Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Isaiah 20
[1] In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;
[2] At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.
[3] And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia;
[4] So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.
[5] And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.
[6] And the inhabitant of this isle shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?

 Marriage of Heaven and Hell
"I also asked Isaiah what made him go naked and barefoot three
years? he answerd, the same that made our friend Diogenes the
 Blake's Memorable Fancy on Plates 12 and 13 of Marriage of Heaven and Hell uses the Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel to emphasize the point that a conventional mindset that follows the popular mores fails to understand the voice of prophecy. Isaiah and Ezekiel developed their ability to listen to the voice that spoke from within. To convey the message they received, they occasionally behaved in ways which startled their contemporaries. They sought to change their societies by demonstrating what were the consequences of continuing in behaviors which were leading to destruction. Blake further emphasized the technique of shocking people out of habitual nonproductive attitudes by indicating that Isaiah attributed his going naked and barefoot for three years to the influence of Diogenes who had practiced the same kinds of outrageous stunts to his Greek contemporaries.

Blake was not averse to looking to the Greek philosophy of Diogenes to reinforce his principle that man could not depend upon only data from his senses to interpret his environment and experience. Isaiah, Ezekiel and Diogenes risked being outcast from their societies in order to encourage men to have their intellect and courage opened to perceiving the limitations of conventional thinking. In writing Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake was engaging in similar strategies to those used by his heroes. He was presenting his ideas in forms and statements which were unacceptable to his public. He risked the ridicule of the critics and the indifference of potential readers by writing poetry which seemed ridiculous on the surface, and making images which appeared unpolished and obscure to current taste.
Library of Congress
Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Plate 21
We can judge that Blake had an affinity toward Diogenes from the label cynic which is often attached to the name of the fourth century BC philosopher. As a young man Blake wrote An Island in the Moon: satirical observations on the set of people with whom he was acquainted. He gave himself the name Quid the Cynic. The Greek word cynic was derived from a word meaning dog-like, and Diogenes was thought of as a dog by his critics. Perhaps the unexpected pictures of dogs in Blake's images is meant to point out his viewing whatever situation was being illustrated from a cynical perspective which he shared with Diogenes.

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, PLATE 12, (E 38)
                    "A Memorable Fancy.                            
   The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked
them how they dared so roundly to assert. that God spake to them; 
and  whether they did not think at the time, that they would be 
misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
   Isaiah answer'd. I saw no God. nor heard any, in a finite
organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in
every thing, and as  I was then perswaded. & remain confirm'd;
that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared
not for consequences but  wrote.
   Then I asked: does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?
   He replied.  All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination
this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable
of a firm perswasion of any thing.
   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 and all the others merely  derivative, which was the
cause of our despising the Priests & Philosophers  of other
countries, and prophecying that all Gods [PL 13] would at last be
proved. to originate in ours & to be the tributaries of the
Poetic  Genius, it was this. that our great poet King David
desired so fervently  & invokes so patheticly, saying by this he
conquers enemies & governs kingdoms; and we so 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.
   This said he, like all firm perswasions, is come to pass, for all 
nations believe the jews code and worship the jews god, and what
greater subjection can be
   I heard this with some wonder, & must confess my own
conviction.  After dinner I ask'd Isaiah to favour the world with
his lost works, he said none of equal value was lost.  Ezekiel
said the same of his.
   I also asked Isaiah what made him go naked and barefoot three
years? he answerd, the same that made our friend Diogenes the
   I then asked Ezekiel. why he eat dung, & lay so long on his
right  & left side? he answerd. the desire of raising other men
into a  perception of the infinite this the North American tribes
practise. & is he honest who resists his genius or conscience.
only for the sake of present  ease or gratification?"

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Wikimedia Commons
Drawings for Pastorals of Virgil
Thenot and Colinet Converse Seated Beneath Two Trees

An example of Greek philosophy which played an essential place in Blake's thought is the doctrine of contraries. Like Heraclitus, Blake believed in the unity of all things. From this unity both derived the conviction that contraries are not opposites but alternatives which can be resolved by recognizing the contribution which each makes to the whole. Dividing a pair of contraries such as Reason and Energy into desirable and undesirable, cuts man off from understanding the totality of his own being. 

It is the denial of the possibility of unifying the contraries - body and soul, female and male, repose and activity - that creates the Negation: that false reasoning power which can be called the Selfhood.

Jerusalem, Plate 5, (E 147) 
"O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:
Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!"

Marriage of heaven & Hell, Plate 3, (E 34)
"Without Contraries is no progression.  Attraction and 
Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to
Human existence.
  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.
  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
  2. That Energy. calld Evil. is alone from the Body. & that
Reason. calld Good. is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his
  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

Jerusalem, Plate 43 [29], (E 191)
"And thus the Voice Divine went forth upon the rocks of Albion    

I elected Albion for my glory; I gave to him the Nations,
Of the whole Earth. he was the Angel of my Presence: and all
The Sons of God were Albions Sons: and Jerusalem was my joy.
The Reactor hath hid himself thro envy. I behold him.
But you cannot behold him till he be reveald in his System       
Albions Reactor must have a Place prepard: Albion must Sleep
The Sleep of Death, till the Man of Sin & Repentance be reveald.
Hidden in Albions Forests he lurks: he admits of no Reply
From Albion: but hath founded his Reaction into a Law
Of Action, for Obedience to destroy the Contraries of Man[.]     
He hath compelld Albion to become a Punisher & hath possessd
Himself of Albions Forests & Wilds! and Jerusalem is taken!
The City of the Woods in the Forest of Ephratah is taken!
London is a stone of her ruins; Oxford is the dust of her walls!
Sussex & Kent are her scatterd garments: Ireland her holy place! 
And the murderd bodies of her little ones are Scotland and Wales
The Cities of the Nations are the smoke of her consummation
The Nations are her dust! ground by the chariot wheels
Of her lordly conquerors, her palaces levelld with the dust
I come that I may find a way for my banished ones to return      
Fear not O little Flock I come! Albion shall rise again.

