Law was engraved on the heart, others simply emphasized goodness through free grace, but there was always the lurking shadow of groups that might bring the gospel into conflict with any kind of ‘covenant of deeds.’ (Thompson, p. 13) If antinomian ideas were in any way combined with notions of universal salvation, such thinking could seem especially alarming to conservatives. In particular, Ranters are described by E. P. Thompson in these terms
The central Ranter doctrine that God is in all creatures certainly is a strong influence on Blake’s final poem Jerusalem. Ranters also employed the phrase ‘everlasting Gospel’ which is the title of a Blake poem.
Blake also admitted in correspondence to having been strongly influenced by Jacob Boehme (who is declared as superior to Swedenborg in Marriage of Heaven and Hell). Boehme was a strong influence on English dissenting Christianity, and some Swedenborgians read Boehme as well. Boehme may certainly be classed as an important counter-Enlightenment thinker, reacting against mechanistic and material views of the universe. Boehme could not be classified as an antinomian for all of his esoteric mystical and theosophical teachings. Nonetheless, Boehme’s emphasis on the fall consisting of unities which undergo differentiation is heavily echoed in Blake’s late poetry. It should be noted Harold Bloom has vigorously protested against any reading of Blake that sees him as a manifestation of esoteric Christianity, in the sense of one advocating a speculative metaphysics such as theosophy. This has not stopped other scholars from so reading Blake, as he was likely to have been heavily exposed to such thinking.
Generally, Blake’s London was a hotbed of religious dissenting groups, including Baptists, irregular Methodists, and Unitarians. Virtually all of them saw established churches as compromised by their allegiance to ‘temporal’ power, comparing it to the Biblical Whore of Babylon. Many of them tried to invert orthodox doctrine in ways that bordered on blasphemy.Blake’s contrast in The Everlasting Gospel between Caiphas and Jesus finds echoes in dissenters of the day. Both these Dissenters and Enlightenment Deists could denounce ‘priestcraft and kingcraft’ in similar terms, which helps explain Blake’s friendliness to Thomas Paine.
Moravians probably influenced Blake in non-theological ways. Moravians put a certain positive value on art which was atypical of Protestant groups of that era, which generally eschewed images. This may explain Blake’s strong affinity for pictorial imagery illustrating books of the Bible and other religious texts. Hymn-singing was especially important to Moravians, and much of Blake’s poetry is couched in the form of songs. Moravians stressed the immediacy of religious experience, in particular the notion that God is not an abstraction. Much stress is placed on human brotherhood, a motif also important to Blake. They stressed “enthusiasm”, a term which overtly appears (in its theological sense) in Blake’s last poem Jerusalem.
While most Blake scholarship has focused on Moravian and Swedenborgian influence on Blake, E.P. Thompson argues for a possible influence of the teachings of Muggletonianism on Blake. Muggletonians believed many unusual doctrines including that matter pre-existed God, that the serpent in Eden impregnated Eve resulting in the birth of Cain, and many others. Thompson sees four overlapping elements of Muggletonian teaching and Blake’s thinking. One is a particular flavor of antinomianism that stresses the corruption of human Reason in its preaching of the Love/Law dichotomy. (Muggleton was very anti-intellectual.) Indeed, Muggletonian teaching often identifies Reason as a Satanic principle, a theme that frequently recurs in Blake’s mythology with the dark doings of his Zoa Urizen (“your reason”). Both Muggletonianism and Blake place a strong stress on serpent-symbolism. While this appears in Milton and Kabalistic sources, Muggletonianism may be unique in speaking of serpent-nature entering into the human race through the serpent’s impregnation of Eve, a notion which does in fact appear in Blake’s The Everlasting Gospel. Thompson is not suggesting that Blake formally joined this church or was consciously trying to espouse Muggletonian teaching, but rather that in developing his own religious vocabulary, Blake drew on this source among others. Thompson characterized Blake’s London as a general gathering-ground of a very diverse set of dissenting churches.
Thompson argues that all the various antinomian strands in dissenting churches were anti-hegemonic, in that they rebelled against the ‘dominant discourse,’ what Thompson calls “a structure which serves to consolidate the existent social order, enforce its priorities, and which is itself enforced by rewards and penalties, by notions of ‘reputability’, and by liberal patronage or its absence.’ Thompson goes on to state that
For Thompson, it would be superficial to view something like Muggletonianism as simple irrationalism or blind faith. Rather it was ‘an extreme recourse open to the excluded.’ The antinomian stance
Blake in fact grew up in a family of tradesmen in precisely the milieu of those who were most independent of the establishment. His father and his mother’s prior husband both had radical voting records. Thompson notes that while many forms of antinomianism may be merely cranky or esoteric it had a noble ancestry in the writings of characters like John Bunyan and John Milton, and Blake carried it forward in an especially robust way.
Blake is certainly willing to try to synthesize disparate ideas as is evident in his declaration that ‘Tom Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop’ (annotations to Apology for the Bible), given Paine’s rejection of Christianity in favor of Deism. Blake however would have been enthusiastically in favor of Paine’s principle of freedom of conscience arguing “my mind is my own church.” Paine may have not shared Blake’s penchant for spiritual vision, but they both disdained the priestly pretenses of traditional churches. Blake however also believes that humanity has internalized many oppressive moral codes and needs to throw off these chains psychologically as well as politically.
Blake’s Swedenborgian background
With regard to Swedenborgianism, Blake both had contact with the New Jerusalem church in London as well as with fellow Moravians who were reading Swedenborg. All were impressed with Swedenborg’s anti-literalism and his claim to understand the ‘internal’ meaning of the Bible. Swedenborg claimed to have mapped the spiritual world in detail and to have given it a scientific explanation.
The religious thought of Swedenborg and Blake intersect in several ways. Both men thought of humans as microcosms of heaven and earth. Both spoke of humans having an “inner eye.” Both are concerned with the relationship between the spiritual and natural worlds and advocated a spirituality that celebrated nature. Swedenborg believed the natural world was a “mirror” of heaven and wrote that the whole natural order is a “theatre representative of the Lord’s kingdom” and Blake proclaiming (in multiple poems) “Everything that is, is Holy”. Swedenborg claimed to have mapped out the spiritual world in detail in addition to having mapped its interconnectedness with the natural world. Blake would have found in this an attractive alternative to the metaphysics of John Locke, which he regarded as dead and unspiritual. Both Blake and Swedenborg believed that Jesus wrestled with human passion and sin in a way that anticipates modern controversy surrounding the film The Last Temptation of Christ.
Other intersections between Swedenborg’s thought and Blake include a positive view of Africans with concern for their victimization, a preoccupation with angels and devils, and (as with the Moravians) an interest in pictorial arts (generally uncharacteristic of Protestantism), especially arts (in the case of Swedenborg) depicting visionary experiences.
Regarding their temperament, Harvey Bellin writes that both men found liberation in the “substrata of visions and dreams, the imagery of deeply moving works of art…and the living forms of nature…each thread of a golden string” leading back to the gates of heaven. As noted, both men rejected literal readings of the Bible, but believed that the Bible held concealed secrets beneath its surface about the Kingdom of God. Swedenborg held that “The spiritual sense of the Word is not that meaning which shines forth from the literal text when one is studying and explaining the Word to confirm some dogma of the church.” Both advocated engagement with the world, if not to the same degree. Both spoke of a “New Jerusalem.” Whereas Swedenborg was free from the confining dogmas of the past, Blake advocated not just a new form of thinking, but a new style of art (and politics). Both looked forward to an age in which “the dark religions are departed.”
Blake’s marginal annotations to his copies of Swedenborg’s writings have been preserved. He often expresses disagreement with Swedenborg, while being deferential and at the same time agreeing with other points. He is critical of the Swedenborgian idea of “Influx” from the light of heaven, as it jeopardizes his conviction that goodness comes from within. Small details of Swedenborg can be found even in Blake’s late work, for example, in his final poem Jerusalem, the list of sacred books is the same as that of the Swedenborgian canon. While Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell is sometimes interpreted as an all-out rejection of Swedenborg, others see the attitude of that poem as more ambivalent, noting the continued presence of Swedenborgian ideas therein. For Swedenborg, a cornerstone of the Christian life is faith and charity. This is also true in Blake’s final poem Jerusalem.
Blake was also artistically influenced by Swedenborg, borrowing much of his symbolism. According to Harvey Bellin, many of Swedenborg’s visions of the afterlife form the raw material for Blake’s prophetic poetry that is rooted in the life of the inner psyche. Kathleen Raine has observed that the nature-imagery of Blake’s The Little Black Boy and the notion of the light of God being accessible to all men in The Divine Image are essentially Swedenborgian. Even Blake’s radically anti-clerical poem The Garden of Love relies heavily on the Swedenborgian notion of “correspondences” according to which two states of the garden correspond to two spiritual states. Both men are focused on inner awareness of the human spirit, given their belief that mankind is a microcosm of the universe, as it were containing it. Blake’s pictures of departed souls having bodies shows the theological influence of Swedenborg, who held that departed souls still had faculties of sight sound and smell.
