William Blake: From Antinomian Rebel To Prophet of Healing and Wholeness

Jonathan Lynn Harvey, MA

the-garden-of-loveAnd Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

The Garden of Love

And Caiaphas was in his own mind                   

A benefactor to mankind.
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white

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 The image “http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/72/THe_Four_Zoas.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.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

Early 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
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? (Tyger, 17-20)

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

3 Gleckner, Robert F. and Mark L. Greenberg, editors. Approaches to Teaching Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1989. pp. 21-3

4 Harold Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse (Doubleday Anchor, 1965), 49.

 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

Both tended to be “humanist” in their high estimate of man’s powers and their concern with man’s perspective on the universe. Both looked to this world and nature as the setting of the human drama… Both were attentive to the phenomena of human consciousness… Both found in classical culture a rich source of insight and values. Both were profoundly Promethean- in their rebellion against oppressive traditional structures, in their celebration of individual human genius, in their restless quest for human freedom, fulfillment, and bold exploration of the new.

But in each of these commonalities there were deep differences. In contrast with the spirit of the Enlightenment, the Romantic vision perceived the world as a unitary organism rather than an atomistic machine, exalted the ineffability of inspiration rather than the enlightenment of reason, and affirmed the inexhaustible drama of human life rather than the calm predictability of static abstractions. Whereas the Enlightenment temperament’s high valuation of man rested on his unequaled rational intellect and its power to comprehend and exploit the laws of nature, the Romantic valued man rather for his imaginative and spiritual aspirations, his emotional depths , his artistic creativity and powers of individual self-expression…

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,

Blake thus updated Jonathan Swift’s view that in reducing nature to a passive concourse of atoms- the billiard-ball universe- scientists reduce themselves to myopic obsessives capable of figuring out the universe only through their own microscopic projections. How could mechanical reason measure the infinite? …The universe was a mystery to be celebrated by the artist, not a puzzle to be solved by the scientist.

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

systematic moral perversion, divorced from the true gospel… Such sick religion causes the very abominations it deplores as censures…Blake as ever assails the Old Testament repressive regime of the ‘Low’ which creates the evils it pretends to coat. Warped value-systems which father misery, perversion and cruelty on God…rather than upon holier-than-thou pillars of orthodoxy have to be exposed for what they are.

Finally, Porter notes that

Blake’s denial of the depravity of the flesh and his celebration of ‘Energy [which] is the only life, and is from the Body’ distance him dramatically from the mainstream eighteenth-century desire to refine and discipline the body in the name of higher values. In endorsing physical desire and pleasure Blake may bear the most superficial resemblance to libertines for whom nothing was real but the joys of the flesh, and to utilitarians like Bentham for whom pleasure was the sole creation. Indeed, he [Blake] overtly celebrated sexual fulfillment…But Blake’s investment in the erotic utterly transcends the libertine or hedonistic; for the artist in him establishes the link between sexual energy and a higher aesthetic… It is of a piece with the creative fires of life.

Resurrection for Blake was the reunification of what had been one and whole in paradise but which had become divided, polarized into flesh and sprit, male and female and numerous other dichotomies. Reunification…was the essential meaning of resurrection, and the earnest of it was the pulse of the spirit within.

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.

…Blake’s myth has neither prototype nor parallel; but his hounding image is recognizably in the lineage of that ancient mythical being, the primal man or Ur-Adam, who falls into fragmentation. And Blake’s underlying premise, which he shares with other writers in this tradition, equates essential good with unity and essential evil with separateness. Blake’s Eden…is the ideal mental state of “Perfect Unity”…and in this original state his Universal Man, like the primal Adam of his predecessors, was sexually undivided, and incorporated all of mankind and the cosmos as well. His fall was a falling apart, a “fall into Division”; and since this is a fragmentation of unitary man both into isolated individuals and into an alien external world, the fall coincides with the creation of man and nature…the original sin in this fall was what Blake elsewhere calls “Selfhood,” the prideful attempt of a part of the whole to be self-sufficient and to subordinate other parts to its own desires and purposes

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.

Like his German contemporaries, Blake views the course of human history and the normative individual life as a return which is also a “progression.” It is only by an extreme historical injustice that Romanticism has been identified with the cult of the noble savage and the cultural idea of a return to an early stage of simple and easeful “nature” which lacks conflict because it lacks differentiation and complexity. On the contrary, all the major Romantic writers, and Blake most emphatically, set as the goal for mankind the reacheivement of a unity which has been earned by unceasing effort and which is, in Blake’s term, and “organized” unity, an equilibrium of opponent forces which preserves all the produces and powers of intellection and culture. Like his contemporaries, Blake recognized the strength of civilized man’s yearning for the simple self-unity of the life of infants and of instinctual creature, and he made a place for it in his geography of the mind: the state he called “Beulah,” the lower paradise of unorganizedinnocence “where no dispute can come.” But Beulah is a peaceable kingdom only in the negative sense that it lacks conflicting contraries, and its inhabitants enjoy only such primitive security as “the beloved infant in his mothers bosom round incircled…” This mental state has value to the Sons of Eden as a vacation resort which they can visit for “a mild and pleasant rest”; but it is dangerous, in its languor and sterility, because it can become a habitual refuge from “intellectual war.” that creative strife of contraries in the strenuous life of intellect and of imagination.

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.

Wu, Duncan and David Miall (1994). Romanticism: An Anthology. London: Basil Blackwell, xxxvi.

Richard Tharnas. The Passion of the Western Mind. (New York: Harmony Books, 1991.) 366-67

Porter, Roy. Flesh in the Age of Reason. (New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 2003), 437

ibid., 437

ibid, 434

ibid, 439

Porter, Flesh in the Age of Reason, 441

M.H. Abrams. Natural Supernaturalism. (W.W. Norton & Co., 1971) 257-258

Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism 260-261

ibid, 261 Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 263

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

Ranters…carried the gospel of love further than [others] were prepared to follow. Disclaiming ‘digging-levelling [sic] and sword-levelling [sic]’, Coppe proclaimed in a torrent of rhetoric a gospel of spiritual Levelling [sic] which is ‘Universall [sic] Love….who is putting down the mighty from their seats; and exalting them of love degree’/ Breaking from the constraints of a Puritan upbringing, some Ranters were said to have found relief in obscenities, swearing, grotesque inversions of sanctified themes and divine jests, the exhibition of nakedness and in sexual licence. This last, together with expressions of primitive communism, naturally attracted the attention of critics most of all. For Alexander Ross Ranters was ‘a sort of beast’, and for them, ‘Christian liberty…consists in community of all things, and among the rest, of women; which they paint over with an expression called the enjoyment of the fellow-creature.’

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

“antinomianism’s intellectual doctrines…constituted in quietest periods a defence against the reigning hegemony, in more active periods a resource for an active critique not just of policies or personalities but of the deep assumptions of the social order’….Antinomian doctrine was expressive of a profound distrust of the ‘reasons’ of the genteel and comfortable, and of ecclesiastical and academic institutions but because they offered specious apologetics for a rotten social order based, in the last resort, on violence and material self-interest. In short, the antinomian stance was not against knowledge but against the ideological assumptions which pretended to be knowledge and the ideological contamination of the rest.

        I am bringing into emphasis a  resource of antinomianism, a stance towards the polite culture, whose strength is most evident in the confidence which it gave to Blake…it is significant that antinomianism is an artisan or tradesman stance…For what may define the consciousness of these groups more clearly will be such factors as their degree of dependency; that is their dependence on or independence of the lines of interest, influence, preferment and patronage which structured that society from top to bottom. In so far as some – but by no means all- tradesmen and artisans had a degree of occupational independence from interest and patronage somewhat greater than their more affluent neighbors…so it was possible for a more robust, anti-Court, and sometimes republican consciousness to be nourished in this milieu.

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

struck very precisely at critical positions of the hegemonic culture, the ‘common sense’ of the ruling groups, which today can be seen to be intellectually unsound and sometimes to be no more than ideological apologetics. In particular, the dominant mechanistic…psychology with its set of stepping-stones from self-interest to rational benevolence…is challenged by the antinomian doctrine of the unlawed impulses of faith and love. The increasingly remote and impersonal image of God, the Newtonian prime mover of ‘Natural Religion’, is challenged by the personal embodied image of God/Christ. The profoundly paternalist character of the dominant social thought and moral sensibility is curtly challenged by the antinomian vocabulary of the humble saints persecuted by the temporal power. Above all, antinomianism offered a central challenge to the Moral Law in a society whose legitimating ideology was precisely that of Law.

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.

Robert Rix. William Blake and the Cultures of Radical Christianity (Cornwall: Ashgate Publishing. 2007) 14

ibid, 21

Rix, Radical Christianity 34

Thompson, E. P.( Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.)13

Thompson, Witness Against the Beast 13

ibid, 59

Thompson, Witness Against the Beast, 109

Thompon, Witness Against the Beast, 109-110

ibid, 110-111

Thompson, Witness Against the Beast 114

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.