So saying, the mild Sun inclosd the Human Family." 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


The distinctive characteristic of the Arlington Tempera is the incorporation in it of a full cycle of creation, fall, redemption, and apocalypse. The process that absorbed Blake's attention throughout his work is presented in this one inclusive image. That Blake could use the myth of the return of Odysseus from the Trojan War as the metaphor for the cycle of wandering experienced by people seeking wholeness in innumerable settings, speaks to his mastery of a universal myth. Although Blake first assimilated the accounts of man's creation, alienation, seeking and resolution from reading the accounts in the Bible of the the tribe of Israel, he could appreciate that the same process was repeated in the tales of peoples throughout time and space. Thus he turned to a legend from Greek mythology to represent in a single picture the summary of the soul of man journeying through his process of experiencing mortal life. 

Morgan Library and Museum
The Circle of the Life of Man
Preliminary Sketch for Arlington Tempera
ca. 1821
These posts treat the individual images incorporated in the complete symbolic representation:






Milton, Plate 17 [19], (E 111) 
"For travellers from Eternity. pass outward to Satans seat, 
But travellers to Eternity. pass inward to Golgonooza."

Jerusalem, Plate 62, (E 213)
"Jesus replied. I am the Resurrection & the Life.
I Die & pass the limits of possibility, as it appears
To individual perception. Luvah must be Created                  
And Vala; for I cannot leave them in the gnawing Grave.
But will prepare a way for my banished-ones to return
Come now with me into the villages. walk thro all the cities.
Tho thou art taken to prison & judgment, starved in the streets
I will command the cloud to give thee food & the hard rock       
To flow with milk & wine, tho thou seest me not a season
Even a long season & a hard journey & a howling wilderness!
Tho Valas cloud hide thee & Luvahs fires follow thee!
Only believe & trust in me, Lo. I am always with thee!"

Tuesday, September 06, 2016


Larry first posted this on Nov 23, 2013. 

Kathleen Raines' book Blake and Tradition is a good source for interpretation of the Cave of the Nymphs. A condensation of Raines' great work may be found in Blake and Antiquity, which contains considerable stuff on the Sea of Time and Space: 

Three things stand out prominently in this wonderful picture:

On the right is the cave of the nymphs who conduct innocent souls by the northern gate down into mortal life. Below the cave spread across the bottom is the Sea of Time and Space. On the upper left you see a representation of the Heavenly Realm.

Homer wrote about the Cave of the Nymphs in the 13th book of the Odyssey:
"At the head of this harbour there is a large olive tree, and at no great distance
a fine overarching cavern sacred to the nymphs who are called Naiads. There
are mixing bowls within it and wine-jars of stone, and the bees hive there.
Moreover, there are great looms of stone on which the nymphs weave their robes
of sea purple--very curious to see--and at all times there is water within it. It has
two entrances, one facing North by which mortals can go down into the cave,
while the other comes from the South and is more mysterious; mortals cannot
possibly get in by it, it is the way taken by the gods."

The Arlington Tempera contains virtually all of the items in Homer's description.  Blake faithfully followed Homer in furnishing his cave. The Naiads use the mixing bowls  and stone jars to prepare provisions for the descending souls. On the looms the nymphs  weave bodies for them; the purple indicates these bodies contain blood.

Blake loved the looms and used them repeatedly in his prophecies; in his larger prophecies
he described the "nymphs" as vicious wicked women; in fact there are pages of these 
wicked women. (The feminine of course connotes the earthly (under the moon), and the 
masculine heavenly (under the sun.) (As offensive as this may be to many readers, 
I don't know any help for it. It might be considered the guideline that men used in their 
subjugation of women. Blake wasn't responsible; he adopted all the ancient symbols, 
including this one.)

Blake's picture portrays the two realms, connected by two passages, sometimes called gates or bars or stairs. The picture shows them as stairs. The prominent gate on the right, called the northern bar, is especially rich in symbols that Blake used over and over as he wrote, etched, drew and painted.

Immediately to the left of the northern gate is the southern gate of 'return' where worthy mortals ascend into the higher realm of Eternity.

In the upper part of the picture the nymphs prepare souls for the descent into the "sea of time and space". The northern gate is filled with a stream, the current moving downward into the sea. Blake shows two souls scheduled for mortal life; each possesses a tub or pail which the nymphs prepared for them containing spiritual truth and power for the hazardous journey into the world.

At the bottom of the cave one of these 'women' lies in the water blissfully asleep; her tub is turned on its side, all the spiritual things spilled and replaced by the water of mortal life.

The other woman has carefully protected her pail and against the opposition of the nymphs 

turned decisively back toward the higher realm; following Heraclitus she may be said to be a dry soul. (This scene evokes Jesus' story of the wise and foolish virgins.)

The dry soul also suggests Thel, who crossed the northern bar, but drew back in horror at the miry clay ahead. The two imaginary humans represent the choices that each of us make every moment: to go the heavenly way or the worldly way, the two ways that Jesus spoke of).

In the symbolic language water denotes matter, the inferior, the worldly. Souls in the higher realm are attracted by the moisture. 'Time and space' is a sea where mortal creatures suffer adventures that may be creative or destructive.

Similar and closely related to dry and moist souls are those awake and those sleeping (this runs like a current throughout the Bible and through Blake as well.)

