Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chapter 8: Conclusion; Book of Thel; America

Conclusion to slide show and commentary "William Blake's Spiritual Journey"

Let me sum up where we have been. In 1794 Blake was making a good living from his engravings, good enough to live in a new house in a fashionable area and support his wife and one servant on his earnings. The only thing he feared was the oppressive British monarchy. It had been defeated in America and was threatened again by the French Republic. Blake's first "prophetic books," America and Europe, were less political than they might have been; a political vision was transmuted onto a spiritual plane.

The oppressive state appeared as Urizen, the Judeo-Christian Jehovah, who was Satan in disguise. His antagonist was Los, the creative imagination trapped in his own creation. Creation was a joint project between them, started by Urizen but in which Los insinuated his own vision. Blake himself was both Urizen and Los. It was Urizen who had the engraving tool in his hand; all Los had was a hammer. Urizen in Blake was the successful engraver, who produced what Londoners could appreciate. Los demanded more, that Urizen not dominate over the creative life.

Yet Los also was oppressive. He was jealous of his son, revolution, and tried to chain him with spiritual chains. He was jealous of his wife Pity, and threw a ring of fire around her. The wife has a close parallel with Blake himself. An early anecdote had it that when Blake told her, on their first meeting, of his frustrated love for someone, he asked if she pitied him. She said he did, and Blake said he loved her for that. Pity is not treated well by Los. After the wall of fire, she separates from him, and Los despairs. Only when Los embraces his Spectre, that is his Pride and Self-Righteousness, does she return to him. And then she stays within his bosom, weaving while he fires the furnaces of affliction. I find myself wondering: Is she weaving the garments of affliction? He seems to be back to his jealous self. Finally she breaks free and says that for her, her Pride is what matters, not Love. It is a manifestation of the Female Will, which is Blake's nemesis, Vala. She does not want a loom, she wants a womb, and to bear not Los's children but the Lamb. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Lamb does come again to the fallen world; Albion hears him and it is the Lamb who awakens Albion.

As Los rails at Pity/Erintharmon, he is saying something different. There are no sexes in heaven. Sex is part of the fallen world. Yet earlier at the beginning of Jerusalem's Chapter Two, sexual union was apparently an image of the unfallen world, to be experienced without feaer or shame. It apparently is only an image, and a ladder, to be discarded once one has made the ascent

In the remainder of this blog I am showing with brief commentary (derived from Erdman) two of Blake's earlier illuminated books in their versions at Yale, plus selections from a third. Unfortunately we ran out of time on our one afternoon at Yale and could not photograph all of Songs of Experience, nor any of Songs of Innocence. Twelve plates from Songs of Experience appear as Chapter 9 of this blog. The remainder of this chapter is photographs of The Book of Thel, 1789, reflectin the theme of innocence, and America: A Prophecy, 1793, alegorizing the American Revolution.

Appendix A: The Book of Thel, Yale version:

Title page. Thel is watching a young man embracing a young woman, like spirits of the male and female parts of flowers. Thel wants to know about life:

We somehow missed photographing the next page. It shows a young man with a sword, another man with an eagle, and a group of man, woman, and flying infant (siimilar to the one in Urizen).

Next, Lilly bows down to Thel and recommends that she talk to Cloud. :

The next page is mostly text. We did not photograph it.

Then we see Thel and cloud. Cloud draws her attention to the infant Worm at her feet:

Thel with "matron Clay" and infant Worm:

The end, showing innocent children playing with the serpent of experience. Will it protect them or bite them?

Appendix B: from America a Prophecy, 1793, Yale version:

Frontispiece, showing the end of the story: a defeated Orc in chains, but the wall of tyranny breached::

Title page, philosophers above, with figures that seem to encourage the reading of the prophecy. Humanity lies below, a woman hoping to revive a fallen warrior, his hand still clutching his sword:

Prelude, showing Orc, the spirit of revolution, in chains, while figures here identified as Adam and Eve (which in later workswill become Los and Enitharmon) look on. Beneath them are emblems of fallen humanity:

Orc gets free of his chains:

Orc above, rebels escaping a burning American village below:

King George III's vision. Looking westward out to sea, he clutches his head while the dragon and angel of his wrath come from above:

Above, a tribuinal in the skies judges the king and sends him to the flames below

Hope for a time in which, as the last line declares, "Empire is no more, and the Lion and Wolf shall cease":

The hope of peace:

Urizen, "Albion's angel," the divine form of George III, in fear of Orc. At the bottom are the waves under which he may sink:

Wheat blown down by the storm serves to shelter new plants and the child:

Orc urges defiance:

Orc as protecting swan and serpent:

The war sends men to their graves

The horrors of war:

A Vala-like Sibyl counsels war and death, but the tree behind her is itself lifeless:

At the top, illustrations in the text show soldiers welcomed home after they have thrown away their swords. On the left side, a woman weeps even as the dove of peace appears on the tree. Below are the "female spirits of the dead pining in bonds of religion." Yet they, too, feel the "nerves of youth and "desires of ancient times," symbolized by the grape cluster. For Blake revolution is as much about enllarging the perceptive faculties as it is about politics.

End-page: Europe remains unfree, even as small figures near and on her embrace, look ahead, and read. Trapped spirits seem on the verge of bursting their chains of dead wood. On the bottom small human figures seem to move about unafraid of the serpent's tongue:

Blake's Europe A Prophecy, 1794, will continue the myth, allegorizing the French Revolution. Reflecting Blake's disillusionment, Orc turns out very much like the oppressive Urizen he has been revolting against.


Post a Comment

<< Home