Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chapter 5:Vala , Hyle, and Skofield

One of the daughters of Albion is an emanation Blake calls Vala (or sometimes Rahab, when she works through religion). The word suggests "veil," the veil of illusion, and "vale," the vale of tears we suffer in the fallen world. Vala is the personification of nature in its fallen state. She is especially all the emotions that swirl up around sexuality: infatuation, jealousy, fear, guilt, love, joy, sadness, hate, and so on. Blake was at pains to depict her truthfully, not lapsing into the "thou shalt not"'s of conventional religion, yet presenting all her traps and difficulties.

The whole problem is on the first page of Jerusalem (Plate 4):

The hooded woman in the center is Vala, keeping Albion down. Albion is both figures under her arms. On our right, he merges with the cliffs of Dover; this is the stony law-giver, similar to Urizen. A net, like Urizen's "net of religion," hangs ominously on the right side of the page. The Albion on our left, however, is looking at the young women flying upward. These are the daughters of Jerusalem, who is at the top. There she points to a small Motto in Greek, Movos o Iesous, "Jesus Only." (Here we must bear in mind that Blake's view of Jesus is just as unconventional as his view of Jehovah.) These are the two destinies of Albion, toward darkness or light.

In Eden, as Blake presents the situation, sexual love was beautiful, even divine: (Plate 29):

These are probably Albion and Vala, as the text describes their embraces in Eden in the accompanying text. However the figures are androgynous-looking. So it could be Vala and Jerusalem, or Albion and Los, or any of various other combinations. Androgyny, as sexual ambiguity, is a feature of the pre-lapsarian world. It is in contrast to hermaphroditism, having the physical attributes of both sexes at once, which Blake later mentions as one of the monstrosites of the fallen world.
Then Albion's attitude changes. He turns away from sexuality in horror. As Blake relates:

Every ornament of perfection and every labor of Love,
In all the Garden of Eden, & in all the golden mountains
Was become an envied horror, and a remembrance of jealousy!
Ane every Act a Crime, and Albion the punisher & Judge (29:1-4)

Albion declares, "All these ornaments are crimes" (29:6). Gentle hills and valleys turned to rock and ice; and:
underneath his heal shot up
A deadly Tree, he nam'd it Moral Virtue, and the Law
of God who dwells in Chaos hidden from the human sight (29:14-16).
This is Albion as Urizen.

The result is an "endless labyrinth of woe," where "willing sacrifice of Self" is replaced by "sacrifice of (miscalled) Enemies," and "Divine Humanity and Mercy" are replaced by "Shame and Jealousy."

In this process Vala herself is transformed into a temptress a jailer, and a murderess, even against Albion.

Flowers are still emblematic of her realm, but now as ornaments of enslavement. In one etching, Vala is on a sunflower throne (Plate 53):

The sunflower is significant as a little sun, which turns to follow the big sun and thus a symbol of longing for the divine. Here I think the two circles flanking her are the crescent and full moon, both ancient goddess symbols. They represent the way that nature both gives of her bounty and also fails to provide when we expect it.

Vala is never happy, of course. In her own darkness with her helpers among the sons of Albion, here Hyle and Skofield, she despairs (Plate 51):

Hyle is Greek for "matter." It is also a homonym for "Hayley," Blake's admirer who convinced him to move to Felpham and also to paint miniature portraits as a way of making more money. Neither worked out for Blake, who grew both to loathe and envy the inferior but more successful painter.

The character Skofield, the one in flames, is named for a real person, an army private named Scholfield who in 1803 charged Blake with sedition. Scholfield said Blake damned the King and claimed he wanted Napoleon to win, both treasonous sentiments. As Blake told the story, he had found the man in his garden one day, and not knowing who he was asked him to leave. When the man contemptuously refused, Blake's "foolish pride," as he calls it (Frye, p. 426), came up, and Blake forcibly ejected him. Later Blake discovered that his gardener had hired the man without telling him Scholfield sought his revenge in the sedition trial, out of which Blake could have gone to prison. Fortunately Hayley, his earthly friend but spiritual enemy, got him an excellent lawyer, and he had the support of witnesses in the village. In January of 1804 he was acquitted.

