Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


First posted on June 27, 2014: BLAKE & YEATS

British Museum
Plate 100, Copy A
In 1893 William Butler Yeats published along with Edwin John Ellis The works of William Blake; poetic, symbolic, and critical. They included in their book 'the illustrated Prophetic books, and a memoir and interpretation.' Kathleen Raine wrote in Defending Ancient Springs, published in 1967, a chapter named Yeats's Debt to William Blake. Raine states that Blake 'remained an inexhaustible source' to Yeats 'into his poetic maturity.' On Page 74, Raine tells us of challenges poets face in creating the myths on which their work depends.

"In antiquity no poet invented his own myths; Yates, living, as Blake had already lived, in a society which has, as a whole, broken with tradition, knew how impossible it is to build up, from a series of intuitive flashes, that wholeness of context which great poetry requires. Is not the peculiar relevance of Blake to our own situation the way in which he set about the resolution of this problem? In his early studies of Blake Yeats had already realized that 'even the "Little Black Boy" cannot be understood unless it is taken as part of the general mystical manifesto that run through all the work'. Later we find in his own poetry, as we do in any poem of Blake's, or in any single episode of Dante's Commedia, the whole order of the cosmos implicit. Neither Yeats, Blake, Shelly, nor any other poet of like stature, is at one time writing in symbolic terms and at another descriptive; for as Yeats wrote in another essay, 'True art is expressive and symbolic, and make every form, every sound, a signature of some unanalysable imaginative essence.' Blake too wrote that 'to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself'.


"At this point it may be of interest to notice what Yeats might well have borrowed from Blake but did not. To most readers Blake's pantheon is more striking than the formal structure of his myth. If myth be dynamic symbol, symbol in transformation, myths must be considered as wholes of which the symbolic and elements are parts. A myth is no more constructed from the elements than a living body from its component organs. Mythological thought is therefore the highest and most complete form of symbolic imagination; as it is also the rarest. Neither Milton, Spencer, Shelley, nor Coleridge equal Blake in the completeness, complexity, and energy of his mythological figures and configurations. Yeats, though he attempted the evocation, by magic and ritual, of such living symbols, is not the equal, in this respect of any of the poets named; he handles single symbols of single figures rather than those complex embodiments of uncurbed energy in which Blake's writings and paintings abound. Whereas Blake's mind was essentially dynamic, and all his myth alive with energy, action, transformation, Yeats tends toward Platonic ideal forms, a sculptural stillness, 'a marble or bronze repose. Yet in his search for a pantheon he did at one time seek to evoke the Zoas, whose life seems independent of their creator, as both poets believed; he tells of Orc appearing as 'a wolf in armour', or his face black instead of burning. Yet he never introduced these figures into his own poetry, feeling perhaps a temperamental difference between himself and his volcanic master; or perhaps simply discovering that he did not possess the gift of visionary imagination to the same degree. For of Blake's myth he wrote (in the essay 'On the Necessity of Symbolism' already quoted),
'The surface is perpetually as it were giving way before me, and revealing another surface below it, and that again dissolves when we try to study it. The making of religions melts into the making of the earth, and that fades away into some allegory of the rising and setting of the sun. It is like a great cloud full of stars and shapes through which the eye seeks a boundary in vain. When we seem to have explored the remotest division some new spirit floats by muttering wisdom.'"

William Butler Yeats, The Statues

"Empty eyeballs knew
That knowledge increases unreality, that
Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show."

Letters, (E 702)
[To] Revd Dr Trusler, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey
13 Hercules Buildings,.Lambeth, August 23, 1799
[Postmark: 28 August]
"Some See
Nature all Ridicule & Deformity & by these I shall not regulate
my proportions, & Some Scarce see Nature at all But to the Eyes
of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself.  As a man
is So he Sees.  As the Eye is formed such are its Powers You
certainly Mistake when you say that the Visions of Fancy are not
be found in This World."

Monday, August 22, 2016


The idea of a spiritual sun did not originate with Blake. It was passed down to him from Antiquity through the heterodox tradition of Paracelsus, Boheme, and Swedenborg. Speculation about the role of the sun in philosophical and religious systems goes back to Plato, the Egyptians, the Persians.

