Archive for February, 2018

Religion and Politics

Blake engages with the French revolutionary debates in his “A Song of Liberty.” Thomas Paine, who also engages in those same debates, believes that “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possess of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time’, or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it” (24). Both thinkers understand the connection between religion and government, or religion as political and politics as religious. Blake, through his work, acknowledges the unbreakable link between religion and the political, “20. Spurning through the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to dust, loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night, crying ‘Empire is no more! And now the loin & wolf shall cease’” (plate 27).

Both thinkers, while talking about the French Revolution have something to say about religion. Paine alludes to an “end of time” and a “commanding.” Similarly Blake alludes to “stony law.” The Ten Commandments are a reoccurring image in both thinkers’ work, alongside a celebration of moving away from a system that valorizes based on faith.

-Israel Alonso


Blake calls Paine a better Christian than the Bishop, but does not clarify what type of Christian he is referring to. What he means to say about him may vary depending on the connotation of being a Christian. In An Apology for the Bible, Blake says, “There is a vast difference between an accident brought on by a mans own carelessness & a destruction from the designs of another” (457). Paine is the latter Christian. He desires a change in the governmental system by changing the natural behaviors of humankind. In theory, he is taking on the role of God in Paine’s The Rights of Man Part 1 when he says “that a general revolution in the principle and construction of governments is necessary” and though he speaks of principles, he later defines revolutions as “little more than a change of persons or an alteration of local circumstances. They rose and fell like things of course” (26). Essentially, he sees that those who might not be the best fit should be replaced like they are mere objects.

Blake’s uncertainty about labeling Paine as a devil or inspired man is understandable because perhaps he sees himself in him. In Blake’s “A Memorable Fancy” on page 75, he makes a statement that has an allegorical relation to Paine’s ideas about power and revolution. He says, “For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite, and holy, whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.”  They both believed that by getting rid of any forms of power that rules a nation, natural order will return. This is a very sinister view of Blake, but knowing that he defies any forms of regulations that may hinder one’s imagination, it is also very innocent.

-Van Vang

Blake’s marginalia deeming Paine “either a Devil or an Inspired Man” (456) is indicative of his admiration for Pain because throughout the works of Blake we see him develop the devil as a character that is calling for inquiry on a system that he is advised to not question. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell “the voice of the devil” raises 6 points that expose “the errors of sacred codes”. For Paine to be compared to a devil or an Inspired Man is self-referential to the Poetic Genius.

Blake’s engagement to the French revolution is exemplified by the line: “To what does the Bishop attribute the English Crusade against France, it is not to State Religion, blush for shame” (456). Blake is also against the monarchy and, ultimately, the church.

Several texts we’ve read so far from Blake realign with ideas such as Paine’s. In Paine’s “Common Sense” we encounter a radical thinker that contrasts the “evils” of government with the “blessing” of society. The government he’s referring to is the aristocracy that he refuses to endorse since he does not believe that old generations should impose their will on newer generations because of birth-right. This idea realigns with Blake’s idea that the individual (or society) is not wicked, but the church (or the government) is wicked.

Paine also mentions America in his text as the model for democracy: “What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude: the one was the wonder of the ancient world, the other is becoming the admiration, the model of the present” (27). In Blake’s artwork “America a Prophecy”, he also depicts America in a mystical form, showing his mythological figures, including “Albions Angel”, “Londons Guardian” (forces of the British government), Urizen, and fiery Orc (the spirit of revolt). In his other artwork “Europe a prophecy” he is depicting Europe as treacherous by using the snake, which is a biblical symbol of evil. These illustrations could also align with Paine’s emphasis on a republic in which the people choose the ruler, as depicted in Blake’s artwork where the Europe illustration has only one snake (wearing a crown), and it’s tremendous size prevents room for anyone else.

-Beyanira Bautista

William Blake’s marginalia to An Apology for the Bible finally gives me textual evidence to say: The Poetic Genius is rooted in Norse Mythology. I know that doesn’t in any way answer the question “Where do we see Swedenborgian-Moravian Christianity in Blake’s works,” but I’m here to tell you that when it comes to the Poetic Genius, we don’t.

I have to tell you this story first, so you understand where I’m coming from. This is the truncated version. It all begins with a war in Heaven, between a tribe of Gods called the Aesir and a tribe of Gods called the Vanir. The Aesir are the Norse deities we think about, Thor, Odin, Loki, Tyr, Baldr. The Vanir includes Freya, Njord and some less commonly spoken of Gods and Goddesses. This war was long, but as we know, “Opposition is True Friendship,” and when the two clans settled their differences, they created the wisest human of all, Kvasir. Kvasir, despite all of his wisdom, wandered the nine realms in a fit of activity, was slain by a pair of Dark Elves and his blood was brewed into a potent mead. This is called the Mead of Poetry.

