Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Final Lesson

If you have become sufficiently interested in Blake after this lesson, I expect to continue these lessons in this blog.

"I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you in at Heavens gate
Built in Jerusalem's wall."

Very famous of course; you may find books entitled 'The Golden String.' Does it remind you of anything? Greek?
the Minotaur.

What is the golden string? Read my post, or just read on.

Last week's biography ended in 1804 with "After three years Blake had had enough. He and Catherine returned to London and to abject poverty, glorified by the tremendous production of his last decade.

Output during that time:

Jerusalem, from Biography


Today's Biography is confined to the 19th Century, Blake's last 28 years. Marriage had brought young Blake responsibilities; he was an artist; it meant producing stuff for sale. (The poet is out of it entirely; he had best never marry unless he knows a rich heiress.)

Blake married an illiterate farm girl; she was more than that when he died; she had been pretty well educated by her husband.

Blake wrote (and inscribed) a lot of things:
Songs of Innocence and Experience (they became classics, but seen by very few in his day.)
Everybody knows or at least has heard of The Tyger.

As a married man
Blake produced pictures and other objects of art; but the sale was dismal. They struggled along with contributions of a few friends. William Hayley, a successful although mediocre poet, took Blake under his wing.

Hayley insisted on Blake painting miniatures, all day.
Blake had no time for the poetry or the Visions that meant so much to him.

He and Catherine left their cottage on the sea and Hayley's support; they returned to poverty-- and sweet joy.

In the second half of his career Blake had largely dropped his preoccupation with the Old Testament God and in favor of the New Testament God. His first large prophetic poem, Milton begins with a famous poem called Jerusalem that later became the theme song of the British Labor party; they used to sing it as a hymn.

(Blake was not the first person to see the presence of
Jesus in ancient England. Tradition tells us that he was
there in the first century.)

For twenty years Blake had suffered from a failure of his Visions from Heaven. But in 1800, at the age of 43 they returned. 'Purity of Heart is to will one thing', but under the influence of the Main Chance (the need to find a respectable place in the world, to better himself financially, to eat meat instead of beans) he had become double-minded. Divided from his true calling, he had failed financially as well as spiritually.

Then he was "Surprised by Joy" and rescued from the Main Chance (a story that has been amply if not exhaustively treated in this blog). The Visions returned and he happily 'lived in Heaven', to use his wife's plaintive term for it.

Then, with increasing age and deteriorating health, he was 'surprised by joy' again; he found everything that he had lost in the past: friends, and an income that allowed him to 'put bread on the table'.

Perhaps every person with some age has glowing memories of some event in their past: perhaps just a day, perhaps a month or a year. That's what Shoreham meant to Samuel Palmer and the other Ancients, and to Blake at the end of his life.

London was a vast polluted mire of men: the miry clay indeed (Psalm 42), of which the country side was a refuge. All Londoners were aware of this, particularly the young men who made up the Ancients. Thomas Palmer's father was a conforming Christian, a Baptist. Perhaps about 1820 he was called as a lay preacher to a chapel in the environs of the village of Shoreham. The upshot was that he moved his family there.

Meanwhile George Cumberland, a long time friend of Blake brought John Linnell, an affluent painter, to see him. Linnell fell in love with Blake and with what he represented. He supported the old man for the rest of his life. He also brought many of his friends to see Blake and his lovely pictures. They adopted Blake, much like the sixties flower children had adopted him.

For the flower children it may have been mostly about sex, but Linnell's friends liked Blake in more general and thorough ways. Particularly they loved his religion, his spirit, his values. Youthful individualists, they were religious boys, living a life of joy and piety.

These were young man who had become a loose-knit community which they called The Shoreham Ancients. They frequently visited Blake and brought him to Shoreham where he found himself a very honored guest. All this made Blake's last days a fulfillment of extravagant degree. In 1828 he died heartily mourned by his young friends. Everyone knew it was but a temporary separation.


Today let's look especially at the two major prophecies (poems): Milton and Jerusalem.

Here are the Plates, 1 by 1
go to a terminal
[Do evince
~/Documents/1802rosen1811.pdf ]

There are two discussions of Milton here:
1. The synopsis found in wiki
2.. A section in my Blake Primer

This synopsis of Milton comes from a wiki:

Milton a Poem is an epic poem by William Blake, written and illustrated between 1804 and 1810. Its hero is John Milton, who returns from heaven and unites with Blake to explore the relationship between living writers and their predecessors, and to undergo a mystical journey to correct his own spiritual errors.

The poem is divided into two "books".

Book I opens with an epic invocation to the muses, drawing on the classical models of Homer and Virgil, and also used by John Milton in Paradise Lost. However, Blake describes inspiration in bodily terms, vitalising the nerves of his arm. Blake goes on to describe the activities of Los, one of his mythological characters, who creates a complex universe from within which other Blakean characters debate the actions of Satan.

Referring to the doctrines of Calvinism, Blake asserts that humanity is divided into the "Elect", the "Reprobate" and the "Redeemed". Inverting Calvinist values, Blake insists that the "Reprobate" are the true believers, while the "Elect" are locked in narcissistic moralism. At this point Milton appears and agrees to return to earth to purge the errors of his own Puritanism and go to "Eternal death".

