Saturday, October 09, 2010


Mon 15 Feb 2010 02:00:49 PM EST



Spiritual Biography
Revised 2-15-10

           But when once I did descry

           The Immortal Man that cannot die,

           Thro' evening shades I haste away

           To close the labours of my day.

    (From Gates of Paradise)

       The artist, Samuel Palmer, who knew our poet well,

called him a man without a mask. With an acquaintance based only

upon Blake's href="" target="-blank">Songs of Innocence the reader may well agree. His

later mythological poems in contrast appear cryptic and enigmatic.

Nevertheless at the deepest level Blake was utterly transparent.

The myth which he created faithfully reflects his life. Like a

symphony or a quartet, myth and life had four movements.

       Begin with a childhood innocence recapitulating the dawn

of the race, the primeval Garden of Paradise. Every loved child

has this experience. In Blake's life it was protracted by a

strange set of circumstances pointing to a peculiar, almost unique

quality of love. We socialize children through the painful laying

down of the law, but Blake's parents seem to have reared him with

an absolute minimum of fear, a minimum of law, of prohibitions.

The young Blake was considerate, aware of the needs of others,

but not coerced. We know little about his childhood, but the

shape of his mind points compellingly to these circumstances.

Throughout his childhood and adolescence his psyche was largely

protected from the destructive influences of the world, although

he was very much a part of it.

       The inevitable fall, when it did occur, proved all the

more traumatic. A youth with his head full of heaven came up against the sudden realization that earthly life is directed,

ruled, and regulated by those at the other end of the cosmos.

The rulers of this world are by and large the most devoted and

loyal servants of the href=";&version=9;"
target="-blank">God of this World. The young, idealistic,

sensitive poet and artist experienced this sinking realization

suddenly and acutely. Thereafter the most gruesome visions of

fallenness filled the pages of his creations. (The same could be

said of Isaiah or Jeremiah.) Taking their cue from Blake's popular
'Songs' the critics have called this stage href=""
target="-blank">'experience', but

a more illuminating and descriptive term is 'fallenness'.

       The third stage embodies struggle. He who lives in the

fallen world without becoming a worldling learns to fight back in

some way. He develops defense mechanisms; he learns to preserve

his individuality short of martyrdom. To some extent he defies

the God of this World, and he pays a price for that defiance. On

the basis of his ironies in
target="-blank">The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Blake has been called a Satanist, but that evaluation reflects a

shallow grasp of his true moral stance. With MHH Blake discovered

new powers of expression which he used to fight the true satanic

kingdom, the fallen order of society in which he lived.

       For the fortunate few
there comes a moment when grace
reaches consciousness and glorifies the struggle. It's
the moment when one realizes that truth is on the side
of the angels, and
he is one of them. He meets a God to whom he can give
his allegance. Once he was on the losing side with his
defense mechanisms

and his defiance; suddenly he realizes that the universe is basically okay, and he's in tune with it. Happy the person who makes

that glad discovery. It came to Blake at 43 with a fundamental

alteration of consciousness.

       As a new man Blake became a gospel preacher and a Christian prophet. He had always possessed the most intense faith in

his vision; now he gained the ability to make it good news, at

least to himself and to a few devoted artists, themselves relatively unaffected by the downward drag. They caught the gleam in

his eye and the lilt in his voice as he sang his songs. What more

could a man hope for than a small group, perhaps twelve or so,

tuned and attentive to the truth which he embodies with his life?

That was the Saviour's lot, too.


O why was I born with a different face?

(from the poem, Mary, in The Pickering Manuscript]
Erdman p. 487)

       Blake was different from earliest times, and he knew it

well. Partly it was innate: his sheer intellectual quotient had to

be awesome. The concept of a spiritual quotient (in a child!) is

problematic, but in this case it should be looked at. A unique upbringing removed him further from his contemporaries. And finally

he inhabited a social environment very different from anything we

know today.


How Did He Get That Way

FIRST of all he came into the world with a tremendous endowment; some people are simply born with unusual gifts.