The River of Adonis in the cave issues into the Sea of Time and Space (one of the common 

titles of Blake's tempera). There is (relatively) little to report about the sea; it's just about life, about my life and your life and every brother or sister's life.

But emerging from the sea we find Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey on the near shore; with his back to the shore he is putting something in the water: in accordance with Leucothea's instructions he is returning her (magic) girdle which she had lent him so he could swim ashore.In the distance Leucothea appears getting her girdle and dissolving "in a spiral of radiant cloud" (Blake and Antiquity page 6).

Behind Odysseus stands his protector goddess, Athena (or Luvah or Jesus) pointing him to the courts above. (The return of Odysseus to his home closely parallels Elijah's ascent on the fiery chariot into Heaven, and of course the Ascension of Our Lord. The thing to remember is that rather than material events these are metaphors. Our metaphors are spacious and temporal; not so in Eternity.)

The upper left of the picture shows God upon a chariot, driven by the four Zoas and surrounded by the immortals. God appears to be a right sleepy god; the import is that it's the inner God who goes to sleep when the soul finds the couch of death and awakens to mortal life (Blake and Antiquity page 15). Raine quotes from The Gates of Paradise:

"My Eternal Man set in Repose

The Female from his darkness rose"

Once you've grasped the whole of this story you may notice how closely it parallels the primary Bible myth of Creation, Fall and eventual Redemption. It's the old, old story, and in the end there's only one story. (Jesus gave us an abbreviated version of it with The Prodigal Son.)
You may find a lot more information about the Arlington Tempera in these posts.

Thursday, September 01, 2016


We read this on a website provided by the British Museum:
"Eris the goddess of strife was offended that she had not been invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. In revenge, she threw down a golden apple inscribed with the words 'to the fairest', knowing that this would cause an argument amongst the other goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera and Athena all asked Zeus to decide to whom the apple belonged. Zeus did not want to cause any more trouble. He knew that by choosing one of the goddesses he would incur the resentment of the other two. Instead he decided that the mortal Paris should decide.
All three goddesses appeared before Paris. All three goddesses promised Paris different prizes if he picked them. Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. This woman was Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Aphrodite made Helen fall in love with Paris. The couple ran off together. Menelaus called together his allies in Greece. They set off to recapture Helen. The resulting war lasted for ten years."
British Museum
Judgment of Paris

I know of three illustrations Blake made of Greek mythology, all for Homer's Iliad or Odyssey : The Judgment of Paris, Philoctetes and Neoptolemus at Lemnos, and The Sea of Time and Space. Although Blake frequently used ideas and images from Greek Mythology embedded in his poetry he rarely illustrated Greek myths as he often did illustrate Milton's poetry. But we can judge from his illustrations to the works of Milton, Bunyan and Dante that he intended to do more than portray scenes as written by others. To use a phrase coined by Irene Langridge he intended to present a 'spiritual parable.' It is our job to discern the meaning which has been added to the original conception.

Something of what Blake intimated by portraying the Judgment of Paris results from the scene having taken place at the marriage of Thetis, a sea goddess, and Peleus, a human. The strife which originated at that marriage feast is similar to the strife which originated at the nuptial feast of Los and Enitharmon. Discord over the selection of the most beautiful goddess by Paris led to the Trojan war. What was to be a nuptial feast for Los and Enitharmom became the occasion for confirmation of the division of the inner being from its outer manifestation. The war which ensued saw Enitharmon in the camp of Urizen and Los struggling to maintain the vision of the Eternal.

In the Four Zoas the nuptial feast of Los and Enitharmon is also the feast of mortality and the introduction of the principal of duality. The strife which is introduced is taken up by the demons of the deep who sing the song of war.

The symptoms of strife which follow the fateful feast are indicated by these words which occur in the subsequent passage: Scorn & Indignation, Revenge, pride, compell, discontent & scorn, Wailing, dread, cruelty and Slaughter. Just as the Judgment of Paris set in motion forces which broke the harmony which allied the Greek City States, the events associated with the nuptial feast propelled the disruption among the Zoas. It was far easier to start a war by an unconscious action than it was to bring it to a resolution.

In her 1904 book William Blake: A Study of His Life and Art Work, Irene Landridge commented on Blake's Judgment of Paris
"I must notice a very fine and highly-finished water-colour, called “The Judgment of Paris.” The subject was a congenial one to Blake, who entertained the most original notions about classic legend and literature.
'The Artist (Blake) having been taken in vision into the ancient republics, monarchies, and patriachates of Asia, has seen those wonderful originals called in the sacred scriptures the Cherubim, which were sculptured and painted on walls of temples, towers, cities, palaces, and erected in the highly-cultivated States of Egypt, Moab, Eden, Arum among the rivers of Paradise—being the originals from which the Greeks and Hetruvians copied Hercules Farnese, Venus of Medicis, Apollo Belvedere, and all the grand works of ancient art.

No man can believe that either Homer’s Mythology or Ovid’s was the production of Greece or Latium; neither will anyone believe that the Greek statues, as they are called, were the invention of Greek artists; perhaps the Torso is the only original work remaining, all the rest being evidently copies, though fine ones, from the greater works of the Asiatic patriarchs. The Greek muses are daughters of Mnemosyne or Memory, and not of Inspiration or Imagination, therefore not authors of such sublime conceptions.' Descriptive Catalog, (E 531)
In this ingenious way did Blake seek to justify his admiration for the old pagan art, the old pagan mythology. They were recollections of symbols and ideas given by God to the ancient patriarchs of the Old Testament, and from them had filtered through to the civilization of Greece and Rome. To Blake it all amounted to this, “God hath not left Himself without witnesses,” and he vehemently protested against any race, age, or religion arrogating to itself the authorship of ideas which should only be ascribed to God.

