Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chapter 4: Spectres

Another aspect of the fallen world that Blake describes in Jerusalem is the spectre, a dark, shadowy figure from the chaos, who torments the sleeper with accusations and fears. Even Los is susceptible to its influence (Plate 6):

In Los's case, the Spectre is Los's--and Blake's-- Self-Righteousness and Pride, as well as the voice inside him that tells him he is wasting his time, Albion and humanity will never understand. The Spectre is a kind of challenge, something to erect an alternative to. It also has energy that Los can use. Blake speaks of Los's forcing the Spectre to work with him at building the new city.

The influence of the spectre on the poet can also be enervating. Erdmann identifies the swan, the Latin poet Horace's metaphor for the poet, with Blake himself. It is sad because of the work that needs to be done. Its wings are reminiscent of the spectre's; its neck is the poet's etching tool (Plate 11):

Yet there is an energy beneath the surface, which Blake shows us on the bottom of the page, full of life and vigor. Erdmann identifies this figure as Erin, the personification of Ireland, with a touch of the American Indian::

Both figures are female, or at least androgynous. And both the swan's wings and Erin's fins on the lower figure can be seen as the bat-wings of the Spectre. Erdmann sees them as showing nature being transformed into spirit. If so, then it would seem that the swan is Blake in despair from Los's ambitions, while beneath it young Erin bursts forth with new energy:

Jerusalem also has a spectre hovering over her sleeping form (Plate 33):

The spectre here is apparently Albion's, which Jerusalem sees in a vision. It tells Albion, "I am thy Rational Power, O Albion, & that Human Form / you call Divine is but a Worm seventy inches long" (Frye, p. 282). It is this power that Blake calls "the Great Selfhood, Satan, Worship'd as God by the Mighty Ones of the Earth" (Frye, p. 282). Blake adds later, that the spectre, "the Reasoning Power in Man...when separated from Imagination..It thence frames Laws & Moralities, To destroy Imagination, the Divine Body, by Martyrdom and Wars" (Frye p. 302).

In this etching Blake has for the first time, at least in this book, shown the sun and the moon shining together. Previously it had just been the moon. It is a theme we will see many times. This juxtaposition is an alchemical motif as well. An example is this one, from the 17th century Philosophia Reformata:

This one is more complex than most, showing a shadow sun and moon as well as the real ones. Actually, this same duplication of sun and moon appears in Blake's etching, if we include the whole page, the whole of Jerusalem's vision: At the top of the page is Jesus, whom Blake calls the Lamb, holding the unconscoius Albion. Behind him are the rays of the sun. And below him is a winged moon.

In the top half, the sun shines around Jesus, the Lamb, as he holds the unconscious Albion. The whole scene is supported by a winged moon.

Sun symbolism is familiar to us, as signifying divine light. But what is the winged moon? In alchemy the winged sun represents brief illumination, before a redescent into the chaos, as in Emblem 11 of the Rosarium Philosophorum:

I theorize that Blake's winged moon is an equally positive idea. One of the illustrations that Blake worked on as an apprentice, in Bryant's mythology book, shows a winged moon above the Apis, the Sacred Bull of Egypt, whose horns form a crescent moon. On the bull's back is a dove with similar wings.

Here the winged moon would seem to be symbolically equivalent to the dove, in the Gospel of John a symbol of divine love and illumination entering the chaos of our world. The wings, it seems to me, protect the scene above from the power of the spectre..

These two, the sun from behind and the winged moon, are thus the upper, positive sun and moon, of intellect and love. The lower ones, under the spectre, are the sun and moon in shadow, false wisdom and jealous love.

The sun, in Blake's Plate 33, as in alchemy, is identified with the masculine, and the moon with the feminine--whether positive or negative depends on the context. With wings, the moon can go to heaven and back, like an angel or a dove. We will see two other examples in the next chapter, when we look at Blake's versions of Noah's ark and the dove there, which he, following Bryant, sees as a kind of precursor to the dove at the baptism..

For Blake the victory of the Spectre is death (Plate 58):

The spectre is an aspect of the sleeping or unconscious soul (Plate 37).

Blake's earnest hope is that the soul will awaken and remove the spectre from its life, as he says in mirror-writing next to the sleeper:

Or if we flip the image around:

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.

Yet Los's actual response is better. When he sees his Spectre, he turns toward it and welcomes it to his bosom (Plate 44):

He knows that coming to terms with his shadow, the part of him that opposes his conscious designs, will serve his purpose better than dissociating from it. And once he faces the spectre, he also comes into contact with his own feminine aspect that has eluded him so long. Blake says, "Wherever the emanation goes, the Spectre attends her as her guard." They had been in the clutches of Albion's nemesis Vala, but thanks to the spectre were able to escape.. Los welcomes both of them into his bosom They literally enter his being and cease, for a time, to have any separate identity or will. Perhaps Blake did did that with his wife, too, not recognizing her as a person in her own right. Later that changes, for Los and most likely for Blake, too.

In any event, in this account of Enitharmon's escape from Vala and reunion with Los, we have moved from the realm of the Jungian shadow to that of the anima, the archetypal unconscious feminine side of a man, and to that of contra-sexual unconscious.figures generally. It is to that realm that we now turn.


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