SECOND: Leaving school on the first day his mind was never subjected to the indoctrination most of us got from our teachers. "The primary object of primary education is to socialize the pupil to the conventions of the culture we belong to." That never happened to Blake. Instead he ....

THIRD read! and read! and read! He read the things that had fallen out of the national consciousness-- dominated by an extremely materialistic culture: the Bible, Behmen (Boehme) and hundreds of others, each in his own way representing the Perennial Philosophy. And he saw the Great Painters, not those favored by the Establishment.

FOURTH The population didn't read anything beyond the fourth grade level. When Paine asked Blake if people read him, he replied, "before the people can read it, they have to be able to read" (very much like today!). So there was a chasm between his mind and theirs (and ours).

The aforementioned video shows Tom Paine represented as the soul of rationality and Bill Blake the feeling, and above all the imagination.

So Blake's relationships were with God: Meister Eckhart, Mohammed, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Boehme, Jesus, other men who had had similar visions. He honored God with the "severe contentions of friendship & the burning fire of thought." (Jerusalem 91:17; E251)

His faith came up the hard way: Molech, Elohim, Nobodaddy, Urizen, and finally the Dear Saviour. How many of us good people can say we came to our faith like that?

Thank God we have the benefit of Blake's experience.


       At the age of four young William ran screaming from his

nursery to report to his mother that he had seen God looking in

the window. That was the first of many such bizarre confrontations.

(They went on for forty years before he satisfactorily and definitively identified God.) A happier event occurred at the age of

eight when he sighted a tree full of angels. Eagerly he reported

this vision as well; this would have earned him paternal chastisement except for the intercession of a compassionate mother. No

doubt he learned from the experience that in social intercourse one

must take into account differences of perceptibility.

    Thank God I never was sent to school

    To be Flogd into following the Style of a Fool

    (Satiric Verses Erdman 510)

       We know little about Blake's parents, but their care of

him proves unusual understanding; they must have been fully aware

that they had a genius on their hands. Perhaps their most important
decision came on
William's first day in school. In accordance

with prevailing pedagogical custom the schoolmaster severely

birched a student. Young Blake, acting upon his keen sense of

moral outrage, rose from his desk and made an immediate exit. It

was his first and last experience with formal education. His

father showed amazing respect for the child's judgment.

       That decision meant that Blake missed the usual brainwashing, or call it social conditioning, that modern psychologists

understand as the primary function of general education. It

meant that he never learned to think society's way. Instead he

thought, he saw, heard, tasted, and touched through his own doors

of perception
, and they retained their childlike clarity

throughout his life. Child, youth, or old man he always knew

whether or not the emperor had clothes on.

       Instead of school he directed his own education, primarily centered in the Bible. In the place of ordinary social

conditioning Blake was Bible soaked. The stories of Ezra and

Ezekiel were as real to him as childhood games. He must have

known large portions of the Bible word for word because line after

line, digested, assimilated, and recreated, appear in the poetry

he wrote throughout his life. You can bet that made a difference!

       Although by no means wealthy Blake's father enrolled him

at the age of ten in Pars Drawing School. He intended to give the

boy first class training as an artist, but William with characteristic sensitivity declined to be favored this way at the expense

of his brothers. Instead he proposed apprenticeship to an engraver,

a more modest financial undertaking. His father took him to see

William Ryland, the Royal engraver, and prepared to put down a

princely sum for the apprenticeship, but the child objected on the

basis of Ryland's looks; he told his father that he thought the man

would live to be hanged. Once again the elder Blake respected the

child's judgment, and sure enough, twelve years later Ryland was

hanged for forgery.

       At fourteen Blake began a seven year apprenticeship with

James Basire, an old fashioned but respectable engraver. Blessed

with understanding parents the young artist was equally fortunate

in his choice of a master. Basire, too, carefully preserved the

boy's individuality and sensitivity against the downward drag of

the world. When he found his other apprentices exploiting Blake's

innocence, he sent the child to Westminster Abbey to sketch the

gothic art found there.