So that the “Judgment of Paris” is treated like the biblical subjects, as a spiritual parable. When the apple of desire is given to mere sensual beauty instead of to moral or intellectual beauty, Love, the winged spirit, flies away, and Discord, the malformed demon, arrives. The three goddesses’ forms, delicate as reeds, pure as Blake’s austere imagination, and modelled with tender care for their lovely limbs, hands and faces, awaken in us a great wonder at the technique he could command when he chose."
Four Zoas, Night I, Page 13, (E 308)
"But purple night and crimson morning & golden day descending  
Thro' the clear changing atmosphere display'd green fields among
The varying clouds, like paradises stretch'd in the expanse
With towns & villages and temples, tents sheep-folds and pastures
Where dwell the children of the elemental worlds in harmony,     
Not long in harmony they dwell, their life is drawn away       
And wintry woes succeed; successive driven into the Void
Where Enion craves: successive drawn into the golden feast

And Los & Enitharmon sat in discontent & scorn                 
The Nuptial Song arose from all the thousand thousand spirits  
Over the joyful Earth & Sea, and ascended into the Heavens
For Elemental Gods their thunderous Organs blew; creating
Delicious Viands. Demons of Waves their watry Eccho's woke!
Bright Souls of vegetative life, budding and blossoming        
Stretch their immortal hands to smite the gold & silver Wires
And with immortal Voice soft warbling fill all Earth & Heaven.
With doubling Voices & loud Horns wound round sounding
Cavernous dwellers fill'd the enormous Revelry, Responsing!
And Spirits of Flaming fire on high, govern'd the mighty Song.   

And This the Song! sung at The Feast of Los & Enitharmon" 
Four Zoas, Night 1, Page 16, (E 309) 
"They melt the bones of Vala, & the bones of Luvah into wedges
The innumerable sons & daughters of Luvah closd in furnaces
Melt into furrows. winter blows his bellows: ice & Snow
Tend the dire anvils. Mountains mourn & Rivers faint & fail

There is no City nor Corn-field nor Orchard! all is Rock & Sand  
There is no Sun nor Moon nor Star. but rugged wintry rocks
Justling together in the void suspended by inward fires
Impatience now no longer can endure. Distracted Luvah

Bursting forth from the loins of Enitharmon, Thou fierce Terror
Go howl in vain, Smite Smite his fetters Smite O wintry hammers  
Smite Spectre of Urthona, mock the fiend who drew us down
From heavens of joy into this Deep. Now rage but rage in vain

Thus Sang the Demons of the Deep. the Clarions of War blew loud
The Feast redounds & Crownd with roses & the circling vine
The Enormous Bride & Bridegroom sat, beside them Urizen          
With faded radiance sighd, forgetful of the flowing wine
And of Ahania his Pure Bride but She was distant far

But Los & Enitharmon sat in discontent & scorn
Craving the more the more enjoying, drawing out sweet bliss
From all the turning wheels of heaven & the chariots of the Slain

At distance Far in Night repelld. in direful hunger craving
Summers & Winters round revolving in the frightful deep."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


First posted on June 27, 2014: BLAKE & YEATS

British Museum
Plate 100, Copy A

In 1893 William Butler Yeats published along with Edwin John Ellis The works of William Blake; poetic, symbolic, and critical. They included in their book 'the illustrated Prophetic books, and a memoir and interpretation.' Kathleen Raine wrote in Defending Ancient Springs, published in 1967, a chapter named Yeats's Debt to William Blake. Raine states that Blake 'remained an inexhaustible source' to Yeats 'into his poetic maturity.' On Page 74, Raine tells us of challenges poets face in creating the myths on which their work depends.

"In antiquity no poet invented his own myths; Yates, living, as Blake had already lived, in a society which has, as a whole, broken with tradition, knew how impossible it is to build up, from a series of intuitive flashes, that wholeness of context which great poetry requires. Is not the peculiar relevance of Blake to our own situation the way in which he set about the resolution of this problem? In his early studies of Blake Yeats had already realized that 'even the "Little Black Boy" cannot be understood unless it is taken as part of the general mystical manifesto that run through all the work'. Later we find in his own poetry, as we do in any poem of Blake's, or in any single episode of Dante's Commedia, the whole order of the cosmos implicit. Neither Yeats, Blake, Shelly, nor any other poet of like stature, is at one time writing in symbolic terms and at another descriptive; for as Yeats wrote in another essay, 'True art is expressive and symbolic, and make every form, every sound, a signature of some unanalysable imaginative essence.' Blake too wrote that 'to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself'.


"At this point it may be of interest to notice what Yeats might well have borrowed from Blake but did not. To most readers Blake's pantheon is more striking than the formal structure of his myth. If myth be dynamic symbol, symbol in transformation, myths must be considered as wholes of which the symbolic and elements are parts. A myth is no more constructed from the elements than a living body from its component organs. Mythological thought is therefore the highest and most complete form of symbolic imagination; as it is also the rarest. Neither Milton, Spencer, Shelley, nor Coleridge equal Blake in the completeness, complexity, and energy of his mythological figures and configurations. Yeats, though he attempted the evocation, by magic and ritual, of such living symbols, is not the equal, in this respect of any of the poets named; he handles single symbols of single figures rather than those complex embodiments of uncurbed energy in which Blake's writings and paintings abound. Whereas Blake's mind was essentially dynamic, and all his myth alive with energy, action, transformation, Yeats tends toward Platonic ideal forms, a sculptural stillness, 'a marble or bronze repose. Yet in his search for a pantheon he did at one time seek to evoke the Zoas, whose life seems independent of their creator, as both poets believed; he tells of Orc appearing as 'a wolf in armour', or his face black instead of burning. Yet he never introduced these figures into his own poetry, feeling perhaps a temperamental difference between himself and his volcanic master; or perhaps simply discovering that he did not possess the gift of visionary imagination to the same degree. For of Blake's myth he wrote (in the essay 'On the Necessity of Symbolism' already quoted),
'The surface is perpetually as it were giving way before me, and revealing another surface below it, and that again dissolves when we try to study it. The making of religions melts into the making of the earth, and that fades away into some allegory of the rising and setting of the sun. It is like a great cloud full of stars and shapes through which the eye seeks a boundary in vain. When we seem to have explored the remotest division some new spirit floats by muttering wisdom.'"

