Following his target="">Fundamental Presuppositions Blake, like
virtually every mystic and esoteric perceived sex as
the primary created duality. href="primer.htm#paracelsus" target="">Paracelsus
may have best described his point; Percival quoted at
length a summary in this respect of his viewpoint:
This means that Blake (and Paracelsus) in their use of
sex have a primarily metaphysical rather than a physical
connotation. Nevertheless Blake began working with a
sexual hangup of some sort; however he satisfactorily
worked it through with some 40 years of happy marriage.
In the Christian faith marriage is a sacrament, and for
many of us the primary sacrament. However living the
sacrament was no more common in Blake's day than in
ours. 18th and 19th century England seemed largely to
view marriage more as a commercial transaction.
Such a view led Blake to condemn the target="-blank">marriage hearse. He also condemned
Many people have deeply misunderstood Blake's doctrine
of sex. It has complex roots and abounds in parodoxes that defy
casual acquaintance. But like most things the subject yields to
close and careful study. If we can separate the conflicting
strands of thought and resolve the parodoxes, we may achieve a
better understanding of Blake, the man and the thinker, than is
enjoyed by most even among his interpreters.
In this chapter we start from the platform of his known
personal experiences. Then we explore his early statements about
sex in the light of what we know of his life. We examine the biblical and heterodox traditions and the symbology of sex and finally look at the ways in which the mature Christian poet dealt
with sex in his art. In the light of all this we may
begin to perceive in Blake's poetry a journal of his
spiritual progress; this is especially true of href="http://www.english.uga.edu/nhilton/Blake/blaketxt1/the_four_zoas.html" target="-blank">The Four Zoas, where the triangle
of Blake, his wife, and the target="-blank">Spectre bring about a
reconciliation and level of understanding at the
spiritual level where love finds its apogee.
(Look especially at the last quatrain. Note
that in this poem 'love' has a very special meaning,
nothing like the use we've made of the word here.)
If you want to skip ahead:
Visions of the Daughters of Albion
target="-blank">Sex as Symbol
The Two Women
A review of Blake's early life suggests the most normal
and ordinary psychosexual development,
to which the biographers testify. Through his refusal of formal
) Blake appears to have escaped many of
the common pathologies of sex that afflicted his age as ours. In
fact he systematically held some of them up to ridicule.
never tired of painting the human form, and he usually refused to
hide it with clothes. Virtually his only models were his wife and
himself. We read that a friend once found them naked in the garden of their home. In all probability they were planning poses
and postures for his illustrations of 'Paradise Lost'.
In his early twenties Blake formed an
emotional attachment to a young woman named Polly Wood.
Unfortunately Polly had
other interests, and when he showed jealousy, she asked him if he
were a fool. The experience seems to have cured him of jealousy;
in fact the foolishness of jealousy became a life long motif; his
false God received the name (among others) of
"Father of Jealousy".
On the rebound he met a beautiful girl named Catherine
Boucher, a gardener's daughter. He told Catherine his mournful
story, and when she pitied him, he promptly transfered his affection to her. A year later they were married, a relationship
that according to all the evidence seems to have been made in
Illiterate at her marriage, Catherine Blake must have
been a gifted and rare person; she had a great deal to
do with Blake's enormous creativity. Her high and continuous
level of affirmation released Blake from the drain of domestic
preoccupations. She affirmed and encouraged his gift of vision
even when it meant long hours of wakefulness while he communed
with heaven. She provided the appreciative audience that the
world in general denied Blake and made him a happy creative artist in the same way that J.S.Bach was happy.
One important influence on Blake's ideology of sex came
from certain left wing religious dissenters. The antinomians
deeply affected Blake's world of thought.
They considered marriage a part of the law which they wanted to
abolish. They claimed the right, living above the law, to cohabitate with whomever, whenever and wherever they felt led. We
find evidence of similar excesses among fringe groups both in the
New Testament and in the 20th Century:
Remove away that black'ning church:
Remove away that marriage hearse:
Remove away that man of blood:
You'll quite remove the ancient curse.
(An Ancient Proverb; in Songs and Ballard;
Erdman p. 475)
Blake found these ideas attractive as a young man, but
no one believes that he carried them very far in practice. Libertines and hedonists have at times made Blake their hero, but
they simply don't know their man. All the evidence suggests that
Blake lived as a faithful and loving husband for some forty five
years--and a happy one as well (This is spite of a recent fanciful
'biography' of Catherine Blake).
What Blake hated was not monogamy but jealousy and the
idea of a lover or spouse as a possession:
We have a story to the effect that early in his marriage
Blake proposed to bring home a concubine (sneaking around was futhest from his thoughts!) His young wife cried at the idea, and
he dropped it(see note). In all likelihood the concubine notion came from
Blake's friend, Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest of liberated
Blake had illustrated two of this lady's works shortly before she
wrote a sensational essay called
"Vindication of the Rights of Women".