In The Esoteric Tradition G. de Purucker makes this statement about what Blake called the spiritual sun:

"As every scholar knows, there were a number of quasi-religious and quasi-mystical sects flourishing at about the time of the alleged beginning of the Christian era, who had pretty much the same body of ideas connected with the divine cosmic sun that the Mithraists and the Christians held. The Manichaeans were an association of mystical and in some points even esoteric thinkers, and who were widely disseminated over the Roman Empire as well as in the Hither East. They held certain beliefs linking them with the more mystical ideas of primitive Christianity, and said that the divine sun was the source of the individual christos-spirit in man, which latter is a ray of that cosmic christos. The Christian Fathers Theodoret and Cyril of Jerusalem attest this fact of Manichaean belief; and Pope Leo I called the "Great," in his Sermon XXXIV on the Epiphany (IV), stated that the Manichaeans placed the Christos of men in the [luminous substance of the invisible] sun. Such significant ideas were widely spread in the world at the time of the formation of the Christian faith and ecclesiastic system.

Of course, this view of the divine sun was not Christian only. This wonderful conception of the indwelling cosmic divinity is as old as it is universal and was the very soul of the inner meaning of ancient Greek and Latin, Persian and Mesopotamian, as well as Egyptian and Hindu religions and philosophies."

Blake assimilated the idea of a spiritual sun into his thought but more importantly, he experienced it through his own spiritual sensitivity.

Letters, To Butts, (E 722) 
"Then Los appeard in all his power
     In the Sun he appeard descending before
     My face in fierce flames in my double sight
     Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might

     "My hands are labourd day & night"
     "And Ease comes never in my sight"
     "My Wife has no indulgence given"
     "Except what comes to her from heaven"
     "We eat little we drink less"
     "This Earth breeds not our happiness"
     "Another Sun feeds our lifes streams"
     "We are not warmed with thy beams"
     "Thou measurest not the Time to me"
     "Nor yet the Space that I do see"
     "My Mind is not with thy light arrayd"
     "Thy terrors shall not make me afraid"

     When I had my Defiance given
     The Sun stood trembling in heaven
     The Moon that glowd remote below
     Became leprous & white as snow
     And every Soul of men on the Earth
     Felt affliction & sorrow & sickness & dearth
     Los flamd in my path & the Sun was hot
     With the bows of my Mind & the Arrows of Thought
     My bowstring fierce with Ardour breathes
     My arrows glow in their golden sheaves
     My brothers & father march before
     The heavens drop with human gore

     Now I a fourfold vision see
     And a fourfold vision is given to me
     Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
     And three fold in soft Beulahs night
     And twofold Always.  May God us keep
     From Single vision & Newtons sleep" 
Blake's mastery of the dynamics of discerning the 'sun' as referring to multiple mental experiences, allowed him to people his myth with entities who moved through various transformations. Urizen and Luvah represented forces which struggled to manifest the light of consciousness in the mind of man. Each desired the position of supremacy occupied by Urthona as the connection between man and the divine. When Urizen was dormant, Luvah became ascendant. Perhaps if they worked together they could assume more power. But their plot failed and shook up the delicate mental balance necessary for smooth operation of the mind. When they became warring factions, the mind was split into two paths demanding irreconcilable goals. Urizen denied expression to the instinctual emotions of humanity. Luvah subverted the restraints which the rational mind sought to impose.

Light, Blake perceived, could not be claimed exclusively by any partial entity. Its presence must be recognized and appreciated in the functioning of disparate actions.
Four Zoas, Night I, Page 10, (E 305)
"Urizen sleeps in the porch 
Luvah and Vala woke & flew up from the Human Heart 
Into the Brain; from thence upon the pillow Vala slumber'd.
And Luvah siez'd the Horses of Light, & rose into the Chariot of Day"
Four Zoas, Night I ,Page 21, (E 311)
"But Urizen awoke & Luvah woke & thus conferrd

