blake

Oct 29, 2010

Ram Horn'd with Gold

A Blake Hypertext Commentary


Edited by Larry Clayton

(lclay3@earthlink.net)

FOREWORD        PRIMER

Bio    Style    Poetry    Faith    God    Bible    Church    Sex   Myth Chap10
(Drag the right border in or out as much as you want to.)

       all interpreters of Blake have their own viewpoint about his work:
       The graphically inclined of course tend to focus on that facet.
       Politically conscious students of Blake may likely come up with something like Prophet Against Empire.
       A specialist in literature might write something in the vein of Fearful Symmetry.
       Then we have biographers:
       and encylopedists.

       Spiritually minded folk may see something in Blake that the materially minded are apt to miss. John Middleton Murry's William Blake belongs to the first group; his book had a great influence on the writing of Ram Horn'd with Gold.

    **************************************************

           This website introduces Blake's thought with primary emphasis on its spiritual dimension. Recent Blake literature has come largely from secular interpreters. The religious community for the most part have totally ignored Blake. Nevertheless he was a profoundly spiritual man.

           This introduction to Blake focuses on his spiritual life as expressed in his aesthetics, politics, and psychology.

Contents

CHAPTER ONE
in a short biographical sketch recounts those events which largely determined the shape of his career. It also gives the first thumbnail outline of his work.

CHAPTER TWO
provides the reader with some of the basic equipment he will need to begin to read Blake with comprehension.

CHAPTER THREE
Some simpler Blake poetry (Simple only in the sense that some meaning readily emerges.)

CHAPTER Four
interprets Blake's faith as it developed through the circumstances of his life. My distinctive view of that development includes a change of direction or attitude toward Christ in Blake's early forties.

CHAPTER Five
traces Blake's struggle with God through the early images of Nobodaddy, Father of Jealousy, Urizen, and the God of this World, to his "first Vision of Light" and the resulting commitment to what he called (among other things) Jesus the Imagination.

CHAPTER Six
explains Blake's understanding of the Bible, his primary source. Blake cast light on biblical ideas, and conversely the Bible explains Blake. Redemption history, the struggle between Jehovah and Astarte, the symbology of Ezekiel and Revelation are some of the topics dealt with. (If you want a quick introduction to the relationship between Blake poetry and the Bible go here.)

CHAPTER Seven
details Blake's relationship to the established church, his view of church history, his attitude as a dissenter against a state church and other forms of inauthentic authority, his relationship to Quakers, Methodists, and Deists as well as his personal associations, seen imaginatively as a religious community.

CHAPTER Eight
treats Blake's sexuality, his attitudes toward prevailing sexual mores, his incorporation of biblical viewpoints toward sex, especially in the symbology of the heterodox tradition.

CHAPTER Nine
describes the development of the mythology that forms the framework of Blake's major works.

       The primary sources for this work of course were Blake's poetry and pictures and the Bible. The most significant secondary sources were Northrup Frye's Fearful Symmetry, Milton Percival's Circle of Destiny, Kathleen Raine's Blake and Tradition, and C.G. Jung's Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.

       I have no special academic qualifications in this field. My real qualifications are a lifetime commitment both to the Christian faith in general and to William Blake's expression of it in particular. Judging from the literature those qualifications must be close to unique among writers.

**************************************

    FOREWORD

    I give you the end of a golden string, Only wind it into a ball,
    It will lead you in at Heaven's gate Built in Jerusalem's wall. (Plate 77 of Jerusalem)

                                Appendix


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APPENDIX I


After Blake




Some readers may want to pursue the study of Blake beyond the elementary introduction which I have provided. Such a pursuit could well begin with a review of the literature on Blake. We can dispose of the l9th Century with a couple of pages and proceed to the standard interpretive works.


The descent of Blake's thought from his death down to the present follows two streams, which we may call the secular and the spiritual. This is a rational and obviously imperfect categorization, nevertheless revealing. The secular stream, the wider of the two, includes most of the better known Blakeans and a variety of types: literary and other aesthetes, historians, political writers, and psychologists. Needless to say many of these Blakeans had spiritual interests of one sort or another. However the narrow band of what I will call the spiritual strewn consists of writers with an explicitly spiritual orientation; their primary interest in Blake lay in the realm of his spiritual ideas. By and large they confessed the same basic interest in the eternal that Blake expressed with every line of his art, literary or graphic. This narrow band understood what Blake meant by art quite differently than did the mothers; they perceived art as a synonym for the life of the spirit. Most of those who called themselves Christians recognized Blake as one.


During his lifetime Blake won some recognition as an engraver and artist, while h is poetry remained virtually unknown to the general public. He never sought a publisher but with his illuminated manuscripts practiced the communicative arts of the high middle ages. He used a rudimentary


224

form of printing of his own invention. He laboriously made each print into an individualwork of art. The technique was certainly not designed to achieve a large readership.

Nevertheless his poems did circulate among the small artistic community of England. Coleridge had met him and rated the ‘Songs of Innocence’, placing "The Little Black Boy" first. Crabb Robinson, a journalist interested in art and artists, attempted to bring Wordsworth and Blake together. He did not succeed, but Wordsworth did see some of Blake's work. He pronounced Blake mad, but found his madness more interesting than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott.