Emmanuel Swedenborg Footnote to Heaven and Hell, para. 106

Bellin in Bellin, Harvey and Darrell Ruhl. Blake and Swedenborg (New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1985). 37

quoted in ibid, 45

The conclusion of Blake’s The Four Zoas

Raine in Raine in Bellin and Ruhl 1985, 73f

Kathleen Raine. Blake and Tradition  (New York: Princeton University Press. 2 vols. 1968.) Vol. 1, p. 6

ibid, Vol. 1, p. 225

Rix, Radical Christianity p. 82

Emmanuel Swedenborg. Conjugial Love paragraph 456

Readings of early poems in Songs of Innocence and Experience

Text Box: The Divine Image To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love All pray in their distress; And to these virtues of delight Return their thankfulness. For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love Is God our Father dear, And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love Is man, His child and care. For Mercy has a human heart, Pity, a human face, And Love, the human form divine, And Peace, the human dress. Then every man, of every clime, That prays in his distress, Prays to the human form divine, Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace. And all must love the human form, In heathen, Turk, or Jew; Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell There God is dwelling too. 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

Then if thou art the food of worms, O virgin of the skies,
How great thy use, how great thy blessing, every thing that lives.
Lives not alone nor or itself: fear not and I will call (Book of Thel, Plate 2, 23-25)

(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
[First draft]

But most the chimney sweepers cry

Blackens oer the churches walls

[Second draft]

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls;
In the new version, the churches are no longer passive, but have become complicit in the exploitation of children. London has become a hell in which the innocent are suffering, invoking the reader’s compassion and indignation. The final verse of “London” introduces another apocalyptic image, the harlot

But most, thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born Infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

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:
Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings peace,
Till the selfish loves increase:
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears;
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpillar and Fly
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree;
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain.

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

cannot be seen only as the driving out of self-love by affirmative love: it must also be seen as the reappropriation by man of his own humanity, by expelling the abstract, quantitative, ratiocinative power…and by reassuming the imaginative or poetic genius of the ancients who had ‘animated’ the first Gods of the earth and sea….The human world was a world of culture; ‘imaginary’ or not, anything created in the world of culture was real. The deists, with a mechanical and naturalistic psychology, placed an excessive emphasis upon material interest, whereas Blake, while appropriating some of their arguments, placed a full emphasis upon affective and imaginative ‘culture’ – an emphasis which became after 1795, as events in the world around him became increasingly confusing, discouraging or ominous, more and more extreme and idiosyncratic. With no alternative psychology to hand he set himself the impossible labours of the prophetic books, seeking to construct a syncretic mythology which would reorganise the myths of all past culture into a new structure.

The nature of that syncretic mythology and its value for Blake will occupy the remainder of this paper.

Rix, Radical Christianity 112-113

G.R. Sabri-Tabrizi. The “Heaven” and “Hell” of William Blake. (London: Lawrence and Wishart. 1973.), 26

ibid, 51

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake. 56

Thompson, Witness Against the Beast p. 168

Rix, Radical Christianity p. 115

Thompson, Witness Against the Beast 176-7

quoted in Thompson, ibid 178

Thompson Witness Against the Beast, 213

ibid 214

ibid  215

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

My friend the Angel climb’d up from his station into the mill; I remain’d alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I found mys[e]lf sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moon light hearing a harper who sung to the harp. & his theme was, the man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind. (Marriage, Plate 19)

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.

As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years since its advent: the Eternal Hell revives. And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting at the tomb: his writings are the linen clothes folded up. (Marriage, Plate 3)

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’

Now the sneaking serpent walks
In mild humility,
And the just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam. (Marriage, Plate 2 “The Argument”, 17-20

This is, as John Howard puts it, a ‘figure of hypocritical humility who usurps the fruits of the just man’s labor and drives him into the wilds.” (Howard 65)

A key section closing the opening section of the poem reads

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. (Marriage, Plate 3)

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

Man is only a Recipient of Life. From this Cause it is, that Man, from his own hereditary Evil, reacts against God; but so far as he believes that all his Life is from God, and every Good of Life from the Action of God, and every Evil of Life from the Reaction of Man

Blake in his annotation to this writes “Good & Evil are here both Good & the two contraries Married.” This ties in with the concluding verses of the opening section of Marriage

From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason[.] Evil is the active springing from Energy

Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell, (Marriage, Plate 3)

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.

  1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
  2. That Energy. calld Evil. is alone from the Body. & that Reason. called Good. is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True

  1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
  2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
  3. Energy is Eternal Delight (Marriage, Plate 4)

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

Those who restrain Desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason Usurps its place & governs the unwilling.

And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of Desire. (Marriage, Plate 5

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.

The history of this is written in Paradise Lost. & the Governor or Reason is call’d Messiah.

And the original Archangel or possessor of the command of the heavenly host, is calld the Devil or Satan and his children are call’d Sin & Death

 But in the Book of Job Miltons Messiah is call’d Satan.

For this history has been adopted by both parties

 It indeed appear’d to Reason as if Desire was cast out. but the Devils account is, that the Messiah fell. & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss (Marriage, Plate 5)

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

This is shewn in the Gospel, where he prays to the Father to send the Comforter or Desire that Reason may have Ideas to build on, the Jehovah of the Bible being no other than he who dwells in flaming fire (Marriage, Plate 5)

The Jehovah who “dwells in flaming fire” is a contrast to the God who dwells in Milton’s static heaven, as Blake asserts

Know that after Christs death, he became Jehovah.

But in Milton; the Father is Destiny, the Son, a Ratio of the five senses. & the Holy-ghost, Vacuum! (Marriage, Plate 5)

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

Restraint for Blake is a mode of indecision, and proceeds from a mind in chaos. Decision, true act, proceeds from the whole man, the imaginative mind, and must be good [because it proceeds from the whole man] for whatever is negative is a restraint upon another and not an act. Act stems from the only wealth, from life, but restraint is an omission of intellect, and springs from the poverty of lifelessness, the absence of the exuberance of mind delighting in its own forming powers.”

Likewise Northrop Frye believes:

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell…has nothing to do with the simple inversion of moral good and evil which is known as sadism and which form an important aspect of Romantic culture. This is a traditional error in the interpretation of Blake, and won which ignores the fact that Blake attaches two meanings to the word “hell,” one real and the other ironic…[The real hell] consolidates a moral virtue founded on terror with a moral evil founded on cruelty, and it exists because it is believed to be a part of “necessity/.”…for these [so-called]”Elect” anything which makes persecution and oppression seem less “necessary.” that is, any blow struck for human freedom, is their hell, and the announcement of a new hope, a new courage, a new faith and a new vision is, to them, “the voice of the devil.”

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

a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounced that he gods had orderd such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast. (Marriage, Plate 11)

Blake’s solution to this usurpation is to expand humanity’s imaginative wisdom to help them realize that

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern. (Marriage, Plate 14)

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

Then Ezekiel said. The philosophy of the east taught the first principles of human perception some nations held one principle for the origin & some another, we of Israel taught that the Poetic Genius (as you now call it) was the first principle (Marriage, Plate 12)

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

it was this [devotion to Poetic Genius] that our great poet King David desired so fervently & invokes so patheticly, saying by this he conquers enemies & governs kingdoms; and so we loved our God. that we cursed in his name all the deities of surrounding nations, and asserted that they had rebelled; from these opinions the vulgar came to think that all nations would at last be subject to the jews. (Marriage, Plate 13)

In his marginal annotations to Swedenborg, Blake came across a passage in which Swedenborg wrote

The Negation of God constitutes Hell, and in the Christian World the Negation of the Lord’s Divinity

Blake has written in the margin that ‘Hell’ comes from “Negation of the Poetic Genius.”Imagination for Blake is the main font of genuine moral good, as it keeps people open.

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)

The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains, are in truth, the causes of its life & the sources of all activity, but the chains are, the cunning of weak and tame minds, which have power to resist energy. according to the proverb, the weak in courage is strong in cunning(Marriage, Plate 16)

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.

By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us at an immense distance was the sun, black but shining round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders (Marriage, Plate 18)

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 replies

I answerd. All that we saw was owing to your metaphysics; for when you ran away, I found myself on a bank by moonlight hearing a harper (Marriage, Plate 19)

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

I by force suddenly caught him in my arms & flew westerly thro’ the night, till we were elevated above the earths shadow: then I flung myself with him directly into the body of the sun, here I clothed myself in white, & taking in my hand Swedenborgs volumes sunk from the glorious clime and passed all the planets till we came to saturn, here I staid to rest & then leap’d into the void, between saturn & the fixed stars.