Thou Luvah said the Prince of Light behold our sons & daughters  
Reposd on beds. let them sleep on. do thou alone depart
Into thy wished Kingdom where in Majesty & Power
We may erect a throne. deep in the North I place my lot
Thou in the South listen attentive. In silent of this night
I will infold the Eternal tent in clouds opake while thou       
Siezing the chariots of the morning. Go outfleeting ride
Afar into the Zenith high bending thy furious course
Southward with half the tents of men inclosd in clouds
Of Tharmas & Urthona. I remaining in the porches of the brain
Will lay my scepter on Jerusalem the Emanation
On all her sons & on thy sons O Luvah & on mine    
Till dawn was wont to wake them then my trumpet sounding loud
Ravishd away in night my strong command shall be obeyd
For I have placd my centinels in stations each tenth man
Is bought & sold & in dim night my Word shall be their law    
PAGE 22  
Luvah replied Dictate to thy Equals. am not I
The Prince of all the hosts of Men nor Equal know in Heaven
If I arise into the Zenith leaving thee to watch
The Emanation & her Sons the Satan & the Anak
Sihon and Og. wilt thou not rebel to my laws remain             
In darkness building thy strong throne & in my ancient night
Daring my power wilt arm my sons against me in the Atlantic
My deep   My night which thou assuming hast assumed my Crown
I will remain as well as thou & here with hands of blood
Smite this dark sleeper in his tent then try my strength with thee 

While thus he spoke his fires reddend oer the holy tent 
Urizen cast deep darkness round him silent brooding death
Eternal death to Luvah. raging Luvah pourd
The Lances of Urizen from chariots. round the holy tent
Discord began & yells & cries shook the wide firmament"
British Museum
Small Book of Designs
from Book of Urizen
"Fearless tho in pain/I travel on"
Within the minds of men and within the societies man creates, there occur shifts in the balance of dominance. When the 'Horses of Light' are controlled by the superego we encounter a man locked in restrictive patterns of behavior, or a society integrated around the pursuits of law and order. If the needs of the id are not being fed by this arrangement there will be outbursts of protests attempting to cast off the old regimes.

On Page 73 of William Blake's Circle of Destiny Milton O Percival states:
"Though Los's labors are too often unsuccessful, he provides such illumination as the mortal world has. He is the purveyor of its religions and its philosophies.

'If the Sun & Moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.'
Auguries of Innocence, (E 492)

This is what happens with the Fall. Urizen, the sun, and Luvah, the moon, of the supernal world, both fall into doubt and suffer extinction of their light. To replace these darkened luminaries Los hammers the remnants of Urizen's light into a temporal sun and creates the moon of Ulro, dismal substitutes both of them for their supernal counterparts, yet they serve to light a world of darkness."

Thursday, August 18, 2016


"The Sun. 'I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun  ”I saw him on Primrose-hill. He said, "Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?" "No," I said, "that" [and Blake pointed to the sky] "that is the Greek Apollo. He is Satan."'

William Blake (Symons) Part II Records from contemporary sources (I.) Extracts from the Diary, Letters, and Reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson

Wikipedia Commons
Milton's Ode Written on the 
Morning of Christ's Nativity
Object 4

The Overthrow of Apollo  and the Pagan Gods

Wikipedia Commons
Illustrations to the Book of Job
Butts set, Plate 14

When the Morning Stars Sang Together

Wikipedia Commons
Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro 
Object 3

The Sun at His Eastern Gate

Wikimedia Commons
Illustrations to Milton's Il Penseroso
Object 6

The Youthful Poet's Dream

Wikipedia Commons
Il Penseroso
Object  10

The Sun in His Wrath

Wikipedia Commons Milton
Copy D, Plate 47

Encounter with Los as Spiritual Sun

In Blake's system there were two suns: the physical or natural sun identified with Urizen, and the spiritual sun identified with Los. The sun god of the Greeks, Apollo, was synonymous with the physical sun.

In his Illustrations to Milton's Ode Written on the Eve of Christ's Nativity, Blake pictured Apollo as one of the ancient Gods deposed by the advent of Christ. With the birth of Christ, man's understanding of the light of the world is transferred from the material object which Apollo transported across the celestial realm each day, to the greater light which illumines man from within.

Vision of Last Judgment, (E 565)
"Error is
Created Truth is Eternal Error or Creation will be Burned Up &
then & not till then Truth or Eternity will appear It is Burnt up
the Moment Men cease to behold it I assert for My self that I do
not behold the Outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance &
not Action it is as the Dirt upon my feet No part of Me. What it
will be Questiond When the Sun rises  do  you  not  see  a  round 
Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea O no no I see an Innumerable
company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord
God Almighty I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any
more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look
thro it & not with it."