Mary Wollstonecraft advocated the radical
equality of the sexes, which Blake endorsed. She tried to live
in the freedom generally reserved for men (and claimed by few
even of them!) Blake was among those who supported her in this
endeavor. She lived an adventurous and tragic life and died
giving birth to another Mary, who became the wife of the poet,
Blake had a very complex psyche one could discuss to exhaustion his
various sexual attitude and points of view. According to Damon, who
wrote A Blake Dictionary, Blake believed that "the domination of woman
is one of the greatest forces corrupting society" (page
447); he quote as
What may Woman be
to have power over Man from cradle to corruptible
There's a throne in every man;it's the
throne of God;
this Woman has claimed as her own and Man is no more!"
(Jerusalem plate 30, lines 25-28)
Visions of the Daughters of Albion
also target="-blank">Purdues web page for the graphic dimension).
Blake may have written his short poem,
Wollstonecraft in mind; however he wrote an earlier and larger work reflecting her philosophy of sex:
About the time he completed 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'
Blake produced a large illuminated poem called
'Visions of the Daughters of Albion'.
Like all of his creations VDA addresses
metaphysical and political concerns. The reader unfamiliar with
Blake's thought forms and symbology will find much of it enigmatic, but a number of passages transparently reveal his thoughts
and feelings about the relations between man and woman:
Oothoon, href="notes.htm#oothoon">the soft soul of America, like an earlier
maiden named Proserpine, plucks a flower and pays the price.
Proserpine, you may remember, was rapt away into the underworld
to be the bride of Pluto. In Oothoon's case the price began when,
on her way with delight to her lover, Theotormon, she is raped by
Bromion, a most rigid representative of the law, in fact a law
abiding the slave trade.
Thereafter Oothoon and Bromion are bound
back to back in Theotormon's cave with what is commonly known as
a ball and chain. The poem largely consists of a colloquy among
these three: Oothoon, the idealist; Bromion, the materialist;
and Theotormon, a timid soul who can't make up his mind. As his
name suggests, this young man is tormented by God given taboos
about damaged goods. The God in this vision is named Urizen and
also called the Father of Jealousy.
Typically Blake lays sexual oppression at the door of
false religion. In the midst of Oothoon's lament,
after a long series of Job-like questions, we read:
With what sense does the parson claim the labour
of the farmer? What are his nets & gins and
traps; & how does he surround him With cold
floods of abstraction, and with forests of
solitude, To build him castles and high spires,
where kings and priests may dwell; Till she who
burns with youth, and knows no fixed lot, is
bound In spells of law to one she loaths? and
must she drag the chain of Life in weary lust?
must chilling, murderous thoughts obscure The
clear heaven of her eternal spring;
(VDA 5:17-24 Key 193)
A loveless marriage is a profanation of the greatest
gift of life; nothing could arouse Blake to a whiter heat of indignation. Wollstonecraft had called it legal prostitution. In
the lines that follow Oothoon href="http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/Blake.htm"
target="-blank">names and radically disaffirms (go to VDA Plate 6, to
the passage beginning "Take thy bliss, 0 Man!") the
sick social attitudes that make sex a hidden and forbidden secret
pleasure, and that degrade the highest sacrament, marriage, into
a life sentence at hard labor:
Theotormon's jealousy casts Oothoon out
and darkens her into "a solitary shadow wailing on the margin of
non-entity". Blake developed this theme at the beginning of 'The
Four Zoas'. There he ascribed the jealousy to
Enion; it precipitated the Circle of Destiny (The Four Zoas [Nt 1], 5.)(all our sorrow!), sank Tharmas into
the sea and condemned Enion to the very "margin of non-entity" of
which Oothoon had spoken.
To perceive a lover or spouse as a possession (a thing)
is a fatal act that brings about the deterioration of life. In
fact the nature of fallenness is to degrade the person (the real)
to the material (the illusory). The one tormented by jealousy
loses the capability of creative life; in biblical language he
covers his soul with a thick layer of miry clay, not to mention
what he does to others! The profound theological
corollary suggested by VDA. is that if we weren't
jealous people, we wouldn't have a jealous God.
Obviously the Old Testament symbol of a jealous God has
other meanings, but rightly or wrongly that is what it
seems to have meant to Blake.
Long before Freud's day Blake understood and described
the close relationship, in fact the identity, between
sexuality and creativity. He considered sexual
fulfilment the primary means of artistic achievement.
