Saturday, December 25, 2004

Reflections on William Blake I

As I stated in an earlier post Blake may be considered a precursor of Jung and Campbell.
Blake was considered the first of the romantic poets, but sadly neglected for the first hundred years after his death. (At church I once knew a brilliant young man who had studied romantic literature and asked him how he compared Blake to Keats, Wordsworth, etc. He replied that the rest have relatively speaking nothing to say.)

Much of Blake's writing is opaque to the ordinary reader; it yields its spiritual value only after assiduous study, which most of us are unwilling or unable to undertake.

I knew for years that I should study Blake. Too often one of his aphorisms showed up at chapter headings or on the frontspiece of books. I vaguely knew that his apparent approval of what was known in those days as free love made him an icon to the free spirited sixties generation.

In the early 80's I had a job that required very little; I began working on Blake. Northrup Frye's Fearful Symmetry was my tutor; I read it five times. Some other introductions to Blake may be better.

I spent 5 years writing my thoughts on Blake and made a feeble, unsuccesful attempt to get it published.

After those years of study it struck me forcibly that Blake was a very religious man. Re sex: though he seemed to advocate free love, he had a happy marriage to a single woman for 40 years. He actually used sex as a figure for rebellion against insipid social conventions.

My favorite quote, as I've used here before:
when someone asked him if he believe Jesus was the son of God, he replied, "Yes he is, and so am I, and so are you." Hurrah! he supports the low christology that I find most real.

"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's" says to me question authority, don't believe all the establishment tells you, be an individual.

Blake created a mythology; it parallels the one found in the Bible (he was said to be a Bible-soaked Protestant). The central figure was the "Four Zoas".

Near the end of this "unfinished masterpiece" Blake had a religious experience which can only be called Enlightenment, after which he rewrote the myth with two long poems called Milton and Jerusalem.

The Four Zoas were the precursors of the "four functions", discovered by Carl Jung many years later.

-------To be continued---------


Marjorie said...

I find Blake very opaque -- not that I've even read much of him. We studied Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright in school and I still can't tell you what its about. School has a way of killing lots of things that are otherwise interesting. I imagine someday I'll get interested in Blake, I'm just now beginning to appreciate poetry.

Jon said...

Wow! I didn't know you were a Blakean scholar. I look forward to reading your next post!