Odin, in all his rage, set out to reclaim the blood of his child, deceiving, seducing and murdering his way to the great cauldrons where the Mead of Poetry was kept. He drank in every last drop of the mead of poetry, transformed into an Eagle and flew home to Asgard. The Dark Elves gave chase in the form of Eagles, but Odin was able to regurgitate nearly every drop of the mead into great vats set out by the Aesir. When the Dark Elves were (literally) right on his tail, nearly catching Odin, Odin expelled some of the Mead of Poetry out of his, well, other end to distract and slow down his pursuer. It is said that great poets who speak truths have drunk from the Mead of Poetry, and lousy poets who speak falsehoods and sing lies have drunk from the Mead of Odin’s ass.

This is the Mead of Poetry. The Mead of Poetry is the blood of a man born of opposition. It is the creation of strife, and regurgitated from the All-Father himself. From opposition, wisdom, seduction, deception, cunning, creativity, the Divine, and the bestial, comes the Mead of Poetry. The Poetic Genius is all of these things. The Poetic Genius is the Mead of Poetry.

Now, just when I was thinking over this idea that there is nothing Christian about the Poetic Genius, I read this quote from Blake’s Marginalia. “Read the Edda of Iceland” (457). It all comes together at that moment. The Prose Edda of Iceland includes a book known as Skáldskaparmál (Language of Poetry) that explains the origin of poetry. This is the origin of the Poetic Genius. Page 90-94 of Skáldskaparmál.



-Ross Koppel

An increasingly common theme we begin to see among Blake is his hatred of limiting rules and regulations, that patronize the imagination if not stifle it completely. Thomas Paine in his various works appears to echo these same sentiments, albeit through the lens of the political. In his book, Common Sense, he writes that “government even in its best state is but a necessary evil” (Paine 24) that serves as a contrast to our vice, “restraining” it. This seemingly coincides with Blake’s ideology about rules, reason, and logic (Urizen) bounding the wayward imagination (Los). The two Blakean images that are reoccurring throughout his works that comprehend the dichotomy between rules and freedom are that of Urizen and Los. These two figures, which symbolize the bounded mind in the form of Urizen and that of the unbounded mind in the form of Los are described in their poems, the titles of which are reflective of their personalities: “The Song of Los” and “The Book of Urizen”. While Blake appears to be in favor of Los, he does not neglect the authority and benefit of Urizen, similar to how Paine recognizes that government has a righteous purpose, despite the fact that it has the capacity for corruption. This is the perhaps the most strident point Paine highlights in his book The Rights of Man Part I, that man has the right to augment the government if the people decide that that form of government is oppressive or unbeneficial to them. He also takes care to note that a government is not an end-all-be-all solution, it does not exist to create boundaries and systems for the “end of time” (Paine 24) and “every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it” (Paine 25). This starkly contrasts Blake’s image of Urizen, because Urizen is meant to be infinite and eternal (Blake 115), being present at the site of creation to divide, measure, and coordinate. What makes this interesting is that Paine would be in favor of dismantling Urizen and creating him to suit the necessities of the individual, whereas Blake appears to make Urizen conquer over his subjects and those who rebel against him (spoiler!), offering commentary in Paine’s political realm: order will always conquer over anarchy, no matter how noble the motive.


-Sara Nuila-Chae

Though William Blake is not anti-religious as Thomas Paine is, they both share a similar distaste for the church and state and how they operate (rule) society.

In Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man Part 1”, he argues against the fallacy of his government: “what is government more than the management of the affairs of a nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family…” (3). Evidently, Paine’s views on his government are that no one particular being ought to run the government, but perhaps the society should influence government’s tactics and affairs. A radical thinker, especially for his own time. Though not so estranged from Paine’s beliefs, Blake also sees the fallacies in his own government, as he reflects in his songs, “The Chimney Sweeper” from experience to be exact.

As mentioned before, Blake was not against religious faith, but merely disgusted by the foul practice of formed religions. He expresses his thoughts about churchgoers throughout the poem, especially in lines 3-4: “where are they father & mother? say?/They are both gone up to the church to pray.” (35). The fact that these god-loving parents can abandon their child and leave them to die in the business of sweeping chimneys, buried in soot, is appalling; and Blake offers who is at fault: the church and state. The closing lines 9-12 suggest rulers of society are allowing children to be killed in a disillusion, rather than offering help: “And because I am happy, & dance & sing,/ They think they have done me no injury:/ and are gone to praise God & his Priest & King/ Who make up a heaven of our misery.” (35). Blake places the church and state at fault for the sufferings of the children, as Paine definitely would, while still being a faithful god believer; he does not question the power or will of god, but those who serve him and use his name to rule.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

It is has been well established that Blake’s poetic genius attempts to get us out of our Urizen state, and ultimately reach that state of Los. In Blake’s annotations of Watson’s “Apology for the Bible” he reinforces that idea by claiming that “Our judgement of right & wrong is Reason” (Blake, 456). Thomas Paine seems to align with Blake’s belief that our reason is what prevents us from progressing. In Paine’s “The Age of Reason”, he makes radical claims toward the form of government, and the ways in which it ultimately limits a society.