The picture in 'Milton' plate 42 portrays the post
coital moment with the eagle of inspiration hovering
On the other hand all the evils of life Blake related
to frustrated or sick sex. War in particular is
perverted sexuality. The worship of the Queen of
Heaven induces chastity with war as a substitute
fulfilment. Blake's warrior cries, "I am drunk with
unsatiated love, I must rush again to War, for the
Virgin has frowned and refused."
Blake's mind was fourfold, which means that most of
what he wrote is susceptible to more than one
meaning. David Erdman in Prophet
Against Empire saw VDA as political
oratory at the service of the anti-slavery lobby.
Oothoon is the type of the slave (of either sex); (in
slave times the owner often claimed prenuptial
privileges with the body of his slave). Bromion is the
type of the merciless slave trader, and Theotormon of
the wishy-washy conformist who can't quite bring
himself to express his opposition to slavery (much as
the many good Christians in America who couldn't quite
bring themselves to condemn the war).
Sex as Symbol
Blake used the female as the basic symbol for the
material and for the materialistic viewpoint. The history of this
concept goes as far back as the beginning of time. The Sun represents
a masculine God, the Moon, a Goddess, such as
Diana, the great goddess of Ephesus, whose priests raised a riot
against the apostle Paul, reported at Acts 19.
after MHH he wrote 'Jerusalem' where
the "female will" approaches identity with Satan. Both
terms connote a preoccupation with the material, putting it first
and only. Thus when we read a passage like
The Human is but a Worm, and thou, 0 Male! Thou art
Thyself Female, a Male, a breeder of Seed, a Son & Husband; & Lo
The Human Divine is Woman's Shadow, a Vapor in the summer's heat.
Go assume Papal dignity, thou Spectre, thou Male Harlot! Arthur,
Divide into the Kings of Europe in times remote, 0 Woman-born
and Woman-nourish'd and Woman-educated & Woman-scorned!
(Jerusalem, 64.12; E215)
spoken by Vala, the personification of the "female will", we understand that Blake is not talking about what we know as the sex
economy, but rather making a hard nosed statement of the nature
of fallenness: the dominance of the material over the spiritual,
a dominance all too evident in his age as in ours. This sad situation was always Blake's major concern, and the basic symbol
with which he expressed it was that of sex. When we remember to
translate male/female into spiritual/material or eternal/temporal,
we make a great gain in our understanding of Blake.
Milton's theory of sex influenced Blake as much as any
other literary source. 'Paradise Lost' provides a definitive
model for much of the sexual imagery that Blake used. Professor
Frye calls our attention to a line in Book iv of P
. L. describing Adam and
Eve: "Hee for God only, shee for God in him" Frye reminds us
that this applies only to the unfallen pair; it assigns to Adam
a purely spiritual authority. The male dominance of material
history Frye calls a "fallen analogy" of that spiritual relationship.
All this enriches our understanding of the meaning of
Astarte in her many forms and of the priests' reactions to her
which color virtually every word of the Old Testament and its literary
descendants: God is male, the Creator. Nature is female, the
Creation. The soul (of man and woman) is female in relation to
her Creator. Christ is the bridegroom; in union with him we a11
(of both sexes) become part of the bride. The modern man can
accept this only as an imperfect metaphor for spiritual reality
According to Blake's myth sexes begin in the moony
night of Beulah
where the Etemals came to rest from the arduous
wars of intellect that have filled their sunny days in Eden:
There is from Great Eternity a mild and pleasant rest
Named Beulah, a Soft Moony Universe, feminine, lovely,
Pure, mild and Gentle, given in Mercy to those who sleep..
(The Four Zoas [Nt 1], 5.29; E303)
Beulah, one of Blake's most ambiguous images, is a way
station between Eden and Ulro. The Eternal, sleeping in Beulah,
may rise from his sexual dreams and return to the activity of
Eden, or he may fall further into Death Eternal, which is exactly
what happened to Albion. Unable to find his way back to Heaven
he lapsed into a deeper form of sleep where the female develops
a will of her own and lures the male into the "torments of love
and Jealousy". Late in 'Jerusalem' the warrior, speaking for
Albion, gives a glimpse of his true (fallen) situation and laments"
Once Man was occupied in intellectual pleasures and Energies,
But now my Soul is harrow'd with grief and fear & love & desire,
And now I hate, & now I love, and Intellect is no more.
There is no time for any thing but the torments of love and desire.
(Jerusalem, 68.65; E222)
There are four worlds in Blake's psychic universe:
Generation or the 'sexual' symbolizes for Blake this unfortunate materialization of spirit manifested in the Fall and in
a fallen Creation. He also used the term 'vegetable'.