Raine has traced many small details of Blake’s symbology to Swedenborg. The latter overtly describes the Biblical symbols of thorns and thistles as symbolic of a spiritual wasteland, and this exact usage recurs in Blake. Blake’s color symbolism is similar to Swedenborg. Both men heavily characterize heaven with the word ‘delight.’ Both men are unusually extensive in using the sun to symbolize spiritual illumination Doctrinally, both men saw the Crucifixion as a transmutation of Jesus’ human nature from one kind to another, Blake describing this in The Everlasting Gospel and Swedenborg in his Doctrine of the New Jerusalem. Both men believed the Biblical Logos to be in all inspired utterance beyond Biblical tradition.
Within Swedenborgianism, there were notable tensions between those with liberal and conservative tendencies. Blake was associated with the New Jerusalem church in London, which came under attack for its heterodox tendencies. Swedenborg was suspected by authorities of being wildly heretical, and he appealed to many with radical political leanings, although Swedenborgianism competed with other religious groups (such as Unitarians) for the attention of political radicals. Although other Swedenborgians insisted that the implications of his thought were essentially conservative, Swedenborgianism continued to be viewed with suspicion by the English authorities, and radicalism continued intermittently in the New Jerusalem church in London and in other Swedenborgian communities. According to Robert Rix “Already around the time Blake was in contact with the Swedenborgians there was a move towards ridding the Church of its radical associations” while at the same time “if radicalism within the London congregation was successfully quenched, the desire for political innovation kept rearing its head on the fringes of Swedenborgianism.” An example of the latter is the now forgotten poet William Gilbert whose political apocalyptic poems have many motifs in common with Blake. One especially radical London Swedenborgian figure is Benedict Chastanier, also a Freemason. (London Swedenborgians also had close ties to Freemasonry for which they came under attack.) While conservatives distinguished between the ‘spiritual liberty’ promised by Swedenborg, and political liberty, Chastanier made no secret of the fact that he aspired to both spiritual liberty and political liberty, motifs which are linked in Blake’s poems about the French Revolution. Abolitionism was also a common sentiment among radical Swedenborgians at this time.
Three notable differences of background and temperament between Swedenborg and Blake are found in religious upbringing, economic status, and attitudes to science. Swedenborg came from the privileged classes and a fairly traditional Lutheran and Pietist upbringing. Blake came from the lower classes and was early in life exposed to religious groups from the Radical Reformation. Swedenborg was an accomplished mechanical engineer and believed that since the earthly world was a mirror of a heavenly realm in accordance with a detailed system of “correspondences,” therefore in some sense the laws of nature (as discovered by Newton) might even be revelatory signs of the divine design, while the poet and painter Blake viewed modern science as oppressive and reductive in its thinking. The latter might be possibly influenced by class differences as well as temperament. As a member of the lower classes, Blake saw the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution. He complains about the “loom of Locke” and the “water-wheels of Newton” in his highly political poem Jerusalem, much of which is a lament about the over-mechanization of life and its “cogs tyrranic”. However, it must be noted that both Swedenborg and Blake may have seen the materialistic trends in 18th-century thinking as threatening, even if they disagreed on whether science could in some sense “disclose the divine.” Finally, reason gets a certain redemption (although through the faculty of Poetic Genius) in Blake’s final poem, so the views on science of the two do not entirely diverge.
An especially notable area in which Blake and Swedenborg’s thought intersect (being both similar but different) is an interest in what loosely might be described as “sacred sexuality.” This is a recurring theme in minority religious groups including Tantric Buddhism, Brethren of the Free Spirit, and Christian Gnosticism. In Swedenborg, this motif appears in a relatively reserved form, at least in a way that avoided being extremely scandalous though not without causing considerable controversy. Swedenborg believed that both marriage and sexuality continued in heaven (a doctrine today mostly connected in the public mind with Mormonism). Swedenborg wrote of this in an essay called “Conjugial Love” (not to be confused with the comparable Mormon term “celestial marriage”).
Prior to Swedenborg, the notion of romantic liaisons being a source of spiritual enlightenment had appeared in both the medieval poetic traditions of courtly love and in various heretical religious groups such as the Cathars. These indirectly influenced Western culture and many of these ideas found expression in a more traditional Christian context in Spenser’s epic poem The Fairie Queene, published in the 1590s. However, classical theology (especially Catholic and Thomist thought) held that marriage endured on earth only, and that heaven was essentially asexual, notions rejected by Swedenborg who held that marital love had a holiness that endured and flowered in heaven.
The exact moral implications of this idea remained a source of controversy within Swedenborgianism itself, but it is certain that Blake was exposed to it. Swedenborg himself believed marriage to be the appropriate venue for sexuality, but allowed that men in unfulfilled marriages could have mistresses as a necessary evil. Some within Swedenborgianism took these ideas further than Swedenborg and advocated free love, particularly in a proposed Swedenborgian colony in Africa. This may have influenced Blake’s desire to have a mistress in his marriage, a proposal which his wife rejected.
For whatever reason, it is arguable that Blake (speaking in Nietzschean terms) had a more radically Dionysian outlook than Swedenborg, and that the latter was a more “Apollonian” personality. I have previously mentioned that one of Blake’s oft-quoted sayings is from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is “The road of excess leads to the palaces of wisdom” whereas Swedenborg overtly feared that conjugial love could be destroyed by destroyed by “violent excesses” (though both were a bit vague as to what this entailed) and feared that youth were too young to “from reason impose restraint” Swedenborg’s teaching opened what some might perceive as a Pandora’s box, which his followers and readers might take much further than Swedenborg was willing to go.
Readings of early poems in Songs of Innocence and Experience
An important early poem in Blake’s Songs of Innocence is “The Divine Image”. It depicts a world in which the four traditionally Christian virtues -Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love- are found in the human’s heart and stand for God’s support. It is considered a pivotal poem of the collection, connected to Swedenborgian ideas of charity and simplicity. In Swedenborg’s work Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, all abstract notions of divine compassion were eschewed. They were instead known only through the ‘human form’ as echoed in the third stanza of this poem. (In Swedenborgianism this was emphasized by an unusual interpretation of the Incarnation according to which the entire Godhead by ‘influx’ had become Incarnated in Christ.)
However, there is not a critical consensus as to whether this poem fully illustrates Swedenborgian doctrine. Kathleen Raine believes so, but Thompson holds that in the first verse, Blake is taking the reader a step beyond Swedenborg, making God even more radically immanent within humanity than Swedenborg. Thompson notes the absence of any attitude of groveling in this poem and calls attention to Blake’s marginalia in which he quarrels with Swedenborg’s notion that there was no inherent divinity in man except by influx, arguing that this poem expresses Blake’s dissenting view.
Robert Rix has commented on the absence of didacticism in Blake’s Songs of Innocence in contrast to other religious songs about children. The children in the hymns of Isaac Watts are taught all about the Ten Commandments, obedience to parents and so forth in a manner Rix describes as ‘scare-mongering,’ motivated by Watt’s belief in children’s inherent inclination towards evil. Watt’s stern God contrasts sharply with Blake’s “The Lamb” in which Christ becomes as a little child and children are put forward as images of divine love. However, Blake also seems to agree with Swedenborg (writing in Heaven and Hell) that children lack wisdom which guides the intellect and will- thus their innocence is not fully genuine. Years later in the margin to his own manuscript of The Four Zoas, Blake wrote of the impossibility of “Unorganized Innocence” and indeed in Songs of Experience, we have several accounts of children becoming increasingly aware of their own exploitation and the hollowness of some of the charity services extended to them.
G.R. Sabri-Tabrizi holds that throughout this collection, Blake is not only setting up a ‘contrary’ between Innocence and Experience, but also persistently presenting the reader with two types of Innocence and two types of Experience. In “A Dream” (from Innocence) a contrast is set up between the abstract pity of a father towards a suffering child and the authentic selflessness of a nearby glowworm for the same. Sabri-Tabrizi sees this as a contrast between dynamic, active, creative innocence and ‘static and passive’ innocence. Likewise, legitimate experience is based on feelings of brotherhood and Imagination, the foundations of authentic Innocence.
This is supported by Bloom’s reading of Blake’s Book of Thel and Tiriel as embodying failed Innocence and Experience respectively, an interpretation echoed by Sabri-Tabrizi. As the latter points out, the symbol of the worm appears in the latter as a symbol of selfishness (a form failed experience) and in the former as a weak being lacking in courage, stuck in passivity (a form of failed innocence). Thel, an inauthentic innocent, is selfish in the way she is stuck in infantile sentimental thinking, fixated on sweet memories of the past, but with no capacity for real responsibility or self-sacrifice. Thel is also frightened by worms as they symbolize death and decay for her. She is afraid to be “food for worms,” but the cloud answers her
(Worm-symbolism is also found in the Songs of Innocence and Experience. Worms appear in a positive context in Innocence in poems such as “A Dream” but as something dark and foreboding in “The Sick Rose” from Experience. )
Passivity and abstraction are Blake’s two main enemies. Imagination is Blake’s source of salvation, which he sees as “opposite to the passive and abstract God of priestcraft” which will be later embodied in his Zoa Urizen. But Enlightenment individualism is not enough for Blake, as this cannot liberate man from his internally fragmented state. As Sabri-Tabrizi puts it “Imagination …seeks individual freedom within social and human freedom.”