       For the next five years Blake spent his days in this and

other religious monuments communing with the images of legend and

history. His imagination was nurtured and strengthened by the

spiritual treasures of his country. One day he saw Jesus walking

with the Twelve--and painted them. On another occasion he was

present, the sole artist as it happened, when the embalmed body

of a King Edward of the 15th Century was exhumed for inspection

by the Antiquary Society.

       Some of Blake's formative experiences he shared with

his contemporaries but not with us. For example 18th Century

measures against crime were rather repressive by modern standards;

petty crimes such as picking pockets were punished by hanging. A

few blocks from Blake's home was Tyburn, the public gallows. In

all likelihood on at least one occasion the impressionable lad witnessed a ten year old child being hung for his crimes. Tyburn became one of the mature poet's continually recurring symbols; he

often equated it with Calvary, and he conceived of Satan as Accuser

and Avenger.

       When Blake was nineteen, the American colonies declared

their independence. His feelings, like those of many other Londoners, resembled the feelings of American liberals 190 years later

about another war. At 23 he was swept along with a crowd that

stormed Newgate Prison and set the prisoners free, eleven years

before Bastille Day. Many in London devoutly hoped that the American revolution might spread to England. Blake saw this in his

mind's eye because thirteen years later in his poem, America,

he imaginatively described it.

       Blake's religious world was dominated by the State

Church. Bishops were civil servants, appointed by the Crown; the

religious establishment existed to all intents and purposes as part

of the oppressive bureaucracy. This yoke had been thrown off briefly in the Puritan Revolution of the 17th Century, but the Restoration once again fastened it upon the people. Many of the established religious leaders of the age were corrupt and venal. Blake knew

this from childhood and set his pen and artist's vision against

religious hypocrisy (See CHAPTER SEVEN).

       In Blake's day a strong sense of religious expectancy

filled the air, especially within the dissenting community to which

he belonged. He and many of his contemporaries hoped that an oppressive tyranny would shortly be replaced by the New Age of freedom and creativity. Today that hope has dimmed, but perhaps even

in this dark age a few might get from Blake's poetry a glimpse of

radiant possibilities.

       In 1782 the twenty five year old poet married Catherine

Boucher, the illiterate but beautiful daughter of a gardener.

Blake taught her to read, draw, and assist him in many of his artistic endeavours, and she provided a full measure of faithful emotional support to him over a long and often trying creative career.

       In his younger days Blake often voiced the prevailing

counter culture opinions about what was called free love. However

all the evidence suggests that he was a devoted and faithful husband throughout the forty five years of their life together. Her

only complaint was that he spent so much time in heaven. She made

every effort to accompany him on those journeys. She frequently

sat patiently with him through the long hours of the night while

he pursued his rapturous visions. In a notebook poem, which he

wrote after twenty five years of marriage he said, "I've a Wife I

love and that loves me;/I've all but Riches Bodily." (Erdman, 481)


       Fortunate in parents, employer and wife Blake embarked

in his twenties upon perilous paths and times. He suffered a

fate common to many artists: economic necessities loomed as a dark

shadow over the creative impulse. Like most young idealists he

still had hopes of making his way in the world, and he began to

confront the painful tension between creative work as an artist

and a comfortable income.

       Some of Blake's students believe that a grim, traumatic

event of some sort led to his disillusionment. If there was any

one thing, we have lost sight of it. We do know that by 1784 his

mind and thought had broadened beyond the pellucid innocence of

his Poetical Sketches to include the satirical stories of 'An

Island in the Moon'. In these he lampooned the polite society in

which he moved. The work probably served a healthy outlet for the

frustration of conventional conformities.