Here said I! is your lot, in this space if space it may be calld, Soon we saw the stable and the church, & I took him to the altar and open’d the Bible, and lo! it was a deep pit, into which I descended driving the Angel before me, soon we saw seven houses of brick, one we enterd; in it were a number of monkeys. baboons, & all of that species chaind by the middle, grinning and snatching at one another, but withheld by the shortness of their chains: however I saw that they sometimes grew numerous, and then the weak were caught by the strong and with a grinning aspect, first coupled with & then devoured, by plucking off first one limb and then another till the body was left a helpless trunk. (Marriage, Plates 19 & 20)

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 worship of God is Honouring his gifts in other men each according to his genius. and loving the greatest men best, those who envy or calumniate great men hate God, for there is no other God. (Marriage, Plates 22 & 23))

The Angel claims this is blasphemy

The Angel hearing this became almost blue but mastering himself he grew yellow, & at last white pink & smiling, and then replied,

Thou Idolater, is not God One? & is not he visible in Jesus Christ? and has not Jesus Christ given his sanction to the law of ten commandments and are not all other men fools, sinners, & nothings? (Marriage, Plate 23)

to which the devil replies

if Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now hear how he has given sanction to the law of ten commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the sabbaths God? murder those who were murderd because of him? turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery? steal the labor of others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted making a defence before Pilate? covet when he pray’d for his disciples, and when he bid hem shake the dust off their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments; Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules. (Marriage, Plates 23-4)

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.”

Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn, no longer in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the sons of joy. Nor his accepted brethren, whom tyrant he calls free: lay the bound or build the roof. Nor pale religious letchery call that virginity that wishes but acts not! (Marriage, Plates 27)

For every thing 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.
Paley in Bellin and Ruhl 1985, 26

quoted in Bellin and Ruhl 1985, p. 26

Rix, Radical Christianity p. 126

Rix, ibid 130

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.

John Howard. Infernal Poetics: Poetic Structures in Blake’s Lambeth Prophecies. (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1984), 65

quoted is Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake 92

Sabri-Tabrizi, ibid 98

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake 121

Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse  77

Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse 82

Bloom, ibid 85

Northrop Frye Fearful Symmetry (Beacon Press. Boston, 1947) 198

Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse 88

Howard, Infernal Poetics 13

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake 143

ibid, 143

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake, 159

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake, 169

June Singer The Unholy Bible: Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious (Boston: Sigo Press, 1986), 10

ibid, 11

ibid, 34 ibid , 56

ibid, 48

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake 1

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake, 20

ibid, 48

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.”

The emerging myth in Daughters of Albion

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

Tell me what is a joy? & in what gardens do joys grow?

And in what rivers swim the sorrows? and upon what mountains

Wave shadows of discontent?

Tell me where dwell the joys of old! & where the ancient loves?

And when will they renew again & the night of oblivion past?

That I might traverse times and spaces far remote and bring

Comforts into a pre[s]ent sorrow and a night of pain (Albion, Plate 3:24-4:7)

Bromion assures Theotormon no such place exists

And are there other sorrows, beside the sorrows of poverty?

And are there other joys, beside the joys of riches and ease?

And is there not one law for both the lion and the ox?

And is there not eternal fire, and eternal chains?

To bind the phantoms of existence from eternal life? (Albion, Plate 4:20-24)

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.”

O Urizen! Creator of men! mistaken Demon of heaven;

Thy joys are tears! thy labour vain, to form men to thine image.

How can one absorb another? are not different joys

Holy, eternal, infinite! and each joy is a Love (Albion, Plate 5:3-6))

Oothoon encourages Theotormon to follow his bliss in “infant joys” in a positive vision of innocence.

…..Take thy bliss O Man!

And sweet shall be thy taste & sweet thy infant joys renew!

Infancy, fearless, lustful, happy! nestling for delight

In laps of pleasure; Innocence! honest, open, seeking

The vigorous joys of morning light;

Who taught thee modesty, subtil modesty! child of night & sleep

When thou awakest. wilt thou dissemble all thy secret joys

Or wert thou not awake when all this mystery was disclos’d!

Then com’st thou forth a modest virgin knowing to dissemble

With nets found under thy night pillow, to catch virgin joy,

And brand it with the name of whore: & sell it in the night, (Albion, Plate 6:2-12)

Religion is denounced as ‘hypocrite modesty.’ If it’s vision is true then

This knowing, artful, secret. fearful, cautious, trembling hypocrite.

Then is Oothoon a whore indeed! and all the virgin joys

Of life are harlots: and Theotormon is a sick mans dream

And Oothoon is the crafty slave of selfish holiness (Albion, Plate 6:17-20)

But Oothoon is not so, a virgin fill’d with virgin fancies

Open to joy and to delight where ever beauty appears

If in the morning sun I find it; there my eyes are fix’d

In happy copulation; if in evening mild, wearied with work;

Sit on a bank and draw the pleasures of this free born joy. (Albion, 6:21-7:2)

Echoing the conclusion of Marriage, Oothoon is sure that the concealing of sexual pleasure creates more problems than it solves

The moment of desire! the moment of desire! The virgin

That pines for man; shall awaken her womb to enormous joys

In the secret shadows of her chamber; the youth shut up from

The lustful joy, shall forget to generate, & create an amorous image

In the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow. (Albion, Plate 7:3-7)

 Traditional morals are motivated by convention that even results in a “frozen marriage bed”.

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.

B. Political prophetic books

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”.

The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
The bones of death, the cov’ring clay, the sinews shrunk & dry’d.
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing! awakening!
Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst;

Let the slave grinding at the mill, run out into the field:
Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;
Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years;
Rise and look out, his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
And let his wife and children return from the opressors scourge;
They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream.
Singing. The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease. (America, Plate 6 entire)

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.

…Orc tells of his method of opposing the tyranny and the results…He sees the “fiery joy” of impulse as having been perverted by the Urizenic [“night of the stony law”] and he intends to crush [it]. Since the delusion of moralism is one of the tools of religion, he will scatter the book of religion, whose scattered leaves will become the manure for rebirth of life in the desert (allusion to Isaiah 3:5) and the encompassing sea of materialism will be shrunk to become the fountains of life (as in Rev. 21:6) of the true God, hidden from man by the deluders…The restricting stone roof of morality will burst, opening life to the infinite. The sexuality, hidden by tyranny for its own secret enjoyment will be free of guilt, and virginity will be seen in the harlot, and plain, if coarse clad, honest impulse in sexual activity, which since the stony law is broke, cannot be defiled. The sexual impulse of the individual, as indeed all impulse, is from God, and the delight it its joy is not a thing that can not be truly defiled.

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.

Hidden set apart in my stern counsels

Reserv’d for the days of futurity,

I have sought for a joy without pain,

For a solid without fluctuation (Urizen, Plate 4: 8-11)

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.”

First I fought with the fire; consum’d

Inwards, into a deep world within

A void immense, wild dark & deep,

Where nothing was: Natures wide womb

And self balanc’d stretch’d o’er the void

I alone, even I! the winds merciless

Bound; but condensing, in torrents

They fall & fall; strong I repell’d

The vast waves, & arose on the waters

A wide world of solid obstruction

(Urizen, Plate 4:14-24)

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.

Laws of peace, of love, of unity:

Of pity, compassion, forgiveness.

Let each chuse one habitation:

His ancient infinite mansion:

One command, one joy, one desire,

One curse, one weight, one measure

One King, one God, one Law.

(Urizen, 4, 34-40)

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.”

The only effect of this is to create more sin in the world

1. The voice ended, they saw his pale visage
Emerge from the darkness; his hand
On the rock of eternity unclasping
The Book of brass. Rage siez’d the strong

2. Rage, fury, intense indignation
In cataracts of fire blood & gall
In whirlwinds of sulphurous smoke:
And enormous forms of energy;
All the seven deadly sins of the soul (Urizen, 4:41-49)

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.

He in darkness clos’d, view’d all his race,

And his soul sicken’d! he curs’d

Both sons & daughters; for he saw

That no flesh nor spirit could keep

His iron laws one moment.


Cold he wander’d on high, over their cities

In weeping & pain & woe!

And where-ever he wanderd in sorrows

Upon the aged heavens

A cold shadow follow’d behind him

Like a spiders web, moist, cold, & dim

Drawing out from his sorrowing soul

The dungeon-like heaven dividing.

Where ever the footsteps of Urizen

Walk’d over the cities in sorrow.

Till a Web dark & cold, throughout all

The tormented element stretch’d

From the sorrows of Urizens soul

And the Web is a Female in embrio

And all calld it, The Net of Religion (Urizen, 23:22 – 25:22. Plate 24 absent.)

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.

His decision is one that interprets the inevitable mixture of joy and pain of eternal existence as a death of the self. It is a hyper action of fear that leads to his delusion, just as the paranoid interprets all uncomfortable situations as threats. His offer of a solution to this “threat” is the paranoid’s solution to fear: control; and when the paranoid’s “solution” is rejected, or fails, he can then rage, curse and revile his “enemies” by implying their secret and criminal intentions.

Later, Howard observes that “the paranoid inverts the perception of his own inner flight to be a vision of treachery by others [so] Urizen now sees eternity separating from his delusive world.”

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

Now that Marriage is no longer being discussed, line numbers start over when the Plate number changes.

Howard, Infernal Poetics 108

Howard, Infernal Poetics 122

Howard, Infernal Poetics 124

Unusually, The Book of Urizen is divided into numbered chapters and numbered verses. However, we follow the same style of citation of plate and line numbers as for all of Blake’s other work.