Monday, August 15, 2016


This is reposted from March 2015.
Blake's attitude toward Greek and Roman literature and culture was ambivalent. Kathleen Raine tells us in Blake and Antiquity:

 "The first evidence of Blake's reading of Porphyry appears in the Book of Thel, written in 1787, thirty -two years before he painted the Arlington Tempera... But once Blake had set his soul to study in a learned school, with Thomas Taylor and the Platonic philosophers, he quickly became master of a coherent symbolic system which he handled with ever-increasing scope and freedom. 

 Not only did neo-Platonism give him a vocabulary and grammar of symbolic terms; it placed him in the mainstream of European poetic and pictorial symbolism. From his reading of Porphyry and Plotinus he came to recognize in the works of poets already known to him the same symbols, endlessly recreated and re-clothed in beautiful forms. Thus he was able to extend his field of allusion and to introduce themes and images taken from many sources, without destroying the unity of his symbolic structure." (Page 17)
Illustrations to Pilgrim's Progress
Christian and Hopeful Escape Giant Despair

In 1809, describing his large painting of the Ancient Britons which was included his Exhibition at his brother's shop, Blake indicates that his three principle figures are recreations of characters portrayed by the ancients. Although the painting to which Blake referred is lost, we can see how Blake portrayed Apollo, Hercules and the Dancing Fawn by looking at images from antiquity. He referred back to portrayals of Greek gods with which he was familiar and later he projected forward when illustrating authors whom he admired.

Blake sees the characters who people myths as archetypal. His aim is to represent the same archetypal truth which the masters of antiquity displayed. When he places images from the pictorial vocabulary of Greece in his illustrations to Milton's Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, illustrations to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress or to Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, he connects his reader/viewer to a more complete context. However Blake's attitudes to the values demonstrated by the Greek gods and heroes changed over time: his Dancing Fawn (as Puck) doesn't resemble the Ugly Man he described in his Catalogue; his Hercules (as the Giant Despair) is not the Strong Man of his earlier description. 

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 544)

 "His opinions, who does not see spiritual agency, is
not worth any man's reading; he who rejects a fact because it is
improbable, must reject all History and retain doubts only.
  It has been said to the Artist, take the Apollo for the
model of your beautiful Man and the Hercules for your strong Man,
and the Dancing Fawn for your Ugly Man.  Now he comes to his
trial.  He knows that what he does is not inferior to the
grandest Antiques.  Superior they cannot be, for human power
cannot go beyond either what he does, or what they have done, it
is the gift of God, it is inspiration and vision.  He had
resolved to emulate those precious remains of antiquity,
he has done so and the result you behold; his ideas of strength
and beauty have not been greatly different.  Poetry as it exists
now on earth, in the various remains of ancient authors, Music as
it exists in old tunes or melodies, Painting and Sculpture as it
exists in the remains of Antiquity and in the works of more
modern genius, is Inspiration, and cannot be surpassed; it is
perfect and eternal.  Milton, Shakspeare, Michael Angelo, Rafael,
the finest specimens of Ancient Sculpture and Painting, and
Architecture, Gothic, Grecian, Hindoo and Egyptian, are the
extent of the human mind.  The human mind cannot go beyond the
gift of God, the Holy Ghost.  To suppose that Art can go beyond
the finest specimens of Art that are now in the world, is not
knowing what Art is; it is being blind to the gifts of the
  It will be necessary for the Painter to say
something concerning his ideas of Beauty, Strength and Ugliness.
  The Beauty that is annexed and appended to folly, is a
lamentable accident and error of the mortal and perishing life;
it does but seldom happen; but with this unnatural mixture the
sublime Artist can have nothing to do; it is fit for the
burlesque.  The Beauty proper for sublime art, is lineaments, or
forms and features that are capable of being the receptacles of
intellect; accordingly the Painter has given in his beautiful
man, his own idea of intellectual Beauty.  The face and limbs
that deviates or alters least, from infancy to old age, is the
face and limbs of greatest Beauty and perfection.
  The Ugly likewise, when accompanied and annexed to
imbecility and disease, is a subject for burlesque and not for
historical grandeur; the Artist has imagined his Ugly man; one 
approaching to the
beast in features and form, his forehead small, without frontals; 
his jaws large; his nose high on the ridge, and narrow; his chest 
and the stamina of his make, comparatively little, and his joints 
and his extremities large; his eyes with scarce any whites, 
narrow and cunning, and every thing tending toward what is truly 
Ugly; the incapability of intellect.
  The Artist has considered his strong Man as a receptacle of
Wisdom, a sublime energizer; his features and limbs do not
spindle out into length, without strength, nor are they too large
and unwieldy for his brain and bosom.  Strength consists in
accumulation of power to the principal seat, and from thence a
regular gradation and subordination; strength is compactness, not
extent nor bulk.
  The strong Man acts from conscious superiority, and marches
on in fearless dependance on the divine decrees, raging with the
inspirations of a prophetic mind.  The Beautiful Man acts
from duty, and anxious solicitude for the fates of those for whom
he combats.  The Ugly Man acts from love of carnage, and delight
in the savage barbarities of war, rushing with sportive 
precipitation into the very teeth of the affrighted enemy.
  The Roman Soldiers rolled together in a heap before them:
"Like the rolling thing before the whirlwind;" each shew a
different character, and a different expression of fear, or
revenge, or envy, or blank horror, or amazement, or devout wonder
and unresisting awe.
  The dead and the dying, Britons naked, mingled with armed
Romans, strew the field beneath.  Among these, the last of the
Bards who were capable of attending warlike deeds, is seen
falling, outstretched among the dead and the dying; singing to
his harp in the pains of death."