Blake wrote the Songs of Innocence at a time when the Swedenborgian church was calling for new songs, with a focus on the theme of praise. As such, it is thought that many of these poems may have been composed in response to this call. However, the Swedenborgian church to which Blake belonged at this time had a great deal of internal tension, some of it focused on theological issues pertaining to the nature of the atonement and to the degree to which church services included ritual ceremonies. Swedenborgianism strongly repudiated any notion that Jesus paid the penalty for human sin by a substitutionary sacrifice. However, that position left open the issue of the place of good works in the Christian life. Blake from the beginning had antinomian tendencies, notions which the conservative faction in the London church attempted to suppress. Blake would also have not been comfortable with elaborate rituals. Thompson suggests that Blake’s experience in that church was “one of exalted enthusiasm followed by disillusionment and rejection.” Blake at this time wrote in his notebook a poem about abandoning church altogether entitled “I saw a chapel all of gold” which may be a sort of ultimate song of Experience though it does not appear in that collection. This disillusionment further inspired the second part of Blake’s collection.
Some of Blake’s opprobrium may have been directed to the conservative faction insisting on sacramental worship. Swedenborg had personally emphasized strongly that for followers of his religion, it was “now allowable” to truly enter into in a comprehending way the mysteries of faith. He envisioned a chapel in heaven which had in bold letters the inscription “NOW IT IS ALLOWABLE” on the front door. Blake would see any intrusion of a hierarchical priesthood administering the rites as a compromise of this principle. Both E.P. Thompson and Robert Rix see Blake’s poem “I saw a chapel all of gold” and the poem “Garden of Love” from Songs of Experience as a response to the conservative Swedenborgian faction. The placing of the phrase “Thou shalt not” on the chapel door in the latter poem is an assertion that this element of Swedenborg’s vision has been betrayed.
There is a political as well as spiritual dimension to the songs. Many Swedenborgians saw the Songs of Innocence as exemplifying the Swedenborgian philosophy of philanthropy and charity. But theirs was, as Rix notes, “a radicalism of compassion, not of subversion.” By portraying the children as socially naive in the subsequent Songs of Experience, Blake was hinting at a broader radicalism than Swedenborg, in addition to embodying Swedenborg’s dictum that childhood innocence is not fully authentic.
A strongly political poem of Blake’s from Innocence is “The Little Black Boy” which speculates on the fate of a black and white boy in heaven. Imagery which asserts that the body is a cloud and that God is represented by the Sun is heavily Swedenborgian. While many poems inSongs of Experience are politically engaged, this is one of the few political poems from theInnocence collection, exemplifying Blake’s hostility to class differences and to reducing humans to market value. (The poem also anticipates Blake’s view of children as symbols of innate creativity and movement.)
One of the most famous poems from Songs of Experience is “London,” which has an explicit social justice theme. The first two out of four stanzas run as follows
Commenting on this poem, Thompson notes that between the first version and the revised version, Blake changed the word “dirty” (describing the street and river Thames) to “charter’d.” Thompson sees this as indicative of Blake’s increasing outrage at the social system that inflicts misery. It is a word “associated with commerce” and “a stale counter of the customary rhetoric of the polite culture.” Blake in a very early poem spoke of Liberty as “the charter’d right of Englishmen” (“King Edward the Third”). But as Thompson observes, the liberties granted in any charter to some exclude others. Thompson contrasts the rhetoric of two of Blake’s contemporaries, Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. Burke believes in a set of chartered liberties and privileges that come together in one package but did not believe in any general concept of the rights of man. But Paine in The Rights of Man wrote that “Every chartered town is an aristocratical monopoly in itself, and the qualifications of electors proceeds out of those chartered monopolies. Is this freedom? Is this what Mr. Burke means by a constitution?” Paine found the word chartered offensive because it both implied exclusion and presumed to grant rights, suggesting that you could buy and sell freedom. Blake was familiar with Paine, and possibly changed the word ‘dirty’ to “charter’d” to show sympathy with Paine’s thinking. Thompson also calls attention to the triple usage of ‘mark’ in the first stanza as having a Biblical resonance with the image of ‘mark of the Beast,’ with ‘marks of weakness’ and ‘woe’ in ‘every face he sees’ are for Blake a mark of the Beast. These marks are universal on the face of Everyman, making this perhaps one of Blake’s first apocalyptic poems.
Another alteration Blake made between the first and final draft of the poem was to change the first two lines of the third stanza
But most the chimney sweepers cry
Blackens oer the churches walls
How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
This recalls the apocalyptic image of the Whore of Babylon whose reign involves reducing everything to market relations including childhood, human life, and beauty.
Finally, Thompson calls our attention to the image ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ concluding the second stanza. For Blake (unlike Paine) saw humanity as simultaneously oppressed externally and self-victimized. Thus Blake would not have believed in any possible salvation to be accomplished by mere political reorganization. London was also for Blake a city of lost innocence, and it would regain that innocence in his psychodramatic apocalyptic poem Jerusalem.
The poem immediately following “London” in Songs of Experience is “The Human Abstract.” It is the Experience counterpart to “The Divine Image” from Songs of Innocence. It also embodies all of Blake’s antipathy to what he regarded as the sterile rationalism of deism, the unacceptable alternative to classical religion. The poem foreshadows the negative role played by the Zoa Urizen (“your reason”) in later poems. Here is its full text:
And mutual fear brings peace,
He sits down with holy fears,
Soon spreads the dismal shade
And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
The Gods of the earth and sea
Blake had considered writing an Experience song as a counterpart to “The Divine Image” which simply parodied it by talking of human cruelty instead of human kindness. But instead he wrote this one in which individual virtues are made necessary by systemic social vices, these virtues in turn becoming sanctified by a false religion of Mystery that lies in the ‘Human Brain.’
E.P. Thompson has called attention to the ways this poem both incorporates certain criticisms of religion that come from deist writing (including Edward Gibbon) while rejecting many of their values. For 18th-century rationalists often spoke of enlightened self-interest, of rational people realizing that co-operation and altruism ultimately benefited oneself. Finally, rationalists held that real knowledge came through the senses. But Blake was always the celebrant of Poetic Genius and Imagination. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake states in a positive way that all deities reside in the “human breast.” But this false deity resides in the “Human Brain.” Whereas a rationalist writer like C.F. Volney believed the basic “sociological motor” was self-interest, Blake thought that the real foundation of human brotherhood was disinterested love, and self-love always gave rise to obscurantist “mystery.” Thomson notes that Volney “starts his analysis with self-love giving rise to primitive societies and to civilised values,” which then gets subsequently corrupted; for Blake self-love is corrupting from the beginning. Hence Blake and Volney have different solutions to the dilemma of human self-deception. Volney wants to disperse mystery, and dismiss the privileged and the priests as parasites. For Blake, the solution lies in “an affirmation not of reason but of wrath and love.” Further, Blake’s New Jerusalem
The nature of that syncretic mythology and its value for Blake will occupy the remainder of this paper.
A reading of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
This particularly famous and widely-anthologized poem of Blake is both a parody of Swedenborgian doctrine (to which much of the poem’s imagery is indebted) and a social satire that goes beyond issues of Swedenborgian teaching. (It should be mentioned parenthetically that distinguished Blake scholar David Erdman has read this poem as a response to the French Revolution. In spite of Erdman’s high reputation, this reading is not generally followed.) It is arguably Blake’s most irreverent and satirical poem, as Satan is virtually the hero of the poem. Blake essentially sees Swedenborg as a failed prophet. He thinks Swedenborg wisely exposed the folly of the churches, but fell into the trap of creating his own orthodoxy.
Several phrases in the poem appear to be direct parodies of common Swedenborgian phraseology. Swedenborg’s writings contain numerous references to “memorable relations.” Several sections of this poem are entitled “memorable fancies.” Swedenborg often writes about celestial “correspondences” between heaven and earth. Blake writes here frequently about necessary “Contraries” without which there is no “true progression.” But most tellingly and harshly, Swedenborg claimed to understand the Bible in its “internal” sense, while Blake here claims to read the Bible in its “infernal” sense.
Morton Paley writing in his essay “A New Heaven Has Begun” discusses how Marriage is a satire of Swedenborgianism.
The title unites what Swedenborg had perceived as divide; Angels and Evils are juxtaposed, but with subversive intent. Swedenborg’s static “equilibrium” is displaced by Blake’s’ dynamic interplay of contraries
Paley further suggests that the word Marriage in the title “may be an ironical allusion to Swedenborg,” since in A Sketch of the Chaste Delights of Conjugal Love (excerpted fromApocalypse Explained) Swedenborg asserts
That Hell is formed from Adulteries, is because Adultery is from the Marriage of Evil and False, from which Hell in its whole Complex is called Adultery; and that Heaven is formed from Marriages, is because Marriage is from the Marriage of Good and Truth, whence also Heaven in its whole complex is called a Marriage.