       Interpreters most often use the 'Songs of Innocence' and

'Songs of Experience' to demonstrate the contrast between Blake's

poetry before and after disillusionment. But the poem called

'Thel', written in 1789, illustrates that contrast in itself with

startling abruptness. The first five plates of Thel express the

transparent radiance of child like faith as vividly as has been done

in English. In 'Thel' the Lilly, the Cloud and finally the Clod of

Clay all witness with ethereal beauty and clarity the reality of a

warm and loving universe and their transparent destiny to move into

yet greater glory. Hear the Clod of Clay as she speaks to the maiden, Thel:


Plate Six
(Sec 4) is a shrieking,
although its symbolism is too complex to deal with
here. It does appear that Blake wants us in 'Thel' to
experience the full shock of the contrast between the
Garden and the Fall. And we must conclude that he
himself experienced it in personal trauma, although we
can't pinpoint it. Henceforth for the next twenty
years fallenness was to be his major theme.

       A good case can be made for the idea that Blake's personal fall came after a conscious decision for the world; it led

to two decades of trouble-economic and spiritual. Luckily for

us it was the one decision he couldn't make stick. With his very

best efforts he could never quite become a worldling; there were

too many angels knocking on his door. But for twenty years he

proceeded to "kick against the pricks" (Acts 9.5).


As a responsible husband Blake made a valiant effort to
conform to the social exigencies and to make his way in
the world. He won some success as an artist and was
even ashamed of his versifying because he knew that it
was against what he called the

"main chance"
He tried to be worldly and sophisticated, but he
was always coming up against compromises which he
simply couldn't make.

       For a while he and Catherine frequented the salon of a

Rev. Mathews, an intellectual and artistic dilettante. This good

man even brought out Blake's 'Poetical Sketches' in a small private

printing. But Blake's ideas about organized religion were much

too inflammatory to afford him the freedom of any parsonage for

long. Soon he and Catherine drifted away.

       Blake found a more congenial group gathering for weekly

dinners with the publisher, Joseph Johnson, his employer. Here

Blake met some of the most prominent radicals of the day, among

them Tom Paine. Blake deeply admired the republican activism of

Paine, and he liked Paine's general iconoclasm, although he and

Paine disagreed about spirit and matter. In this piquant relationship Blake might have learned how to open infinity to the

deist mind. Unfortunately before it could develop, Paine was

hounded out of the country.

       Blake enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art during the

hegemony of Sir Joshua Reynolds. He even had several exhibits

there, but he couldn't quite conform his aesthetic values to the

prevailing taste as represented by Sir Joshua. As a consequence

he found himself shut out of the lucrative popular market. In

simplest terms the popular market was fallen, then as now; Blake

refused to stoop to it, and he paid the price of poverty.

       Blake's gifts were well recognized, and he developed

quite a reputation as a teacher of drawing. One day an invitation

came to teach the children of the royal family. That assignment

would have established him in the world of fashion. But at that

awesome crossroad he chose the lower path; he declined. He knew

too well how he felt about royalty, and he also knew that he could

never enjoy the royal bounty. At that critical point he was true

to himself, and he definitively unmade the decision which had begun

his troubles; he chose spiritual values and rejected the world.

Afterward things got better spiritually, although for the moment they

worsened financially.


       These pages may suggest that Blake was something of a

nonconformist with his decisions not to go to school, not to accept his father's generous offer of expensive artistic training,

not to pursue the rewards of friendship with Rev. Mathews or Sir

Joshua Reynolds, and finally not to teach drawing to the royal

children. All these decisions taken together forced a man of out-

standing artistic ability into a drab livelihood engraving other

men's designs. They reduced him to a life of penury. He might look

like a misanthrope except that the decisions were all based on something positive.

       Blake knew a secret. He was possessed by realities

foreign to the general mind. He knew that trees were full of angels. He knew and vividly experienced an inner world so real that

it made the external world by comparison a thing of shadows. He

even had some support for his ideas. He discovered
that the

, Plotinus, Paracelsus, Boehme, and a host of others had reported on those realities, not to mention Elijah, John, Stephen,

and a few other such types. To the conditioned mind of his day

(and ours) all these reports were just stories, but to Blake they

were imaginative realities. Imagination was more real to him than

any cold blooded materiality.

