Thursday 9 Dec. 2010
"...I rest not from my great task!
In the gentle relief of another's care,
In the darkness of night and the winter's snow.
In the naked and outcast, seek love there. (William Bond)
The most striking tenet of Blake's faith was his vision of the Eternal; it was also his primary gift to mankind. Blake lived in an age when the realm of spirit had virtually disappeared from the intellectual horizon. This single fact explains why he stood out like a sore thumb in late 18th Century England and why for most of his contemporaries he could never be more than an irritant, an eccentric, a madman; their most common term of depreciation was 'enthusiast'. His primary concern was a world whose existence they not only denied, but held in derision.
The task of the Enlightenment had been to emancipate man from superstition, and Voltaire, Gibbon, and their associates had done this with great distinction. Blake was born emancipated, but he knew that closed off from Vision, from the individuality of Genius, from the spontaneous spiritual dimension, from what Jesus had called the kingdom of God, mankind will regress to a level beneath the human. In his prophetic writings he predicted 1940 and its aftermath. "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:19).
Blake was blessed with vision from his earliest days; his visions were immediate and concrete. He found the eternal inward worlds of thought more real than the objective nature exalted by John Locke and Joshua Reynolds. Their depreciation of vision, genius, the Eternal never failed to infuriate Blake. This fury strongly colored his work and often threatened to overwhelm it. It also led to his deprecatory view of Nature, which was their God. He wrote, "There is no natural religion".
Blake perceived the five senses as "the chief inlets of Soul in this age" (MHH plate 4). The rationalists had imposed upon their world the view that life consists exclusively of the five senses. Blake knew better:
"How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?" (MHH plate 7)
Blake was keenly alive to another world, a world of Vision, of
Imagination, of God, which he called the Eternal; it was a world that
most of his contemporaries had deliberately closed their minds to. He
spent his life furiously trying to strike off their mind forged manacles.
The man of faith believes some things; other things he knows by experience. Blake had experienced the Eternal from earliest childhood. At times the vision clouded, but its reality remained the one unshakeable tenet of his faith.
Every child begins in Eternity. Jesus said, "Except you become as little children...."
Blake knew this better than anyone since Jesus, or maybe anyone since Francis. He knew it because by a providential dispensation of grace the child in Blake remained alive throughout his life. At the age of 34 he wrote those beautiful 'Songs of Innocence', his "happy songs Every child may joy to hear". 'Songs of Innocence' hooked a great many people on Blake originally: transparent goodness transcribed into black type on white paper--somewhat beyond Locke's tabula rasa.
If life were only like that. If Blake were only like that, he'd
have an assured place as one of England's best loved poets, a beloved
impractical idealist and a threat to no one. But in 'Songs of Experience' he began to express a more complex reality. 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell'
represents a healthy beginning in working out the complexities. They
have to be worked out, every minute particular in the corrosive burning
flame of thought, etching away the surfaces, getting down to bedrock.
Most of us have refused Blake and his Eternal because we don't want to be bothered with reality; we don't want to take the trouble. We're content with the little sub-realities that inform our lives and values, the simple half truths and prejudices which we call the real world.Blake wrote, etched, painted, sang his visions of Eternity throughout a long life time. This chapter systematizes his visions as they address and relate to the general constructs of Christian theology. That enterprise of course violates the spirit of his creative genius, which refused systematization. Nevertheless we systematize in the hope that a coherent picture of his faith may emerge and lead the faithful reader to an encounter with the original, organized in Blake's own inimitable style.
and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.
The theologues of the forties and fifties learned from Paul Tillich that everyone has an ultimate concern, his God. People in Alcoholics Anonymous have told some of their theologically confused members that, lacking any better God, they may worship a 'pot on the mantle', anything at all to break that devotion to the bottle which is actually the worship of a lower form of the self. To remain sober one must believe in a Higher Power of some sort.
The important thing is that one's Higher Power be not a projection of some lower form of self; that's idolatry. The person seriously interested in ultimate reality engages in a life long search for the most real image he can discover, the image of his God. A person's best image of God nurtures his spirit as he goes through life.