Eternity is androgynous. In Beulah, which means Married, the
sexes are divided into loving and restful contraries. With the
Fall the Female Will becomes dominant; the Human Form deteriorates
to the sexual in which male and female, spirit and matter, exist in a
state of constant warfare. Man has fallen into the fourth world of href="notes.htm#ulro" target="-blank">Ulro. But whatever falls may rise again.
The third world,
Generation, is the world of Los, fallen man's imaginative faculty.
Los generates or brings forth artistic creations, structures of
thought, myths of meaning, much as a woman brings forth children.
These creations always turn bad (or perhaps just moldy) and are broken up and cast into
Los's furnace for renewal. The process of generation and destruction would go on indefinitely, like the cycle of Nature,
Moment of Grace
breaks in upon it. Los learns to forgive. His emanation, Enitharmon, now joins him as an instrument
of a regeneration offering redemptive promise. Blake proclaims,
"0 holy generation, image of regeneration".
The change in Los and Enitharmon, who together make up
fallen man's imaginative faculty, prepares the ground for the
generation of Jesus. The Sons of Eden announce this event in
Night viii of 4Z with a paean of praise. Careful study of the
entire song will cast more light on the meaning of Blake's symbolism of sex and generation; here are the final seven lines:
we now behold the Ends of Beulah, and we now behold
Where death Eternal is put off Eternally.
Assume the dark Satanic body in the Virgin's womb,
0 Lamb Divine! it cannot thee annoy. 0 pitying one,
Thy pity is from the foundation of the world, & thy Redemption
Begun already in Eternity. Come then, 0 Lamb of God,
Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
What Blake reports next should be a welcome change for
the by now outraged feminist. With his usual consistency he follows the divine annunciation with the appearance of Satan, and
the worst thing he can say about Satan is to call him a "male
without a female":
The war roar'd round Jerusalem's Gates; it took a hideous form
Seen in the aggregate, a Vast Hermaphroditic form
Heav'd like an Earthquake lab'ring with convulsive groans
Intolerable; at length an awful wonder burst
From the Hermaphroditic bosom. Satan he was nam'd,
Son of Perdition, terrible his form, dishumaniz'd, monstrous,
A male without a female counterpart, a howling fiend
Forlorn of Eden, repugnant to the forms of life,
Yet hiding the shadowy female Vala as in an ark & Curtains,
Abhorr'd, accursed, ever dying an Eternal death,
Being multitudes of tyrant Men in union blasphemous
Against the Divine Image, Congregated assemblies of wicked men.
(The Four Zoas [Nt 8], 104[2nd].30; E378)
A little poem which Blake attached to the end of 'Songs
of Experience' casts light on his metaphysics as it relates to
Whate'er is Born of Mortal Birth
Must be consumed with the Earth
To rise from Generation free:
Then what have I to do with thee? (note)
The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride,
Blow'd in the room; in evening died;
But Mercy chang'd Death into Sleep;
The Sexes rose to work & weep.
Thou, Mother of my Mortal part,
With cruelty didst mould my Heart,
And with false self-deceiving tears
Didst bind my Nostrils, Eyes and Ears:
Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay,
And me to Mortal Life betray.
The Death of Jesus set me free:
Then what have I to do with thee?
"What have I to do with thee?" Here Blake quotes the
words which Jesus spoke to his mother at the Wedding of Cana,
which indicates the symbolic signification which Mary had for
him, "Thou, Mother of my Mortal part"--my material part, my temporal part! Like Paul Blake wants us to know that the "things
which are seen" are passing. He goes further than Paul in suggesting that the "things which are seen" are also cruel and oppressive.
In Blake's prophecies after VDA the female comes to
symbolize the temporal. She is associated with the fallen Sea of Time and Space. The first earthly female, Enitharroon, has her
origin in a ghastly parody of the story of Adam and Eve: After
Los chained Urizen into the fallen forms of creation, he sickened
and "became what he beheld", and Enitharmon materialized as a
Globe of Blood from his bosom.
In "The Four Zoas" Enitharmon has a different origin;
she and Los are born from the union of Enion and the Spectre of
Tharmas. She is an altogether sinister female until the target="-blank">
of Grace. When Los comments on the burdens of their parents, she
To make us happy let them weary their immortal powers
While we draw in their sweet delights, while we return them scorn
On scorn to feed our discontent; for if we grateful prove
They will withhold sweet love, whose food is thorns and bitter roots.
(The Four Zoas [Nt 1], 10.3; E305)
and proceeds to sing him the
"Song of Death".
A thoroughgoing materialist, she has only
the love of the Pebble;
she sees the love of the Clod of Clay simply as a
weakness to exploit. Enitharmon leads Los to the "Feast of Envy" (The
Four Zoas [Nt 2], 23.10; E313),
one of Blake's first and greatest epiphanies of Evil.