Mona Wilson: "As a lyrical Poet [Blake] was acclaimed by Lamb and Landor, by Wordsworth and Coleridge. But the writer of the symbolic books was alone from first to last." Blake's contemporaries rather uniformly failed to comprehend his larger works. His patron, Hayley, a leading arbiter of taste, made a serious attempt to discourage Blake as a poet and to channel his creativity entirely into the graphic arts.This won Hayley the name of ‘spiritual enemy‘ in Blake's poetry. Blake never found a purchaser for 'Jerusalem' his last and greatest illuminated poem.

Blake's works might have been lost to us except for the small group of young artists who gathered around him in his last years. They included John Linnell, George Richmond, Edward Calvert, and Samuel Palmer. These young men admired Blake as an artist and as a man, and at least some of them adopted his spiritual values. They referred to him as the Interpreter. Linnell treated him like a father, and it was into Linnell's hands that Blake entrusted his manuscript, ‘The Four Zoas', shortly before his death.

Thirty six years after Blake's death an enthusiastic admirer named Alexander Gilchrist rescued him from obscurity with an authoritative biography. Gilchrist died before finishing his book; his widow completed the project with the assistance of William Rossetti. The Gilchrist biography, originally published in 1863, reflects the


1 'With his usual quaint irony Blake told Butts that Hayley "is as much averse to my poetry as he is to a Chapter in the Bible."

225

materialistic insensitivity of the Victorian age, but within those limits it gives a detailed and sympathetic treatment of Blake's life. Gilchrist interviewed many of Blake's friends and acquaintances,and his biography will always serve as the primary source for Blake's life. The work retains enough importance to have been republished as recently as 1973. The pre-Raphaelites, especially D.G.Rossetti, found in Blake an early exponent of the non-material and anti-establishment values for which they stood. Swinburne picked up this interest and wrote "A Critical Essay" on Blake lavish in its praise of the poet. In the Victorian era Swinburne played the role of devil, and it was Blake's deviltry fnonconformism) that most appealed to him. He mistakenly perceived Blake as an exponent of art for art's sake, which was his own game at the time. Obviously art meant something far different to Blake than it meant to Swinburne. Swinburne's "Critical Essay" was an outrage against the establishment and a distortion of Blake's art. Nevertheless it helped to keep Blake's name alive through a dismal philistine age. The mainstream of Blake's legacy comes down through the Irish poet, Yeats. Yeats derived much of his own imagery from the earlier man; his poems breathe with the Blakean spirit. With E.J.Ellis Yeats wrote what became at the turn of the century the primary Blake study. Yeats explained Blake with his own language and thought forms, and Mona Wilson found his interpretation of Blake "often more obscure than Blake's own text". Be that as it may, Yeats kept the flame burning and prepared the way for the explosion of interest in Blake that came in the twenties.

ii

In 1910 Joseph Wicksteed worked out some of the basic principles of Blake's symbology and made them public in his volume, Blake's Vision of the Book of Job. Speaking for his generation of Blake scholars Northrup Frye said they had all learned their Blake symbology from Wick- steed. Wicksteed's Job in fact provides an excellent beginning for the serious Blake student.

226

Sir Geoffrey Keynes‘ three volume work, Blake's Complete Writings,appeared in 1925; with revisions it has remained the definitive text. Two years later Mona Wilson's biography appeared, based upon the earlier works of Gilchrist and Symonsip :Her biography remains for the ordinary student the best source of infonmation about Blake's life. Foster Damon's William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols appeared about the same time. This work is hard to find today, but most of the interpreters who worked in the following decades acknowledged a debt to Damon. His Blake Dictionary, published in 1965 and still available, is an extremely useful source of information about Blake. The year 1938 saw a creative and valuable interpretation of Blake at the hands of Milton Percival. His book, Circle of Destiny, is a systematic, cogent, and readable introduction to Blake's thought. Percival became the primary Blake interpreter for C.G.Jung and for Kathleen RaiHe- In 1946 W.P.Witcutt wrote a little book relating the four Zoas to Jung's four psychic functions, entitled Blake, A Psychological Study.1 The same year marks the appearance of the most academically oriented of the prominent Blake studies, a ten year project, The Politics of Vision, by Mark Schorer. Professor Schorer wrote as a critic. He provided a lot of useful information for advanced students. He combined much learning with a generally supercilious attitude toward Blake's religious concerns. In the late forties Blake scholarship came of age with Northrup Frye's Fearful Syggetry. Blake's students have overwhelmingly acclaimed this work as the most authoritative and brilliant interpretation of l My own serious interest in Blake began in 1977 when my wife brought this book home from the library. I had been on the point of a commitment to the study of Jung's voluminous writings, which at that time seemed the most creative intellectual work at hand. Witcutt diverted my commitment to Blake. For a comparisonoof the two prophets, see CHAPTER Ten. 227