Milton travels to Lambeth, taking in the form of a falling comet, and enters Blake's foot. This allows Blake to treat the ordinary world as perceived by the five senses as a sandal formed of "precious stones and gold" that he can now wear. Blake ties the sandal and, guided by Los, walks with it into the City of Art, inspired by the spirit of poetic creativity.

Book II finds Blake in the garden of his cottage in Felpham. Ololon, a female figure linked to Milton, descends to meet him. Blake sees a skylark, which mutates into a twelve year old girl, who he thinks is one of his own muses. He invites her into his cottage to meet his wife. The girl states that she is actually looking for Milton. Milton then descends to meet with her, and in an apocalyptic scene he is eventually unified with the girl, who is identified as Ololon and becomes his own feminine aspect.

The poem concludes with a vision of a final union of living and dead; internal and external reality; male and female and a transformation of all of human perception.



The Mature Works

'Milton', Blake's first overtly Christian work, is his testimony of faith. It's also his way of rehabilitating his childhood hero, John Milton. Finally it's a difficult poem; it contains unfathomable depths. This review can do no more than introduce the reader to the poem and call attention to some of the new elements in the mature development of Blake's myth.

'Milton' is a very autobiographical work. Blake used many of the characters that his readers might be familiar with from earlier works, but in this very personal poem they often assume other (although related) identities. Particularly we understand that Blake was Los; Hayley was Satan (he had suborned Blake from his true work to hack work: from Eternity to Ulro.)
John Milton, the author of 'Paradise Lost', had been a major force in Blake's life; he had been many things to Blake through the years. In Blake's day Milton enjoyed enormous spiritual stature among the English people. Even today the general understanding of Heaven, Hell, God and Satan (among people interested in those concepts) tends to be more often Miltonic than Biblical. In the first half of his life Blake was very much under the shadow of Milton, the great epic poet of the English people. All subsequent English poets lived and wrote in Milton's shadow, and the greatest ones aspired to achieve an epic comparable to 'Paradise Lost'.
Although Blake had much in common with the puritan poet, he disagreed with Milton about a number of things. For example, as a young man he despised the God of 'Paradise Lost' and admired Milton's Devil. Blake made that clear in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' and tried to put Milton in his place by saying that he was of the Devil's party without knowing it. Ten years later the experience of grace empowered Blake to deal with Milton in a better way. He called him back to earth to straighten out his theology, and he identified with him and his spiritual power in a radical way. He recreated Milton as Milton had recreated the Bible.
As Blake's poem begins, Milton has been in Heaven for a hundred years, obedient although not very happy there. The 'Bard's Song' (which takes up the first third of the poem) recreates the war in Heaven of 'Paradise Lost'. The other Eternals find the Bard's song appalling, but Milton embraces the Bard and his song. In a thrilling imaginative triumph he announces his intention of leaving Heaven to complete the work on earth that he had left undone. Although Blake doesn't say this, any Christian should recognize that Milton thus follows in the footsteps of Christ as described in the famous Kenosis passage in Philippians 2:
Anyone familiar with the gospel story will see biblical allusions and references here.

In Blake's cottage he sees Milton's shadow, a horrible vision:
An attempt to translate this visionary poetry into "common sense" might suggest that in Milton's shadow Blake suddenly became immediately aware of all the fallen nature of the world (and his own mind) that had consumed most of his poetry to that point. Now he became aware of all these things, but in the light of a person now full of light.

Back on earth Milton encounters many of the characters whom we met in 'The Four Zoas'. Tirzah and Rahab tempt him; his contest with Urizen has special interest as a record of the resolution of Blake's life long struggle with the things that Urizen represented to him:
A Bible dictionary, or even better, Damon's Blake Dictionary, will help to clarify the associations with biblical locations. Here we see the old Urizen still trying to freeze the poet's brain, but instead he finds himself being humanized by an emissary from Heaven. Blake is vividly depicting the battle between the forces of positivism and spirit.
Milton meets other obstacles and temptations on his journey, a journey that begins to bear increasing resemblance to that of Bunyan's Pilgrim or even of Jesus himself. He unites with Los and with Blake. He finally meets Satan, confronts him and overcomes him as Jesus had done. These dramatic events give Blake ample opportunity to describe in detail the eternal and satanic dimensions of life, the conflict betwen the two and the inevitable victory of the eternal. For the first and perhaps the only time Blake is writing a traditional morality story.
This material is autobiographical and written in the honeymoon phase of his new spiritual life. Blake's full meanings yield only to intensive study, but from the beginning there are thrilling lines to delight and inspire the reader. In his esoteric language Blake describes for us what has happened to him, and nothing could be more engrossing for the reader interested in the life of the spirit and in Blake. The relationship of this story to the myth described above should be obvious. But 'Milton' is more real than the previous material because Blake has lived it and writes (and sketches) with spiritual senses enlarged and tuned by his recent experience of grace.
A digression occurs in the second half of Book One of 'Milton', a detailed description of the "World of Los"; it contains much of Blake's most delightful poetry. The reader will remember that in 4Z Los had passed through several stages of development. Beginning as the primitive prophetic boy, he became first disciple and later adversary of Urizen. He bound Urizen into fallen forms of life, then "became what he beheld". But in Night vii we recall that he embraced his Spectre, actually the Urizen within, and thereupon became the hero of the epic.