William Butler Yeats, The Statues
"Empty eyeballs knew
That knowledge increases unreality, that
Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show."

Letters, (E 702)
[To] Revd Dr Trusler, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey

13 Hercules Buildings,.Lambeth, August 23, 1799
[Postmark: 28 August]
"Some See
Nature all Ridicule & Deformity & by these I shall not regulate
my proportions, & Some Scarce see Nature at all But to the Eyes
of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself.  As a man
is So he Sees.  As the Eye is formed such are its Powers You
certainly Mistake when you say that the Visions of Fancy are not
be found in This World."

Monday, August 22, 2016


The idea of a spiritual sun did not originate with Blake. It was passed down to him from Antiquity through the heterodox tradition of Paracelsus, Boheme, and Swedenborg. Speculation about the role of the sun in philosophical and religious systems goes back to Plato, the Egyptians, the Persians.

In The Esoteric Tradition G. de Purucker makes this statement about what Blake called the spiritual sun:

"As every scholar knows, there were a number of quasi-religious and quasi-mystical sects flourishing at about the time of the alleged beginning of the Christian era, who had pretty much the same body of ideas connected with the divine cosmic sun that the Mithraists and the Christians held. The Manichaeans were an association of mystical and in some points even esoteric thinkers, and who were widely disseminated over the Roman Empire as well as in the Hither East. They held certain beliefs linking them with the more mystical ideas of primitive Christianity, and said that the divine sun was the source of the individual christos-spirit in man, which latter is a ray of that cosmic christos. The Christian Fathers Theodoret and Cyril of Jerusalem attest this fact of Manichaean belief; and Pope Leo I called the "Great," in his Sermon XXXIV on the Epiphany (IV), stated that the Manichaeans placed the Christos of men in the [luminous substance of the invisible] sun. Such significant ideas were widely spread in the world at the time of the formation of the Christian faith and ecclesiastic system.

Of course, this view of the divine sun was not Christian only. This wonderful conception of the indwelling cosmic divinity is as old as it is universal and was the very soul of the inner meaning of ancient Greek and Latin, Persian and Mesopotamian, as well as Egyptian and Hindu religions and philosophies."

Blake assimilated the idea of a spiritual sun into his thought but more importantly, he experienced it through his own spiritual sensitivity.

Letters, To Butts, (E 722) 
"Then Los appeard in all his power
     In the Sun he appeard descending before
     My face in fierce flames in my double sight
     Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might

     "My hands are labourd day & night"
     "And Ease comes never in my sight"
     "My Wife has no indulgence given"
     "Except what comes to her from heaven"
     "We eat little we drink less"
     "This Earth breeds not our happiness"
     "Another Sun feeds our lifes streams"
     "We are not warmed with thy beams"
     "Thou measurest not the Time to me"
     "Nor yet the Space that I do see"
     "My Mind is not with thy light arrayd"
     "Thy terrors shall not make me afraid"

     When I had my Defiance given
     The Sun stood trembling in heaven
     The Moon that glowd remote below
     Became leprous & white as snow
     And every Soul of men on the Earth
     Felt affliction & sorrow & sickness & dearth
     Los flamd in my path & the Sun was hot
     With the bows of my Mind & the Arrows of Thought
     My bowstring fierce with Ardour breathes
     My arrows glow in their golden sheaves
     My brothers & father march before
     The heavens drop with human gore

     Now I a fourfold vision see
     And a fourfold vision is given to me
     Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
     And three fold in soft Beulahs night
     And twofold Always.  May God us keep
     From Single vision & Newtons sleep" 
Blake's mastery of the dynamics of discerning the 'sun' as referring to multiple mental experiences, allowed him to people his myth with entities who moved through various transformations. Urizen and Luvah represented forces which struggled to manifest the light of consciousness in the mind of man. Each desired the position of supremacy occupied by Urthona as the connection between man and the divine. When Urizen was dormant, Luvah became ascendant. Perhaps if they worked together they could assume more power. But their plot failed and shook up the delicate mental balance necessary for smooth operation of the mind. When they became warring factions, the mind was split into two paths demanding irreconcilable goals. Urizen denied expression to the instinctual emotions of humanity. Luvah subverted the restraints which the rational mind sought to impose.