form of printing of his own invention. He laboriously made each print into an individual work of art. The technique was certainly not designed to achieve a large readership. Nevertheless his poems did circulate among the small artistic community of England. Coleridge had met him and rated the ‘Songs of Innocence’, placing "The Little Black Boy" first. Crabb Robinson, a journalist interested in art and artists, attempted to bring Wordsworth and Blake together. He did not succeed, but Wordsworth did see some of Blake's work. He pronounced Blake mad, but found his madness more interesting than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott. Mona Wilson: "As a lyrical Poet [Blake] was acclaimed by Lamb and Landor, by Wordsworth and Coleridge. But the writer of the symbolic books was alone from first to last." Blake's contemporaries rather uniformly failed to comprehend his larger works. His patron, Hayley, a leading arbiter of taste, made a serious attempt to discourage Blake as a 1 This poet and to channel his creativity entirely into the graphic arts. won Hayley the name of ‘spiritual enemy‘ in Blake's poetry. Blake never found a purchaser for 'Jerusalem$ his last and greatest illuminated poem. Blake's works might have been lost to us except for the small group of young artists who gathered around him in his last years. They included John Linnell, George Richmond, Edward Calvert, and Samuel Palmer. These young men admired Blake as an artist and as a man, and at least some of them adopted his spiritual values. They referred to him as the Interpreter. Linnell treated him like a father, and it was into Linnell's hands that Blake entrusted his manuscript, ‘The Four Zoas', shortly before his death. Thirty six years after Blake's death an enthusiastic admirer named Alexander Gilchrist rescued him from obscurity with an authoritative biography. Gilchrist died before finishing his book; his widow completed the project with the assistance of William Rossetti. The Gilchrist biography, originally published in 1863, reflects the materialistic insen- l 'With his usual quaint irony Blake told Butts that Hayley "is as much averse to my poetry as he is to a Chapter in the Bible." 225

sitivity of the Victorian age, but within those limits it gives a detailed and sympathetic treatment of Blake's life. Gilchrist interviewed many of Blake's friends and acquaintances, and his biography will always serve as the primary source for Blake's life. The work retains enough importance to have been republished as recently as 1973. The pre-Raphaelites, especially D.G.Rossetti, found in Blake an early exponent of the non-material and anti-establishment values for which they stood. Swinburne picked up this interest and wrote "A Critical Essay" on Blake lavish in its praise of the poet. In the Victorian era Swinburne played the role of devil, and it was Blake's deviltry fnonconformism) that most appealed to him. He mistakenly perceived Blake as an exponent of art for art's sake, which was his own game at the time. Obviously art meant something far different to Blake than it meant to Swinburne. Swinburne's "Critical Essay" was an outrage against the establishment and a distortion of Blake's art. Nevertheless it helped to keep Blake's name alive through a dismal philistine age. The mainstream of Blake's legacy comes down through the Irish poet, Yeats. Yeats derived much of his own imagery from the earlier man; his poems breathe with the Blakean spirit. With E.J.Ellis Yeats wrote what became at the turn of the century the primary Blake study. Yeats explained Blake with his own language and thought forms, and Mona Wilson found his interpretation of Blake "often more obscure than Blake's own text". Be that as it may, Yeats kept the flame burning and prepared the way for the explosion of interest in Blake that came in the twenties. ii In 1910 Joseph Wicksteed worked out some of the basic principles of Blake's symbology and made them public in his volume, Blake's Vision of the Book of Job. Speaking for his generation of Blake scholars Northrup Frye said they had all learned their Blake symbology from Wick- steed. Wicksteed's Job in fact provides an excellent beginning for the 226

serious Blake student. Sir Geoffrey Keynes‘ three volume work, Blake's Complete Writings, appeared in 1925; with revisions it has remained the definitive text. Two years later Mona Wilson's biography appeared, based upon the earlier works of Gilchrist and Symonsip :Her biography remains for the ordinary student the best source of infonmation about Blake's life. Foster Damon's William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols appeared about the same time. This work is hard to find today, but most of the interpreters who worked in the following decades acknowledged a debt to Damon. His Blake Dictionary, published in 1965 and still available, is an extremely useful source of information about Blake. The year 1938 saw a creative and valuable interpretation of Blake at the hands of Milton Percival. His book, Circle of Destiny, is a systematic, cogent, and readable introduction to Blake's thought. Percival became the primary Blake interpreter for C.G.Jung and for Kathleen RaiHe- In 1946 W.P.Witcutt wrote a little book relating the four Zoas to Jung's four psychic functions, entitled Blake, A Psychological Study.1 The same year marks the appearance of the most academically oriented of the prominent Blake studies, a ten year project, The Politics of Vision, by Mark Schorer. Professor Schorer wrote as a critic. He provided a lot of useful information for advanced students. He combined much learning with a generally supercilious attitude toward Blake's religious concerns. In the late forties Blake scholarship came of age with Northrup Frye's Fearful Syggetry. Blake's students have overwhelmingly acclaimed this work as the most authoritative and brilliant interpretation of l My own serious interest in Blake began in 1977 when my wife brought this book home from the library. I had been on the point of a commitment to the study of Jung's voluminous writings, which at that time seemed the most creative intellectual work at hand. Witcutt diverted my commitment to Blake. For a comparisonoof the two prophets, see CHAPTER Ten. 227