The Bible contains a multiplicity of images of God. For example we read
about the finger of God, the nostrils of God, even the backside of God.
All his life Blake maintained a high level of respect for the Bible as
vision. Nevertheless he refused to worship other men's visions of God:
I (you!) must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's (Jerusalem, 10.21; E153)".
He's saying that we have a choice: to adhere to the conventions (whatever conventions may be for us) or to create our own values from our own experience. Blake did this for a lifetime, creating his own myth of meaning, and with his creative works he expressed it over and over again.
The only thing Blake really trusted was his own
immediate direct vision, and he possessed his soul in varying degrees of
patience until that vision clarified (and you may be sure that it was
criticized, corrected and amended over and over again. The
'Felpham Moment' marks the decisive clarification of Blake's vision of God. Even then the Father remained for Blake a symbol of subjection to the other man's vision, of spiritual tyranny. His own vision came to center upon Jesus.
Nobodaddy, Father of Jealousy, Urizen, all the creator and authority figures that filled the young Blake's mind, represented in essence his rejection of other men's images of God. The "Vision of Ahania" (4Z: chapter 3, 39.13ff; E327) expressed Blake's dawning awareness of a fundamental spiritual truth: the transcendental image which had dominated institutional religion is most often a projection of man's primitive negativities. The ultimate negativities, repressed into the unconscious, irupt into consciousness as the ultimate positivity, a God built upon sand, a "shadow from his wearied intellect". This passage, probably as much as anything else in his experience, inspired Thomas Altizer in the sixties to launch his Death of God movement.
Blake depreciated the God of Law and Wrath in order to exalt the God of Forgiveness. He believed that the far off, elusive, mysterious, transcendental image of God freezes man into spiritual immobility. He wanted to liberate men's minds from this imposture and put them in touch with the true source of creativity:
There Chaos dwells & ancient Night & Og & Anak old. " (Milton 20:33-34)
I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me:
Lo! we are One, forgiving all Evil, Not seeking recompense.
Ye are my members....
The prophetic poems which Blake wrote prior to 1800 concern his efforts
to know, describe and deal with the old, jealous, wrathful, creator
image; he finally dismissed it as a "shadow from his wearied intellect"
(FZ3-40.3). The later, major prophecies, Milton and Jerusalem, also
contain this theme, happily outweighed by the new vision.
to the Felpham Moment Blake had worshipped his own visionary endowment,
his Pot on the Mantle; he called it the Poetic Genius and later the
The evolving figure of Los building Golgonooza personified what we might call a pre-Christian God. When grace fell upon Blake, he came to see the true embodiment of God in Jesus.
In a letter to his friend and patron, Thomas Butts, he described the experience of redemption that had come to him:
"And now let me finish with assuring you that tho I have been very unhappy I am so no longer I am again Emerged into the light of Day I still & shall to Eternity Embrace Christianity and Adore him who is the Express image of God..."
The last part of CHAPTER FIVE contains a detailed description of Jesus as the mature Blake envisioned him. At this point we look again at the lovely poem Blake wrote to Butts in October, 1800 reporting on an early appearance of Jesus to him, perhaps the first--when he was 43. He aptly called it "My first Vision of Light":
Following John and Paul quite literally Blake believed that all things belong to Jesus. He is in them (us) and they (we) are in him. All his life Blake had kept a firm grip on the oneness of humanity and its identity with God. At the Moment of Grace he came to see all as One Man and his own forgiven and accepted place in that Man's bosom. In the poem the Man refers to the All as "My Fold" and names the awakened Blake as his herald: "Thou Ram horn'd with gold".
Blake sent this poem to the one faithful Christian he knew who had
befriended and loved him. The circumstances leave no doubt as to the
identity of the One Man. The poem poetically expresses Blake's faith as
it relates to God, Man and the relationship between the two. It
expresses what the Christian faith has to say about the relationship as
well as it can be expressed verbally. It also expresses with vivid
eloquence the child like nature of the entrance to the kingdom of God.