“…therefore all such clauses, acts, or declerations by which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do—nor the power to execute—are in themselves null and void. Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself…” (Paine, 25). 

Paine essentially is against the ways in which government forms laws because it takes away people’s freedom. This reminded me a lot of a particular passage of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake says, “I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning” (Blake, 79). My interpretation of this reflecting back on Paine’s radical claims on government, was that the Angels in this case are those in power (political figures, bishops, etc) because they believe the laws and beliefs they force upon society are the “right” way thus, making them feel entitled or the most wise. However as we now know, it is these “wise men” and reason that restricts society to feel “free to act for itself…”, instead society acts according to what those “wise men” tell them.

In terms of the French Revolution those people who destroyed the Bastille, and demanded change, as well as the head of King Louis XVI, acted upon their own judgment and will, completely defying the rule of the monarchy. In other words, they were sick and tired of those “wise men” so they did something about it. Power to the people!

C8B393B2-6C6B-4A73-ABA0-C380D8DD2B65.jpeg(Blake, 79).

The image above I felt really represents those “wise men” crushing societies’ ability to prosper. I wish I found one that depicted a representation when society finally acts for themselves.

-Kimberly Martinez-Melchor

William Blake mentions a diverse set of topics throughout his writing. Much of his writing we’ve read thus far consists of innocence, womanhood, and the distinction between “good” and “evil.” This religious theme and connotations of good and evil can be explicitly seen in Blake’s “A Memorable Fancy.” For instance, the speaker goes on to say, “An Angel came to me and said: ‘O pitiable, foolish young man! O horrible! O dreadful state! Consider the hot, burning dungeon thou art preparing for thyself to all Eternity, to which thou art going in such career’” (Blake, 132). In this dialogue, the reader is presented with the image of an Angel. This angelical figure – which often represents salvation and the preservation of innocence – goes on to tell the individual that his actions, behavior, and choices he / she has made in life are leading him / her not to heaven, but to a “hot burning dungeon.” In other words, the decisions people make throughout their lifetime will have consequences in their after-life. The Angel serves as a form of interventionist, where it makes sure the decisions people make in life are the right or “good” ones.

This idea can tie back into Thomas Pain and Moravian view where both entail this idea of believing in a God in their own way. For instance, Pain’s only figure of judgement was his own mind. If his actions were condemned, then he himself would be the one setting up consequences for those actions. Unlike Christianity, Pain’s only church was his mind (“The Age of Reason”). In “Age of Reason” he goes on to say, “When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime” (Pain). In other words, human beings are bound to make “bad” choices; they’re bound to make mistakes due to the elements that surround them on a daily basis. However, the only people who are allowed to enforce any type of punishment on them are the individuals themselves. Once an individual has made one “bad” decision, then there’s nothing even “worse” that person can do.

So far, what we do know of Blake’s beliefs regarding Swedonborg and the Moravian Church in is that Swedonborg is a false proclaimer; that he claims to have realized certain beliefs before others have. “Now hear a plain fact: Swedonborg has not written one new truth:/ Now hear another: he has written all the old falsehoods” (79). Blake essentially claims that Swedonborg has not discovered anything new, but just regurgitated what has already been said. Now the ideals that Thomas Paine seems to have is that the world will never be under one person or one set of rules forever.

“There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or power binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time’, or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it” (24).

In “A Song of Liberty,” Blake makes multiple remarks that ring the same bell as Paine’s belief; that one government/person will never be forever set in stone. “Shadows of Prophecy shiver along by the lakes and the rivers and mutter across the ocean? France rend down thy dungeon” (81). According to the footnotes, the dungeon is the Bastille which was destroyed in 1789, which represented a political change right before the 1790s and represented Blake’s position towards the French Revolution. As if this was not enough, Blake chooses to outright profess his views with “Empire is no more! and now the lion & wolf shall cease” (82).

Prophets against Empire

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers Thomas Paine’s secular enlightenment assault on revealed religion to be the work of “either a Devil or an Inspired Man” (456).  He also notes that “Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop” (460).  For next Wednesday (2/28), write a post that reflects on Blake’s engagement with the French revolutionary debates of the turbulent 1790s.  How do any of the Blake works we’ve read thus far realign the radical ideals proposed by Paine with the poet-artist’s Swedenborgian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.

Please categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.