1 Blake that we have. In particular the most prominent teachers of the succeeding decades paid tribute to Frye. David Erdman called him our most Blakean critic, and Harold Bloom said that Frye had taught him to read Blake.1 Fearful Symmetry is a difficult book, but its difficulty stems from the depth of the ideas it contains. Frye's style is delightful, learned and debonair. Most serious students of Blake could profit from several readings of Fearful Symmetry. Both Percival and Frye spent ten years with their Blake projects. Lovers of Blake have every reason to appreciate the arduous labors of these two men, and of others who have brought so much of Blake's obscurity out into the light of the 20th Century. ~No work equivalent to that of Percival and of Frye has appeared since. Later works have? tended to focus upon some aspect of Blake studies rather than upon his work as a whole. In the fifties David Erdman published his comprehensive study of the political analogy, entitled Prophet Against Empire. He related Blake's art almost exclusively to the political events through which Blake lived.2 Erdman has by no means a Blakean mind, but his historical approach provides a valuable supplement to our knowledge of Blake and his day. For a really close reading of Blake there is no substitute for Prophet Against Empire.3 The last of the major places in Blake scholarship, in my opinion, belongs to Kathleen Raine.‘ Like Percival, Frye and Schorer she spent a full decade studying Blake. Then she produced her superlative two volume work, Blake and Tradition. In her study, as specialized as Erdman's, she explored at great length what she called the heterodox l I can say the same thing. 2 Jacob Bronowski wrote two shorter works in the same vein, Man Without a Mask and William Blake and the Age of Revolution. 3 Erdman built his literary career upon Blake more extensively than any other scholar except perhaps Keynes. Like Keynes he has edited the complete works, not once but several times. 228

tradition.‘ She related Blake explicitly and in depth to the Gnostics, Neoplatonists, Cabbalists, and alchemists.' Profusely illustrated, Raines's delightful book is almost guaranteed to give pleasure to any Blakean and to heighten his or her enthusiamn for the great poet. Raine, a Neoplatonist, deplored what she called Blake's 'Christianizing' of his myth. In this respect Christian readers simply have to suffer her kindly. In her autobiography she described her own unsuccessful attempt to accept the Christian faith. The last of the secularly oriented Blake writers to be discussed here is the Jungian analyst, June Singer. It goeszgdthout saying that her volume, The Unholy Bible, is specialized in nature. Singer deals almost exclusively with MHH. She treats Blake, not as an artist or spiritual seer, but as an interesting psychological exhibit. She saw Blake as a primitive, unconscious precursor of Jung. One could debate whether the lack of consciousness belonged to Blake or to Singer. The argument of the present work is that Blake's level of consciousness was outstanding if not unique. His interpreters, all of us, reveal our own blindness to those facets of his consciousness that don't correspond to our own ers ective. Sin er seems to me an outstandin exam le of that.2 P P S 8 P iii Of the critics, interpreters and scholars discussed above, none to my knowledge wrote primarily as a Christian. *However a few Blakeans did. Side by side with the secular stream of Blake criticism exists a smaller and less ~known group of writers whose interest in Blake was primarily spiritual. The oldest member of the narrow band of Christian Blakéans to come l Raine got the term from the poet, Yeats. 2 This survey has omitted many worthwhile Blake studies. Two other scholars who contributed appreciably to my own understanding were Harold Bloom, author of Blake's Apocalypse, and Bernard Blackstone, who wrote English Blake. A host of others simply haven't received enough of my time to report on. 229

to my attention is a Scottish minister and novelist named George MacDonald, born three years before Blake's death. MacDonald's reputation rests largely with his children's stories and two imaginative works entitled Phantastes and Lilith. MacDonald recognized Blake's visions as belonging to the mainstream of Christian thought. He translated some of them into his own fairy tales and visionary novels (See page 257). The Blakean eternal pervades all of MacDonald's works; they abound with spiritual identities in.many ways comparable to Blake's fantastic cast of characters. One can trace Blake's influence through MacDonald to the writings of his two famous disciples, C.S.Lewis and Charles Williams. Like Blake and MacDonald, Lewis and Williams conceived of the real as residing in the nonmaterial. ‘With The Screwtape Letters Lewis gave us the most formidable literary devil since Urizen. Williams‘ metaphysical thrillers partake of the same transcendent dimension. The tum men's visions broke like a new sunrise over the darkened positivistic face of English culture near the outbreak of the Second World War. Strangely enough these two Christian thinkers gave little evidence of awareness of their debt to Blake. Lewis did lention MHH in the preface of his most Blakean work, a vision of the hereafter called The Great Divorce,1 but he seems not to have fully realized that he had ingested Blakean values through his spiritual father, George MacDonald. Williams, in a little known work entitled The Forgiveness of Sins, made extended reference to Blake's vision of forgiveness as the central doctrine of Christianity. Nevertheless he categorized Blake's work as heretical. In another work Williams rated Wordsworth as the only powerful spiritual poet in English since Milton. I find it puzzling how truly Blakean the two great Oxford Christians were without acknowledging the debt. Evidently both Lewis and Williams were too threatened by Blake's anarchism, and especially by his attack on the established Church, to open themselves consciously to the distinctive l The "flat sided steep" of MHH appears in Lewis‘ spiritual geography on page 26 of The Great Divorce. 230