Blake here celebrates and confesses it.
To interpret Blake's experience we could use any number of hackneyed phrases representing the various dialects of the language of Zion; suffice it to say that for most of them as for Blake this is the main event, the center of the Moment of Grace. At this point Jesus became and forever afterward remained the One and the ever present Reality which Blake had formerly known as the Infinite or Eternal. For Blake Jesus was a Man, the Reality of Life, and most ultimately the All. In all three instances Blake strictly followed Johannine and Pauline strains of the New Testament.
Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isaiah 33:14)
No one knows of the Beyond. Still men throughout history have seen visions of it. These visions have informed their faith and galvanized them to the words and deeds by which they have lived. Look now at Blake's visions of Heaven and Hell:
For Isaiah (and Blake) 'everlasting burnings' had connotations opposite to those of conventional thinking.
Indeed throughout the Bible fire symbolizes God more often than the Devil: "our God is a consuming fire".Note also the burning bush seen by Moses and the forks of flame at Pentecost. In Eden every bush burns and flaming tongues fill the air; Blake referred to them as burning arrows of thought.
Blake's eternity, both here and hereafter, is characterized by two intense activities, War and Hunting (Milton: Plate 35:2), "the Two Fountains of the River of Life". Both are intellectual in nature and aimed at growth into Truth. In this world they have been prostituted into "corporeal war" and the killing of the innocent. War and Hunting of course exhaust the eternals, so periodic rest is provided in what might be called Lower Heaven; Blake called it Beulah:
4Z (Night 1 5:29-31)
Blake tells us relatively little about Eden, but in his larger poems he had a lot to say about Beulah. He described it as a sort of way station between Eden and Ulro, which we might roughly translate as this vale of tears. Two way traffic passes through Beulah. Those who reach it from Ulro are in good shape and headed for something better. Those coming from the other direction are also okay for the moment but in deadly peril if they go farther.
We could also call Ulro "this world". In a sense "this world" is as close to the conventional hell as Blake got. In Blake as in the Bible, especially in Paul, "this world" has a technical meaning. It does not mean the present stage of life as opposed to a heavenly (or hellish) existence beyond physical death. Basically "this world" means a level of consciousness that sees only the material, which Blake called the corporeal. Ulro is the state in which "Reality was forgot, and the Vanities of Time and Space only Remembered and called Reality" (Vision of the Last Judment; Erdman 555; his comments on an astounding canvas; it concerns Revelation 20:11-15).
Ulro, Blake's hell, denotes a form of blindness or sleep, from which one may awaken:
This is his theme, Blake tells us. Students of the New Testament know that sleep and waking are thoroughly biblical figures for the spiritual realities which concerned Blake here. He envisioned Eternal Death as the fallenness of "this world" through which we pass before "awaking to Eternal Life". Blake thus saw hell as man's fallen state before the coming of Jesus to awaken us and set us free.
The biblical writers as they are generally understood had not adequately grasped the fullness of Jesus' power to rescue mankind totally from the darkness which Blake called Eternal Death. They wrote most of the New Testament in a time of persecution. In their effort to stiffen the spine of the believer in the face of that persecution they retreated into a degree of thralldom to the Old Testament God of Wrath, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards' sermon,"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".
One can readily understand why the worldly ecclesiastics who followed Peter and Paul picked up on the angry God. All too often he became their primary weapon; the image of hell is the ultimate form of coercion. Blake made no such mistake, probably because of the ten years which he had spent confronting and subduing that "shadow from his wearied intellect", years of suffering, but it turned to glory.
In those years he laid to rest the Punisher who has afflicted the minds of believers through the centuries, but he retained the creative possibility which represents the best of the Christian faith. The rationalists and deists had thrown out both and confined us to Ulro, which today threatens to engulf mankind. The reader must decide for himself whose hell is most real--the place of unending punishment or the sleep from which man may awaken.