       With such a psyche how could he possibly trust himself

to the sense deadening compromises by which most of us make our

way in the world? When the chips were down, he always chose principle, conviction, imagination, and never mind the cost. The surprising thing is not that he failed to make his way, but that he

managed to survive in this world for almost seventy years. He did

have a strong instinct for survival.

       So Blake lived in the world without beoming a worldling,

and he learned to fight back. His defense mechanism was telling

about his own world. In fact he turned it into a counteroffensive,

which he launched with a bang in 1789. He wrote a strange document called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in which he stood

the dominant consciousness on its head. (This work probably contains

more famous Blake quotes than any other.)

       "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' embodies new communicative skills which Blake used to raise consciousness, not among

his contemporaries, few of whom ever saw it, but among later

generations. In MHH and in subsequent prophecies he describes a

world of thought, imagination and reality foreign to the socially

conditioned mind. He deconditions us and reprograms us, or in

his language he attempts to raise us "into a perception of the

infinite." (Cf Blake's conversation with Ezekiel in MHH: in the first

of the Memorable Fancies)

       MHH celebrates Blake's discovery of his identity as a

prophet and of the use of irony, which he likely learned from

Isaiah. He called himself a devil, but that does not have the

satanic implications that simpletons have ascribed to it; all his

life Blake showed implacable enmity to Satan. Still perhaps his

greatest weapon was the ability to turn conventional ideas upside

down and let us see another reality beside the prevailing group-

think. "Without Contraries is no progression". (MHH Plate 3; Erdman

p. 34)

       For example laws are for the protection of society--or

sometimes for the advantage of those who make them. Wealth is

virtue--or sometimes thievery. Worship is life giving--unless it's

idolatrous. War is terrible--but also profitable. These are

called href="">antinomies. Blake called them contraries, and the Proverbs of Hell

in MHH express his realization that much of the world's

thinking is illegitimately one sided. In a strange way Blake's

vision showed him the other side of the coin. This is what he

shared in the decades when he fought back.

       In a letter written to William Hayley Blake indicated

that he had lost his vision about 1783 and regained it exactly

twenty years later. From this we may surmise that Blake had

chosen the world (or attempted to) when vision left him, but he

apparently had a large reservoir of visionary capital which he

lived on during his twenty years in the wilderness.

       He also had a Christian friend, Thomas Butts, a minor

civil servant who saw something in Blake that most people had

missed. (In this letter Blake explained to Butts, with

great poetic brilliance his experience "on the sands at Felpham".

Though Butts probably had no unusual visionary gifts

himself, he did recognize them in his friend Blake. To encourage

him he occasionally purchased Blake's pictures. As Butts became

more aware of Blake's poverty, he commissioned him to paint fifty

pictures at a guinea each and gave him complete freedom to choose

his subjects. Butts' financial generosity made it possible for

Blake and his wife to survive; in all likelihood his spiritual

support was even more decisive.

       A series of letters which Blake wrote Butts suggest a

relationship of mutual warmth. Major Butts affirmed Blake in

such a way that in these letters Blake dropped the cryptic and

enigmatic style which had become almost a part of him and reverted

to the limpid clarity seen in the 'Songs of Innocence'. Blake

made every effort to explain himself to Butts, and we are rewarded

in the Butts correspondence with some of the most revealing

glimpses of his mind and being.

       Blake tried to repay Butts for his kindness by offering

him spiritual direction. However it seems likely that the relationship was the reverse, at least until the moment when Blake

became confirmed in the Lordship of Christ. If Blake had a spiritual midwife, it must have been the humble customs officer.

       As the century drew to a close, in spite of his friendship with Butts Blake's spirits began to sink. Cash and work were

scarce. He began to suffer from melancholy, avoid his friends and

shrink from social scenes.

Then in 1800 he received an invitation

from a wealthy popular poetaster named William Hayley to move to

, a village by the sea, and to collaborate in some artistic

projects. Hayley in fact took Blake under his wing and set out

to make a success of him. In particular he set him to painting

miniature portraits and secured numbers of commissions for him.