Christian flavor of his spirit.1 But they got it through MacDonald. The old Scottish sage was secure enough in his own faith to feel no threat from Blake's imoderate language. He was also pure enough to find Blake pure. All four writers have in common a focus on the eternal. MacDonald learned to write about the eternal from Blake, Lewis and Williams from MacDonald. The three later men all understood art in the same sense that Blake did, what we might call art for God's sake. Richard Bucke, like MacDonald, was a solitary spiritual luminary of the late 19th Century. A psychiatrist, commited to ‘Bacon, Newton & Locke’, he nevertheless recognized Blake's spiritual genius. In his famoustxxfls,Cosmic Consciousness, Bucke named Blake in a group of fourteen who he believed had experienced this psychic mutation. With Blake he included Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Boehme, Walt Whitman, and appropriately enough Francis Bacon. Cosmic Consciousness is a strange mixture of science and faith, which today has little credence in the citadel of either camp. Blake would probably have deplored it; however he would have enjoyed the recognition which he never received during his lifetime. Evelyn Underhill is universally recognized as a primary authority on Christian mysticism. Her many books exhaustively treat the subject. In her largest work, first published in l9ll, she numbered Blake among the leading mystics of the Christian era.2 Underhill quoted Blake extensively and referred to him a dozen times in the course of her work. 1 The lack of enthusiasm of both Lewis and Williams for Blake probably- stemmed from a fundamental difference of temperament: Blake considered questioning authority to be a primary virtue while the two Oxford Christians considered it a paramount crime. Owen Barfield, a close friend of the Oxford Christians was much closer to Blake in spirit than were Lewis or Williams. Many of his metaphysical constructs closely resemble those of Blake. In all liklihood they came from common sources. 2 Was Blake a mystic? The question has been debated almost as much as the question of his madness. Frye has the authoritative answer: Blake was a visionary, not a mystic, and Frye explains the difference. See Fearful Symmetry, p. 8. 231



Christian flavor of his spirit.1 But they got it through MacDonald. The old Scottish sage was secure enough in his own faith to feel no threat from Blake's imoderate language. He was also pure enough to find Blake pure. All four writers have in common a focus on the eternal. MacDonald learned to write about the eternal from Blake, Lewis and Williams from MacDonald. The three later men all understood art in the same sense that Blake did, what we might call art for God's sake. Richard Bucke, like MacDonald, was a solitary spiritual luminary of the late 19th Century. A psychiatrist, commited to ‘Bacon, Newton & Locke’, he nevertheless recognized Blake's spiritual genius. In his famoustxxfls,Cosmic Consciousness, Bucke named Blake in a group of fourteen who he believed had experienced this psychic mutation. With Blake he included Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Boehme, Walt Whitman, and appropriately enough Francis Bacon. Cosmic Consciousness is a strange mixture of science and faith, which today has little credence in the citadel of either camp. Blake would probably have deplored it; however he would have enjoyed the recognition which he never received during his lifetime. Evelyn Underhill is universally recognized as a primary authority on Christian mysticism. Her many books exhaustively treat the subject. In her largest work, first published in l9ll, she numbered Blake among the leading mystics of the Christian era.2 Underhill quoted Blake extensively and referred to him a dozen times in the course of her work. 1 The lack of enthusiasm of both Lewis and Williams for Blake probably- stemmed from a fundamental difference of temperament: Blake considered questioning authority to be a primary virtue while the two Oxford Christians considered it a paramount crime. Owen Barfield, a close friend of the Oxford Christians was much closer to Blake in spirit than were Lewis or Williams. Many of his metaphysical constructs closely resemble those of Blake. In all liklihood they came from common sources. 2 Was Blake a mystic? The question has been debated almost as much as the question of his madness. Frye has the authoritative answer: Blake was a visionary, not a mystic, and Frye explains the difference. See Fearful Symmetry, p. 8. 231

Forty years after Underhill's Mysticism Sheldon Cheney wrote a book called Men Who Have Walked with God, "Being the story of Mysticism through the ages told in the Biographies of representative seers and saints" (Title page). Cheney devoted Chapter Ten to William Blake. Cheney treated Blake's life as a spiritual journey, though without as complete an understanding as was achieved by later and more intensive scholars. MacDonald, Bucke, Underhill, and Cheney, all writers on and adirers of Blake, had one comon characteristic as Christians: they were individualists; none wrote under the auspices of an ecclesiastical organization. True, MacDonald served as a. dissenting ndnister, but his writing was not a part of his role as a clergyman. It was rather a refreshing form of escape, as well as a means of supplementing the financial pittance which he received from the church. The essay on Blake written by T.S.Eliot and appearing in The Sacred Wood (1920) certainly belongs in any survey of Christian critics.1 Eliot, a prominent religious poet andpractically the arbiter of literary taste in England between the two World Wars, might be expected to have discerned the spiritual dimension of Blake's poetry. Writing at the age of 32 he showed a healthy respect for Blake's greatness. In his essay Eliot expressed some valuable and creative insights about Blake. For example Blake, with some other literary giants, had a "peculiar honesty which, in a world too frightened to be honest, is peculiarly terrifying" and "Blake's poetry has the unpleasantness of great poetry". A few pages on Blake "was naked and he saw men naked". These and other comments in his essay are incisive in a way that reveals why Eliot's contemporaries held him.insuch awe. Unfortunately Eliot failed fully to appreciate Blake's spiritual greatness. Eight years later he tells us in extenuation that when he wrote The Sacred Wood, he had not yet become interested in the relationship between poetry and the realm of the spirit. In other words he was l However The Sacred Wood was written presumably before Eliot became a Christian. 232'