Thus while Swedenborg compares heaven to marriage, and hell to adultery, Blake asks for a marriage of heaven and hell.
It needs to be clarified just exactly how Swedenborg himself departed from traditional Christianity. The understanding that dominated popular Protestantism was that all humans were damned by default due to descent from Adam after which Jesus paid the penalty for sin by a substitutionary sacrifice of the cross. Both Blake and Swedenborg utterly rejected this, refusing to sanction that entrance into heaven was in any way determined by whether one believed Jesus to be the Messiah and had (in modern fundamentalist language) accepted Jesus as one’s Savior.
Swedenborg held that Hell was a society of self-destructive self-defeating greed-corrupted souls that effectively chose hell. Elements of this notion can be found even in Blake’s late poetry. Swedenborg also places a high premium on rationality and the rule of law, an emphasis contrary to Blake’s sentiments. Swedenborg in fact attacked the Lutheran understanding of justification by faith alone and any notion of blood-atonement. It is difficult to read Swedenborg as in any way a theological antinomian, and Swedenborg periodicals attacked social radicals like Thomas Paine.Much of Blake’s poetry places a high premium on the importance of forgiveness of sin and of liberty. Swedenborg places a high premium on the Ten Commandments, an emphasis mocked by the Marriage poem.
Swedenborg’s writings contain passages about seeing souls in hell who took unfair advantage of the Lutheran notion of justification by faith by excess and (as Luther might put it) “sinning boldly.” Many of the “Memorable Fancy” sections of Marriage parody Swedenborg’s various trips to heavenly realms, and his conversations with angels. There are passages in which angels seem to see souls suffering in hell, but are mistaken with lines like “As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity” (Plate 5, 1st Memorable Fancy). The 1st “Memorable Fancy” in which the Angel and the speaker explore the netherworlds to resolve theological disputes likely parodies Swedenborg’s account of his heavenly conversation with Martin Luther according to which Luther converted to Swedenborg’s teachings. One of Swedenborg’s “Memorable Relations” recounts a vision of hell in which a Scarlet Harlot is revealed to be a devil who preaches justification by faith alone. Blake’s 7th “memorable fancy” sets up a similar scenario in which, after the angel leaves the Harlot disappears, thus revealed to be a figment of the angel’s imagination. Blake’s description is
The opening passage of Marriage entitled “The Argument” is a rebuttal to Swedenborgian thinking. “The villain” in the “paths of ease” is a person conditioned to think of heaven in terms typical of a privileged aristocrat. The end of the opening section concludes with a direct reference to Swedenborg’s doctrine of the Last Judgment.
This is a direct referral to Swedenborg’s belief that the Last Judgment took place in 1757 at the time of his visions, which was also the year of Blake’s birth. Sabri-Tabrizi interprets Blake as seeing Swedenborg’s whole vision of heaven and hell as based on rigid class distinction, and reliance on passive memories of innocence coupled with a passive social background and an escape from social reality.
Blake bemoans the presence of a ‘sneaking serpent’
A key section closing the opening section of the poem reads
Blake may or may not have gotten his idea of the positive value of contraries from Jacob Boehme (this is disputed), but it does seem to satirize Swedenborg’s notion that “As all things which are according to divine order correspond to heaven, so all things which are contrary to divine order correspond to hell.” The word ‘contrary’ appears many times in Swedenborg’s work, always in a negative context, although he frequently uses the word ‘progression’ in a positive context. Hence, Blake’s retort that Contraries are necessary to Progression. (Blake would much later in Milton contrast ‘Negation’, a genuine evil, with ‘Contrary’ an apparent setback.)
Swedenborg writes in Divine Love and Wisdom that
We can see Blake here in revolt against Swedenborgian notions of goodness. This leads right into the oft-quoted opening of the next section “Voice of the Devil”
All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.
This can be read as a contrast to the Swedenborgian notion of life as an influx from God which is passively received by man. (Kathleen Raine sees Blake’s thinking here as still working within a Swedenborgian context, but in spite of her high reputation, other scholars do not agree.) Similarly, Swedenborg frequently uses the word ‘restraint’ in a positive context as in restraining one or another form of evil of “infernals.” Blake seems to be rebutting this usage in the immediately following passage
It is important to stress that Blake both believes that Energy is from the Body, and Blake is opposed to individualistic materialism, which actually suppresses Imagination.
Blake now turns his attention to commenting on Milton’s Paradise Lost in which Blake concludes on the basis of what has gone before that Milton’s God is Blake’s devil.
As we shall see, Blake not only views Milton’s God as oppressive but also as having a hidden devouring aspect underneath a cloak of sanctity.
Later in the poem, Blake outlines a series of “Proverbs of Hell.” They are all written in defense of “energy” and against “passivity.” They are introduced by a preceding “Memorable Fancy” according to which “As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity.” a sentence that uses many words common to Swedenborg’s vocabulary such as ‘joy’, ‘torment’ and so forth. Blake is effectively arguing that Swedenborg has projected many of his own psychic limitations onto his vision of hell. The most frequently quoted of these proverbs is “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Sabri-Tabrizi believes that in keeping with Blake’s emphasis on activity, Blake means to stress the road of excess as opposed to a palace of excess. Other proverbs are less provocative such as “The most sublime act is to set another before you.” This one exemplifies Blake’s ideal of human fraternity and mutual liberation.
Both Harold Bloom and Northrop Frye are eager to point out that Blake is not advocating any kind of amoral libertinism in this poem. Bloom points out that Blake is not at all echoing Milton’s Satan who says “evil be thou my good”, but instead is objecting to older categories of moral interpretation altogether. There is in Blake a real hell based on “the fearful obsession of Selfhood,” but Marriage critiques an ironic false concept of hell “an upsurge of desire whose energetic appearance frightens the Selfhood into the conviction that such intensity must stem from an external hell.” Blake’s positive morality (as opposed to artificial moralism) is illustrated in the poem’s line
The Jehovah who “dwells in flaming fire” is a contrast to the God who dwells in Milton’s static heaven, as Blake asserts
Bloom observes that Milton’s Paradise Lost shows demons busy in interesting activities which are however ‘sterile’ because they are detached from God. Blake, however, presents us with an ideal of triumphing over nature through nature, not through acquiescence to a good defined by passivity to celestial influence. Bloom notes that
All of Blake’s proverbs of hell are informed by this. One of Blake’s most shocking Proverbs of hell “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” is interpreted to mean that to nurse an lready repressed desire is to feed an inner beast that will become a demon of destruction.Bloom would agree with John Howard that the purpose of Blake’s poetry is to “explore the essence of [real] evil, hidden behind the masks of righteousness, orthodoxy, and authority,” (emphasis added) all done by irony and parody of the symbolism of the thought he was attacking.
John Howard speaks of a central motif pervading all of Marriage as usurpation by arbitrary authority. “…the restrainer or Reason Usurps its [desire’s] place & governs the unwilling”. In Plate 11, Blake tells us that “The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses” until
Blake’s solution to this usurpation is to expand humanity’s imaginative wisdom to help them realize that
Blake also wants to struggle against the dominating class which has enchained man with “the cunning of weak and tame minds” (Marriage, Plate 16).
Sabri-Tabrizi sees Blake’s dictum that “All Deities Reside in the Human Breast” to be a direct rebuttal to the Swedenborgian doctrine of correspondences. This teaching could be summarized in three parts. There is a universal Heaven in which all souls are incorporated into a primordial “Grand Man” rather like the Kabalistic Adam Caedmon or Blake’s subsequent image of Albion. There is a correspondence between the design of Heaven and various kingdoms on earth, animal, vegetable, and mineral, and a correspondence between the light of Heaven and our Sun. Swedenborg explicitly connects various parts of the body with various faculties of the soul, charity by the breast, conjugal love by the loins and so forth in a way echoed by Blake in Marriage with the lines “The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion.” (Plate 10, Line 61) But all of these for Swedenborg are energized by a divine influx from without, whereas for Blake, divine energy arises from within the human Body.
When Blake speaks of ancient Poets animating sensible objects with Gods, this is considered to be a good thing; it is an authentic animism and preferable to the abstract gods of religion. Swedenborg rejected the notion that the universe had an inherent animating principle, possibly associating it with skeptical philosophies such as that of Hume; Swedenborg complained of Deists who spoke of a Divine animating principle, but rejected “faith in the Lord.” But for Blake, a kind of primitive poetic animism is preferable to the rather abstract animism of Swedenborg since it “abstracts” deities from their objects, and interprets these abstractions as being granted by divine providence and as providing an exclusive way to heaven. As Sabri-Tabrizi puts it “Man as poet animates reality or real objects, in contrast to the priest who animates his passive memories.” Blake is in one sense on the horns of a dilemma. He both rejects the materialist mechanical universe of Locke, Newton, and deism, but also rejects the dualistic spirit-matter two-story universe of Swedenborg. Blake wants a living animistic universe this writer finds reminiscent of Heraclitus (with whom Blake was most likely unfamiliar). Thus Blake’s puts emphasis on innate Poetic Genius.
