“Love, indeed, has its priests in the poets.”

– Søren Kierkegaard

The generative power of the system of contraries developed in William Blake’s work flows from a complex philosophical lineage. While it may seem counterintuitive to conceive how contradictory forces could act together productively, this very idea inundates Western thought. Hegel understood history as a dialectical development of man’s spirit, a progression “of the consciousness of Freedom”, that propels itself through time by the transformation of theses to antitheses, antitheses to the new theses ad infinitum.1 Similarly, Friedrich Nietzsche believed “that the continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and Dionysian duality,” characterized by the opposing forces of optimism and pessimism.2 Indeed, Blake stands in good company when he uses contraries to approach the radical ideals buried in the code of contradictions concealed in his work. To better understand how Blake intends to “transcend” the paradoxical coexistence of contraries, one might turn to yet another philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, and his unique conception of the self laid out in Sickness Unto Death, to grasp the generative power of contradictions seen in such pieces as The Songs of Innocence and Experience. There, Blake creates and destroys an idyllic world of blissful ignorance through contradictory passages intended to bring the reader to a reasonable and balanced comportment to the world. A close reading of the fundamental structure of the self proposed in Sickness helps to clarify how this message comes about in the juxtaposition of the first and second half of Songs.

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