still writing as an aesthete. Eliot developed into the kind of high churchman least apt to find Blake's anti-priestly stance attractive. In fact one is tempted to suspect that Blake became more terrifying to him as he went through life. the twenties. He explained in the clearest possible terms spiritual realities that the secular critics had stumbled over. For example only a mature Christian can deal adequately with Blake's Christian iconoclasm, one who readily distinguishes between substance and form in the Christian life. Those outside the Christian faith rather uniformly equate Christianity with its ecclesiastical expressions. Blake of all people showed the distinction ("the outward ceremony is Antichrist."), but in order to discern this fully one must in some sense share his spiritual perspective; no amount of material knowledge in itself will suffice. Plowman was a Christian, and like MacDonald he immediately recognized Blake as one and showed the way for those who came after him. ‘With some difficulty Plowman induced the noted British critic, Middleton Murry, to enter the field of Blake studies. The resulting work, ‘William Blake, first published in 1933, stands alone in one important respect. One shouldfl0te first that Murry began his study of Blake without an explicit Christian perspective. He might therefore more properly belong to the group of critics discussed earlier, the secular writers, except that his study of Blake led to a spiritual experience. Murry is unique in the existential way in which he entered into Blake's spiritual journey. He responded to Blake more personally than did the other critics of his generation. Murry got Blake's message. As he tells us in his preface, "my‘aim has been solely to discover and as far as possible, expound the doctrine of William Blake: ‘The Everlasting Gospel'". The modern type of an enthusiast, Murry did not focus on the historical setting or other source material or upon aesthetic principles, but simply on the existential impression which Blake's poetry had on him. 233

He felt great admiration for Blake's spiritual vision (See his page 218). He professed a real commitment to Blake's expression of the Christian faith, while denying that it was Christianity (See his page 250). His empathy with Blake led him to sense what Blake had understood, and what Charles Williams had failed to grasp, "that the truest Christians are always heretics" (See my page 251). The inspiration of the 'Moment of Grace‘, which has played so vital a part in this book, probably came originally from Murry, although he did not call it that. Unfamiliar with the concept of grace, he called it the "eternal moment of creative vision" or the "Felpham moment". Murry could not interpret Blake from the perspective of a mature and informed Christian as his friend Plowman had done. Rather Murry, starting with a rather nebulous faith, caught something of the spirit of Christ from Blake and was honest enough to confess it (See his page 219). In that respect Murry has a rare if not unique place among Blake's literary critics. In l948 John Davies wrote The Theology of William Blake, so far as I know the earliest attempt specifically to relate Blake's message to the Christian faith in a systematic way. Davies emphasized the traditional facets of Blake's faith and had little to say about the anti+churchly dimension of Blake's thought, which according to my reading is paramount. Davies‘ book seems to have attracted little notice among the community of Blake scholars. In 1964 William Hughes wrote a study of Blake's 'Jerusalem'. Hughes does not present himself specifically as a Christian, but his work shows a rare level of spiritual maturity. When the reader feels ready for ‘Je- rusalem’, Hughes makes an excellent companion for the adventure.1 Thomas Altizer is famous (or notorious?) as a founder of the ‘God is Dead‘ movement, prominent in theological circles in the sixties. Al- tizer owed a lot to Nietszche, who had announced the death of God a hunf dred years before. But shortly after he wrote The Gospel of Christian l Hughes pointed out the link between Blake and George MacDonald._ See ' his Jerusalem, page 7. 234

Atheism Altizer published a work entitled The New Apocalypse: The Radical Christian Vision of William Blake.g In his introduction he called Blake "the first Christian atheist, the first visionary who chose the kenotic or self emptying path of immersing himself in the profane reality of experience as the way to the God who is all in all in Jesus". My own vision of Blake's faith diverges radically from Professor Altizer's. However all Blake scholars are indebted to him for his profound thoughts on the subject. In the last chapter mention was made of Norman Brown, author of Love's Body. Brown commited himself to Blake's structure of thought as Murry had done. I read Love's Body with an increasing sense of delight and awe. Brown may be the only person in our generation who F consciously tried to live Blake's doctrine. He understood Blake partially, like everyone else, and the parts which he emphasized are not those that have greatest meaning for me. Nevertheless I have a lot of respect for what Brown tried to do; in Love's Body he tells a fascinating story. "O Why was I born with a different face. I see things that other people don't see. I feel things that other people don't feel. It's terrible. They laugh. I felt like that my whole life. The most Blakean mind of the 20th Century may belong to the folk singer, Bob Dylan. Dylan drank deeply from the Blakean springs; he obviously knew and loved Blake for many years before he surrendered to the Christian gospel. One might seek out a number of lines among Dylan's lyrics that suggest an obvious Blakean source. Or one could show the Blakean spirit active and alive in much of Dylan's art. In this concluding section the reader is invited to look at the Blakean dimension of Dylan's structure of values implicit in his lyrical inventions. That enterprise might profitably be stretched out to great length; here are a few of the highlights: 235

If Blake was the most radical poetic dissenter of his generation, then Dylan may occupy that place in ours. Blake questioned authority at the deepest level. The irreverences of Dylan's lyrics had the same meaning to his listeners: Don't follow leaders Watch the parkin' meters The material on Blake and authority found on pages lO4~5 seams to apply almost verbatim to the younger artist. Following Blake's cue the sixties generation questioned the moral and political leadership of the country in ways that had never happened before. Dylan and Blake both knew that power resides in the people, and they aimed to encourage the people to assume full responsibility for themselves. In that aim Dylan succeeded more significantly than did Blake, more in fact than he hoped to. In an earlier verse of the song quoted above Dylan sang, "you don't need a weatherman", and soon found a revolutionary underground emerge called the Weathermen. They sought a violent revolution, but Dylan, like Blake and Jesus before him, wanted a more fundamental revolution in the hearts of men and women. The phenomenal response to Dylan's early protest songs led to authority problems that Blake had never had to face. Dylan's fans‘ wanted him for their leader, and he hated and despised that idea; he knew what would follow. He identified with the moment in Jesus‘ life when the crowd tried to make him king by force. A lot of Dylan's bizarre actions in the middle sixties were related to an attempt to avoid that destiny. In 1980 he sang the biblical scene that had haunted him.for years: The multitude wanted to make him king Put a crown upon his head Why did he slip away 1 To a; quiet place instead? Few men have been in a better position to understand what that moment meant to Jesus. It makes a lot of sense to compare Dylan's output of the sixties 236

