Friday, July 1, 2011

Bio I

London was a rapidly growing metropolis filling with poor farmers who had been dispossessed of their farms by the inclosure movement, which encouraged the large land owners to seize their land. The poor farmers (or tenants) had little left except large families and hunger.

Blake's family had been there longer; they were respectable tradespeople; you might call them lower middle class. Blake's parents were dissenters; they had left the established church for one of the many sects that had arisen in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Blake was a dissenter from birth.

At four the child ran out of his bedroom claiming that an ugly God had look in his window; he mother consoled him. A few years later he claimed that he had seen a tree filled with angels.

At six he was placed in school. The first day he saw the schoolmaster flogging a pupil; young Blake immediately rose and exited; the was the end of his academic career; thereafter his education came largely from his own reading. He was called an autodidact.

At ten Blake's father put him in a drawing school, during which he showed
a gift for visual arts, and at 14 his father proposed to apprentice him as an engraver. After meeting the man chosen he declined; he told his father that he felt the man would be hanged. Sure enough he was hanged a few years later for forgery.

All of these events that the child had an unusual psyche. His mother was very dear, and his father dealt with him permissively and with real intelligence.

The next choice for an apprenticeship was satisfactory; his employer showed an unwareness of Blake's, and some years later he was invited to teach the children of the royal family. But that would have been a disaster; he was going through the years of protest (actually the years of protest lasted for his entire life).

At 19 the American Revolution broke. Like many other Brits he sympathized with the colonies; he wrote a long poem called America justifying Washington and the others.

The French Revolution came along in the 1790s and once again he sympathized with the revolutionists, but when the guillotine became the primary activity in France, he withdrew his sympathy. Blake above all hated violence and wrote many pages of poetry condemning the empirical wars of his country.

He was an 'angry young man'; that was reflected in his first large poem may have been The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It is shocking in the extreme, attracts some (especially young) readers and repels older conventional people. MHH will give you a significant introduction of a (relatively) young Blake.

His dissatisfaction with the conventional (Established) Church is expressed in these verses from Plate 11:

"a system was formed, which some took advantage of and enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast."

These verses show the slight regard in which he viewed priests and the doctrines they taught; they also show his emphasis on 'The God Within'.

The one thing that leads people to love or despise Blake is the values he espoused. Among them are

Blake's Values

Although Blake's poetry is most often opaque and mystifying, to share the following values gives one a leg up on understanding.

Non material: no! anti materialistic: 'when you die, you die.' Blake would have laughed at that materialistic viewpoint: there are several kinds of death, and life, we die to live ((except a gain of seed fall into the ground (and die as a seed) it yields nothing.))

Anti-clerical: The Established Church in Blake's day was shot through with corruption. To go to the Established Church was to stamp your approval on social preferences.
But Blake saw much to disapprove in the Dissenters churches also. He saw that any church is an institution, with all the flaws of any institution: favoritism, privilege, 'politics', everything but brotherhood.

Anti-war: No peacenik of our generation has anything over Blake. He associated war with the State, the ultimate constriction of human freedom.

Political: a rabid democrat. He gloried in the American Revolution and felt the same toward the French Revolution until the guillotine came to the fore.
He opposed emphatically class economic preferences.
Look at this poem (The Little Black Boy):
"My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but oh! my soul is white.
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black as if bereaved of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say:

"Look on the rising sun, -there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away;
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learned the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear his voice
Saying: `Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice!' "

Thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy:
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I'll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our father's knee;
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me."

Blake's Myth

Unable to believe the conventional established theology, Blake felt that he must deal with it this statement:

"I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create."

He proceeded to create his own System. It was structured in the form of four zoas; each one had a name:

Tharmas: The body, sensation, water

Urizen the reasoning faculty. He fought Urizen for years (perhaps because he was so cerebral).

Luvah the feeling function. Blake leaned toward this one.
was said to be
Urthona: call it imagination or intuition.

The Four Zoas was to be the greatest unfished poem in the Engliah Language. Actually it was a sort of notebook or maybe a rough draft for the two major works, called Milton and Jerusalem.

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