William Blake (1757-1827)
William Blake agreed with the basic premise of this book. “In common with the other Romantic poets, Blake viewed the poet as a seer and prophet, and he believed that the arts were the chief means of communicating with eternity,” eternity being Simple Reality. Eternity in many of Blake’s poems means the “paradisiacal state of universal knowledge, power, and bliss.” We don’t see Blake as primarily a Romantic poet but as a mystic and a metaphysical poet and artist. (He illustrated many of his books and poems.)
Childhood was seen by Blake as the natural state of the human being before being corrupted by P-B. “The innocent are made to accept the specious arguments of the adult world [and as a result] the life energy which flows with such freedom and joy in Innocence is stifled.”
I went to the garden of love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not writ over the door;
So I turned to the garden of love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be—
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
Living with a husband who seeks to be in response to life, a gifted poet who feeds on silence and solitude, had its challenges for Catherine Blake. “It isn’t easy to be married to a man who is always somewhere else.” But Catherine Blake realized that it could have been worse. “Think of all the other, worse places where husbands spend their time.” Indeed Blake spent much of his time in an Edenic Paradise (Jerusalem in his poems) and wanted desperately for his neighbors to join him. He knew they only had to make the choice that he had made and that they were all capable of doing so.
Let the slave grinding at
the mill run out into the
Let him look up into the
heavens and laugh in the
Let the enchanted soul
shut up in darkness and
Whose face has never seen a
smile in thirty weary
Rise and look out; his chains
are loose, his dungeon
doors are open.
Blake was influenced by his fellow mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg, who believed in a “spiritual reality [P-A] underlying temporal phenomena [P-B].” The childhood awareness of the omnipresence of the Divine is lost in the inevitable need on the part of all children to begin constructing their survival strategy, a process aided by the adults in their lives and the almost overwhelming influence of the narrative that they find themselves contained in. The accompanying change in identity results in the loss of the old identity, the loss of innocence.
Farewell, green fields and happy groves,
Where flocks have took delight,
Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves
The feet of angels bright.
Unseen they pour blessing,
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom.
As a prophet, Blake spoke out against those aspects of the destructive story that he knew to be unsustainable and self-destructive, “he fought against all his life: conventional education, morality, and religion, all of which he thought were based on a false and inadequate view of man. For Blake, man was not a miserable ‘worm of sixty withers’ but the ‘eternal great Humanity Divine.’”
Oneness, the foundational reality in P-A, was intuited by Blake and permeated his work. Truth was “One” to him, “reason and energy, body and soul, the spiritual and the material. Blake wanted to unify existence, which he believed had been falsely sundered by religious dualism, without destroying its essential polarity.” He saw the folly of conventional science relying on the senses to define reality.
How do you know but every bird
that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight,
closed by the senses five?
In his, The Book of Urizen, Urizen, the personification of the faculty of reason, cuts himself off from the company of others and attempts to impose on them a uniform set of laws thereby attempting to deny the rich diversity of creation. “They shun him, and in his isolation, cut off from the creative power of the imagination, he can create only a limited world in which the expansive, translucent joy of eternity has hardened into the opacity of material form.”
This is the illusion and the resulting despair faced by humanity today and Blake understood it better than most and spent his life as a prophet raging against the resulting darkness. Blake’s poetry sang with the melody of the present moment. “Blake’s name for this liberated condition, when he imagined it as a place, was Jerusalem, and his well-known lyric, [which was] set to music by Hubert Parry and sung in England now on every conceivable occasion.” Perhaps “Jerusalem” will one day be the anthem of the Global Village.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.