"Whosoever of you are justified by the law: ye are fallen from grace"
Just as he redefined hell, so Blake redefined sin. The only sin for Blake consisted in hindering, oneself or another: "Murder is Hindering Another, Theft is Hindering Another." To subvert one's individuality is the sin against the Holy Spirit. "He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence".
The responsibility for hindering another falls upon the Lawmaker and Enforcer, who has polluted life with his prohibitions: "over the doors Thou shalt not". One could say that Blake took Paul's letters to the Romans and to the Galatians too seriously. Luther had taken those epistles seriously enough to throw off the Roman yoke. Blake took them more radically and threw off the mosaic yoke--as Paul had suggested.
Paul had identified the Law with the flesh and opposed it with the Spirit. Our poet took with utmost seriousness these stirring passages calling the Christian to freedom from the Law. He didn't have the benefit of the 'interpretations' of such ideas afforded by the educational process. Sin stems from our ideas of morality, which Blake called hindering. When we presume to know what someone else should or must do, we have entered the state of Caiaphas, the Pharisee, who crucified Jesus, but "was in his own Mind/a benefactor to Mankind."
We lay down the law to another--our law--and thus violate the other's nature: "One law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression". We tell him what to do, and then we use the power of the Accuser, the God of this World, to compell him to do it and to punish him for his failures. This is sin, the way life happens in Ulro. As we have seen, Blake didn't call it life, he called it Eternal Death. Paul had said, "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life."
The categories of sin and righteousness divide mankind. The division often proceeds to the point of physical violence. Corporeal war always rests upon a base of self righteousness and condemnation of the sins of the enemy. Religion too often allies itself with those attitudes and their violent results. Long before the peaceniks of the sixties Blake said in effect, "Make love, not war!" He said it at great length in dozens of different ways. He saw war as the ultimate end of hindering another. (See CHAPTER NINE.) In the Book of Urizen we read how Urizen, the great Lawgiver (who lives in all of us!) discovers that none of his children can obey his laws, "for he saw that no flesh nor spirit could keep His iron laws one moment".
So we see that Blake opposed the idea of sin; he opposed morality; he opposed Law. Parodoxically Blake lived a very law abiding life. Only such a person can afford the luxury of antinomianism without losing his integrity. For example Blake despised the marriage laws--and lived as a faithful and dutiful husband for forty years. But beyond the surface absurdities of his anarchism Blake tells us something profound about life: Goodness cannot be compelled; goodness grows only in a context of freedom. "To the pure all things are pure". Blake was basically pure; one of his mottoes was "everything that lives is holy". That in itself would have been enough to make him famous.
If we can suspend our judgments about people's conduct and stop tormenting ourselves because of our failures to do the good which we have laid upon ourselves, if we can accept what we have called bad, but which may be simply disowned facets of our true nature, in Blake's terminology if we can forgive, then we can put sin behind us and receive the gift of eternal life. Blake, drinking deeply from the prmary fountains of scripture, intuitively expressed these universal truths in poetic terms. 100 years later Jung came along and clothed them with the respectability of a scientific jargon.)
From what has been
said it is obvious that Blake didn't believe in Sin as it is commonly
understood: "Satan thinks that Sin is displeasing to God; he ought to
know that Nothing is displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the
Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil". (VLJ)
Blake's symbol of the redeemed and pure consciousness, speaking to
Vala, his symbol of the fallen mind, expressed Blake's candid evaluation
of Sin as such: "Oh Vala...what is sin but a little error & fault
that is soon forgiven?" (Jerusalem 20:23-25
If the primary moral wrong is hindering, the primary grace is forgiveness. Redemption came for Blake when forgiveness first entered the horizon of his vision; it increasingly came to dominate it. Prior to 1800 with all his denunciations of Urizen, the Restrainer, and of morality Blake was growing more and more into the role of judge. He was becoming in fact a judge of judges. The later Lambeth books witness the resultant decrease in vitality; in the language of Zion he suffered a loss of faith. It coincided with a slowly dawning realization that Urizen had infested his own mind all the while he was denouncing him in others. There awakened in his mind a new awareness of sin, a sin more basic than hindering others, or rather an awareness of the inner cause of hindering. He called it the Selfhood, the Spectre, Satan. As many of us have since that day, Blake realized that he saw the God-playing in others because he was so good at it himself. This new vision of his Selfhood led to the Moment of Grace.