As a monument to his "foolish pride," Blake engraved a "pyramid of pride," as Erdman applies Blake's phrase from later in the book. Here the deluded sons of Albion labor to "build Babylon" (42:63). On top of them are the beauties whom they raise on high, "the pomp and glory of victory" (42:64). Vala and her daughters are in the top image, and the sons in the bottom one (Plate 42):

Albion, the architect of all this, says, in the words engraved next to the men:

Go! Hand and Hyle! seize the abhorred friend...
Man now lives by the deaths of Men.
Bring him to justice before heaven here upon London stone. (42:47-50)

"London stone" is a stone in London, from which the Romans measured distances along roads throughout Britain. Hand is another of the sons in service to Vala, a play on the name "Hunt," a reviewer who ridiculed Blake's work. And yet these same sons, along with Albion himself, are the ones at the bottom of the stack.

In the same vein, Albion is shown caught in Vala's net, which includes vegetation snarling around him (Plate 40):

The result, as Blake applies his allegory to politics, is a country dominated by Self, swallowing up its people like a big fish eating the little ones.

One might wonder why the images of the enslaved are male, and those on top are female, since the agents of dominion so far are all male. The feminine Vala, I think, is an image for Man's fallen nature in general, and especially that which is served in this world of illusion, even though males, in Blake's myth, initiate the opppression. It is particularly, for male heterosexuals such as Blake, an image of the sexual desire that ensnares him time and again. It is also an image of the family. The common man, even the childless Blake, works to serve his family. One can imagine the humiliation Blake suffered not to have been a better provider. Then having a strange man, a soldier, in one's garden is not only a threat to himself, but even more to his wife. Taking advantage of this protectiveness, as well as the sexual allure, the male-dominated state poses as a woman, "Britannia," or "La France." Women serve this image as much as men.

In service to this illusory image, another etching shows a worm, representing Albion or one of his sons, wrapped around Vala or one of the daughters (Plate 63):

Blake's image here is reminiscent of a famous alchemical engraving, at the end of the popular 17th century emblem book Atalanta Fugiens,with a dragon instead of a worm :

In the alchemical fable, each is killing the other, he by the strength of his embrace, she by the poison in her intestines that his embrace releases. This is a view of the sexes that Blake could have endorsed. Blake's design can bear more than one meaning. A man, such as Albion or Hand, is reduced by Vala or one of her daughters to the status of an infatuated worm. On the other hand, the woman could also be seen as the soul, Jerusalem, in the grip of Albion's iron laws.

Besides nets and trees, another image of Vala's power is chains (Plate 65):

The sleeping Albion is shown bound by these chains (Plate 67):

Erdman says Albion here is the "poor human form" (67:42). In The First Book of Urizen, Blake talked about the "chain of jealousy" with which Los bound Orc to a rock. Here, the metaphor is extended: the chain represents the "chains of rocks round London Stone: of Reasonings, of unhewn Demonstrations in labyrinthine arches (Mighty Urizen the Architect)" (66:2-4)--in other words, the chains of abstract law, that oppress the many while protecting the few. The youth of England "grind and polish brass & iron hour after hour...Kept ignorant of their use" (65:22). Then they are "Chaind hand & foot, compelld to fight" and end their lives with their "bowels hid in hammerd steel rip'd quivering on the ground" (65:44). Powerful stuff! It is Albion as Urizen, where Albion acts in the name of Vala, enslaving Albion as consciousness.

Blake alternates such descriptions with other images from Britain's past, other images of Vala--notably the Druids, the architects of Stonehenge and Avebury. He shows us the beauty of their temples (Plate 70):

According to Erdman, what we see in the middle is an eclipse of the sun. It is the domination of Vala and Urizen over truth. The three figures under the Druidic trilithon are three ancient astronomer-priests, but also Blake's hated British theorists of reason applied to nature, Bacon, Newton, and Locke.

Blake also shows us a Druid priestess with a knife (Plate 66):

Soon there are two priestesses, various male body parts dangling from their arms and breasts. The priestess with the knife has been joined by one carrying a cup (Plate 69):

These implements are "the Druid Knife of Revenge and the Poison Cup of Jealousy" (63:39-40).

The male is decapitated, while the priestess holds her knife in triumph (Plate 74):

In the text next to the priestess, Blake interprets the priestess's triumph in terms of the victory of the spectre, which he characterizes as "the Reasoning Power in Man, when separated from Imagination" (74:10). In such a situation, "It thence frames Laws & Moralities to destroy Imagination! The Divine Body by Martyrdoms & Wars" (74:10-13).