Blake wants to promote Isaiah and Ezekiel as being on his side. They mingle with ordinary people (Ezekiel tells Blake this is why he ate dung). They were inspired by Divine Poetic Genius, in principle accessible to all rather than to specially chosen elect. Swedenborg was overtly opposed to doctrines of universal inspiration, denouncing them as “enthusiasts” and likely to persuade people to do evil things. He likely had a low view of Moravians. Blake’s dinner party with Isaiah and Ezekiel in which the former declared “my senses discover’d the infinite in every thing” is a direct rebuttal to Swedenborg’s teaching.
Later in the poem, Blake has the prophet Ezekiel say
The emphasis here as in other poems is on what the heart knows, Poetic Genius and imagination. Ezekiel goes on to state that it was actually this universal spirit in the Hebrew prophets that caused them to despise “the Priests & Philosophers of other countries, and prophecying that all Gods would at last be proved to originate in ours & to be the tributaries of the Poetic Genius.” This is a direct rebuttal to Swedenborgian notions of special revelation. Swedenborg talks of David smiting his enemies because of the strength and power of the angels behind him, the same angels Swedenborg believed he was communicating with. But Blake has Ezekiel say of David
In his marginal annotations to Swedenborg, Blake came across a passage in which Swedenborg wrote
Blake in his annotations to Swedenborg’s Divine Liberty explicitly asserts that science “will not open intellect.” In later poems, this will be embodied in the Zoa Urizen who only relies on abstractions from passive memories “folding the pure wings of his mind” (from The Four Zoas). Blake, a professional engraver, in Marriage presents the reader with the “Printing House in Hell” occupied by beings who represent imprisoned energy. About this place, Blake writes (emphasis added)
This echoes the earlier (and pivotal) “proverb of hell” according to which “Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion”. Sabri-Tabrizi takes this as illustrating that Blake was not against law as such but against its inhuman forms. The traditionalists enslave and repress the very psychological material that has positive value to genuinely just people of genuine courage. Those who are ‘weak in courage,’ later labeled the ‘Devourers,’ have imprisoned the ‘Prolific.’ This is a rebuttal to Swedenborg’s frequent admonitions to restrain evil.
Swedenborg held that conjugal love persisted in heaven but also held that the only legitimate marriages were those sanctified by divine and civil law. He held that in hell there were many adulteries and brothels. When Blake retorts “brothels are built with bricks of religion,” he is rebelling against the imposition of these laws. In his Experience-related poem “London,” Blake presented us with a youthful ‘Harlot’ probably driven to her profession by wretched conditions which made this her only means of income. For Swedenborg, law sanctifies marriage. For Blake, law causes suffering, in particular sexual suffering.
Swedenborg talks much about the ‘equilibrium’ between heaven and hell referring to our having a capacity for moral choice. When the Angel in Marriage claims to show Blake his eternal fate he shows him this vision.
Blake said his unfortunate destiny is to be between “black and white spiders” (spiders being an ironic name for spirit). From the space between them emerges a monstrous Leviathan, which however mysteriously vanishes when the angel goes away. When the angel asks where the monster went,
Blake now asks the angel if he himself could show the angel his fate. The angel assents and the reply is telling of Blake’s perception that Swedenborgianism reinforces class privilege
The final “memorable fancy” explicitly repudiates a religion based on Law. The Devil speaks a maxim which Blake will also endorse in his late work
The Angel claims this is blasphemy
to which the devil replies
The poem concludes with Blake’s promise to produce a Bible of hell followed by the celebrative section “Song of Liberty.” This last introduces one of Blake’s mythological figures, the universal man, Albion, and speaks of “Shadows of Prophecy” anticipating Blake’s later body of work. It ends with an imminent confrontation between a “gloomy king” and a “son of fire,” the former propagating “his ten commands” and the latter “stamps the stony law to dust” and cries “empire is no more.” A short epilogue ends with this chorus in which Blake accuses the ‘Priests’ in ‘deadly black’ who ‘curse the sons of joy’ of being in league with tyranny and ‘pale religious letchery’ that makes a pretense of virtue that ‘wishes but acts not.’ This is followed by a single line which recurs throughout a great deal of Blake’s work “Everything that lives is Holy.”
Marriage of Heaven and Hell has been interpreted both psychoanalytically by June Singer and politically by Sabri-Tabrizi. Jungian psychologist June Singer writing in The Unholy Bible: Jung, Blake, and the Collective Unconscious sees Blake as struggling to integrate the unwelcome contents of the subconscious into his consciousness. Her book is largely focused on The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. She notes that Blake’s output was far more prodigious after the writing of this book than before and attributes this to the ultimately therapeutic value of having composed this work. For her, the central theme of Blake is that “Every phenomenon consciously experienced by man is accompanied by its polar opposite in the unconscious and the psychological state of man is determined by the kind of relationship which he is able to maintain between these opposites.”However, she notes that wrestling with this material was very difficult for Blake. “Were Blake to have realized that his own inner revolution would lead to terrors which would make the fall of the Bastille seem pallid by comparison, one wonders if he would have had the courage to revolt against the spiritual framework in which he had existed.” She sees that Blake has a qualified admiration of Swedenborg, but Blake also sees him as lacking courage as shrinking from “the hell of other men.”She sees the picture on the opening plate of Blake’s poem as embodying all the antinomies of Blake’s psyche, the tension between the male and female sides of his personality, the tension between his child and adult self, and his love of both earth and heaven. These antinomies are in turmoil but contain in them a promise of wholeness.
For Sabri-Tabrizi, Swedenborg’s “Heaven and Hell mirrors the drive of a conservative class to keep the social system static, while The Marriage of Heaven and Hell presents a revolutionary notion of society struggling to be freed from self-interest.” Swedenborg’s heaven is hierarchical, divided into divergent realms that “correspond to the classes” and is justified by observations of the hierarchical nature of the animal kingdom. In Swedenborg, it is implied that good comes from the spiritual world and evil comes from love of the material world. Sabri-Tabrizi calls special attention to the difference between Swedenborg’s and Blake’s reactions to people in coal mines, which Swedenborg employed as a symbol of ‘torment’ and ‘insanity,’ but with whom Blake felt entirely at home. Blake not only found Swedenborg’s concept of goodness altogether too passive; it was also too obviously the product of a member of the propertied class.
Although all Blake poems are referenced here by Plate and line, Marriage is unusual in that line numbers start over by section rather than by Plate. Furthermore the prose sections have no line numbering.
Blake’s Prophetic Books
After the publication of Marriage, Blake started developing his own private mythology which reflected both his political and psychological preoccupations. First there were the shorter “Prophetic books” followed by three long epic poems, one unpublished in his lifetime. The prophetic books are Visions of the Daughters of Albion, America: A Prophecy, Europe: A Prophecy, The Book of Urizen, The Song of Los, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los. The major epics are The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem, all three of which tell of a fall and redemption culminating in a positive apocalypse of new creation. Detailed explication of all these would be very time-consuming, but the broad sweep and theology of the prophetic books as a group can be discussed. To do so will require a basic outline of who some of Blake’s recurring characters are and how they function in his mythology. The most pivotal character in Blake’s mythology is Albion, a primeval man whose fall and fragmentation results in an inner splitting creating the Four Zoas. Albion is in actuality an ancient name for Britain as a whole. The concept of Albion is reminiscent both of Swedenborg’s concept of a Universal Man of which all souls in eaven are members, and of the Kabalistic concept of Adam Kadmon, a primeval soul found in all human souls. The four Zoas into which Albion is divided represent different human faculties. As noted above, they are Los/Urthona (imagination), Urizen (intellect- a pun on “your reason”), Luvah/Orc (passion), and Tharmas (instinct). Each of these Zoas has both a female Emanation and a shadowy Spectre. An emanation is a female counterpart that has separated from an integrated entity. A Spectre has been described by Alexander S. Gourlay as “a parodic version of the self characterized by self-defensive rationalization.”
Visions of the Daughters of Albion is Blake’s most overt affirmation of sexuality as a positive form of personal fulfillment. Bloom reads it not only as such an affirmation but also an assertion that ascetic morality is actually rooted in a repressed jealousy. It tells of a young woman Oothoon called “the soft soul of America.” She is in love with a pious but tormented man named Theotormon. But he will have nothing to do with her after she is raped by the lustful Bromion. The poem opens with an eight-line argument according to which Oothoon appropriately chooses not to be ashamed of sexuality per se, as indicated by her decision not to hide in “Leutha’s vale”, but she runs into trouble nonetheless. Bromion believes he has turned her into a harlot, ruined her. Notably, Bromion has an ineffective repentance of his deed as it is framed by too conventional a morality. He is a rapist but one with traditional social ideals. Oothoon tries to submit to conventional morality but it does not work. She realizes inwardly that she does not feel ‘spoiled’ in the sense that Bromion and Theotormon want to think. She exemplifies the poem’s motto “The Eye sees more than the heart knows.” She embodies a new sense of liberty which Blake hopes will emerge in America. When Bromion and Theotormon dialogue, the latter dreams of a remote place with new vistas of understanding
Bromion assures Theotormon no such place exists
John Howard sees Bromion here as a slave to both a colonialist and a scientific mentality. “He implies that corporeal war is alone real, that poverty is the only sorrow, that riches and ease are the only joy, that there is only one law of morality” and that there is a hell of eternal punishment.Bromion gives a reply which causes an exacerbated Oothoon to place the blame on Urizen the “mistaken demon.”