Light, Blake perceived, could not be claimed exclusively by any partial entity. Its presence must be recognized and appreciated in the functioning of disparate actions.
Four Zoas, Night I, Page 10, (E 305)
"Urizen sleeps in the porch 
Luvah and Vala woke & flew up from the Human Heart 
Into the Brain; from thence upon the pillow Vala slumber'd.
And Luvah siez'd the Horses of Light, & rose into the Chariot of Day"
Four Zoas, Night I ,Page 21, (E 311)
"But Urizen awoke & Luvah woke & thus conferrd

Thou Luvah said the Prince of Light behold our sons & daughters  
Reposd on beds. let them sleep on. do thou alone depart
Into thy wished Kingdom where in Majesty & Power
We may erect a throne. deep in the North I place my lot
Thou in the South listen attentive. In silent of this night
I will infold the Eternal tent in clouds opake while thou       
Siezing the chariots of the morning. Go outfleeting ride
Afar into the Zenith high bending thy furious course
Southward with half the tents of men inclosd in clouds
Of Tharmas & Urthona. I remaining in the porches of the brain
Will lay my scepter on Jerusalem the Emanation
On all her sons & on thy sons O Luvah & on mine    
Till dawn was wont to wake them then my trumpet sounding loud
Ravishd away in night my strong command shall be obeyd
For I have placd my centinels in stations each tenth man
Is bought & sold & in dim night my Word shall be their law    
PAGE 22  
Luvah replied Dictate to thy Equals. am not I
The Prince of all the hosts of Men nor Equal know in Heaven
If I arise into the Zenith leaving thee to watch
The Emanation & her Sons the Satan & the Anak
Sihon and Og. wilt thou not rebel to my laws remain             
In darkness building thy strong throne & in my ancient night
Daring my power wilt arm my sons against me in the Atlantic
My deep   My night which thou assuming hast assumed my Crown
I will remain as well as thou & here with hands of blood
Smite this dark sleeper in his tent then try my strength with thee 

While thus he spoke his fires reddend oer the holy tent 
Urizen cast deep darkness round him silent brooding death
Eternal death to Luvah. raging Luvah pourd
The Lances of Urizen from chariots. round the holy tent
Discord began & yells & cries shook the wide firmament"
British Museum
Small Book of Designs
from Book of Urizen
"Fearless tho in pain/I travel on"
Within the minds of men and within the societies man creates, there occur shifts in the balance of dominance. When the 'Horses of Light' are controlled by the superego we encounter a man locked in restrictive patterns of behavior, or a society integrated around the pursuits of law and order. If the needs of the id are not being fed by this arrangement there will be outbursts of protests attempting to cast off the old regimes.

On Page 73 of William Blake's Circle of Destiny Milton O Percival states:
"Though Los's labors are too often unsuccessful, he provides such illumination as the mortal world has. He is the purveyor of its religions and its philosophies.

'If the Sun & Moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.'
Auguries of Innocence, (E 492)

This is what happens with the Fall. Urizen, the sun, and Luvah, the moon, of the supernal world, both fall into doubt and suffer extinction of their light. To replace these darkened luminaries Los hammers the remnants of Urizen's light into a temporal sun and creates the moon of Ulro, dismal substitutes both of them for their supernal counterparts, yet they serve to light a world of darkness."

Thursday, August 18, 2016


"The Sun. 'I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun  ”I saw him on Primrose-hill. He said, "Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?" "No," I said, "that" [and Blake pointed to the sky] "that is the Greek Apollo. He is Satan."'

William Blake (Symons) Part II Records from contemporary sources
(I.) Extracts from the Diary, Letters, and Reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson

Wikipedia Commons
Milton's Ode Written on the 
Morning of Christ's Nativity
Object 4

The Overthrow of Apollo 
and the Pagan Gods

Wikipedia Commons
Illustrations to the Book of Job
Butts set, Plate 14

When the Morning Stars Sang Together

Wikipedia Commons
Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro 
Object 3

The Sun at His Eastern Gate

Wikimedia Commons
Illustrations to Milton's Il Penseroso
Object 6

The Youthful Poet's Dream

Wikipedia Commons
Il Penseroso
Object  10

The Sun in His Wrath

Wikipedia Commons
Copy D, Plate 47

Encounter with Los as Spiritual Sun

In Blake's system there were two suns: the physical or natural sun identified with Urizen, and the spiritual sun identified with Los. The sun god of the Greeks, Apollo, was synonymous with the physical sun.

In his Illustrations to Milton's Ode Written on the Eve of Christ's Nativity, Blake pictured Apollo as one of the ancient Gods deposed by the advent of Christ. With the birth of Christ, man's understanding of the light of the world is transferred from the material object which Apollo transported across the celestial realm each day, to the greater light which illumines man from within.

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 565)
"Error is
Created Truth is Eternal Error or Creation will be Burned Up &
then & not till then Truth or Eternity will appear It is Burnt up
the Moment Men cease to behold it I assert for My self that I do
not behold the Outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance &
not Action it is as the Dirt upon my feet No part of Me. What it
will be Questiond When the Sun rises  do  you  not  see  a  round 
Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea O no no I see an Innumerable
company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord
God Almighty I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any
more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look
thro it & not with it."

Monday, August 15, 2016


This is reposted from March 2015.

Blake's attitude toward Greek and Roman literature and culture was ambivalent. Kathleen Raine tells us in Blake and Antiquity:

"The first evidence of Blake's reading of Porphyry appears in the Book of Thel, written in 1787, thirty -two years before he painted the Arlington Tempera... But once Blake had set his soul to study in a learned school, with Thomas Taylor and the Platonic philosophers, he quickly became master of a coherent symbolic system which he handled with ever-increasing scope and freedom. 

Not only did neo-Platonism give him a vocabulary and grammar of symbolic terms; it placed him in the mainstream of European poetic and pictorial symbolism. From his reading of Porphyry and Plotinus he came to recognize in the works of poets already known to him the same symbols, endlessly recreated and re-clothed in beautiful forms. Thus he was able to extend his field of allusion and to introduce themes and images taken from many sources, without destroying the unity of his symbolic structure." (Page 17)
Illustrations to Pilgrim's Progress
Christian and Hopeful Escape Giant Despair

In 1809, describing his large painting of the Ancient Britons which was included his Exhibition at his brother's shop, Blake indicates that his three principle figures are recreations of characters portrayed by the ancients. Although the painting to which Blake referred is lost, we can see how Blake portrayed Apollo, Hercules and the Dancing Fawn by looking at images from antiquity. He referred back to portrayals of Greek gods with which he was familiar and later he projected forward when illustrating authors whom he admired.