Howard, Infernal Poetics 175

Howard, Infernal Poetics 159

Howard, Infernal Poetics 163

C. A Summary of The Long Epics

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

Four Mighty Ones are in every Man: a perfect Unity
Cannot exist but from the Universal Brotherhood of Eden,
The Universal Man, to Whom be glory evermore. Amen.
What are the Natures of those Living Creatures the Heavenly Father only
Knoweth: no Individual knoweth, nor can know in all Eternity. (Four Zoas 3:4-8)

Continuing on about the Universal Man, Blake early announces that the subject of his poem is

His fall into Division & his Resurrection to Unity

His fall into the Generation of Decay & Death & his

Regeneration by the Resurrection from the dead

Begin with Tharmas Parent power. (Four Zoas, 4:4-8)

Tharmas is tormented by fear and anxiety which he passes on immediately to his female Emanation Enion who falls next.

Enion said—Thy fear has made me tremble thy terrors have surrounded met

All Love is lost Terror succeeds & Hatred instead of Love

And stern demands of Right & Duty instead of Liberty.

Once thou wast to Me the loveliest son of heaven—But now

Why art thou Terrible and yet I love thee in thy terror (Four Zoas, 4:17-21)

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 Luvah’s robes of blood, and bearing all his afflictions.” (FZ 13:8-9)  Similarly, The Zoa of Los has a female counterpart Enitharmon, and it is she who calls down Urizen to descend and establish order. Los is furious at the setting up of Urizen to be a new God. This couple Los and Enitharmon see that all of society is now afflicted. “See the river Red with the blood of /Men. swells lustful round my rocky knees/ My clouds are not the clouds of verdant fields & groves of fruit/ But Clouds of Human Souls. my nostrils drink the lives of Men.” (FZ 14:13-14)

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)

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song,
Or Wisdom for a dance in the street? No! it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath — his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither’d field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain. (Four Zoas, 35:11-15)

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

But Tharmas rode on the dark Abyss. the voice of Tharmas rolld

Over the heaving deluge. he saw Los & Enitharmon

Emerge In strength & brightness from the Abyss his bowels yearnd over them….

And he said Wherefore do I feel such love & pity

Ah Enion Ah Enion Ah lovely lovely Enion

How is this All my hope is gone for ever fled (Four Zoas, 47:1-9)

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.

Then All in Great Eternity Met in the Council of God

as one Man Even Jesus upon Gilead & Hermon

Upon the Limit of Contraction to create the fallen Man

The Fallen Man stretchd like a Corse upon the oozy Rock (Four Zoas, 99:1-4))

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

And Los & Enitharmon builded Jerusalem weeping Over the Sepulcher & over the Crucified body

Which to their Phantom Eyes appear’d still in the Sepulcher

But Jesus stood beside them in the Spirit

Separating Their Spirit from their body. Terrified at Non Existence

For such they deemd the death of the body (Four Zoas, 117:1-6)

followed by a series of apocalyptic images

Then fell the fires of Eternity, with loud and shrill
Sound of loud Trumpet, thundering along from heaven to heaven,
A mighty sound articulate: `Awake! ye Dead, and come
To Judgment from the four winds! awake, and come away!’


The thrones of Kings are shaken, they have lost their robes and crowns;
The Poor smite their oppressors, they awake up to the harvest;
The naked warriors rush together down to the seashore,
Trembling before the multitudes of slaves now set at liberty: (Four Zoas, 117:10-21)

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

They see him whom they have pierc’d; they wail because of him;
They magnify themselves no more against Jerusalem, nor
Against her little ones. The Innocent, accused before the judges,
Shines with immortal glory: trembling, the Judge springs from his throne,
Hiding his face in the dust beneath the prisoner’s feet, and saying:
`Brother of Jesus, what have I done? Entreat thy Lord for me!
Perhaps I may be forgiven.’ (The Four Zoas, 123:20-16)

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.

`Come forth, O Vala! from the grass and from the silent dew;
Rise from the dews of death, for the Eternal Man is risen!’ (The Four Zoas, 126:31-32)

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.

Where Satan, making to himself Laws from his own identity,
Compell’d others to serve him in moral gratitude and submission,
Being call’d God (Milton, 11:10-12)

Los, the father of Orc, opposes Satan’s false morality.

If you account it Wisdom when you are angry to be silent, and

Not to shew it: I do not account that Wisdom but Folly.

Every Mans Wisdom is peculiar to his own Individ[u]ality (Milton, 4:6-8)

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

And Milton said: `I go to Eternal Death! The Nations still
Follow after the detestable Gods of Priam, in pomp
Of warlike Selfhood, contradicting and blaspheming.
When will the Resurrection come to deliver the sleeping body
From corruptibility? O when, Lord Jesus! wilt Thou come?
Tarry no longer, for my soul lies at the gates of death.
I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave;
I will go down to the sepulchre to see if morning breaks;
I will go down to self-annihilation and Eternal Death;

What do I here before the Judgement without my Emanation,
With the Daughters of Memory, and not with the Daughters of Inspiration?
I, in my Selfhood, am that Satan! I am that Evil One!
He is my Spectre! In my obedience to loose him from my Hells,
To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death.’

And Milton said: `I go to Eternal Death!’ Eternity shudder’d; (Milton, 14:14-33)

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.

….that Milton may come to our tents.
For I will put on the Human Form, and take the Image of God,
Even Pity and Humanity; but my clothing shall be Cruelty.
And I will put on Holiness as a breastplate and as a helmet.
And all my ornaments shall be of the gold of broken hearts (Milton, 18:18-22)

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

O Swedenborg! strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the Churches;
Showing the Transgressors in Hell, the proud Warriors in Heaven,
Heaven as a Punisher, and Hell as One under Punishment;
With Laws from Plato and his Greeks to renew the Trojan Gods
In Albion, and to deny the value of the Saviour’s blood (Milton, 22:50-54)

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.

Judge then of thy Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore

What is Eternal & what Changeable? & what Annihilable!

The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself

Affection or Love becomes a State, when divided from Imagination

The Memory is a State always, & the Reason is a State

Created to be Annihilated & a new Ratio Created

Whatever can be Created can be Annihilated Forms cannot

The Oak is cut down by the Ax, the Lamb falls by the Knife

But their Forms Eternal Exist, For-ever (Milton 32:30-38)

God speaks out against a certain female willfulness that is motivated by jealousy and rebukes Beulah

And the Divine Voice was heard in the Songs of Beulah, saying:
`When I first married you, I gave you all my whole soul;
I thought that you would love my loves and joy in my delights,
Seeking for pleasures in my pleasures, O Daughter of Babylon!
Then thou wast lovely, mild, and gentle; now thou art terrible
In Jealousy and unlovely in my sight, because thou hast cruelly
Cut off my loves in fury, till I have no Love left for thee. (Milton 33:1-7)

Ololon looks into the realms of Ulro and shudders at the wars of Man called the “Loom of Death”

How are the Beasts & Birds & Fishes, & Plants &  Minerals

Here fixd into a frozen bulk subject to decay & death[?]

Those Visions of Human Life & Shadows of Wisdom & Knowledge

Are here frozen to unexpansive deadly destroying terrors[.]

And War & Hunting: the Two Fountains of the River of Life

Are become Fountains of bitter Death & of corroding Hell

Till Brotherhood is changd into a Curse & a Flattery

By Differences between Ideas, that Ideas themselves, (which are

The Divine Members) may be slain in offerings for sin (Milton 34:53-35:6)

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.

The Negation is the Spectre, the Reasoning Power in Man:
This is a false Body, an Incrustation over my Immortal
Spirit, a Selfhood which must be put off and annihilated away.

To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by self-examination,
To bathe in the waters of Life, to wash off the Not Human,
I come in Self-annihilation and the grandeur of Inspiration;
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour,
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration,
To cast off Bacon, Locke, and Newton from Albion’s covering,
To take off his filthy garments and clothe him with Imagination; (Milton, 40:34-41:6)

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

The Spirit of Jesus is continual forgiveness of Sin: he who waits to be righteous before he enters into the Saviours kingdom, the Divine Body; will never enter there. I am perhaps the most sinful of men! I pretend not to holiness! yet I pretend to love, to see, to converse with daily, as man with man, & the more to have an interest in the Friend of Sinners. (Jerusalem, Plate 3)

later stating

Even from the depths of Hell his voice I hear,

Within the unfathomd caverns of my Ear.

Therefore I print; nor vain my types shall be:

Heaven, Earth & Hell, henceforth shall live in harmony (Jerusalem, Plate 3)

The first book opens with invoking the Savior’s call for Albion to awake. Blake describes his poetic task as follows

Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish’d at me.

Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task!

To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes

Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity

Ever expanding in the Bosom of God. the Human Imagination

O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:

Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life! (Jerusalem 5:16-22)

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.)

It is the Reasoning Power,
An Abstract objecting power, that negatives everything.
This is the Spectre of Man, the Holy Reasoning Power,
And in its Holiness is closèd the Abomination of Desolation! (Jerusalem 10:13-16)

Los now speaks words which are virtually a motto for Blake

I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s;
I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create. (Jerusalem10:20-21)

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.

Is that Calvary and Golgotha
Becoming a building of Pity and Compassion? Lo!
The stones are Pity, and the bricks well-wrought Affections
Enamell’d with Love and Kindness; (Jerusalem 12:28-31

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.”