Ellie suggested that I list some favorite aphorisms:
Before 1980 you might expect from me, in response to almost
anything, a verse of scripture. After 1983 it became a verse from Blake.

Some of them are listed here in bold, and the description perhaps seves to explicate what I take to be the meaning (you may very legitimately find other meanings).

Here are some most commonly quoted:
I give you the end of a Golden String Only wind it into a ball: It will let you in at Heaven's Gate Built in Jerusalem's wall."

What is the Golden String? how about the Christ
Consciousness? That's something you must work at
assiduously; it involves continuously annihilating your
internal spectre. 'Winding the ball' is a lifelong project,
but the end of it is Heaven's Gate.

My Spectre around me night and day Like a wild beast upon my way"
The devil in you never sleeps.
Give him a chance and he will rend your psyche
limb from limb.

But when your 'string' is fully wound you may meet this:

"Then shall we return & see
The worlds of happy Eternity
& Throughout all Eternity
I forgive you you forgive me
As our dear Redeemer said
This the Wine & this the Bread"

That's the shape of the Eternity that Blake
was always talking about. I call it UPSTAIRS.

Jesus was about
Forgiveness of Sin.
He forgives and forgives and forgives.
But to enjoy his benefit we have to forgive
like [Blake] forgave his Spectre in the poem.

"Both read the Bible day & night But thou readst black where I read white"
(The Everlasting Gospel; E517ff)

Way back some centuries ago the concept of 'The
Everlasting Gospel became current, generally
understood in this way:
The Trinity denotes epochs in three stages of
God's Revelation:
The Father is found in the Old Testament.
The Son is found in the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit includes all subsequent revelations,
including my vision and yours.

The poetry of Blake emphatically occurs in the
third period.

In 1810-12 Blake labored with The Everlasting Gospel:
Here are some Extracts:
"The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Visions Greatest Enemy
Thine has a great hook nose like thine
Mine has a snub nose like to mine
Thine is the Friend of All Mankind
Mine speaks in parables to the Blind
Thine loves the same world that mine hates
Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates
Both read the Bible day & night
But thou readst black where I read white"
(Erdman 517ff)

In Plate 98 of Jerusalem Blake wrote:
"The Druid Spectre was Annihilate loud thundring
Fourfold Annihilation & at the clangor of the Arrows of
The innumerable Chariots of the Almighty appeard in
And Bacon & Newton & Locke, & Milton & Shakspear &
A Sun of blood red wrath surrounding heaven on all sides
Glorious incompreh[en]sible by Mortal Man"

So at the end Blake forgave his mortal enemies; here the term
Bacon and Newton and Locke is a metaphor for all Blake's
enemies. He has complied with the commandment:
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who
trespass against us."

Know that after Christ's death he became Jehovah".
(MHH plate 6 ; E35)

What in the world does that mean?
In his natural life Jesus put forth the Father;
the epitome may well be the story of the Prodigal Son.
But after he died he became Jehovah?
He had told us to look to the Father, but after he died
orthodox Christian's looked to Jesus; he took the place of God.
They pray to him, not to the Father!
That's why Blake said that "
after he died he became Jehovah", speaking with heavy irony.

Satan is the State of Death, & not a Human existence:"
(Jerusalem , Plate 49; E 198)
(This one from Ellie)

I must create a system or be enslav'd by another Mans"
We must create our own belief structure and values or else
depend upon someone elses.
We will be conventional, dependent people or

"Without contraries is no progression
Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy,
Love and Hate, are necessary to human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious
call Good and Evil."


There's one additional source I want to tell
you about: the Library of Congress Rosenwald
. (

To see all the Plates we may do this:
Invoke evince
ask for ~/Documents/2003rosen1811.pdf]

Here are some very important ones:

This is the full paged picture that introduces Jerusalem.

Plate that introduced Chapter One of
Jerusalem, entitled To the Public. Plate 2, To the Public

Chapter Two (Plate 26), To the Jews:
The bright figure on the left is Hand, who represents all the Sons of Albion, who opposed Liberty.
To the right is a poor god-forsaken Jerusalem.

Plate 51,(Chapter Three) To the Deists
On the left is Vala,Symbol of Radical Materialism.

The center figure represents Hyle, a symbol of pure rationalism.

To the right is Scofield, the drunk soldier who accused Blake in his own garden of cursing King George.

Plate 76 , To the Christians

This has contrary meanings:
1. Adherence to conventional religion centered on Jesus as God. Someone asked Blake is Jesus was the Son of God. He answered, "yes, he was; and so am I, and so are you."

2. The Jesus who reunites us all in a Community of Love.

Plate 100 is the curtain call of this intense drama. Blake used to visit London theaters with his young friends, the Shoreham Ancients.

That's all folks

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