These daughters of Vala, however, are also enslaved. Blake shows one dragging the moon, symbolic of the menstrual cycle and Vala (Plate 8):

Vala endeavors with her tendrils to keep male and female apart. Here the male, perhaps Los, is at the top of the page, a long distance from the female, perhaps Enitharmon, at the bottom (Plate 36):

These figures are being visually compared to leaves on a vine, and with as little power (Plate 34):

On the other hand, it could also be said of this etching, "Everything is human," as Blake does in fact say here (34:48).

The poet in the fallen world, the drooping swan we saw earlier, also longs for Vala (Plate 71):

Here his wings are even more batlike than before, showing the increased power of the Spectre. (On another interpretation, the swan is the spectre itself, reaching out phallically and threateningly to Jerusalem.)

Vala even traps Jerusalem in her snares. Originally, the two were in harmony, Vala as the body and Jerusalem the soul. Although separate, their children, or their spirits, kissed. Here Jerusalem is on the left, while Vala is represented on the right by her masculine emanation Shiloh, according to Erdman (Plate 18):

In Vala's realm, Jerusalem is "Embalm'd in Vala's bosom/In an eternal death" (23:9-10). She is the soul trapped in matter, now part of the landscape, a mountain perhaps (top of Plate 23).

Beneath her the sons of Albion are kept captive and isolated (bottom of Plate 23):

Vala's assistant Hand acts as a spectral power for Jerusalem, beckoning her into his darkness, with stigmata on his wrists and his arms raised in the position of the crucified corporeal Christ (Plate 26):

The figures are labeled "HAND" and "JERUSALEM." On the left side, the words are, "SUCH VISIONS HAVE APPEARD TO ME AS I MY ORDERD RACE HAVE RUN." Between Hand and Jerusalem are the words "JERUSALEM IS NAMED LIBERTY." Then on the other side of Jerusalem the sentence is continued: "AMONG THE SONS OF ALBION." These words are much clearer on the monochrome plates than on this color plate.

Like Albion, Jerusalem is caught in Vala's net (Plate 45):

At the same time, Vala is for Jerusalem her spectre, tempting Jerusalam with the gratification of her emotions (Plate 46):

The girl or youth on the right points up and away from Vala, but Jerusalem is not looking. The dome of St. Paul's on the left represents materialistic London, while the Gothic spires on the right parallel the girl's upward gesture.

And when Jerusalem would seek Albion's aid, Vala simply pushes her down and draws his attention to herself (Plate 47):

Beset on all sides by the Spectre, by Vala, and by the power of sleep, what is the hope of redemption for Albion, Los, and Jerusalem? Plate 57 presents an ambiguous message. I present first the top of the page, in which female emanations rise above London and York, as the spirit of these places, York the ecclesiastical center in England's past, London the commercial center of Blake's time. Then at the bottom, we see the sleeping Jerusalem:

The most obvious interpretation, and perhaps the best, is that the upper emanations, as representatives of orthodox Christianity and commercial London, are daughters of Vala weaving a net or spell to continue Jerusalem's sleep and entrapment. As the text says at the top of the next page, "In beauty the Daughters of Albion divide & unite at will" (58:1).

Erdmann, however, has a different interpretation. He sees all three as positive, essentially the same as three women shown weaving in Plate 59:

In the context of the text around them, these women are clearly positive figures. (In cropping the photo, I have provided more of the text than usual, to show what Blake says.) Blake describes them as daughters of Los in "the Universe of Los and Enitharmon" (59:21). This universe is in the central part of Albion's land, specifically at the "North Gate, in the West of the North" and in the "South" (59:22-23). These places fit York and London, the cities of Plate 57, well enough. There, Blake says, the daughters weave "ornaments sublime" for "Cathedron's golden hall. Cathedron is another name for the New Jerusalem. They weave "hour after hour...for life & love" (59:32, 37). Erdman notices that these women at their wheels anxiously look right and left outside the frame. Perhaps this is because, as Blake says, "they are mockd, by everyone that passes by" (59:39); even so, they take "intoxicating delight" in their work (59: 33).

It is like a description of Blake himself at his craft, assisted by his wife, in their little workshop in the South of England, the place of Enitharmon's looms and Los's furnaces. So regardless of which side the lovely ladies of Plate 57 are on, forces are slowly building to save Albion from Vala and her gang.


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