At the same time he strongly discouraged Blake's interest in writing.

       This proved to be Blake's last temptation. Naturally

he felt grateful for Hayley's interest and sponsorship, but as

time went on it became increasingly clear that Hayley meant for

him to become a man of the world (painting portraits) and to turn

his back on the eternal (stop writing poetry). It was the climactic struggle between the two principles for possession of the

artist's soul. We find the struggle aptly expressed in the extravagant words of a spiritual report which Blake wrote to Butts

on January 10, 1803. (For the pertinent portion of this letter see

Erdman at the bottom of 724 and top of 725.)

A more reasoned explanation of this archetypal problem came in a
letter to George Cumberland in July 1800:

    I myself remember when I thought my pursuits of Art a
    kind of Criminal Dissipation and neglect of the main
    chance which I hid my face for not being able to
    abandon as a Passion which is forbidden by Law &

By the main chance he meant of course seeking
conventional success.


After three years at Felpham it appears that Butt's
support helped Blake to make the right final decision.
An unpleasant altercation with a drunken soldier
leading to a trial for sedition also helped. In 1803
he returned to London, richer only in experience, but
confirmed in his determination to give his spiritual
visions priority in his life.



For we wrestle not against flesh and blood...

(Ephesians 6:12)

       The study of anyone's life from a distance of two centuries requires a lot of reading between the lines. In Blake's

case we fortunately have a detailed spiritual journal reflecting

the most critical years of his life. It exists in the form of an

epic poem that he worked on for many years but never finished.

Northrup Frye called 'The Four Zoas' "the greatest abortive masterpiece in English literature". Anyone who takes the trouble to

read it three times is likely to agree with Frye; the first two

readings may mystify more than enlighten.

       Once you know the man and his language, the poem takes

on a fascinating personal dimension; it records the journey of a

soul from darkness to light. Scholars tell us that Blake wrote,

revised, cancelled, renewed, rewrote 4Z. The historical interpreters fancy that they can see the European military scene changing from line to line. But two centuries later the personal dimension, universalized into the metaphysical, is more gripping.

       In the prophetic poems between MHH and 4Z (called the

Lambeth Books) we see Blake's spiritual capital running out. Even

his secular critics observed the flagging of his vision and his

enthusiasm during the period. He was struggling with the forces

of darkness; moreover he was aware of the nature of the struggle,

and he used the Ephesian epigram accordingly at the beginning of

the poem.

       In 4Z Blake tells how the universal man lost Eden and

fell into sleep and division and how his many selves struggled in

the "torments of love and jealousy". But in the midst of these

torments something happened, the selves worked through their trials, man awoke, and Eden returned. Here we have a personal adventure which is an expression of the history of mankind.

       In the first six nights we see a spiritual genius grappling with the Fall. Blake reflected in excruciating detail on

the nature of fallenness. Why and how is mankind and the individual psyche so horribly messed up? The question haunts every

spiritual genius and afflicts us all in varying degrees. Then in

the midst of this darkness we see something strange: there are

sudden glimmerings of light for a line or two, and we begin to

realize that this may not be hell but purgatory. Few writers have

more magnificently described the light shining among the people

who walked in darkness. The really fascinating thing about 4Z is

that right in the middle of it the writer suddenly changes into a

new man. The exact moment is recorded in the action, and then the

poem becomes a testament of faith.


"There is a moment in each day that Satan cannot find."


In 4Z Blake described the Moment of Grace in terms
that closely resemble those of Jungian psychology:
shadow and anima (Blake calls them spectre and
emanation) are integrated into the self. But without
question Blake described here a personal spiritual
event of the greatest importance. It was the moment
when the divided selves found themselves reconciled
into a new being under a new Lord; it marked a radical
alteration of consciousness.