At the end of Night ii we find Enitharmon at her worst,
using her sex appeal to tease and frustrate, luring Los on only
to withdraw, determined to possess him and give nothing:
for thou art mine,
Created for my will, my slave, tho' strong, tho' I am weak.
Farewell, the God calls me away. I depart in my sweet bliss,
(The Four Zoas [Nt 2], 34.46; E323)
and a few lines further:
The joy of woman is the death of her most best beloved
Who dies for Love of her
In torments of fierce jealousy and pangs of adoration.
These lines perhaps led some to postulate sexual deprivation in Blake's marriage. They certainly reveal first hand experience with a teasing bitch of the worst sort. But in my opinion Catherine could not possibly have been such a woman. However any who have seen materialistic lovers know that it rings
With the fall of Urizen Enitharoon loses her vicious
side and becomes simply a clinging, dependent woman. She gives
birth to Orc and centers her affection upon him until the target="-blank">
of Grace. At that point she begins to cooperate with Los in the
building of Golgonooza.
A much more sinister female is Vala. In Night vii, at the critical hinge of
Blake's myth, the Spectre of Urthona and the Shadow of Enitharmon
meet beneath the Tree of Mystery and compare notes. Each gives
his version of the Fateful Fall, and they agree that the cause
was a female. Here is the Shadow's version:
Among the Flowers of Beulah walk'd the Eternal Man & saw
Vala, the lilly of the desart melting in high noon;
Upon her bosom in sweet bliss he fainted. Wonder siez'd
All heaven; they saw him dark;
And the Spectre's version:
One dread morn of gory blood
The manhood was divided, for the gentle passions, making way
Thro' the infinite labyrinths of the heart & thro' the nostrils
In odorous stupefaction, stood before the Eyes of Man
A female bright.
in Night iii makes the same point. (Bear in mind that in Blake's
primary mythology the female represents materiality.) Again the reader should note that in all three of these
accounts of the Fall the blame attaches, not to sensual enjoyment,
but to the preoccupation with the material which it symbolizes.
Blake uses these most vivid concrete images to arouse his reader
to the consciousness that Man has turned his back upon the eternal.
This becomes clearer as you read further, especially in the first
of the three examples given above.
Vala, called the goddess of Nature, generally stands
for preoccupation with the material. 'Bacon, Newton, Locke',
the Unholy Trinity of Materialism, and Satan, the God of this
World, serve as alternative symbols for the same misfortune, but
again and again Blake returns to the Female Will. He names her
Vala in his early works. In the fully matured myth the concept
broadens to include other female characters: target="-blank">Rahab, Tirzah, and
the Daughters of Albion, but all these females represent various
facets of Vala.
The Two Women
When Blake began to work on his epic myth, he intended
to focus upon the wicked career of Vala, but as time went by, he
became more interested in the Zoas, which no doubt helped to relieve the anti-feminine bent of his metaphysics. Vala temporarily sank to the level of a minor character, and Blake laid most
of the guilt for man's sorry state upon Urizen.
Moment of Grace
brought another significant change: Vala fumed into two
females, Rahab and Jerusalem, both of whom issue from Enitharmon.
When Blake gave Rahab the alternate name of Babylon, he came into conformance with the basic symbology of the Bible. Throughout
the scripture we read about these two women/cities. Jerusalem is
at least potentially the city of God, while Babylon always represents the seat of the God of this World. In his last epic Blake's
Vala has become virtually interchangeable with Babylon.
We have already noted the biblical sources of Blake's
two symbolic women in the 12th and 17th chapters ot Revelation. In the first of these John sees a woman
"clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet". In the second
he described "the great whore that sitteth upon many waters".
These two women in the Bible aptly prefigure Blake's Jerusalem
and Vala, and a careful study of the two chapters will help the
reader to shape in his own mind the identity of Blake's two characters.
John and Blake both drew their paired women from earlier
sources. Frye calls them "royal metaphors" for the twin totalities of good and evil, of redemption and damnation that fill the
pages of the Bible. The Tower of Babel, the first city of sin,
led to the confusion of tongues. Following God's command Abraham,
the father of the Hebrews, left Ur, a few miles from Babylon and
eventually settled in the Promised Land. The first Captivity occured in Egypt, which later biblical literature often treats as
synonymous with Babylon. The second Captivity took place at
Babylon. A later captivity was to Rome, which John the Apocalyptist called Babylon: in Revelation he celebrated the burning of
the Whore of Babylon.