Blake sees the characters who people myths as archetypal. His aim is to represent the same archetypal truth which the masters of antiquity displayed. When he places images from the pictorial vocabulary of Greece in his illustrations to Milton's Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress or to Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, he connects his reader/viewer to a more complete context. However Blake's attitudes to the values demonstrated by the Greek gods and heroes changed over time: his Dancing Fawn (as Puck) doesn't resemble the Ugly Man he described in his Catalogue; his Hercules (as the Giant Despair) is not the Strong Man of his earlier description.

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 544)
 "His opinions, who does not see spiritual agency, is
not worth any man's reading; he who rejects a fact because it is
improbable, must reject all History and retain doubts only.
  It has been said to the Artist, take the Apollo for the
model of your beautiful Man and the Hercules for your strong Man,
and the Dancing Fawn for your Ugly Man.  Now he comes to his
trial.  He knows that what he does is not inferior to the
grandest Antiques.  Superior they cannot be, for human power
cannot go beyond either what he does, or what they have done, it
is the gift of God, it is inspiration and vision.  He had
resolved to emulate those precious remains of antiquity,
he has done so and the result you behold; his ideas of strength
and beauty have not been greatly different.  Poetry as it exists
now on earth, in the various remains of ancient authors, Music as
it exists in old tunes or melodies, Painting and Sculpture as it
exists in the remains of Antiquity and in the works of more
modern genius, is Inspiration, and cannot be surpassed; it is
perfect and eternal.  Milton, Shakspeare, Michael Angelo, Rafael,
the finest specimens of Ancient Sculpture and Painting, and
Architecture, Gothic, Grecian, Hindoo and Egyptian, are the
extent of the human mind.  The human mind cannot go beyond the
gift of God, the Holy Ghost.  To suppose that Art can go beyond
the finest specimens of Art that are now in the world, is not
knowing what Art is; it is being blind to the gifts of the
  It will be necessary for the Painter to say
something concerning his ideas of Beauty, Strength and Ugliness.
  The Beauty that is annexed and appended to folly, is a
lamentable accident and error of the mortal and perishing life;
it does but seldom happen; but with this unnatural mixture the
sublime Artist can have nothing to do; it is fit for the
burlesque.  The Beauty proper for sublime art, is lineaments, or
forms and features that are capable of being the receptacles of
intellect; accordingly the Painter has given in his beautiful
man, his own idea of intellectual Beauty.  The face and limbs
that deviates or alters least, from infancy to old age, is the
face and limbs of greatest Beauty and perfection.
  The Ugly likewise, when accompanied and annexed to
imbecility and disease, is a subject for burlesque and not for
historical grandeur; the Artist has imagined his Ugly man; one 
approaching to the
beast in features and form, his forehead small, without frontals; 
his jaws large; his nose high on the ridge, and narrow; his chest 
and the stamina of his make, comparatively little, and his joints 
and his extremities large; his eyes with scarce any whites, 
narrow and cunning, and every thing tending toward what is truly 
Ugly; the incapability of intellect.
  The Artist has considered his strong Man as a receptacle of
Wisdom, a sublime energizer; his features and limbs do not
spindle out into length, without strength, nor are they too large
and unwieldy for his brain and bosom.  Strength consists in
accumulation of power to the principal seat, and from thence a
regular gradation and subordination; strength is compactness, not
extent nor bulk.
  The strong Man acts from conscious superiority, and marches
on in fearless dependance on the divine decrees, raging with the
inspirations of a prophetic mind.  The Beautiful Man acts
from duty, and anxious solicitude for the fates of those for whom
he combats.  The Ugly Man acts from love of carnage, and delight
in the savage barbarities of war, rushing with sportive 
precipitation into the very teeth of the affrighted enemy.
  The Roman Soldiers rolled together in a heap before them:
"Like the rolling thing before the whirlwind;" each shew a
different character, and a different expression of fear, or
revenge, or envy, or blank horror, or amazement, or devout wonder
and unresisting awe.
  The dead and the dying, Britons naked, mingled with armed
Romans, strew the field beneath.  Among these, the last of the
Bards who were capable of attending warlike deeds, is seen
falling, outstretched among the dead and the dying; singing to
his harp in the pains of death."

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Yale Center for British Art
Copy M, Plate 7 

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 129, (E 398) 
"Where is the voice of God that calld me from the silent dew 
Where is the Lord of Vala dost thou hide in clefts of the rock 
Why shouldst thou hide thyself from Vala from the soul that wanders desolate"
Kathleen Raine
Blake and Tradition

There are many threads that are woven into Psyche's story. Her loveliness is emphasized from the beginning. Because of her perfection she is worthy to be sacrificed to appease the Gods who are punishing her people.

She lost her old life when she was sacrificed, but she simultaneously found a new life in a new place, with a new body, and with a new experience of sexual love.

She lost this new life too, through suspicion and disobedience.

If Psyche is thought of as the Soul and Cupid is thought of as Love, their union engenders the perfect existence. As the story is told there are influences, however, that drew the Soul away from the perfect unity. Doubt and disobedience destroyed the idyllic symbiosis.

Psyche had fallen into a third level of her descent but she had enough memory of her past circumstances to seek for her lost lover and the garden in which she originated.  

The path that Vala followed resembled Psyche's journey.