O Jerusalem Jerusalem I have forsaken thy Courts

Thy Pillars of ivory & gold: thy Curtains of silk & fine

Linen: thy Pavements of precious stones: thy Walls of pearl

And gold, thy Gates of Thanksgiving thy Windows of Praise:

Thy Clouds of Blessing; thy Cherubims of Tender-mercy

Stretching their Wings sublime over the Little-ones of Albion

O Human Imagination O Divine Body I have Crucified

I have turned my back upon thee into the Wastes of Moral Law:

There Babylon is builded in the Waste, founded in Human desolation.

O Babylon thy Watchman stands over thee in the night

Thy severe judge all the day long proves thee O Babylon

With provings of destruction, with giving thee thy hearts desire.

But Albion is cast forth to the Potter his Children to the Builders

To build Babylon because they have forsaken Jerusalem (Jerusalem 24: 17-30)

Albion contemplates self-punishment. But Jerusalem replies to Albion

Why should Punishment weave the veil with Iron Wheels of War,

When Forgiveness might it weave with Wings of Cherubim? (Jerusalem 22:34-35)

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.

There is a Throne in every Man: it is the Throne of God.
This, Woman has claim’d as her own; and Man is no more:
Albion is the Tabernacle of Vala and her Temple,
And not the Tabernacle and Temple of the Most High.
O Albion! why wilt thou create a Female Will, (Jerusalem, Plate 30:27-31)

It is inappropriate because man and woman each have their own natures.

If Perceptive Organs vary: Objects of Perception seem to vary:

If the Perceptive Organs close: their Objects seem to close also:

Consider this O mortal Man! O worm of sixty winters said Los

Consider Sexual Organization & hide thee in the dust. (Jerusalem, Plate 30:55-58)

Albion rages. Los tries to rescue Albion and trying to impress upon Albion a vision of Universal Humanity in Jesus

Our wars are wars of life, & wounds of love,

With intellectual spears, & long winged arrows of thought:

Mutual in one anothers love and wrath all renewing

We live as One Man; for contracting our infinite senses

We behold multitude; or expanding: we behold as one

As One Man all the Universal Family; and that One Man
We call Jesus the Christ. (Jerusalem, Plate 34:14-20

A long section follows in which the Cities of Britain try to deliver Albion. The Four Zoas are undone and delivered up to their rages. A fallen state emerges in which all men are enslaved to their Spectres.

Each Man is in his Spectre’s power
Until the arrival of that hour,
When his Humanity awake,
And cast his Spectre into the Lake.

Los is furious at the false God that now rules

Why stand we here trembling around

Calling on God for help; and not ourselves in whom God dwells

Stretching a hand to save the falling Man: (Jerusalem, Plate 38:12-14)

characterizing this God as

A pretence of Art to destroy Art; a pretence of Liberty

To destroy Liberty; a pretence of Religion to destroy Religion (Jerusalem 38:35-36)

In an especially clever play on Jesus apocalyptic speech, the Four Zoas describes the disharmony between humanity as due to the false religion

Alas!—The time will come, when a mans worst enemies

Shall be those of his own house and family: in a Religion

Of Generation, to destroy by Sin and Atonement, happy Jerusalem,

The Bride and Wife of the Lamb. (Jerusalem Plate 41:25-8)

Amidst this action Los prays for a genuine Divine Saviour to arise to free them from the “Opressors of Albion.” Angels who try to help Albion get blighted by Selfhood. When Albion embarks on an especially evil religion of human sacrifice (symbolized by Blake as Druidism), the spirit of Erin (Ireland) cries out a lament to vanished Jerusalem and tries to separate her from Albion. Erin then describes humanity as having a limited human vision

The Visions of Eternity, by reason of narrowèd perceptions,
Are become weak Visions of Time and Space, fix’d into furrows of Death;
Till deep dissimulation is the only defence an honest man has left.

(Jerusalem, Plate 49: 21-3)

Man is “shut in doleful form” while Albion’s inhabitants worship a false “murderous Providence.” Erin prays that the “Lamb of God” will come and establish a reign of forgiveness of sins as opposed to either open evil or the deceptive hiding of Sin which characterizes the current religion.

The third book (addressed to Deists) opens with Los mourning over Urthona (imagination). Albion’s Spectre rises and declares himself God imposing an oppressive scientism on the people.

But the Spectre, like a hoar-frost and a mildew, rose over Albion,
Saying: `I am God, O Sons of Men! I am your Rational Power!
Am I not Bacon and Newton and Locke, who teach Humility to Man,
Who teach Doubt and Experiment? and my two wings, Voltaire, Rousseau?
Where is that Friend of Sinners, that Rebel against my Laws,
Who teaches Belief to the Nations and an unknown Eternal Life?
Come hither into the desert and turn these stones to bread!
Vain, foolish Man! wilt thou believe without Experiment,
And build a World of Phantasy upon my great Abyss,
A World of Shapes in craving lust and devouring appetite? (Jerusalem, Plate 54:15-24)

Blake sees Deists as creating more violence and oppression than the Christianity that they oppose. In a discussion what is wrong with this thinking, Blake develops a doctrine of human uniqueness and of pre-emptive prevention of suffering. “It is better to prevent misery than to release from misery.”

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer;
For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars,
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power:
The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity. (Jerusalem, Plate 55:56-60)

Blake also puts forward a vision of a total union of the Sacred and secular which he sees as opposed to rationalism.

What is a Wife & what is a Harlot? What is a Church? & What

Is a Theatre? are they Two & not One? can they Exist Separate?

Are not Religion & Politics the Same Thing? Brotherhood is Religion

O Demonstrations of Reason Dividing Families in Cruelty & Pride!

 (Jerusalem, Plate 57:8-11)

The Daughters of Los have been reduced to menial labor, which they nonetheless pursue with pity and compassion, while the daughters of Albion are “naked and drunk.” Urizen builds a Druid temple with human sacrifice. Jerusalem works in the “Satanic mills” of industrialism. Vala spreads war throughout the world. Slaves sing the “Song of the Lamb” to which Jerusalem responds. At this critical point there is an unusual section on the Advent of Jesus in which Blake vigorously denies the doctrine of the Virgin Birth but instead presents us with an adulterous Mary who is nonetheless forgiven by Joseph. This is Blake’s way of heavily (and shockingly) establishing an ethic of forgiveness as crucial to the Heavenly Kingdom. Meanwhile Albion is still a desolate world in which even nature, animals, and plants are stricken.  A female Spectre and sexual tormentor named Tirzah tortures those who abandon her. Noble warriors lament that the beautiful Daughter of Albion has become a murderess. “she goes forth from Albion/ In pride of beauty, in cruelty of holiness.” She (though not the mother of Jesus) is a Virgin. She is also the cause of wars and the warrior laments this is so.

I must rush again to War, for the Virgin has frown’d and refus’d.
Sometimes I curse, and sometimes bless thy fascinating beauty.
Once Man was occupièd in intellectual pleasures and energies;
But now my Soul is harrow’d with grief and fear, and love and desire,
And now I hate, and now I love, and Intellect is no more: (Jerusalem Plate 68:64-8)

Again, Blake speaking of the fall of the Four Zoas sets up the contrast between the Reasoning Spectre and Imagination

The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man; & when separated

From Imagination, and closing itself as in steel, in a Ratio

Of the Things of Memory. It thence frames Laws & Moralities

To destroy Imagination! the Divine Body, by Martyrdoms & Wars

Teach me O Holy Spirit the Testimony of Jesus! let me

Comprehend wonderous things out of the Divine Law

I behold Babylon in the opening Street of London, I behold

Jerusalem in ruins wandering about from house to house (JerusalemPlate 74:10-17)

The smith Los then forges many sacred statues and images which will eventually aid the recover of Albion, but not just yet.

The final book of Jerusalem is addressed to the Christians. The action begins with a triumphant vision of Jerusalem reminiscent of the conclusion of the Book of Revelation. It celebrates the virtue of forgiveness. Jerusalem summons up a spirit of love over wrath, and manages to transform Vala. Although Vala almost overcomes Jerusalem, she triumphs. There are lines which have been described as Blake’s ultimate manifesto about both the worship of God and the nature of God.

Go tell them that the Worship of God is honouring His gifts
In other men, and 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.

He who would see the Divinity must see Him in His Children,
One first in friendship and love, then a Divine Family, and in the midst
Jesus will appear. So he who wishes to see a Vision, a perfect Whole,
Must see it in its Minute Particulars, organized; and not as thou,
O Fiend of Righteousness, pretendest!

You smile with pomp and rigour, you talk of benevolence and virtue;
I act with benevolence and virtue, and get murder’d time after time;
You accumulate Particulars, and murder by analysing, that you
May take the aggregate, and you call the aggregate Moral Law;
And you call that swell’d and bloated Form a Minute Particular.
But General Forms have their vitality in Particulars; and every
Particular is a Man, a Divine Member of the Divine Jesus. (Jerusalem Plate 91:7-30)

Los praises wisdom over good and evil. Albion still lies in a death trance upon his rock.  Then the “Breath Divine” emerges as an instrument of God’s wrath. Jesus appears and Albion is repentant yet hopeless. Jesus states “unless I die thou canst not live/ But if I die I shall arise again & thou with me.” Albion asks if this kind of self-offering of one to another is really necessary and Jesus replies that all kindness of one to another is the Divine Image and that his death is an exemplar of that.