Meanwhile Melchizidek, King of Salem and priest of the
Most High God, had blessed Abraham. Some centuries later David
established Jerusalem as his capital. The Song of Solomon is a
poem and love song about a king and his bride. This theme became
a primary symbol of the relation between Jerusalem, representing
the Chosen People, and God. The prophets constantly referred to
Jerusalem as a woman, married to God, but too often faithless,
whoring after other gods. Hosea's stories about the love of the
betrayed husband for his faithless wife, Gomer, poetically express the highest level of the Hebrew consciousness of God. On
occasion the prophets became so enraged that they identified Jerusalem with Babylon. For example John spoke of "the great city
which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord
This biblical background prepares us to cope with the
woman found in Blake's poem, 'Jerusalem' . As we have seen, in
the poetry of the first half of Blake's life the woman is sinister.
She represents the material; the material is unworthy, reprehensible, satanic. This is the typical Gnostic position and to a
lesser extent the Neo-platonic position. Blake stated it very
explicitly and with his usual hyperbole in href="http://www.iath.virginia.edu/cgi-bin/nph-1965/blake/erdman/erd/@Generic__BookTextView/59949;pt=61315"
target="-blank">'Visions of the Last Judgment' (See also the href="http://www.apocalyptic-theories.com/gallery/lastjudge/blake.html" target="-blank">image): "I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward
Creation & that to me it is hindrance and not Action; it is as the
Dirt upon my feet. No part of Me."
He wrote that as late as 1810.
Nevertheless after the
Moment of Grace Blake's perspective on
matter (and Woman!) softened. At first there had been only the
sinister woman, but now the Woman of Grace appeared as well.
In the poem, Jerusalem,
we find a discourse and a conflict between these two women. Vala speaks for the kingdom of
Satan, and Jerusalem speaks for the kingdom of Heaven. Their
interaction dominates the poem and must fascinate anyone interested in those two subjects. The epic is a straightforward conflict between light and darkness as Blake understood those two
realities. Vala wins most of the battles, but we always know who
must win the war.
Blake describes reality imaginatively and dramatically
in terms of ultimate value; this is basically an expression of
faith. If one believes in the higher values: in spirit, in truth,
in justice and love, then one imagines these things ultimately
victorious. Blake did, and he concluded the passage from VLJ
quoted above: "What, it will be Question'd, 'When the Sun rises,
do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?' 0
no, no, 1 see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying
'Holy, holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.'" In Blake's final
epic Vala represents the guinea sun and Jerusalem the "innumerable company of the Heavenly host". Needless to say those who
see only the guinea sun will not be attracted to the poem.
At the very beginning of Blakes' poem,
Jerusalem, he makes us
fully aware that the new woman represents something entirely
other than the disreputable matter of earlier writing. She is
just the opposite; she is Spirit or rather the manifestation of
Spirit in this world. The Saviour confronts the sleeping Albion
and identifies his disease, "where hast thou hidden thy Emanation, lovely Jerusalem". But the "perturbed Man" denies Christ
and denies Jerusalem: "Jerusalem is not! her daughters are indefinite: By demonstration man alone can live, and not by faith.
A few lines further the poet announces that
Jerusalem is scatter'd abroad like a cloud of smoke thro' nonentity.
Moab & Ammon & Amalek & Canaan & Egypt & Aram
Receive her little ones for sacrifices and the delights of
The place names represent the six heathen nations or
the powers of evil that surround the Chosen People. The import
of all this in another biblical phrase is that "He who departs
from evil makes himself a prey".
Very shortly we meet the Daughters of Albion; they represent the feminine dimension of the materialistic impulses of
Man: "Names anciently remember'd, but now contemn'd as fictions.
Although in every bosom they controll our Vegetative powers".
Eventually a redemptive moment occurs when, Los having subdued
and integrated his Spectre, his Sons and Daughters "come forth
from the Furnaces". Erin, like America a symbol of redemption,
Vala is but thy Shadow, 0 thou loveliest among women!
A shadow animated by thy tears, 0 mournful Jerusalem!
Why wilt thou give to her a Body whose life is but a Shade?
Her joy and love, a shade, a shade of sweet repose:
But animated and vegetated she is a devouring Worm.
What shall we do for thee, 0 lovely mild Jerusalem?
The fallen Sons of Albion express the opposite viewpoint. In Plate 18, in a prophetic statement worthy of Isaiah in
its irony, the twelve Sons of Albion describe explicitly and in
detail their relationship to Jerusalem and to Vala:
Cast, Cast ye Jerusalem forth! The Shadow of delusions!
The Harlot daughter! Mother of pity and dishonourable forgiveness!