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Yale Center for British Art
Copy M, Plate 7 

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 129, (E 398)  "Where is the voice of God that calld me from the silent dew  Where is the Lord of Vala dost thou hide in clefts of the rock  Why shouldst thou hide thyself from Vala from the soul that wanders desolate"
Kathleen Raine
Blake and Tradition

There are many threads that are woven into Psyche's story. Her loveliness is emphasized from the beginning. Because of her perfection she is worthy to be sacrificed to appease the Gods who are punishing her people.
She lost her old life when she was sacrificed, but she simultaneously found a new life in a new place, with a new body, and with a new experience of sexual love.
She lost this new life too, through suspicion and disobedience.
If Psyche is thought of as the Soul and Cupid is thought of as Love, their union engenders the perfect existence. As the story is told there are influences, however, that drew the Soul away from the perfect unity. Doubt and disobedience destroyed the idyllic symbiosis.
Psyche had fallen into a third level of her descent but she had enough memory of her past circumstances to seek for her lost lover and the garden in which she originated.
The path that Vala followed resembled Psyche's journey.
Vala too began as the most beautiful of the Daughters of Eternity. Her fall is not clearly described but somehow she was divided from Luvah, her other self, and drawn into the bosom of Albion.

Jerusalem, Plate 29 [33], (E 175)  
"Vala replied in clouds of tears Albions garment embracing        

I was a City & a Temple built by Albions Children.
I was a Garden planted with beauty I allured on hill & valley
The River of Life to flow against my walls & among my trees
Vala was Albions Bride & Wife in great Eternity
The loveliest of the daughters of Eternity when in day-break     

I emanated from Luvah over the Towers of Jerusalem
And in her Courts among her little Children offering up
The Sacrifice of fanatic love! why loved I Jerusalem!
Why was I one with her embracing in the Vision of Jesus
Wherefore did I loving create love, which never yet              
Immingled God & Man, when thou & I, hid the Divine Vision
In cloud of secret gloom which behold involve me round about 
Know me now Albion: look upon me I alone am Beauty
The Imaginative Human Form is but a breathing of Vala
I breathe him forth into the Heaven from my secret Cave          
Born of the Woman to obey the Woman O Albion the mighty
For the Divine appearance is Brotherhood, but I am Love"

She was assigned the task of providing bodies for the souls whom Jerusalem released into Generation. But Vala, who like Psyche was influenced by other voices, continued to fall further and further into the errors which led to decadence and destruction.
Jerusalem, Plate 7, (E 149)
"Listen, I will tell thee what is done in moments to thee unknown:

Luvah was cast into the Furnaces of affliction and sealed,       
And Vala fed in cruel delight, the Furnaces with fire:
Stern Urizen beheld; urgd by necessity to keep
The evil day afar, and if perchance with iron power
He might avert his own despair: in woe & fear he saw
Vala incircle round the Furnaces where Luvah was clos'd:         
With joy she heard his howlings, & forgot he was her Luvah,
With whom she liv'd in bliss in times of innocence & youth!"