with Blake's in the nineties of his century. The end of each decade witnessed a meeting with the Lord, which makes it clear that each decade encompassed a spiritual journey. Dylan's life is one of the strangest odysseys, the details of which are not known to me, and may never be told. Dylan has always been at one level a very private person. Nevertheless the outline of his spiritual journey (up to now) belongs to the public and is sufficiently clear to relate to the Blakean circle of destiny which we have studied in this book. In Blake and in Dylan we see two men who "call no man father", who fundamentally reject all forms of outward authority. Each communes with his own spirit, and this communion leads to the same end, to the encounter with Christ the King. The passage of 200 years has obscured the drama in Blake's case, so much so that his secular students almost completely lost sight of it. But Dylan's conversion is too new to be anything less than a collective trauma. His secular fans were sheerly appalled, confronted with a reality which they had systematically ignored. But Dylan's Christian audience by and large have failed to note the significance of the event, largely through the minuteness of their vision. In the history of Christianity it bears comparison to theiéamascus Road, or to the strange warming of John Wesley's heart. ‘Any number of pages could be devoted to relating Blake and Dylan, but one significant point deserves special emphasis: both men spent their pre-Christian decade celebrating fallenness. Hopefully by now the reader will have some grasp of what I mean by Blake's celebration of fallenness (See pages 6 and 14). Examples of this motif in Dylan's work are too numerous to do more than sample. Speaking in general the celebration of fallenness is the acme of the prophet's function. He points out to us what's wrong with our society, and he does this with the kind of language designed to raise things forcibly into our consciousness. Ezekiel had told Blake that his bizarre pantomimes were ahned at "raising other men into a perception of the infinite". Blake became pretty bizarre in his language at times, and so did Dylan, both for the purpose stated by Eze- 237

kiel. A review of Dylan's l965 album, "Highway 61, Revisited", indicates that the denizens of Desolation Row are about as fouled up as any of Blake's giant forms. Here's verse 8 of the.song of that name: Now atmidnight all the agents And the superhuman crew Come out and round up everyone That knows more than they do Then they bring them to the factory ~ Where the heart attack machine Is strapped across their shoulders And then the kerosene Is brought down from the castles By insurance men who go Check to see that nobody is escaping To Desolation Row Against the background of the horror in Vietnam this and many other of Dylan's 1965 lyrics come through as a cry of pain much like Blake's in BU (See page 88). Dylan shared with Blake an extreme anti—war position. In fact he set in motion forces that eventually helped to end a war. Blake was less successful, though just as passionate. Both men moved from the overt themes of protest to the "contention against principalities and powers", and both incurred the displeasure of some of their admirers in so doing (largely posthumous ones in Blake's case). I'd become my enemy, in the instant that I preached . ...terrified at the shapes Enslav’d humanity put on, he became what he beheld: Infected, Mad he danc'd on his mountains high & dark as heaven, Now fix'd into one steadfast bulk his features stonify, From his mouth curses, & from his eyes sparks of blighting. By 1966 Dylan was acknowledged chief prophet of the American counterculture; his corrosive judgments filled the minds of the young and nurtured their spirits, while their adulation poisoned his. "Blonde 238



on Blonde" is his mad, infected St. Vitus Dance, chaotic, nihilistic, a paean of fallenness, and Dylan projects himself as more personally involved than Blake ever did in his most lurid passages. Dylan is Los after binding Urizen, and he proceeds to chain his creative energy to hell just as Los had done. Marriage to a girl named Sara Lowndes and then a motorcycle accident in l966 seems to have contributed to changing Dylan's direction. Rarely has there been such an abrupt shift in artistic style and content as we find between "Blonde on Blonde" in 1966 and the album, "John Wesley Harding", produced two years later. Of this album Anthony Sca- duto wrote that it "is infused with a belief in God, with self discovery and compassion. It is Dylan's version of the Bible.....[and his] avowal of faith." The last two songs of "John Wesley Harding" point to the first turn in the new direction, to a tendency to identify salvation with woman's love. The‘i969 album "Nashville Skyline", confirmed this new direction. Dylan's psychology of sex as a pagan in the early sixties seems to me more enlightened than that of the pre-Christian Blake. During that period of his life the biblical sex symbology and the Jehovah-Astarte conflict did not seem to weigh heavily on him as it had done for Blake. Sex did not weigh heavily on him. He appears to have adopted a rather promiscous perspective, whereas Blake had been a strict monogamist. Dylan's experience gave him a relaxed stance in his early years, from' which he struck a decisive blow at some of the unreal sex attitudes of the American people, corrupted by greedy advertisers and other sickies. For example Dylan and his associates may have sounded the death knell to 'machismo', at least to the North American manifestation of it, the sick masculine attitude that trivializes sexual relationships and makes of woman a plaything.l Dylan allowed himself to be interviewed by Playboy, but his sexual values undercut the Playboy philosophy, and very likely undercut Playboy sales as well, much more than the anti pornographers have ever done. Dylan disparaged possessiveness and jealousy just as Blake had done two centuries before with VDA (See CHAPTER 8): 239