Our Father Albion's sin and shame! But father now no more,
Nor sons, nor hateful peace & love, nor soft complacencies,
With transgressors meeting in brotherhood around the table
Or in the porch or garden. No more the sinful delights
Of age and youth, and boy and girl, and animal and herb,
And river and mountain, and city & village, and house and family,
Beneath the Oak and Palm, beneath the Vine and fig tree,
In Self-denial!--But War and deadly contention Between
Father and Son, and light and love! All bold asperities
Of Haters met in deadly strife, rending the house & garden
The unforgiving porches, the tables of enmity, and beds
And chambers of trembling & suspicion, hatreds of age & youth,
And boy & girl, & animal & herb, & river & mountain,
And city & village, and house & family, That the Perfect
May live in glory, redeem'd by Sacrifice of the Lamb
And of his children before sinful Jerusalem. To build
Babylon the City of Vala, the Goddess Virgin-Mother.
She is our Mother! Nature! Jerusalem is our Harlot-Sister
Return'd with Children of pollution to defile our House
With Sin and Shame. Cast, Cast her into the Potter's field!
Her little ones She must slay upon our Altars, and her aged
Parents must be carried into captivity: to redeem her Soul,
To be for a Shame & a Curse, and to be our Slaves for ever.
In an extended passage too long to quote here Blake
gives a colloquy with the fainting, confused Albion and the two
females competing for his heart. It's actually a recreation of
the earlier colloquy in VDA, and infinitely richer and fuller. Albion wavers exactly like Theotormon; Vala, like
Bromion, is implacably blind, and Jerusalem has the eloquence of
the earlier heroine. In this scene, like the earlier one, Blake
describes the eternal battle between faith and worldliness.
Look also at the passage on Plates 32-34 and remember
that Albion, Vala and Los each speaks from his own viewpoint. To
understand Blake's vision the reader must imaginatively enter the
psychic state of each of the three characters. Los most often
speaks from the poet's true standpoint, and the following lines
put his position about as plainly as it can be put:
What may Man be? who can tell! but what may Woman be
To have power over Man from Cradle to corruptible Grave?
There is a Throne in every Man, it is the Throne of God:
This, Woman has claim'd as her own, and Man is no more!
Albion is the Tabernacle of Vala and her Temple,
And not the Tabernacle and Temple of the Most High.
0 Albion, why wilt thou Create a Female Will?
A few lines along he adds further meaning to his term:
Is this the Female Will, 0 ye lovely Daughters of Albion, To
Converse concerning Weight & Distance in the Wilds of Newton
As the epic progresses, Blake continues to define the
Man is adjoin'd to Man by his Emanative portion
Who is Jerusalem in every individual Man, and her
Shadow is Vala, builded by the Reasoning power in Man.
The idea of building Jerusalem gains prominence in
Blake's poetry after the
Moment of Grace. Jerusalem, "a city,
yet a woman", is builded in the heart of every man by acts of
love and kindness, and this is the work of the imagination.
As the third chapter of 'Jerusalem' begins, Blake
describes Jerusalem for us once more:
In Great Eternity every particular Form gives forth or Emanates
Its own peculiar Light, and the Form is the Divine Vision
And the Light is his Garment. This is Jerusalem in every Man,
A Tent & Tabernacle of Mutual Forgiveness, Male and Female Clothings.
And Jerusalem is called Liberty among the Children of Albion.
Blake's ethics of sexual love, his symbolism, and his
Christian faith all fit together and reach a climax in a sketch
virtually guaranteed to astound and provoke the reader (and no
doubt dismay and disgust some). This passage, Plates 61 and 62,
is called "Visions of Elohim Jehovah". Here once again forgiveness is the key, and to Blake forgiveness was everything. Vala,
the soul of materialism, knows nothing of forgiveness. Jerusalem's liberty is expressed most fully in forgiveness. In this
passage Mary, the mother of Jesus, merges with the other Mary,
who was forgiven because "she loved much".
"Visions of Elohim Jehovah" could only have been written by a poet who despised the social value placed upon virginity.
In an earlier work he had called it "pale religious letchery that
wishes but acts not". Blake hated the ideal of chastity, which
meant to him a virtuous withholding of woman's body as an exercise
of power over the deprived male, and he struck directly at the
archetype of the chaste woman. "Visions of Elohim Jehovah" is
not a theological statement, but an imaginative vision about
meaning and value. The love of Blake will always be confined
to people who discriminate between those two things and whose
theological perspective is neither glassy eyed nor otherwise rigid.
Blake's Mary has perfect trust in the forgiveness of
sin, and her relationship with Joseph becomes a type for the relationship of Jerusalem with Jesus:
Jerusalem fainted over the Cross and Sepulcher. She heard the
"Wilt thou make Rome thy Patriarch Druid & the Kings of Europe
"horsemen? Man in the Resurrection changes his Sexual Garments
"Every harlot was once a Virgin: every Criminal an Infant Love.
"Repose on me till the Morning of the Grave. I am thy Life."