Oothoon encourages Theotormon to follow his bliss in “infant joys” in a positive vision of innocence.
Religion is denounced as ‘hypocrite modesty.’ If it’s vision is true then
Echoing the conclusion of Marriage, Oothoon is sure that the concealing of sexual pleasure creates more problems than it solves
Oothoon concludes with a line Blake used also in Marriage, “Everything that lives is holy”, failing to gain sympathy with Theotormon but gaining that of the daughters of Albion (who are only mentioned in the opening and concluding lines).
It is possible to read this poem only as a paean to woman’s sexual liberation. However, the poem is political in content as well. Furthermore, the poem’s references to America place this mostly sexual episode in a larger political context. At the start of the poem, Oothoon is identified as the “soft soul of America.” The daughters of Albion lament “sighs towards America.” Bromion can be seen as a symbol for England. When he declares his dominance over Oothoon, he says “thy soft American plains are mine.” The poem is also a tribute to honest innocence that has been authentically regained as opposed to the failed innocence depicted in the Book of Thel. Finally, Blake’s Poetic Genius is promoted once again, this time appealing to animal instinct. A key concept of this poem is the use of the differing instinctual behaviors of various animals to illustrate that behavior comes from deep within rather than from rational assessment of sense-data. “With what sense is it that the chicken shuns the ravenous hawk?” This section is both a rebuttal to the rationalist philosophy of Locke which Blake saw as simply protecting the propertied classes, and recalls the saying from Marriage that “One law for the Lion and Ox is oppression”. To employ some awkward word-play, some think Blake opposes John Locke’s empiricism, but he actually opposes Locke’s imperialism.
America: A Prophecy, Europe: A Prophecy and the Song of Los form a unity in the Blake corpus. They introduce his hero-figure of Orc. He represents both creative energy and passion. He is a rebel against political tyrants. The first poem is billed as being about the American Revolution but opens with a prelude containing images of sexual torment and release. The crowned daughter of Urthona brings fourteen-year-old Orc food and drink in iron baskets and cups. Her character is seen in shadow, and her loins are surrounded by clouds. She is silent and mute until “that dread day when Orc assay’d his fierce embrace.” She yields willingly to Orc’s pleas “I howl my joy! and my red eyes seek to behold thy face / In vain! these clouds roll to & fro, & hide thee from my sight.” and feels some joy “It joy’d: she put aside her clouds & smiled her first-born smile.” She also feels torment nonetheless, though recognizing the problem is not on Orc’s end “Thou art the image of God who dwells in darkness of Africa” but on hers “thy fire & my frost/ Mingle in howling pains, in furrows by the lightnings rent; / This is eternal death; and this the torment long foretold.”
After this prelude, Blake takes us to the action in which the King of England is pitted against Orc, whom the King of England identifies as a devil. England/Albion is sick. Its king appears in the form of a dragon. He sees a terrifying vision of Orc who speaks a prophecy that embodies the core message of all three of the politically prophetic books. It has been identified by Harold Bloom as “one of the central passages in Blake’s poetry”.
In this passage Orc identifies his release and the American Revolution with Jesus’ resurrection. Orc is a Prometheus figure and a Christ-figure at the same time. The Angel sees Orc as a serpent, but it is really the Angel who has the serpent-nature.
John Howard sees this poem as Blake’s illustration of the psychological process of projection.
The real aims of the British are “to keep those who produce from knowledge so that those in power have freedom to let their own appetites devour the products of nature, whether they be sexual joys or economic productions.”
The same themes are pursued further in Europe: A Prophecy. What is remarkable about this poem is how it combines a political-historical drama with a family psychodrama, along with Blake’s remarkable ability to combine Biblical symbolism and anti-clerical sentiment. More characters of Blake’s mythology are introduced as the poem analyzes the French Revolution. The poem also adds a well-meaning matriarchal villain, a new motif for Blake. Its main section opens with the mention of a birth of a ‘secret child’ (parodying Milton’s poem about Christ’s Nativity) who is again Orc. Blake also introduces the character of Los, who will be pivotal to later poems. Los is a blacksmith who is the father of Orc. His female “emanation” is Enitharmon, who here represents the traditional church values of chastity, guilt, and retribution. She is also Orc’s mother. She opposes the “shadowy female” of the first line of the prelude who resides in Orc’s breast; she is the female voice of traditional morality. Against her Orc’ complains “Ah! I am drown’d in shady woe, and visionary joy.” Her instincts are protective, not destructive, but still delusional. Orc’s rejection of her at the end forms the climax of the poem in a way that parallels Jesus’ rejection of Mary in John 2.
Blake abandoned commentary on history in a second set of short poems, The Book of Urizen, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los. The character of Orc is as central to these three as well as to the earlier ones, but now Blake is more focused on developing the background mythology about these characters rather than commenting on current events. These three poems tell the full story of Orc. The first of these is a sort of parody of the Book of Genesis, with Urizen being a less than benevolent Creator propagating restrictive dogma. Within this realm, Los and Enitharmon give birth to their son Orc. Harold Bloom believes that Blake begins to see the contest between Urizen and Orc as a cyclic one that keeps recurring. An important novel note struck in this poem is that Urizen is himself here portrayed as a fallen being who is misled by bad attitudes, primarily that of wanting solidity without fluidity. Urizen seeks the impossible ideal of joy without pain or fluctuation. He is in a word too controlling.
As Harold Bloom puts it, Urizen is “enshrined in his petrification [and] longs for the glorious withering of monologue, not the ‘unquenchable burnings’ that define… human… imagination. The element of fire, burning upward as Promethean emblem, must be forced downward and inward into the abyss of the consuming self.”
Urizen’s ‘fall’ affects other eternal beings to a point where Urizen is not solely responsible for the fall. The parents of the savior-figure Orc, Los and Enitharmon have a less than ideal relationship with each other or with their son, Orc, due to the ‘fallenness’ of the world that Urizen has created.
Not only is Urizen himself fallen, he is also capable of learning and changing his mind, though some of his efforts to mend the world’s troubles cause further problems. When he sees how troubled the world is, Urizen attempts to institute a false unity.
John Howard (giving Urizen less credit than Harold Bloom) sees Urizen’s reaction one of “pity which is hypocrisy. He has seen a suffering world of his own making. But rather than change it and lose what is his, he merely pities it. The pity is a delusive sop to convince the enchained that the tyrant’s heart at least is in the right place…a lie used to exploit.”
To his credit, Urizen does see that his creation is suffering “Most Urizen sicken’d to see /His eternal creations appear/ Sons & daughters of sorrow on mountains.” He also comes to see the impossibility of his own rules which along with the parasitical cycles of nature causes him genuine grief, but the latter causes Urizen to develop bad religion as a remedy.
Urizen in sum is a passive personality who restrains and punishes others, puts a great deal of faith in abstract science and the laws embodied in his ‘book of brass,’ and whose internal being is a raging Void for all of his outward appearance of control and equanimity.
Orc, in turn, represents a kind of redemptive chaos and spontaneity. Late in the story Los tries to bind Orc with chains like Prometheus. However, he cannot see that his motive in part is jealousy of Orc’s freedom. John Howard has interpreted the state of Urizen’s psyche as that of classic authoritarian paranoia.
Los is a creative artist who attempts to heal a clearly broken Urizen by remolding him, a process that fails. The image of Urizen he creates is a “death-image.” It will be Los’ subsequent conception of Orc that will bring redemption, not his failed artistic image of Urizen. However, Orc’s speech and activity do provoke negative reactions on the part of Urizen and Los, and the poem ends with the inhabitants of the world enslaved by the “Net of Religion,” and Orc bound to a Promethean rock.
Although Orc is presented as a savior-figure, it must be kept in mind that Blake wrote “Every honest man is a prophet” and held in Marriage of Heaven and Hell that Isaiah and Ezekiel tapped into a universal prophetic capacity in principle available to all. Revolts against Urizen by other figures are told in The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los in which Blake further develops his theme of fall. Ahania is a female “emanation” from Urizen himself. Neither of these additional poems however presents any vision of redemption, and Blake will later turn to savior-figures other than Orc. For that we must turn to Blake’s three magum opi, the long epics.
Online Blake dictionary. http://www.blakearchive.org/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=blake/texts/glossary.xml&style=/blake/xsl/dynaxml.xsl&chunk.id=glossary&toc.depth=1&toc.id=0&clear-stylesheet-cache=yes
It is impossible to give any kind of short plot summary to Blake’s three mammoth epicsThe Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem. They are far less widely read than Blake’s other works because of their highly esoteric character. Furthermore, they have a very large cast of characters and have several dramatic discontinuities. Nonetheless, they need to be discussed, since it is only in these works that Blake develops a comprehensive notion of redemption, not to mention his reintroduction of the Christian imagery from which he had been moving away. Just as the fallenness of humanity in Blake’s earlier works was both social and spiritual (or as some feminists might put it both political and personal), so also is the vision of redemption in these works. I shall give sketchy summaries of the three poems and then outline the underlying theology of all three simultaneously. One should especially keep in mind the words of Sabri-Tabrizi “It is useless and distracting in [the] prophetical works to play the mental game of hunt the symbol, to try to discover the origin of unheard-of names and characters such as ‘Orc’ and “Urizen’ in Blake. These characters speak for themselves.”