Vala too began as the most beautiful of the Daughters of Eternity. Her fall is not clearly described but somehow she was divided from Luvah, her other self, and drawn into the bosom of Albion.

Jerusalem, Plate 29 [33], (E 175)  
"Vala replied in clouds of tears Albions garment embracing        

I was a City & a Temple built by Albions Children.
I was a Garden planted with beauty I allured on hill & valley
The River of Life to flow against my walls & among my trees
Vala was Albions Bride & Wife in great Eternity
The loveliest of the daughters of Eternity when in day-break     

I emanated from Luvah over the Towers of Jerusalem
And in her Courts among her little Children offering up
The Sacrifice of fanatic love! why loved I Jerusalem!
Why was I one with her embracing in the Vision of Jesus
Wherefore did I loving create love, which never yet              
Immingled God & Man, when thou & I, hid the Divine Vision
In cloud of secret gloom which behold involve me round about 
Know me now Albion: look upon me I alone am Beauty
The Imaginative Human Form is but a breathing of Vala
I breathe him forth into the Heaven from my secret Cave          
Born of the Woman to obey the Woman O Albion the mighty
For the Divine appearance is Brotherhood, but I am Love"

She was assigned the task of providing bodies for the souls whom Jerusalem released into Generation. But Vala, who like Psyche was influenced by other voices, continued to fall further and further into the errors which led to decadence and destruction.

Jerusalem, Plate 7, (E 149)
"Listen, I will tell thee what is done in moments to thee unknown:

Luvah was cast into the Furnaces of affliction and sealed,       
And Vala fed in cruel delight, the Furnaces with fire:
Stern Urizen beheld; urgd by necessity to keep
The evil day afar, and if perchance with iron power
He might avert his own despair: in woe & fear he saw
Vala incircle round the Furnaces where Luvah was clos'd:         
With joy she heard his howlings, & forgot he was her Luvah,
With whom she liv'd in bliss in times of innocence & youth!"

It was necessary for Vala to travel the road of experience, to be exposed to the pain and sorrow of living in a world which exhibited the symptoms of falling away from the Divine Vision. She was brought back, not through her own efforts, but through the restoration of the Vision which reunited the scattered portions of the Divine Humanity. She lived once again in the beautiful house which was constructed for her by her lover.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between Psyche and Vala is that although to each her beloved became invisible, his voice was discernible. Each was willing to seek what they had lost and listen for the loved voice. Even though they experienced failure and felt abandoned, they found ways to continue their search until the gate back into Eternity opened for them.

Jerusalem, Plate 61, (E 212)
[Mary speaks]
"Does the voice of my Lord call me again? am I pure thro his Mercy
And Pity. Am I become lovely as a Virgin in his sight who am
Indeed a Harlot drunken with the Sacrifice of Idols does he
Call her pure as he did in the days of her Infancy when She
Was cast out to the loathing of her person. The Chaldean took
Me from my Cradle. The Amalekite stole me away upon his Camels
Before I had ever beheld with love the Face of Jehovah; or known
That there was a God of Mercy: O Mercy O Divine Humanity!
O Forgiveness & Pity & Compassion! If I were Pure I should never
Have known Thee; If I were Unpolluted I should never have        
Glorified thy Holiness, or rejoiced in thy great Salvation."
Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 126, (E 395)
"Come forth O Vala from the grass & from the silent Dew
Rise from the dews of death for the Eternal Man is Risen

She rises among flowers & looks toward the Eastern clearness
She walks yea runs her feet are wingd on the tops of the bending grass
Her garments rejoice in the vocal wind & her hair glistens with dew    

She answerd thus Whose voice is this in the voice of the nourishing air
In the spirit of the morning awaking the Soul from its grassy bed

PAGE 127 
Where dost thou dwell for it is thee I seek & but for thee
I must have slept Eternally nor have felt the dew of thy morning
Look how the opening dawn advances with vocal harmony
Look how the beams foreshew the rising of some glorious power
The sun is thine he goeth forth in his majestic brightness  
O thou creating voice that callest & who shall answer thee

Where dost thou flee O fair one where dost thou seek thy happy place

To yonder brightness there I haste for sure I came from thence
Or I must have slept eternally nor have felt the dew of morning

Eternally thou must have slept nor have felt the morning dew 
But for yon nourishing sun tis that by which thou art arisen
The birds adore the sun the beasts rise up & play in his beams
And every flower & every leaf rejoices in his light
Then O thou fair one sit thee down for thou art as the grass
Thou risest in the dew of morning & at night art folded up 

Alas am I but as a flower then will I sit me down
Then will I weep then Ill complain & sigh for immortality
And chide my maker thee O Sun that raisedst me to fall

So saying she sat down & wept beneath the apple trees

O be thou blotted out thou Sun that raisedst me to trouble 
That gavest me a heart to crave & raisedst me thy phantom
To feel thy heat & see thy light & wander here alone
Hopeless if I am like the grass & so shall pass away

Rise sluggish Soul why sitst thou here why dost thou sit & weep
Yon Sun shall wax old & decay but thou shalt ever flourish 
The fruit shall ripen & fall down & the flowers consume away
But thou shalt still survive arise O dry thy dewy tears

Hah! Shall I still survive whence came that sweet & comforting voice
And whence that voice of sorrow O sun thou art nothing now to me
Go on thy course rejoicing & let us both rejoice together 
I walk among his flocks & hear the bleating of his lambs
O that I could behold his face & follow his pure feet
I walk by the footsteps of his flocks come hither tender flocks
Can you converse with a pure Soul that seeketh for her maker
You answer not then am I set your mistress in this garden 
Ill watch you & attend your footsteps you are not like the birds"