Jerusalem replied: "I am an outcast: Albion is dead:
"I am left to the trampling foot is. the spurning heel:
"A Harlot I am call'd: I am sold from street to street:
"1 am defaced with blows in with the dirt of the Prison,
"And wilt thou become my Husband, 0 my Lord & Saviour?"
As Jerusalem progressively gains our sympathy, Vala moves
farther and farther in the opposite direction:
Then All the Daughters of Albion became One before Los, even
And she put forth her hand upon the Looms in dreadful howlings
Till she vegetated into a hungry Stomach in a devouring Tongue.
Her Hand is a Court of Justice: her Feet two Armies in Battle:
Storms & Pestilence in her Locks, and in her Loins Earthquake
And Fire & the Ruin of Cities & Nations and Families and Tongues.
The allegoric drama of good and evil in terms of the two
females continues and intensifies throughout the epic poem until
the final awakening of Albion, when sexes disappear. The first
indication of this conies in the dialogue of Los and Enitharmon:
Enitharmon answer'd in great terror in Lambeth's Vale:
"The Poet's Song draws to its period, and Enitharmon is no more;
For if he be that Albion, I can never weave him in my Looms,
But when he touches the first fibrous thread, like filmy dew
My Looms will be no more and I annihilate vanish for ever.
Then thou wilt Create another Female according to thy Will."
Los answer"d swift as the shuttle of gold: "Sexes must vanish &
To be when Albion arises from his dread repose, 0 lovely Enitharmon:
When all their Crimes, their Punishments, their Accusations of Sin,
Ail their Jealousies, Revenges, Murders, hidings of Cruelty in Deceit
Appear only in the Outward Spheres of Visionary Space and Time,
In the shadows of Possibility, by Mutual Forgiveness for evermore,
And in the Vision and in the Prophecy, that we may Foresee & Avoid
The terrors of Creation & Redemption & Judgment....
Soon comes the last mention of the woman of the world. She
is connected with her sexual counterpart and described in the very
specific terms which John used in Revelation 17:
If Bacon, Newton, Locke
Deny a Conscience in Man & the Communion of Saints & Angels,
Contemning the Divine Vision & Fruition, Worshiping the Deus
Of the Heathen, the God of This World, & the Goddess Nature,
Mystery, Babylon the Great, The Druid Dragon 61 hidden Harlot,
Is it not that Signal of the Morning which was told us in the
Now Blake attempts to visualize the true place of sex
Awake, Awake, Jerusalem! 0 lovely Emanation of Albion,
Awake and overspread all Nations as in Ancient Time;
For lo! the Night of Death is past and the Eternal Day
Appears upon our Hills. Awake, Jerusalem and come away!
...Then Albion stretch'd his hand into Infinitude
And took his Bow....
And the bow is a Male and Female, and the Quiver of the Arrows of
And the Children of this Bow, a bow of Mercy & Loving-kindness
Open the hidden Heart in Wars of mutual Benevolence, Wars of
And the Hand of Man grasps firm between the Male and Female Loves.
And he Clothed himself in Bow and Arrows, in awful state, Fourfold ....
And after the final chorus of the multiple aspects of Man,
Blake tells us that he "heard the Name of their Emanation: they
are named Jerusalem." And so ends 'Jerusalem'.
After all this detail We can begin our summary of Blake's
theory of sex with Jesus' reply to the Sadducee's mocking question
about the woman married to seven husbands: "for when they shall
rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage,
but are as the angels which are in heaven."
Blake begins here,
with the assumption that sexual division relates to this world,
but not to Eternity. Sex appears in Beulah, a moony rest from
the arduous creative activity of Eden. The "Female Will" condemns
Man to the loss of Eternity, which Blake calls "the Sleep of Ulro".
Sex signifies fallenness, and the jealous and proudly chaste female symbolizes the active principle of evil, also identified
with a materialistic viewpoint whose values are coercion and
love of power.
Blake's vision of Jesus humanized his theory of sex. He
began to use the biblical image of Jerusalem as the bride of
Christ, named his last and greatest epic 'Jerusalem', and ultimately was able to rationalize the heterodox doctrine of sex
with the glorified female as the emanation of the Eternal Man.
Blake's female thus joined all the rest of his personal images
in traveling the Circle of Destiny, materializing in the Fall
and etherealizing in the Return.
Through all his journey Blake had a characteristically
liberal and enlightened view of womankind, an entirely different
matter from the sexual symbolism that filled his pages. His true
and abiding feelings about the relation between men and women appear early in his works in his "Annotations to Lavater": "Let
the men do their duty and the women will be such wonders; the female life lives from the light of the male: see a man's female
dependants, you know the man." Admittedly short of the high
standards of present day feminism, Blake's vision of womanhood
considerably surpassed that of most of his contemporaries-- and
perhaps most of ours.