The Four Zoas is a 100-page epic poem divided into nine chapters called “nights” the first eight of which tell of the fall and fragmentation of the Universal Man, Albion, into four Zoas which stand for different faculties of the psyche. They are reunited in the final chapter. The alternate name of the poem is Vala, a female entity caught in a web of illusion based on false morality. The poem’s subtitle is The torments of Love & Jealousy in The Death and Judgement of Albion the Ancient Man. Blake did not publish this poem in his lifetime, being unsatisfied with the final results. The first three nights tell of the fall of each of three ‘fragments’ of Albion. These are in turn Tharmas, Luvah, and Urizen. This marks a significant development in Blake’s thinking since in earlier works Urizen was the chief villain beneath the fallenness of creation, a kind of false imposter or incompetent Jehovah figure. But here Tharnas, a being ruled somewhat by instinct actually falls in the first book before Luvah, a sort of Orc-like Christ-figure in the second book, and then Urizen falls in the third book. The poem also opens with a standard Biblical text from Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Blake in this poem places the primary blame for the fall of creation on the contamination of love by jealousy rather than on abstract rationalization. The first fallen figure, Tharmas, is the first completely new figure in Blake’s mythology, while the second and third fallen figures, Luvah and Urizen, have appeared in previous poems. As such, much attention ought to be paid to the first “night” of this poem. Tharnas embodies, according to Bloom, an “instinct for wholeness.” Since Albion is a whole man containing all reality who is “human and divine, male and female, and a fourfold balance of the faculties of intellect, imagination, emotion, and the instinct that holds the first three faculties together in the unsundered harmony of organized Innocence,” and it is Tharnas here who falls before Urizen, largely because of the torments of love and jealousy.
Blake first introduces the theme of the Universal Man with
Continuing on about the Universal Man, Blake early announces that the subject of his poem is
Tharmas is tormented by fear and anxiety which he passes on immediately to his female Emanation Enion who falls next.
Enion abandons Tharmas to become a solitary wanderer. The male-female couple Luvah-Vala see that something terrible has occurred. “Eternity appear’d above them as One Man, enfolded
In the second night it is Luvah the female emanation of Orc who falls. While Tharnas fell into a kind of watery chaos, Luvah falls into fire, the passions that once delighted her now being a torment. It is at the beginning of this book that Urizen tries to solve some of the problems of creation by building the Mundane Shell around creation, a kind of sky to separate earth and heaven and maintain order although its effect will be to “petrify[ing] the Human Imagination.” This creates further unhappiness seen by the inhabitants of the Earth “With trembling horror pale aghast the Children of Man… cried to one another What are we terrors to one another.” (FZ, 28:11-14) Urizen wishes to rectify the wrong “…Stern Urizen beheld/ In woe his brethren & his Sons in darkning woe lamenting/ Upon the winds in clouds involvd/ Uttering his voice in thunders/ Commanding all the work with care & power & severity.” (FZ 28:21-24)) Much time is spent on how this further negatively affects the relationship of the couple Los and Enitharmon who will be the parents of Orc. They break up as a couple after accusing each other of sexual sin. After their severance, Enitharmon sings a song of Lamentation, which however also celebrates the triumph of her own controlling spirit. Their breakup echoes the earlier breakup in this section of Luvah and Vala. Finally, the female emanation Enion of our first fallen Zoa (Tharmas) laments that she has become a sinner and asks (echoing Proverbs)
Although the third Night opens with the birth of a prophetic “Boy” “born of the dark Ocean Whom Urizen doth serve, with Light replenishing his darkness,” it largely just completes the fall of Unzen who has now come to find his desires repugnant. The three nights complete the fall of creation, after which Blake turns his attention to the resultant struggle within society.
In Night the Fourth, Los the artist-smith tries to hammer Urizen into some kind of definite form (an episode called “the binding of Urizen”) in a way that recapitulates some of the action of the Book of Urizen; however, as Bloom observes, the motive has changed. In the earlier work, Los was trying to limit the changes of Urizen, now he is an agent of Tharmas trying to rule the world. This section opens with Tharmas
Together they conspire to remake Urizen whom they call a “howling Demon”, but unfortunately Los simply becomes another Urizen-like creature: “he became what he beheld He became what he was doing he was himself transformd.” (FZ, 55:3)
In Night the Fifth, we have further recapitulations of material from the Book of Urizen as Orc enters the scene. Winter rules over the earth nowm because of the lamentations of Enitharmon (the feminine Emanation of Los),. “The Winter spread his wide black wings across from pole to pole.” (FZ, 58:12)) Los takes Enitharmon down into his own labyrinth. After Orc is born, Los motivated by parental jealousy, binds him to a rock like Prometheus, over Enitharmon’s objections. Because of Orc’s howls of pain, he is judged to be a demon. Meanwhile, in this book Urizen explores the underworld of creation, the “dens of Urthona” as shaped now by Los. Urizen now realizes he has had dark motives that he earlier thought were noble. Urizen recites a long account of his ‘fall’ which echoes much of Milton’s account of Satan’s fall in Paradise Lost. “Once how I walked from my Palace in gardens of delight!… O! did I close my treasuries with roofs of solid stone,/ And darken all my palace walls with envyings and hate!” (FZ 64:1,15-16) However, even Urizen holds out for some hope that “Love shall show its root in deepest Hell.” Night the Sixth further elaborates Urizen’s exploration of the ‘dens of Urizen.’
Just as the Fall of Creation was in the first three of the nine books, the Recovery of Creation is in the last three of the nine books. Blake composed two versions of Night the Seventh. In the first version, all of the many inhabitants of this universe are now utterly fallen. In the second version, various fallen entities confront each other culminating in the bare beginnings of a process of forgiving love and reconciliation through mutual acceptance. At the start, Los, Tharmas, and Luvah have all to some degree become vengeful, murderous souls. Los imagines himself to be a kind of Homeric war hero, “his loins in fires of War” identifying with “the blood of Captains nurtur’d/ With lust & murder for our drink.” (FZ, 88:25-6) Urizen goes on one of his worst power-mongering tirades yet, with his “book of brass” overtly endorsing oppression of the poor by deception and guile. The sons of Urizen become military types. “Then left the Sons of Urizen the plow & harrow the loom/ The hammer & the Chisel & the rule & compasses /They forgd the sword the chariot of war the battle ax /The trumpet fitted to the battle & the flute of summer / And all the arts of life they changd into the arts of death.” (FZ, 92:17-21) Enitharmon’s moments of happiness actually arouse envy in her male counterpart, Los. Amidst all this, Orc breaks free of his chains.
Night the Eighths is about the rebirth of Mystery that was killed by Deism. It is the first section of the poem that incorporates contemporary politics, and its opening lines are Blake’s first invocation of Jesus who incorporates all men, as Albion did before.
The first major episode is Urizen’s vision of Orc in the form of a serpent, yet he somehow senses an identity between the apparently serpentine Orc and Jesus as the Lamb of God. This leads to a complex series of encounters, among which is an episode in which Urizen takes on a dragon form as a punishment for his own pride. After he falls, social chaos ensues, but he realizes that his own rule had caused all the resentment now bursting forth. At the conclusion, a figure named Rahab (the name of the good prostitute in Joshua) enters who is Blake’s version of the apocalyptic Whore of Babylon. She also symbolizes the Church of England who makes a compromise with the liberal theology of Deism to consolidate her power, even luring Orc into her orbit briefly.
Night the Ninth has a longer title: “Night the Ninth Being The Last Judgment”. It is the longest but also the most linear of the poem’s sections. [There is a long passage in which Albion laments all of his sorrows.] It also opens with an invocation of Jesus, this time as a resurrected figure
followed by a series of apocalyptic images
Natural apocalyptic images occur as well. Trees, mountains, rivers and cattle are all affected by the apocalypse, leading to horrendous consequences “The Gates are burst down pour/ The torrents black upon the Earth the blood pours down incessant/ Kings in their palaces lie drownd Shepherds their flocks their tents/ Roll down the mountains in black torrents Cities Villages/ High spires & Castles drownd in the black deluge.” However, this apocalyptic activity leads to a rising of the dead when “the bursting Universe explodes” after Urizen repents of his desire to control creation. Many of the newly risen are angry at their oppressors who are also risen. A group of these tyrants and oppressors see a vision of Jesus crucified
The sons of Urizen abandon the study of war in favor of farming. Tharmas, the original spirit to fall, declares the end of the Pomp of Mystery (in the sense of oppressive religion) who “never loos’d her Captives.”
A climactic section is the redemption of Vala, the female emanation of Luvah.