You say you're looking for someone Who'll pick you up each time you fall, To gather flowers constantly An’ to come each time you call: A lover for you; life an’ nothing more-~- But it ain't me, babe. After his first sobering up in l968 Dylan apparently turned to the experience of love as the summum bonum, and according to Michael Gray it became for about a decade Dylan's most serious alternative to a traditional religious perspective. It seemed as if he had to live through the 'female will' phase that Blake had always feared and despised. Gray tells us that the seventies decade was for Dylan an inner struggle between Sara and Christ. 'Somewhere near the climax of that struggle he wrote a song named Isis (the Egyptian Astarte), which shows how close to the Blakean position his sexual philosophy had become: Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child. What drives me to you is what drives me insane. Put that beside Blake's plea to his emanation: Let us agree to give up Love And root up the infernal grove; Then we shall return & see The worlds of happy Eternity.1 Dylan's marriage broke up in 1977, and two years later he made a public commitment to Christ. Since that time he has attempted, to use the hackneyed phrase so often applied to Blake, to Christianize his art, so far with less acclaim than greeted his earlier music. In style Dylan closely approaches Blake as a symbolist. Fiercely eclectic like the English poet, he drew with utmost freedom upon his entire experience for the imagery of his lyrics. This means that the listener unversed in Dylan's experience will have the same sort of problems with his lyrics that so many have had with 42 or 'Jerusalem'. Much of it comes through as sheer gibberish to all except the few who begin 1 Please don't take that in the most obvious sense. Review page 32 for what Blake meant here by love. 240





somewhere in the vicinity of Dylan's mind. It helps to know the sixties Greenwich Village scene, country music, blues and rock as well as Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, plus a few other esoteric sources. It also helps to know the Bible. Nowhere are Blake and Dylan more alike than in their dependence upon biblical symbolism. Dylan is fully capable of throwing a wicked curve, when for example, one of his songs is embedded in the western ethos where clean hands evoke bad gambling men, and he suddenly switches to the imagery of Psalm 24: "His clothes, are dirty but his hands are clean".1 Whether he knew of Blake's letter to Trusler or not, Dylan certainly put into practice the advice of the "wisest of the Ancients [Who] consider'd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because it rouzes the faculties to act". For the intellectually curious the lure of the two men is identical: to find‘ the kernel of meaning in the peculiar wrapping. Throughout his entire artistic career Dylan has depended heavily upon biblical images and language. "Blowing in the Wind", the song that brought his first fame back in 1962, obviously evokes the words of Jesus found at John 3.8, "the wind blows where it will". For Jesus and Dylan alike the wind symbolizes Spirit. One would not be too far off to say that "Blowing in the Wind" initiated a spiritual revolution in American culture. Dylan's later song, "Idiot Wind", in a far different mood, still uses wind as an image of spirit. Biblical imagery can be found in every one of the twenty five al- (bums that Dylan has released. But look at just one song from the John Wesley Harding record, called "The Wicked Messenger". Like so much of Blake's poetry this song is clear as mud to the biblically illiterate, but: ~53 "There was a wicked messenger--from Eli he did come."% ("Now the sons of Eli were worthless men;") "His tongue, it could not speak, but only flatter." ("they flatter with their tongue") ' 1 I picked up this example, almost en toto from Michael Gray's book. 241





"One day he just appeared with a note in his hand..." (Devotees of the Christmas story may remember that the priest Zechaias lost his speech when he expressed scepticism over Gabriel's message that his aged wife would have a son--to be named John. Upon the birth of the child Zecharias wrote a note saying, "His name is John", and recovered his speech.) "The soles of my feet, I swear they're burning." (How beautiful upon the moutains are the feet of him who bring's good tidings.") The feet in biblical symbolism is often associated with the bringing of news, the messenger. And Paul, in his passage on the whole armor of God, advises the Christian to have his feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The wicked messenger's feet are burning because he hasn't done this. "Blonde on Blonde" was not exactly the gospel of peace.1 We should realize that this like most of Dylan's songs in essentially autobiographical. He shared Blake's perspective on the oneness of the human race. He knew that fundamentally his (and our) experiences are universal. The song ends appropriately with this message to the messenger: "If ye cannot bring good news, then don't bring any."2 "The Wicked Messenger" is more overtly biblical than most of Dylan's output, but less direct allusions abound throughout his lyrics. Not exactly a "Bible soaked Protestant", but maybe the nearest thing to it among modern artists. What does the future hold? Michael Gray credits Dylan, the secular artist, with the monumental achievement of lifting the popular musical. taste to the level of real art. Dylan, the Christian, creating art in the Blakean meaning of the word, must of necessity address himself to the more awesome task of rasing the popular spiritual level to a Christian faith with some Intellect. Is that expecting too much of the man? or of God? l Dylan likely got the burning soles from Dante who, in the third ring of the Inferno, found the simonists suspended head down with the soles of their feet licked by flames. 2 Compare this song with Blake's "Wheel of Religion", quoted on page 123.




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Larry Clayton,
Oct 11, 2014, 8:37 AM
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