At Felpham, in the major crisis of his life, he faced the need to forgive both the impositions of his corporeal friend, Hayley, and the resentful thunderer, William Blake, as well. The appearance of his first Vision of Light marks the coming of Christ into his life with the power of this forgiveness; henceforth he called him Jesus, the Forgiveness.
The old urizenic monstrosity that had haunted him, first in the outer world and increasingly as a component of his own psyche, was recognized, accepted, subdued, and forgiven. It was undoubtedly the greatest event of his life, a new birth of hope at the age of 43. He shared with us the psychic unfolding of this experience in Night vii of 'The Four Zoas' where Los embraces his Spectre (equivalent to Jung's acceptance of the shadow) and soon thereafter finds Urizen miraculously changed:
Startled was Los; he found his Enemy Urizen now In his hands; he wonder'd that he felt love & not hate. His whole soul loved him; he beheld him an infant Lovely....
Has anyone better portrayed the psychodynamics of forgiveness? In order to forgive you first withdraw the projection, then you forgive yourself. It's your baby!
We can't say that's the end of the story; in Night viii Urizen continues to afflict life with his judgments, hostility and violence; Satan comes forth from his War. The Saviour dies for him, and we are still waiting for the ultimate victory. Nor was Blake himself fully delivered from the resentments and self justifications of the old man. Hard times ahead, the deceitfulness and opprobrium of others continued to afflict and to warp his psyche and caused him to participate in sin (mostly by suffering through the sins of others against him), but now he knew the answer: through recurring awareness and Self-annihilation he could forgive again and again. The wheat and tares continued to grow together.
Blake had a deep grasp of what students of the Bible have called the kenosis. At his Moment of Grace it became for him an existential reality. He rewrote 4Z to show Jesus throughout the drama coming from above, hovering over Mankind, descending into mortal flesh to join us and to take on our burdens, our sorrow and pain and travail. Blake referred to this as the "dark Satanic body". This is the body we all wear until Jesus glorifies it in us.
According to Blake's faith this coming of Jesus is the ultimate act of forgiveness for what we have become in our brokenness. It empowers us to become through a new birth what we were originally and what we are called to be again. The new birth is an alteration of consciousness. Blake had an inkling of this as early as 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', where he referred to it as "an improvement of sensual enjoyment" In the same plate he referred to it as a cleansing of the "doors of perception" and likened the former state to life in Plato's cave.
In the lovely "first Light" poem quoted above he used the thoroughly biblical figure of Jesus purging away "all my mire and my clay". Forgiveness is not a temporal event, but an eternal one. The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. We must forgive not once, but seventy times seven times. Blake deals with sin and forgiveness as ultimates in his notebook poem, "My Spectre around me night and day". The poem speaks primarily to the advanced student, but with crystal clarity stanza 14 bears on the primary grace:
The unforgiving, accusing, egocentric, spectrous Selfhood is the stuff of Ulro, the life that is Eternal Death. Forgiveness through Self-annihilation is the stuff of that life which is life indeed. In the eternal realm Good and Evil, Virtue and Sin, all are forgiven and replaced by Truth and Error, which constitute the matter of the eternal wars of love. We fight these with Blake's weapons (the burning arrows of thought, etc.) or with Paul's "whole armor of God". Error meets an eternal consummation as we grow closer and closer to the Perfect Man. The apocalypse in Blake's structure of faith comes as an alteration of consciousness by which "this world" fades out (is consumed) and is replaced by the Eternal. Albion awakes. "Whenever any Individual Rejects Error and Embraces Truth, a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual".
This was Blake's religion; unfortunately he does not seem to have found it in any of the churches which he knew. Instead many of his deepest convictions directly contravened the prevailing theology. He discovered that he "must create a system, or be enslated by another mans". The pages that follow trace some of the contrarieties between Blake's vision of eternal reality and the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy.