Her song heavily echoes the Song of Solomon. As a renewed soul, she seeks God. “Can you converse with a pure Soul that seeketh for her Maker?” She goes to a rural paradise and becomes reunited with Tharmas, the original spirit of unity. A final section celebrates a new morning Sun “Each morning like a New born Man issues with songs & Joy.” The poem concludes with the line “The dark Religions are departed & sweet Science reign.”
These themes are recapitulated in Milton, a poem in two parts, the first being about the descent of Milton’s spirit to earth in which he merges with Blake (by entering Blake’s body through his left foot) and is then purged of the prideful elements of his old theology. It opens with an invocation that emulates (or parodies) the opening of Paradise Lost. Both invoke the Muse of inspiration, but Blake is careful to describe Inspiration in bodily terms. In this poem the figure identified as Satan really is Satan though he is falsely worshipped as God.
Los, the father of Orc, opposes Satan’s false morality.
Los is here a figure of positive creativity from the very beginning, also angry at the reign of Satan: “Los in his wrath curs’d heaven & earth.” Milton himself realizes he has been following a false God. He renounces his oath to that God and begins a search for the real Jesus
Milton enters this world of mortality protected by angels. Here Blake explains Milton’s protection as “so Milton’s Shadow fell/ Precipitant, loud thund’ring, into the Sea of Time and Space” in the context of a metaphysical discourse about infinity. Milton runs into the “Mundane Shell” earlier mentioned in The Four Zoas as one of Urizen’s controlling devices that backfired, here described as “an immense Harden’d Shadow / of all things upon our Vegetated Earth.” Sleeping Albion senses Milton’s descent. In his sleep, he dimly realizes that salvation comes from within through the full opening of the heart to other creatures, not by searching without “Seek not thy heavenly father then beyond the skies: /There Chaos dwells & ancient Night & Og & Anak old:/ For every human heart has gates of brass & bars of adamant,/ Which few dare unbar because dread Og & Anak guard the gates.”
The Shadowy Female is a spirit who dreads the approach of Milton and wants to trap him.
She is one of the first of many spirits who think themselves members of the Elect to realize that they are actually lost souls. She is a repentant Babylon (unlike Leutha who symbolizes female sexual guilt.)
Milton eventually enters the body of William Blake through his left foot. This coincides with Milton’s realization that his Puritan theology actually banished many souls from paradise. Blake is himself aided by this merger and finds his creativity enhanced. Blake also merges with the spirit of Los. He emerges at this point as a “Shadowy Prophet” who has returned from his own fall. Blake goes on a rant against Milton’s religion, which he blames both for the rise of Deism and the perversion of the visions of Swedenborg
God however has sent two good prophets, Whitefield and Westley (sic) who will aid in the awakening of Albion. Los emerges urging men to stop both wars and martyrdom since “we live not by wrath. by mercy alone we live!” and end the cycle of violence. (He even castigates Luther and Calvin for prematurely sowing war against the papacy.). Los comes to embody the Spirit of Prophecy that is in all men. He recruits many others to act as “Labourers of the Harvest” (echoing one of Jesus’ parables), telling them to gather men into three groups: the allegedly (but not really) Elect, the (similarly) Reprobate, and Redeemed. Inverting Calvinist values, Blake tells us that the “Reprobate” are true believers, while the “Elect” are trapped in narcissistic moralism. The sons of Los engage in a mystical rapturous dance, mediating a Vision of Eternity. Los fires up his old smith forge, and also activates his Wine-press, that draws all variety of creatures into a universal ecstasy, which is however painful to those who have done evil and shed blood. Blake even suggests that in a temporal world, science (properly conceived) allows for a harmony of the “four faces of man” “Poetry, Painting, Music, And Architecture which is Science.” The Sons of Los engage in a saving vision of time “But others of the Sons of Los build Moments and Minutes and Hours/ And Days and Months and Years, and Ages and Periods: wondrous buildings! / And every Moment has a Couch of gold for soft repose –/A Moment equals a pulsation of the artery,” (M 28:44-47)) which is a kind of salvation of Experience.
The much shorter second and last book of Milton is about Milton’s personal purgation. It opens with a vision of a paradise called Beulah that is accessible in dreams to those in the fallen world. Harold Bloom points out that Beulah is “static and less than fully human” because it is a paradise without the contraries that are necessary to progress. It is restful but not a place of productive love. We are also told of an unfallen great Humanity who is inwardly one with God. “Lo the Eternal Great Humanity / To whom be Glory & Dominion Evermore/ Amen Walks among all his awful Family seen in every face/ As the breath of the Almighty.” (M, 30:15-18) However, humanity falls because the Emanations are frightened of human powers, and men are seduced into the false paradise of Beulah. But the emanations have seen “the Lord” coming in the clouds of Ololon (Milton’s female emanation), which causes them anguish. (Ololon appears first as a skylark and then as a twelve-year-old girl.) Beulah knows her land is a false paradise and so laments “Thou perceivest the Flowers put forth their precious Odours; …Forgetting that within that centre Eternity expands.” (M 31:48-49)
The action returns to Milton who now says he has “turned my back upon these Heavens builded on cruelty.” Milton now converses with angels who urge him to adopt an ethic of self-annihilation built on the confidence that he will not truly die because a part of him is truly Eternal.
God speaks out against a certain female willfulness that is motivated by jealousy and rebukes Beulah
Ololon looks into the realms of Ulro and shudders at the wars of Man called the “Loom of Death”
Blake/Milton enter into the “bosom” of Satan and beholds “Jerusalem bound” (echoing the title of Aeshylus’ play about Prometheus). Milton recognizes he once inadvertently served Satan but now understands the redemptive power of “self-annihilation.” Satan asks Milton to bow before him, but Milton fails to take the bait and replies “Obey thou the Words of the Inspired Man/ All that can be annihilated must be annihilated /That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery.” Milton now expounds Blake’s distinction between Negations and Contraries. Negations are real evils, but Contraries only apparent ones to the over-controlling mind.
There is a final joyous vision of the Great Harvest and Vintage of the Nations.
Blake’s final epic poem is Jerusalem: The Emanation of The Giant Albion. Each section is addressed to a specific group of people (most of whom with Blake disagrees.) Its main theme is that Albion (England and the Universal Man) has fallen into the sleep of Ulro (a hellish realm) causing a great deal of war from which it must be awakened. Book 1 (of four) is devoted to establishing this and is addressed “To the public.” Book 2 is addressed “to the Jews” and is about the Jews rejection of the Gospel of Jesus. (Here Harold Bloom comments “Blake shows a sadly conventional reading of the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. Though he caught precisely the prophetic spirit of Amos and Isaiah so precisely in most respects, he was incapable of freeing himself from the traditional Christian misinterpretations of Pharisaic religion” (Bloom 433-4)). The third section is addressed to the Deists and deals with the capitulation of Albion gripped by hatred and envy to his worst Spectres (selfhood of the divided man) and the Shadowy Female from Milton. The final section, opening with an address to the Christians, is about the triumph of Los, Blake, and Jesus.
The poem opens with an address to the public in which Blake states
Even from the depths of Hell his voice I hear,
The first book opens with invoking the Savior’s call for Albion to awake. Blake describes his poetic task as follows
Blake writes of how the Sons and Daughters of Albion live within every human breast and “controll our Vegetative powers.” The Sons of Albion make the fatal mistake of taking the Two Contraries within all substances and declaring them falsely to be Good and Evil. (Recall fromMilton that Negations are genuine evil, Contraries only apparent ones.)
Los now speaks words which are virtually a motto for Blake
Elsewhere in this section, Blake gives us a terrifying vision of an unredeemed nature and culture, blighted by Albion, full of terrors, bound by the Mundane Shell. This is offset by the way that Los and his builders try to build the good town of Golgonooza.
Los and his sons and daughters are each a “translucent wonder,” who have internally one gate open to the ‘vegetative’ world and another ‘gate of the tongue’ that is closed for now because of the fallenness of creation, but can open into eternity. Los meanwhile wrestles with his own capacity for rage and anger. Jerusalem tries to animate Vala, but Vala tries to seduce Jerusalem. At the same time, Blake sees fallen Albion, asleep in the “reasonings” of Bacon and Newton “like vast Serpents.” Just as the creation groans for deliverance, within it Albion groans “in the deep slumbers of Death.” We are later shown a vision of the sculptures in Los’ halls which are revelatory dramas of all that can happen to Man. Los pursues the Emanations of Albion, knowing that they are motivated by Envy and Revenge, embodying are genuinely bad Negations. Blake repeats his dictum from Milton that Negations are not Contraries. The Sons of Urizen are simply “An orbed Void of doubt, despair, hunger, & thirst & sorrow.” Albion does awake and “weary walks in misery and pain.”
Albion contemplates self-punishment. But Jerusalem replies to Albion
However, Albion refused divine forgiveness.
In the second book (addressed to the Jews), Blake introduces his theme of antipathy to the elevation of female Will over man. In the actual story line, a Spectrous Chaos speaks to Albion and reveals that he is his “Rational Power & that Human Form you call Divine is really a Worm.” Los then complains about the disharmony of male-female relations cited above and the elevation of Female Will over Man.
It is inappropriate because man and woman each have their own natures.