Tag Archive: Song of Los


La Petite Mort: Why the Orgasmic Grave?

Blake’s Song of Los ends which a curious, antithetical image of the grave, cursorily glossed by Johnson and Grant as “a regenerative orgasm” which transforms it into a “fruitful womb” (107):

The Grave shrieks with delight, & shakes

Her hollow womb, & clasps the solid stem;

Her bosom swells with wild desire:

And milk & blood & glandous wine.

In rivers rush & shout & dance

On mountain, dale and plain. (112)

What then to make of this? Life’s natural, teleological progression would, obviously, be toward that of the narrow house, the final and ever-abiding stasis of the grave. This grotesque image upsets and usurps such a formulation, however, making death not decaying but pregnant. There is a Dionysian degradation and delight. Though a degradation that here is more similar to a  “coming down to earth, the contact with the earth that swallows up and gives birth at the same time,” the vital loam; it is to take the idealized and make it fleshy, making lofty concepts corporeal. A discarnate existence in a contradiction in terms—whether here or in the here-after. Blake loathes what ignores the spiritual—e.g. “a Philosophy of the Five Senses” (110) alone—as well as what’s bloodless—e.g. Urizen’s fettering “mechanistic dictates” (107). Blake’s philosophy—however difficult such might be to pin down and delineate (but isn’t that his point?)—is an autochthonous one, one that “transfer[s] every high ceremonial gesture or ritual [here, specifically, death, the lapsing from one life to the next] to the material sphere” (Bakhtin).

 

Works Cited:

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Print.  (pg.21)

Blake, William. “The Song of los.” Blake’s Poetry and Designs. Ed. Mary Lynn Johnson and John E. Grant. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print. (pg. 107-12)

Blake creates his own system of mythology in order to communicate his revolutionary message allegorically.  The characters’ meaning and symbolism constantly change through a complex web of relationships with each other and in the context of each prophecy.  While his mythology is an important tool for creating his own system, by incorporating Biblical figures into his writing, Blake breaks from his mythology to communicate through universally understood characters.  By modernizing Biblical characters, Blake mythologizes these figures to as existing outside the limits of historical time.  As mythological entities their symbolic value is more important than their specific actions as outlined in the Bible.

Returning to our earlier reading of Blake’s All Religions Are One, Blake rejects the idea of any individual religion having total authority and instead claims that there are no true differences between religions.  By making these Biblical figures contemporary with his mythological characters, he inserts his system of mythology in the religious sphere on equal footing with the most established religion in England.  Particularly, in Africa, he gives his own characters greater power than these pillars of the Christian faith as “Adam shuddered!” and “Noah faded!” in response to Urizen’s laws.  His mythology is no longer an isolated system or tool in Blake’s writing but a component of a universal religious system.

It is also worth noting which particular Biblical figures he co-opts into his mythological system.  The three men he alludes to in Africa, Adam, Noah, and Abram, all represent fatherhood:  Adam as the father of man, Noah as the only remaining father after the flood, and Abram as the father of the nations.  By placing each of these figures in a weak, responsive position, he emphasizes the unquestioned power of Urizen he seeks to create.  Then, this power dynamic between Urizen and man easily extends through their descendants to include every modern reader.  This allows him to present a mythological system that he discovered rather than created, as though he illuminates characters and relationships that shaped these figures of the past and continue to shape individuals in the present.

Urizen Wept

The turning point once “the kings of Asia heard/ The howl rise up from Europe,” (or once Orc moves from Europe to Asia), is line 9, “Urizen heard them cry.”  It seems that the lamentations of the Asian Kings causes his reaction, stirs him to move and stand over Jerusalem.  Their “hopes” are that

The pride of the heart may fail;

That the lust of the eyes may be quench’d

That the delicate ear in its infancy

May be dull’d: and the nostrils clos’d up:

To teach mortal worms the path

That leads from the gates of the Grave. (plate 7, lines 3-8).

The footnote says “the senses are being narrowed as humanity accepts a religion of asceticism for the sake of the life hereafter,” and I wonder, does Urizen approve of this deadening of the senses?

What interests me is that there seems to be a call and response throughout the Song of Los, an overload of the senses (not a deadening of them), as though one howl or cry sparks another dramatic reaction.  For instance: “Then the thunders of Urizen bellow’d aloud/From his woven darkness above,” sparks “Orc, raging in European darkness,/Arose like a pillar of fire above the Alps.”  And Urizen’s thunder arises from the lamentations of the Asian kings, who begin their cry in response to Europe’s howl, and so on and so forth.  Is crying a trigger reaction? One sadness leads to another?  The earth seems to be physically shaken up by these tears.  After “Jesus wept,” he rose Lazarus from the dead.  It says that “Urizen wept” is supposed to be ironic, and over the resurrection of humanity, but I wonder if this chain of weeping, culminating in “Urizen wept” means that in “The Book of Urizen,” Urizen will resurrect something himself.

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