It was necessary for Vala to travel the road of experience, to be exposed to the pain and sorrow of living in a world which exhibited the symptoms of falling away from the Divine Vision. She was brought back, not through her own efforts, but through the restoration of the Vision which reunited the scattered portions of the Divine Humanity. She lived once again in the beautiful house which was constructed for her by her lover.
Perhaps the greatest similarity between Psyche and Vala is that although to each her beloved became invisible, his voice was discernible. Each was willing to seek what they had lost and listen for the loved voice. Even though they experienced failure and felt abandoned, they found ways to continue their search until the gate back into Eternity opened for them.
Jerusalem, Plate 61, (E 212)
[Mary speaks]
"Does the voice of my Lord call me again? am I pure thro his Mercy
And Pity. Am I become lovely as a Virgin in his sight who am
Indeed a Harlot drunken with the Sacrifice of Idols does he
Call her pure as he did in the days of her Infancy when She
Was cast out to the loathing of her person. The Chaldean took
Me from my Cradle. The Amalekite stole me away upon his Camels
Before I had ever beheld with love the Face of Jehovah; or known
That there was a God of Mercy: O Mercy O Divine Humanity!
O Forgiveness & Pity & Compassion! If I were Pure I should never
Have known Thee; If I were Unpolluted I should never have        
Glorified thy Holiness, or rejoiced in thy great Salvation."
Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 126, (E 395)
"Come forth O Vala from the grass & from the silent Dew
Rise from the dews of death for the Eternal Man is Risen

She rises among flowers & looks toward the Eastern clearness
She walks yea runs her feet are wingd on the tops of the bending grass
Her garments rejoice in the vocal wind & her hair glistens with dew    

She answerd thus Whose voice is this in the voice of the nourishing air
In the spirit of the morning awaking the Soul from its grassy bed

PAGE 127 
Where dost thou dwell for it is thee I seek & but for thee
I must have slept Eternally nor have felt the dew of thy morning
Look how the opening dawn advances with vocal harmony
Look how the beams foreshew the rising of some glorious power
The sun is thine he goeth forth in his majestic brightness  
O thou creating voice that callest & who shall answer thee

Where dost thou flee O fair one where dost thou seek thy happy place

To yonder brightness there I haste for sure I came from thence
Or I must have slept eternally nor have felt the dew of morning

Eternally thou must have slept nor have felt the morning dew 
But for yon nourishing sun tis that by which thou art arisen
The birds adore the sun the beasts rise up & play in his beams
And every flower & every leaf rejoices in his light
Then O thou fair one sit thee down for thou art as the grass
Thou risest in the dew of morning & at night art folded up 

Alas am I but as a flower then will I sit me down
Then will I weep then Ill complain & sigh for immortality
And chide my maker thee O Sun that raisedst me to fall

So saying she sat down & wept beneath the apple trees

O be thou blotted out thou Sun that raisedst me to trouble 
That gavest me a heart to crave & raisedst me thy phantom
To feel thy heat & see thy light & wander here alone
Hopeless if I am like the grass & so shall pass away

Rise sluggish Soul why sitst thou here why dost thou sit & weep
Yon Sun shall wax old & decay but thou shalt ever flourish 
The fruit shall ripen & fall down & the flowers consume away
But thou shalt still survive arise O dry thy dewy tears

Hah! Shall I still survive whence came that sweet & comforting voice
And whence that voice of sorrow O sun thou art nothing now to me
Go on thy course rejoicing & let us both rejoice together 
I walk among his flocks & hear the bleating of his lambs
O that I could behold his face & follow his pure feet
I walk by the footsteps of his flocks come hither tender flocks
Can you converse with a pure Soul that seeketh for her maker
You answer not then am I set your mistress in this garden 
Ill watch you & attend your footsteps you are not like the birds"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cupid and Psyche

National Gallery Victoria
Designed by George Cumberland
Engraved by William Blake
Reposted from October 13, 2012
                                                 Cupid and Psyche

(Cupid is God; Psyche is the soul.)