In 'Milton' Blake speaks of two streams flowing from a fountain in a rock of crystal: one goes straight to Eden; the other is more torturous. They represent of course two possible journeys through life, and he could speak of both because he lived both. The first stream represents the child-like consciousness that enabled Blake (that enables anyone gifted with it) to live every moment in the light of Eternity. The other, more common path wanders all over this God-forsaken vale of tears, but it winds up at the same place.
That's the most incredible good news for anybody who can hear it. The apostle Paul hinted at it a time or two; perhaps it was the truth that he was forbidden to tell. Origen believed it, no doubt one of the reasons the Church Fathers kicked him out. In the 19th Century an entire denomination arose whose primary emphasis was this particular good news--the Universalists. Actually this good news could not be pronounced with authority except by someone like Blake who had traveled both journeys; he knew whereof he spoke.
If you believe that all came originally from the One and that in the fullness of time all things in Christ are gathered together in one, then as a consequence the two paths do meet at the end as Blake claimed. We can put this in a more properly theological context with Blake's expressed response to the calvinistic doctrine of Double Predestination.
Double Predestination contains as its lower half the grim old notion of Hell that has probably done as much as anything else in theology to discredit the Christian faith in the eyes of the modern world. Calvin taught the hoary old superstition that most of the world's population are destined to live without Christ and to die and move on to eternal torment; a lucky few have a happier destiny. The lucky few included Calvin of course and his friends, especially his obedient friends. In contrast Origen, perhaps Paul, and surely Blake believed in single predestination: the two streams converge at the end.
Blake expended an enormous amount of his creative energy combating Double Predestination. He heaped scorn upon scorn on the calvinistic God who curses his children. His break with Swedenborg followed his discovery that Swedenborg was a "Spiritual Predestinarian, more abominable than Calvin's". He later lamented over him and called him the "Samson, shorn by the Churches".
In 'Milton' Blake ironically inverted the calvinistic categories of 'elect' and 'reprobate'. With incredible elegance he used Jesus' words on Calvin like a two edged sword. He simply pronounced on behalf of Christ the obvious truth, as if to say, "Calvin, your doctrine is of the world, and your first shall be last in my kingdom."
Double Predestination is a consequence of a more fundamental error of Rahab, the whore of Babylon, the organized Church, "Imputing sin and righteousness to individuals". Blake addressed that error with his doctrine of states, which we look at in a moment.
In MHH Blake examined most directly the conventional idea of Hell and pronounced it a delusion of a certain type of mind. In VLJ he gave his straightforward views about the meaning of the biblical Hell. Again in 'Jerusalem', "What are the Pains of Hell but Ignorance, Bodily Lust, Idleness & devastation of the things of the Spirit?"
However the conventional Hell does seem to have some biblical basis: Isaiah 66.24, Mark 9.43ff; Matthew 25.41 provide examples. How do you deal with all those scriptures? In the first place Blake felt perfectly free to discount anything in the Bible that he found incongruent with his vision, at least to discount its conventional meaning. The immediate experience always exercised authority over anything second hand. The inerrancy of scripture, another of the Five Fundamentals, meant just about as much to him as Double Predestination.
In the second place, although the doctrine of hell has most often been used as a means of anathematizing those with whom one disagrees, there are certainly more creative ways to deal with it. Blake chose one of these, what he called the doctrine of states. In a conversation with the "seven Angels of the Presence" Milton is told by Lucifer: "We are not individuals but states.../ Distinguish therefore states from individuals in those states."
And at the end of the first chapter of 'Jerusalem' the daughters of Beulah pray as follows:
By the Creation of States & the deliverance of Individuals Evermore....
But many doubted & despair'd & imputed Sin & Righteousness
To Individuals & not to States, and these Slept in Ulro.
(Jerusalem, 25.12 Erdman 170)
To distinguish states from individuals is the only means of forgiveness of sins. In the centuries since Blake enlightened Christians have learned to condemn sin without condemning the sinner. The most enlightened condemn no one, realizing that they themselves are as sinful as anyone else. For such a consciousness the only authentic preaching becomes confessional preaching.