       Blake had shared with mankind a consciousness fallen

through a decision for the world and senses constricted through

turning his back upon the Divine Vision. Less guilty than most of

us, he had not reached the level of spiritual blindness which

characterizes true worldliness; nevertheless he was guilty. But

in his brokenness he opened himself to unmerited grace, with the

inevitable gracious consequences.

       In Night vii of 4Z Urizen, the ice man, the great opposer of change, effects the metamorphosis of fierce and fiery Orc,

personification of change, into a serpent who crawls up the Tree

of Mystery. An earlier prophet had written about a serpent and a

tree at the dawn of history, and since that day the two figures

have served as the basic symbols of the Fall. But Moses had used

the same combined image to symbolize healing, and Jesus harked

back to it in predicting his own impending exit from the world

and its purpose.

       Knowledge of the full weight of meaning carried by serpent and tree alerts us to an impending climax in Blake's story.

Back in Night i Los, the spirit of prophecy, the personification

of creativity, was estranged from his emanation, Enitharmon. In

Night v she gave birth to Orc, but Los chained him to earth with

the Chain of Jealousy, a sort of reverse Oedipus myth. This left

the creative selves a sorry shambles. But now in Night vii Enitharmon's shadow meets and unites with Los' spectre, and their

issue is twofold, the Whore and the Lamb. The Whore will burn,

and the Lamb will find a spotless bride.

       There's no way anyone can fully appreciate the joy of

this moment without having participated deeply in the agony and

travail which preceded it. This is but a way of saying that

there's no way anyone can appreciate the salvation of the world

without having first quenched the cup of the fallenness of the

world. Long ago a book appeared entitled No Cross, No Crown,

suggesting that we don't appreciate what God has done simply because we refuse the cup. Jesus accepted it on our behalf, and

Blake did too in his way, as does every artist or prophet or saint

who follows the narrow path.

       At the Moment of Grace the narrow path opens out into the

limitless expanse of eternity. The last half of Night vii marks

that moment in Blake's life and describes his own personal experience of Easter. Once it happened, he went on to what Kathleen

Raine called the Christianizing of his myth. In Night viii he

told the old, old story in the old, old terms, but the new creation

had taken place in Night vii.

       If these paragraphs have sufficiently confused the reader, more enlightenment may be found in CHAPTER THREE, where Blake's

myth is described at greater length. At this point I can only repeat what I said a couple of pages back: you have to read it three



       Next to the Bible the poet John Milton was Blake's most

formative spiritual influence. 'Paradise Lost' was the great religious epic in the English language, and Blake's calling as an

epic poet is closely related to his affinity with Milton. As ear-

ly as 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' he commented on Milton's

vision. Quotations from 'Paradise Lost' and allusions to it fill

the pages of 4Z. The evolving myth of Urizen, Los, and Orc may

be understood at one level as a meditation upon Milton's leading

characters--the Almighty, Satan, and Messiah.

       In the first six nights of 4Z Blake had exhausted his

vision and didn't know at first how to proceed. Then he was surprised by joy and enabled to construct a Christian conclusion to

the myth. But he didn't bother to engrave 4Z because his interests

had changed. In the next long poem, 'Milton', he worked through

and meditated upon the Moment of Grace and savored the new spiritual

world which he had inherited. 'Milton' is a record of Blake's

Christian honeymoon.

       In the first part of 'Milton', called the "Bard's Song',

Blake deals with the dramatic years at Felpham. Here we find

Blake's definitive and full bodied portrait of Satan. Blake had

come full circle from his ironic identification with the Devil in

MHH. Now he identified Hayley with Satan, which seems rather uncharitable. We need to bear in mind that there were two Hayleys

in Blake's mind. The first Hayley was a corporeal friend who had

lured him to Felpham and tried to do him in spiritually: "Corporeal friends are spiritual enemies". This Hayley served as tempter in what we may call Blake's last temptation. The other Hayley

was a fellow sufferer with Blake, an artist whom Blake continued

to encourage and nurture, as the letters attest.