       Blake had read Taylors' translation of Apuleius' Marriage of Cupid and Psyche.
 In her discussion of Blake's use of Cupid and Psyche Raine refers us to a passage in
Night ii of The Four Zoas:

"And I commanded the Great deep to hide her in his hand
Till she became a little weeping Infant a span long
I carried her in my bosom as a man carries a lamb
I loved her I gave her all my soul & my delight
I hid her in soft gardens & in secret bowers of Summer
Weaving mazes of delight along the sunny Paradise
Inextricable labyrinths, She bore me sons & daughters
And they have taken her away & hid her from my sight."
(Erdman 317)

       This is a "paradise of shadows" (Raine 24). Blake described here the coming of an eternal soul into generation;  in this (long!) poem Blake provided a creative rational for 'generation' (the descent of the soul).

       In this passage Luvah has (more or less) created Vala, and then (for an unknown reason here) he found himself shut off from her and she from him.

       Cupid provides a magnificent house for Psyche, and Luvah does the same thing for Vala, just as Solomon had done (your house is traditionally a symbol of your body). Cupid, Luvah, Solomon build houses for Psyche, Vala, and the Shulamite respectively. They made a house for them, just as God makes a house for us all.

Psyche's House (From Apuleius):

"And when she had refreshed her selfe sufficiently with sleepe,
she rose with a more quiet and pacified minde, and fortuned to
espy a pleasant wood invironed with great and mighty trees. Shee
espied likewise a running river as cleare as crystall : in the midst
of the wood well nigh at the fall of the river was a princely Edifice,
wrought and builded not by the art or hand of man, but by the mighty
power of God : and you would judge at the first entry therin, that it
were some pleasant and worthy mansion for the powers of heaven.
For the embowings above were of Citron and Ivory, propped and
undermined with pillars of gold, the walls covered and seeled with
silver, divers sorts of beasts were graven and carved, that seemed to
encounter with such as entered in. All things were so curiously and
finely wrought, that it seemed either to be the worke of some Demy
god, or of God himselfe. The pavement was all of pretious stones,
divided and cut one from another, whereon was carved divers kindes
of pictures, in such sort that blessed and thrice blessed were they that
might goe upon such a pavement : Every part and angle of the house
was so well adorned, that by reason of the pretious stones and inestimable
treasure there, it glittered and shone in such sort, that the chambers,
porches, and doores gave light as it had beene the Sunne."

       Words of Vala:
"My Luvah here hath placd me in a Sweet & pleasant Land
And given me fruits & pleasant waters & warm hills & cool valleys
Here will I build myself a house & here Ill call on his name
Here Ill return when I am weary & take my pleasant rest
So spoke the Sinless Soul and laid her head on the downy fleece
Of a curld Ram who stretchd himself in sleep beside his mistress
And soft sleep fell upon her eyelids in the silent noon of day
Then Luvah passed by & saw the sinless Soul
And said Let a pleasant house arise to be the dwelling place
Of this immortal Spirit growing in lower Paradise
He spoke & pillars were builded & walls as white as ivory
The grass she slept upon was pavd with pavement as of pearl. Beneath her rose a downy bed & a cieling coverd all"
(Night 9 of 4Z 128:20-33; quoted by Raine on page 26)

       The pleasant house has the symbolic meaning of the Beloved's (that's us!) body. In the Song of Solomon we have this duet:

"If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. If she is a door, we will enclose her
with panels of cedar.

I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment."
(Song of Solomon 8:9-10)

       All of these three ladies (Psyche, Vala, and the Shulamite) mourn the absence of her husband. Each lady's husband acts as a surrogate for God. Descending into mortal life is a downer that stays with us until the mortal end.
       With a rhapsodic verse from Solomon re his "beloved" in Blake and Tradition (but not Blake and Antiquity) Raine makes for us an extremely significant revelation:

Song of Solomon 6:4:
"Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem"
In the Bible Tirzah is a city, but something entirely different to Blake.

       As you read 4Z, it becomes more and more apparent that Tirzah is the type of Vala fallen. Jerusalem represent's Vala redeemed.

"Blake took the name Tirzah to be a symbolic reference to worldly materialism, as opposed to the spiritual realm of Jerusalem." (from Wikipedia)

An earlier version of this can be found here.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


As we continue to consider the influence of Greek Mythology on Blake, we look back at a post from May 05, 2011, AHANIA AS PERSEPHONE.