Wouldest thou love one who never died
For thee, or ever die for one who had not died for thee?
And if God dieth not for Man, and giveth not Himself
Eternally for Man, Man could not exist; for Man is Love,
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little Death
In the Divine Image; nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood.’ (Jerusalem, Plate 96:23-28)

At this point Albion throws himself into the fires of Los, which become fountains of living water. The separated Zoas reunite and all Humanity unites in a divine Body and humanity and all nature are fully redeemed.

Sabri-Tabrizi, Heaven and Hell of William Blake 209

Bloom, Blake’s Apocalypse 205

Although The Four Zoas is divided into nine sections, Plate numbers to do not start over with each section. All references will be to plate and line only.

The numbering of the plates in Book 2 of Jerusalem is disputed. This paper follows the pagination of copies A,C,F used in the Erdman anthologies, not that of copies D & E in the Keynes anthologies.

This frequently quoted line is actually engraved on the backside of one of the plates and appears on a tablet in one of the illustrations, but is not in the primary text.

D. Theology of the Long Epics

Blake’s long epics tell a long story of Fall, Redemption, and Apocalypse. The Fall is the dominant subject of The Four Zoas, which in turn gives a more detailed account of material covered earlier in The Book of Urizen. The poems further elaborate on themes that were developed earlier in Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The vision of these books is mystical and prophetic/political simultaneously.

For Blake, the fall is an ongoing process. It is healed by the poet and prophet who unite the two states of Innocence and Experience. They must both mourn the fallenness of humanity and act as agents of healing. The fallenness is brought about by the false God of Urizen, an oppressive tyrant, though Urizen seems to come out of the earlier fall of Albion. It is Urizen who condemns the Lamb of God to death, but Urizen is himself resurrected by Lord Jesus. Blake’s attitude to Nature is ambivalent. He is not fond of the vision of Nature given by Deists, because for Blake redemption involves the transformation of Nature and the Deists are looking for God in a fallen Nature. The heavily metaphysical discourse of Vortexes in Milton is about Blake’s vision of fallen Nature in which vortexes are internal essences of things which are affected by human action. Because of Blake’s high premium on Imagination, he does not believe we should limit ourselves to simple sense-perceptions in the way advocated by John Locke and other deists. After all, our senses too are fallen. This notion is found in Blake’s earliest poem There is No Natural Religion and continues in works like The Everlasting Gospel.

However, for all of his negativity towards a Deist emphasis on nature and sense-perception, Blake himself puts a very high premium on the body and sexuality! Blake will have none of classical Christianity’s gulf between man and God. Blake uses sexual imagery to reflect life in the Godhead. As Thomas Altizer puts it, “Blake knows the very reality of sex as the deepest epiphany of the Divine Man, and thus he can identify the actual passion of sex as the radiant presence of an energy either demonic or divine.” (Altizer 19) But Blake also has a horror for fallen sex as reflected in poem “The Sick Rose” from Songs of Experience. Sex which is ‘dark’ and ‘secret’ or involves, as Europe puts it, ‘stolen joys’ is corrosive. Fallen sex leads to war between the genders and warfare generally. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell celebrates the Body as the source of energy.

While sex is usually a life-giving force for Blake, a major source of evils is Reason, which in Jerusalem is practically identified with the forbidden fruit. Reason cannot create but is a “dead lifeless power.” It leads to isolated Selfhood. The fallenness of Albion creates a hellish realm which in Milton is called Ulro. Therein our perception of space is altered and limited. The limitations of this shrunken space cannot be altered by “Microscope” or “Telescope” (Milton, Plate 29) but only by visionary works created by the “Hammer of Los.” Blake passionately opposed the Christianity of his era as much as Nietzsche did. It is based on restraint of Desire and dry rationality, resulting in murderous oppression and the sacrifice of the Innocent. The Female for Blake has a duality, both as “a process of demonic destruction and [of] divine regeneration.” Jerusalem is dominated by both the demonic goddess Vala and the redemptive goddess Jerusalem, with Enitharmon being ambivalent. (It should be noted that in the earlier poem Europe: A Prophecy, Enitharmon is a wholly negative representative of the religion of chastity, guilt, and retribution. In The Four Zoas, this role is given to Vala, and Enitharmon is a transitional figure between Vala and Jerusalem.)  They also represent fallen and unfallen sexuality. Fallen female sexuality is a consequence of Urizen’s self-elevation. “The Synagogue Created her [Vala] from the Fruit of Urizen’s tree” (Four Zoas, Night Eight). The Shadowy Female is a figure in both Milton and Jerusalem who “shrinks the Organs of Life till they become Finite & Itself seems Infinite” (Milton). The Shadowy Female (or Vala) acts to protect herself from the alleged terrors of Orc, creating a cruel moral virtue based on illusion. This is the dominant theme of The Four Zoas, and the destruction of Vala’s veil is a key scene in Jerusalem. Her domination turns life into death, creating an impotent shrunken sexuality that is dehumanizing. It is because of Vala that all males have become a “ravening eating Cancer growing in the Female” (Jerusalem, Plate 68). In counteraction to this, Blake wants to create society that is free politically and psychically and sexually.

Blake went through a period of being influenced by Swedenborg who believed a new era had dawned in the year he had his visions, which was also the year of Blake’s birth. Like Swedenborg, Blake looked forward to an era of “The Everlasting Gospel,” both a phrase in Swedenborg’s writings and the title of a poem by Blake. Disillusioned with Swedenborg, Blake for a while discarded Christian imagery and worked only in the language of his private mythology and spoke only of human fallenness, until both Christian imagery and a vision of redemption reappear in the late works. When Jesus reappears, he once again as he was in “The Divine Image” fromSongs of Innocence, a figure of mercy, pity, and peace. In his first poem when Blake declaredThere is No Natural Religion, Blake stressed the importance of Incarnation. “Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” In his last poem Jerusalem, Jesus has died (having become subject to Experience) and is resurrected, having now made all men part of his nature. Jesus has become “the Universal Humanity” but in opposition to church dogma, for this Jesus is revealed in creation wherever vitality is. Jesus the “Good shepherd” (Jerusalem Plate 38) is in human Experience, but not in the traditional church. Blake vigorously rejects all theology of blood-atonement, the condemnation of which is the subject of Blake’s poem The Ghost of Abel. However, in Jerusalem Blake puts forward a positive notion of atonement of his own. Earlier in The Four Zoas, Luvah symbolized and energy and passion which potentially can be good or evil. Luvah had cried out to Jesus, and put on the robes of blood, seeking Jesus. In Jerusalem, Blake identifies Luvah with the Lamb of God, identifying Christ with positive passion that is self-giving.

Many critics of Blake see his vision of Creation as essentially Gnostic in character, and indeed in both Notebooks and correspondence Blake had described Nature itself as the work of the Devil. But Blake also holds out for the possibility of a redemptive transfiguration of the cosmos. His earlier Book of Urizen is very vulnerable to the charge of Gnosticism. However, in The Four Zoas creation is given a redemptive ground. Furthermore, in Jerusalem Nature even plays an active role in redemption, acting as a reflection of God. In both Milton and Jerusalem, even the limits of creation have a redemptive purpose, as do the artistic creations of the Sons of Los molded from natural forms. Earlier in the relatively late poem “Auguries of Innocence,” Blake had written the famous lines “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour.” In Jerusalem, it is Jesus breaking through the “Zones” of Hell that “opens Eternity in Time & Space” (Jerusalem, Plate 75).

While The Four Zoas is filled with recriminations against females who advocated sexual repression (mainly Vala), Blake later develops a positive vision of woman, indeed making her an agent of both fall and redemption. In Night the Eighth of The Four Zoas, Enitharmon the female emanation of Los looks to the “Universal female” Jerusalem for redemption. Both the dark female Vala and Jerusalem wear veils that conceal their ‘secret parts,’ but Jerusalem acts always out of sacrificial and maternal love, reviving humanity to life, while Vala spurns the imperative to raise the dead. Vala was alternately the husband of Albion and an emanation of the passionate Luvah, but now conceals the Divine Vision, concealing God in her sexual parts (Jerusalem, Plate 34), like the Shadowy Female that in Milton “shrinks the Organs of life.” That poem even suggests that Satan has sinned because of the influence of his mistress, Leutha, who takes responsibility for Satan’s actions in a way that helps set redemption in motion.

In Jerusalem Blake also sees the world of sexual generation as linked with the Incarnation of Christ, although orthodoxy resists this since it has sealed up generation in Vala’s veil.

O holy Generation! [Image] of regeneration!

O point of mutual forgiveness between Enemies!

Birthplace of the Lamb of God incomprehensible

The Dead despise & scorn thee, & cast thee out as accursed:

Seeing the Lamb of God in thy gardens & thy palaces:

Where they desire to place the Abomination of Desolation.