       In the remainder of 'Milton' Blake's hero, John Milton,

after a hundred years in Eternity, reenacts the kenosis (self emptying) of Christ and descends to redeem his successor, Blake, and

mankind. The poem is full of a beauty and joy which had been

largely absent from Blake's pen since 'Songs of Innocence'. It

contains some of his finest nature poetry. Between the end

of SI and the Moment of Grace Blake had seen and described nature

as corrupt, as groaning in travail. Now in 'Milton' he sees creation redeemed just as Paul had said that it would be:

  Thou hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of Spring.
The Lark sitting upon his earthy bed, just as the morn
Appears, listens silent; then springing from the waving
Cornfield, loud
He leads the Choir of Day: trill, trill, trill, trill,
Mounting upon the wings of light into the Great Expanse,
Reecchoing against the lovely blue & shining heavenly Shell,
His little throat labours with inspiration; every feather
On throat & breast & wings vibrates with the effluence Divine.
All Nature listens silent to him, & the awful Sun
Stands still upon the Mountain looking on this little Bird
With eyes of soft humility & wonder, love & awe.
Then loud from their green covert all the Birds begin their Song:
The Thrush, the Linnet & the Goldfinch, Robin & the Wren
Awake the Sun from his sweet reverie upon the Mountain.
The Nightingale again assays his song, & thro' the day
And thro' the night warbles luxuriant, every Bird of Song
Attending his loud harmony with admiration & love.

       The primary monument of Blake, the new man, is the epic

poem, 'Jerusalem'. The old man wrote of fallenness; the new man

continues to describe the world as it is, but the note of grace

runs like a thread through all the hell of fallen life and leads

us out in the last pages into heaven. "Jerusalem' is for the

reader who knows Blake; he can rejoice. Others are well advised

not to invest much in the poem until they have some grounding in

Blake's myth and his symbolic language. However any reader acquainted with the book of Revelation may find joy in Blake's closing vision of the end of time and the moral principle upon which

it rests.

       Apocalyptic yearnings were the staple diet of the religious radical mind and school which Blake most nearly approached.

After his awakening in 1800 his vision of apocalypse was fleshed

out and glorified by his positive faith in Jesus, who died for

our sins. He saw all the fallenness fall away like a cloud when,

following Jesus' example of self giving love,

       [Albion] threw himself into the Furnaces of affliction.
All was a Vision, all a Dream: the Furnaces became
Fountains of Living Waters flowing from the Humanity Divine.

       No one has ever looked more deeply into the evil of the

world and discovered so glorious an outcome. It has cheered all

of the sorrowful who have known Blake, and it will cheer many more

in the future. It's in this that he most vividly resembled his

Lord, who suffered crucifixion and death and gave back life and


       With the completion of 'Jerusalem' Blake's poetic work

was done, but his crowning work of art came in a series of pictures created as illustrations of the book of Job. That work has

mystified many through the ages, and many diverse interpretations

of it have been offered. Blake seized upon it for one last telling

of his story. A picture is worth a thousand words, and these 21

pictures speak with simple eloquence of the man who had the whole

world, saw it turn to ashes, and saw a new and better world take

its place. In the course of these events Job's vision of God

turned to Satan, and a new and more real vision took its place.

The most vivid image for me is the picture and moment when Job

and his wife intently watch Satan falling from Heaven and by his

side fall two small figures who may be identified as old Job and

old wife; two new creatures have taken their place. These pictures merit much study, and they yield a simple but profound understanding of Blake's life and myth, and, if he is right, the

life of every man and of the world.

       In his last years a small group of liberal and progressive artists gathered around Blake, and he at last enjoyed a modest measure of that human acceptance which had eluded him for

most of his life. John Linnell assumed the loving care supplied

in earlier days by Thomas Butts; all but two of our last series

of letters are addressed to this young artist and his wife. Illness overtook Blake in 1826, but he remained in high spirits and

had a song of praise on his lips, an original of course, at the

moment of his departure from this world.

Here is a more secular biography.)

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