The relationship between Blake's doctrine of states and the conventional doctrine of hell becomes clear in Plate 16 of the Job series where Job and his wife watch the 'old man' in themselves take the plunge with their master "into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels". This of course is a spiritual or psychic event. The crude and ludicrous superstition of the conventional doctrine of hell stems from a spiritual blindness that attempts to impose the material upon the Beyond--once again the Lockian fallacy, the assumption that 'material' is 'real'.
The Last Judgment in Blake is the consummation devoutly to be hoped for when truth takes its rightful place in man's psyche. Error is "burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it". The person wedded to error finds this a fearsome prospect; the one who wants to be free finds it a glorious one. We're all headed for the last judgment--by the direct childlike route or the torturous worldly route. It's the fervent hope of the eternalist and the bane of the materialist. Blake as was said before, traveled both routes. His exquisite lyrics attest to the first; his (often tormented) prophetic declamation to the second. The childlike route is so crystal clear as to need little explanation; the second obviously needs a great deal. Looking closely at the first may be good preparation for the second.
An incident from Blake's last years suggests something of the nature of the torturous route which was Blake's life. The old poet was telling the story of the Prodigal Son. He got to the moment when the wandering boy at last returns to the Father. At that point Blake broke down in tears; he couldn't go on. The story casts a revealing light on a primitive relationship that must have provided a lot of the dynamic for Blake's creativity.
Psychologists tell us that a person's early relationship with his father has a great bearing on his image of God. Applying that idea to Blake's poetry one could infer that Blake as a child had a gruesome relationship with his father. However we find little suggestion of this in the biography. On the contrary the preponderance of the evidence suggests a permissive and understanding parent. (The only exception seems to be the threat to beat the eight year old for his 'lie' about the tree full of angels.) In any event 'father' has unpleasant associations in Blake's poetry, especially in the theological realm. He adored Jesus, but he obviously had trouble believing Jesus' word about the loving Father (See CHAPTER FIVE).
The Neo-platonic interpreters have theorized that Blake couldn't forgive the Creator for condemning us to this prison house of mortal life. I think a more universal explanation fits the facts. Everyone has difficulty forgiving his father and/or creator for the dimensions of horror in life which threaten in one way or another to overwhelm the psyche. Few or none of us have done a really adequate job of this. Most often we've repressed the sensitive idealist; we've closed off from consciousness those unpleasant ultimate realities which seem to have no answer.
"Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" Has anyone really asked that question since 1794? Neitszche asked it and went crazy. In our generation Jung has come closest, and that's what makes him great. Most of us, even the best of Christians, have partitioned off and closed out that ultimate question, the ultimate doubt expressed by the dying Saviour on the cross. This William Blake could not do; like Jesus he was condemned to face consciously the penalty of our finitude.
Frye has spoken of the 'abyss of consciousness'. Enion, the primeval mother in 4Z is condemned to it by her love of her children. at the end of Night ii she calls our attention to this blindness which we have chosen and its opposite, the abyss of consciousness which she (and Blake in her) is condemned to face; here is her complaint.
Something is terribly wrong in this created universe, and in the face of this underlying wrongness the idea of a loving Father as Creator simply doesn't fit all the facts. This consciousness, which Blake shared with Dostoevski in the person of Ivan Karamazov, interrupted Blake's childlike innocence and precipitated the torturous journey "through the Aerial Void and all the Churches".
Probably a majority of
people will always refuse such an invitation; they will cling to the
refuge of their Church, or Bible, or President, or fraternity, or
whatever form of authority they have made their obeisance to, whatever
they have found to block out the abyss of consciousness. A few will have
at least a sympathetic or vicarious interest in the problem posed by
Blake and Dostoevski. A handful will perceive that to realize their full
humanity and the God Within they must proceed beyond innocence. They,
too, must take that long journey and plumb life to its wholeness. The
art of Blake offers a good map for the trip.