(Jerusalem, Plate 90: 65-70)

It has been repeatedly noted that Blake’s poetry is simultaneously highly mystical and at the same time heavily engaged with history. Pivotal to understanding Milton is the vision of two paradises, Beulah and Eden, the former dreamy and passive, symbolizing failed (or fallen) Innocence, the latter embodying genuine union between God and man. Beulah is described in The Four Zoas as “a soft Moony Universe” whose daughters visit sleepers in their dreams. Of necessity, Experience leads one out of Beulah. In Night One of Zoas, one of the daughters of Beulah takes a “moment of time” and makes “windows into Eden” with it. Beulah falls when Albion falls and becomes the object of a selfish search of those who forsake “Universal love” in Night Seven. In the redemption of Jerusalem, the new paradise is Eden associated with the universal body of Jesus, “the Universal Family, and that One Man/ We call Jesus the Christ; and he in us, and we in him/ Live in perfect harmony in Eden.” When Jerusalem awakes, she abandons Beulah’s “pleasant lovely shadowy Universe/ Where no dispute can come, created for those who Sleep.” Jerusalem is thus the embodiment of positive Experience to Beulah’s negative Innocence.
An important element of redemption for Blake is how humans view Nature. One of Urizen’s negative achievements is the creation of the “Mundane Shell.” It is a symbol both of the sky (like the “firmament” in Genesis) and represents “single vision.”  It is “an immense Harden’d shadow of all things upon our Vegetated Earth…a cavernous Earth of labyrinthine intricacy” (Milton Plate 17). Beyond the stars, the Shell contacts eternity “The Vegetative Universe…expand in Stars to the Mundane Shell.” (Jerusalem, Plate 13). Significantly in Jerusalem, the Shell is both“The Habitation of the Spectres of the Dead, & the Place/ Of Redemption & of awaking again into Eternity.”  The Mundane Shell as a limitation of how we see Nature comes into being due to the fall of Albion, and it also plays a role in redemption with the awakening of Albion.

Jesus is redemptive for Blake because he acts in history to open up the vision of Eternity. Jesus is “Universal Humanity” and penetrator of darkness. Jesus dies and rises again and in doing so takes Albion with him. He dies for man exemplifying that “every kindness to another is a little Death.” He awakes the sleeper “of the land of shadows,” and joins humanity with him “mutual in love divine” (Jerusalem, Plate 4). Jesus is both the Lamb of Innocence and a man of all human Experience.

Blake mandates that Vision has to always appear in “Minute Particulars” and not in generalities. Blake attributes a great deal of worth and dignity to human individuals, but he does not view them as isolated monads. A cryptic passage in Milton talks about States and Individuals. “Distinguish therefore States from Individuals in those States/ States Change, but Individual Identities never change nor cease. You cannot go to Eternal Death in that which can never Die.” An individual cannot stay bound to a particular state. The state of an individual will die, but as an individual soul, he will live. Although “the Oak is cut down by the ax, the Lamb falls by the Knife/ But their Forms Eternal Exist For-ever.” This is exemplified by God being willing to die. Blake is pleading with humanity to accept change along with human dignity.

A key concept of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was “Without Contraries is no progression.” In that poem, this is meant in opposition to Swedenborg’s dualistic Correspondences. The theme is further taken up in Milton when Blake declares that “Contraries are positive. A Negation is not a contrary.” and “The Negation must be destroy’d to redeem the Contraries.” But the destruction of the Negations is by “Self-annihilation” and “Inspiration” and indeed Jerusalem affirms that Man constantly needs a “New Selfhood” and be changed “into his direct Contrary.” But it is in the restricting vision of the “Sons of Albion” that “Two Contraries” are named “Good & Evil.” This is a main sin of Urizen. Blake’s apocalypse involves a reuniting of Contraries in the Universal Humanity of Jesus, a wholeness paradoxically achieved in Jesus’ admonition of “self-annihilation,” which contrasts with Urizen’s mistaken imperative to keep reality static. Urizen has to die to his inward-turned selfishness and learn that “The Pangs of Eternal birth are better than the Pangs of Eternal death” (Four Zoas, Night Ninth). In Milton, the titular poet is transformed into a State of “Eternal Annihilation” through which men must pass to triumph over death. Milton learns that “each shall mutually Annihilate himself for others’ good, as I for thee,” which contrasts with the punitive rules of the “false heavens” that Milton used to believe in. Milton will teach others to despise death. This is the resolution of Blake’s antinomianism. No one is beholden to the abstract demands of a distant God. The old abstract divine image dies along with human selfishness in this new ethic. Yet Blake also gives us a Jesus that seeks out sinners by descending into the depths of darkness. In Blake’s new ethic, sin is separation, and redemption is “Jerusalem in every man.” Jesus’ death redeems Albion by teaching Albion how to die to self. The old God is revealed to be Antichrist, but even Antichrist is redeemed, in a complete regeneration of the cosmos.

As with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell it is just as possible to read these epics psychoanalytically as theologically.     Blake placed a premium above all else on Imagination, conceived in a manner that anticipates Jungian concepts of the subconscious. He was in Myers-Briggs terminology an intuitive introvert, who leveraged that part of himself to the maximum possible degree. His notion of the Four Zoas heavily anticipates the Jungian notion of the four faculties of the soul, thought, intuition, sensation, and feeling. Blake is a great poet of the fragmentation of the human psyche, but in Blake’s poetry this in turn mirrors the fragmentation of the larger society. Each Zoa is accompanied by a female Emanation and a split-off section of the self called a Spectre, anticipating Jungian concepts of the anima and the Shadow. These are important for the ultimate reintegration for the Zoas, just as the anima and Shadow are for Jung. Authentic anima for Blake is in Jerusalem, who in psychoanalytic terms in life-energy (or libido) in totality, while Vala is a mere mental abstraction of it. The long epic poems are epics of fall through disintegration, the negative side of Experience. Passion gets corrupted when Urizen becomes too dominant and repressive and hence the Zoas fight among themselves. A key to Blake is his implication that the repression of natural instinct leads to an incapacity for love of any kind, secular or spiritual. But love is necessary for the coming together of the Zoas.

Read psychoanalytically, Milton’s Paradise Lost is in part about the struggle between reason and feeling, with Milton wanting reason to be the victor. Blake rejects this paradigm. For Blake, if anything is the real engine of restraint it would be the love that casts out envy and resentment. Blake made his antipathy to this paradigm clear in Marriage when he said that for Milton “Reason is call’d Messiah.”  Blake however experimented with several different feeling-figures in opposition to Urizen. These included Orc in America, Ahania in the Book of Ahania, and finally Los and Luvah in the long epics.

Not all conflicts are directly with Urizen. Blake portrays one fall within society/creation as having a domino effect which results in further fragmentation and conflict between other entities. In Night Fifth of The Four Zoas, Los who symbolizes artistic creativity is in conflict with his son Orc who symbolizes both feeling and amorous sensuality. Similarly in the earlier Night the Fourth, Tharmas who represents sensation yearns for union with Los representing artistic creativity, though he despises Urizen, but Los dismisses Tharmas “in his furious pride” and declares loyalty to Urizen. In Night the Sixth when Urizen explores the ‘dens’ of his creation, Urizen has a dawning recognition of his need for Tharmas (sensation), but Tharmas refuses fellowship with Urizen because of the latter’s pride.

Thomas Altizer, The New Apocalypse (Michigan State University Press, 1967), 19

Altizer, ibid 25

Altizer, New Apocalypse 48

9. Concluding Remarks – Blake and Modernity

Blake was a relatively unknown poet in his own day, one who remained obscure until the early 20th century. However, his thought in many ways anticipates thinkers as diverse as Nietzsche, Hegel, and D.H. Lawrence. He was rediscovered in the early 20th century by various composers and the poet William Butler Yeats. Because Blake wanted not only a new political order, but a new type of humanity, it is fruitful to read him both in the light of Jungian psychoanalysis, as June Singer has done, or also as a political prophet as David Erdman has done. Albion and Jerusalem are simultaneously symbols of a society (Albion fallen and Jerusalem redeemed) but of psychological states as well.

Is there a cultural reason why Blake came in the early twentieth century into his own? Does he speak to our era better than he did to the seventeenth? Was his internal crisis ahead of his time, in the sense of experiencing internal disorientations which were experienced more widely in the culture at large just over a century later?

Yeats, one of Blake’s early modern champions, noted both the affinities and differences between Blake and Nietzsche, as have others since then. Blake like Nietzsche is attempting a comprehensive critique of all culture, assaulting a great deal of its conventions, and he is highly self-assured as he celebrates the non-rational. Blake celebrated Imagination while being highly iconoclastic and seeking for psychological insight into the unconscious roots of the sickness in society and culture around him. For Blake as for Nietzsche there is something twisted and perverse about the surrounding culture as a whole, and it must be, in modern parlance, deconstructed. Blake, like Nietzsche wanted to re-evaluate society’s values and wrote using satire and fantasy-related imagery in a private mythology. (Blake’s Orc has some elements in common with Nietzsche’s Overman.) Blake like Nietzsche combined a fragmentary esoteric style with his aggressive critique of society. Both authors were marginal figures in the cultural world of their own day. Blake’s aggression is particularly evident in his proposal to write a “bible of hell”, as well as in his more bizarre “proverbs of hell,” a move almost as irreverent as Nietzsche’s all-out assault on Christianity. Behind both men’s eccentricity lay deep anguish. Both were viewed as mad by many of their contemporaries.