Thel and The Little Girl Lost were not the only characters created by Blake which owe their origin to Greek Mythology. Ahania, too, hawks back to the myths which Blake was pondering.

Blake's Ahania, the Emanation of Urizen, partook of Persephone. The cyclical nature of woman's fertility repeats the seasonal cycle of vegetative regeneration. Ahania spins her own cocoon to undergo the transformation of rebirth. By having Ahania reenact Persephone's journey, Blake symbolizes the process of renewal which humanity undergoes in his passage through time.

Gospel of John
Chapter 12
[20] And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:
[21] The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus
[22] Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.
[23] And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
[24] Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
[25] He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

Careful attention to the passages posted in Ahania Regenerate leads into the roots of some of Blake's symbols for regeneration including the above passage.

From Greek mythology he drew on the tale of
Persephone which was the basis for the Eleusinian mysteries reenacting the periods of the year when the goddess was bringing her life to the vegetative world and the time when she was hidden underground in the dark world of Hades. These corresponded to the periods when the crops were actively producing their fruits and those when the seed was buried in the ground awaiting the condition for growth. The periodic cycle of birth and death, of growth and rest, of activity and renewal was one of the phenomena represented by Urizen and Ahania in Blake's myth.

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 122, (E 391)
"The times revolve the time is coming when all these delights
Shall be renewd & all these Elements that now consume            
Shall reflourish. Then bright Ahania shall awake from death
A glorious Vision to thine Eyes a Self renewing Vision    
The spring. the summer to be thine then Sleep the wintry days
In silken garments spun by her own hands against her funeral
The winter thou shalt plow & lay thy stores into thy barns       
Expecting to recieve Ahania in the spring with joy
Immortal thou. Regenerate She & all the lovely Sex
From her shall learn obedience & prepare for a wintry grave
That spring may see them rise in tenfold joy & sweet delight
Thus shall the male & female live the life of Eternity"
Blake's recurrent theme of weaving has an undercurrent to the cocooned being which is one phase in the life cycle of butterfly. The two periods of visible activity of the butterfly are the larval or caterpillar stage of devouring food, and the adult butterfly stage of mating and laying eggs. In the stages of the cocoon and egg, the appearance is dormancy. Blake uses the garments woven by the emanations as 'bodies of death': clothing in the generative world of matter and death. The hidden activity of the world of generation like that of the cocooned pupa is transformation. The egg phase of the butterfly is likewise a period of transformation in which the egg acts as a womb for the birth of another outwardly active stage.

Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 125, (E 394)
"Then Urizen sits down to rest & all his wearied Sons
Take their repose on beds they drink they sing they view the flames
Of Orc in joy they view the human harvest springing up
A time they give to sweet repose till all the harvest is ripe"
The annual agricultural cycle demands periods of intense activity and periods of preparation and waiting. Urizen and his sons have completed a period of activity and they rest while they watch and wait. Ahania represented that period of restful watching and waiting which Urizen relinquished in his restless pursuit of making a world in his own image. Now with Ahania's return he can sit down with his wearied sons.The need for the mind to engage in varied activities is clarified in the characters of Urizen and Ahania. As the intellect or rational mind Urizen assumes that dominance is his due. But forces exist which are not controllable by rationality. Much of the mind is devoted to unconscious activities of which the reasoning mind is unaware. Ahania, as Persephone, has access to the underworld, or as psychology would call it, the unconscious. Urizen without Ahania could not rest nor could he listen to the inner, underlying motivations of his own actions.
Four Zoas, Night IX, Page 125, (E 394)
"And Lo like the harvest Moon Ahania cast off her death clothes
She folded them up in care in silence & her brightning limbs
Bathd in the clear spring of the rock then from her darksom cave
Issud in majesty divine   Urizen rose up from his couch
On wings of tenfold joy clapping his hands his feet his radiant wings
In the immense as when the Sun dances upon the mountains"

The moon is fully reflecting the light of the sun, the shroud has been carefully removed, the spiritual body has emerged from the clear waters of rebirth. The Eternal Ahania exits the cave of separation to the life of reunion.

"The Reunion of Soul and Body"
Illustration to Robert Blair's The Grave