Yet it was Blake who after drifting away from Christian thought-patterns, reintroduced Christian imagery into his works without abandoning his radicalism. Blake was a visionary who was convinced that the visions of his Imagination (or Poetic Genius) mediated a genuine spiritual reality, if the imagination is informed by Love. Blake was what in earlier or later times might be called a shaman. In communicating with prophetic imagery, he even in Marriage of Heaven and Hell took as his model Isaiah, whom Blake has say: “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finiteorganical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in every thing.” For Blake, the revelation of the holy is seeing all forms permeated with energy. This is precisely why for Blake vision and imagination are sensual bodily things. Before Blake expressed himself in highly enigmatic myth, he first expressed himself in the form of songs. And these early songs were ultimately an effort to call people back to a truer and deeper Christianity than was actually being practiced. The introductory poem to Songs of Experience reads.

Hear the voice of the Bard!

Who Present, Past, & Future sees

Whose ears have heard,

The Holy Word,

That walk’d among the ancient trees.

Calling the lapsed Soul

And weeping in the evening dew:

That might controll,

The starry pole;

And fallen fallen light renew!
Thomas Altizer has listed ten points (using a bit of hyperbole) that he regards as distinctive qualities of Blake’s corpus, all of which help explain why Blake strikes a chord in the 20th and 21st century. I cite Altizer here, noting in brackets a few places where Altizer’s remarks a little bit dated.

(1) Blake only among Christian artists has created a whole mythology [Altizer writes before the vogue of Tolkien]. (2) He writes of a final and complete loss of paradise, acknowledging the complete loss of Innocence. (3) No other Christian artist or seer has so fully directed his vision to history and experience. (4)…his is the only Christian vision that has openly or consistently accepted a totally fallen time and space as the paradoxical presence of Eternity; (5) he stands alone among Christians in identifying the actual passion of sex as the most immediate epiphany of either a demonic of redemptive “Energy,”[Altizer writes before the advent of figures like Andrew Greeley and Matthew Fox and ignores this element in Swedenborg and some commentaries on the Song of Songs] just as he is the only Christian visionary who has envisioned the universal role of the female as both a redemptive and destructive power [Altizer writes before the rise of feminist theology] (6) his is the only Christian vision of the total kenotic movement of God of the Godhead [It is true that Jesus’ descent into the deep dark depths of hell is fairly important for Blake] (7) he was the first Christian…to unveil God as Satan; [John Wesley is said to have said “Your God is my devil” to a Calvinist] (8) he is the most Christocentric of Christian seers and artists; (9) only Blake has created a Christian vision of the full identity of Jesus with the individual human being; and (10) as the sole creator of a post-biblical Christian apocalypse he has given Christendom its only vision of a total cosmic reversal of history.

On all these points, Blake has a type of thinking peculiarly resonant with the late 20th and early 21st century. It remains then a question whether Blake can at least in part provide a sense of a future direction for modern progressive Christianity. The comprehensiveness of his achievement is remarkable. Modern theologians like Gary Dorrien, in the wake of modern thought, speak of “The Word as True Myth,” just as more traditional theologians like Avery Dulles speak of revelation as “symbolic mediation.” Blake speaks to a world in which traditional concepts of God have died, yet yearns for the sacred and needs an orientation towards the holy. Blake is remarkable because he is an iconoclast, but not a nihilist. While Nietzsche set up an opposition between Dionysius and the Crucified, Blake tried to unite the two. While Phillip Pullman’s anti-clerical fantasy novels incorporate much material from the middle Blake, late Blake instills a Christian meaning into his anti-clerical rhetoric without sacrificing the rhetoric of his earlier work.

Blake’s primary language is the mythical symbol. Symbols have been described as uniting subjective and objective reality, expressing basic affects of how we participate in the world. Nietzsche sometimes spoke of symbols disparagingly as something used to mask true human motives. When he unmasks human culture, values lose their value. Nietzsche hovers between reduction of people’s ideas and self-assertion. Harvey Birenbaum believes a key difference between Blake and Nietzsche is that the latter wants to see through the human heart while Blake wants to see into it. “For Blake reality is the reach of mind at one with its feelings and its perceptiveness, its capacity to realize that all selves are the same person in their desperate efforts to live within the perplexing web of contradictions. For Nietzsche, the artist creates illusions, because the reality is somewhere else, if anywhere…” This is because Blake believed that the symbol mediates a genuine reality. Birenbaum believes that the recovery of this sensibility is a fruitful direction for modernity. His book opens with a citation of William Butler Yeats who thought that Nietzsche completed Blake. Birenbaum argues that instead Blake succeeds at a project at which Nietzsche failed. We can appreciate this as long as we can successfully negotiate between “the energies of the body and the flow of creative imaginings” with which we communicate with one another. “Our symbols, revealing and concealing…are made of our substance. As myth, they have the power to mean with value and subtle accuracy.”

There finally remains the question of whether an ethic based on forgiving empathy in concert with interior ecstasy is a workable new ethic supplanting older ethics that default heavily to rationalistic rule-based thinking.  June Singer has noted how psychologically perilous Blake’s own journey was, one that could have driven him mad. Not everyone has the courage, confidence, or inner sense of integrity to embark on the perilous journey that Blake did. Blake is confident that truthful and kind people can celebrate Dionysian ecstasy in an authentic and healthy way, a sensibility that resonates well with today’s pagan community, but would for understandable reasons be difficult to sell in some quarters in a society that is now very confused and conflicted over issues of sexual ethics.

Nonetheless, Blake deserves credit for having tried to reassemble the Christian ethos in a different way that he earlier had tried to demolish, and to do so with incredible passion and yearning. His effort to reappropriate the stories and symbols of Christianity after such a withering iconoclastic blast at the traditional churches is even more resonant today than when he wrote all the more so for doing so as a remarkable artist rather than as an academic. He is a remarkable instance of the little-quoted saying from Matthew “Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52)


 Bibliographic Note: All citations from Blake’s poetry are from the electronic edition of the Erdman anthology. Citations of Harold Bloom’s commentary in that book are from the 1970 4th edition. Its pagination does not match that of the online edition which is adapted from another print edition of same. As noted in one of the footnotes, the ordering of the Plates of Book 2 of Jerusalem is disputed, and the Geoffrey Keynes edition of the complete Blake follows a different ordering than the Erdman edition. Finally, as also noted in the footnotes, although Marriage of Heaven and Hellhas titled chapters, and The Book of Urizen has numbered chapters and numbered stanzas, these are referenced by Plate and Line number similar to all other Blake poems.

Abrams, M. H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971.

Altizer, Thomas.J.J. The New Apocalypse: The Radical Christian Vision of William Blake. Michigan State University Press, 1967

Bellin, Harvey and Darrell Ruhl. Blake and Swedenborg: Opposition is True Friendship: The sources of William Blake’s Arts in the Writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg  New York: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1985.

Birenbaum, Harvey. Between Blake and Nietzsche: The Reality of Culture. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1992.

Blake, William. The Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Edited by David Erdman. Commentary by Harold Bloom. Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1970.

Blake, William The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake Edited by David Erdman. Charlottesville: Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, 2001.


Bloom, Harold. Blake’s Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books. 1965.

Frye, Northrup. Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake. Boston: Beacon Press. 1947.

Howard, John. Infernal Poetics: Poetic Structures in Blake’s Lambeth Prophecies. Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1984.

Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New York: Vintage Books. 1991.

Porter, Roy. Flesh in the Age of Reason: The Modern Foundations of Body and Soul. New York: W.W.Norton & Co. 2003.

Raine, Kathleen. Blake and Tradition. New York: Princeton University Press. 2 vols. 1968.

Rix, Robert. William Blake and the Cultures of Radical Christianity. Cornwall: Ashgate Publishing. 2007.

Sabri-Tabrizi, G.R. The “Heaven” and “Hell” of William Blake. London: Lawrence and Wishart. 1973.

Schuchard Marsha Keith. Why Mrs Blake Cried: William Blake and the Sexual Basis of Spiritual Vision. London: Century Books. 2006.

Singer, June. 1986. The Unholy Bible: Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious. Boston: Sigo Press (An expanded edition of her 1970 work The Unholy Bible: A Psychological Interpretation of William Blake)

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Apocalypse Explained tr. by John Whitehead. 1757-9.


Swedenborg, Emanuel. Conjugial Love. 1768.


Swedenborg, Emanuel. Divine Love and Wisdom by John C. Ager. 1763.


Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Hell translated by John C. Ager. 1758.


Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped our World View. New York: Harmony Books. 1991

Thompson, E. P. Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Altizer, New Apocalypse 164-165

Harvey Birenbaum, Between Blake and Nietzsche (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1992), 100

ibid 127