William Blake’s 8th proverb of Hell, in which he explores the acquisition of wisdom through an authority figure uses contrasting animal symbols of wisdom and meekness to show how information is controlled by those in power and backed by a false religious ideology. Although speaking in the voice of Satan, Blake brings up provoking and valid points about how those in power are deplorable and reaffirm their power in religion. In the beginning of the proverb, Blake uses animals as symbols of vices and equates them with being “of God”. This paradox suggests that God/religion has enabled the vice, which is reaffirmed in the first line “Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion” (line 21). These vices are then exalted in the next lines, as they “are too great for the eye of man” (line 29). Blake becomes somewhat allegorical here, as the peacock stands in for those that are flashy, the goat stands in for those that are have avarice, and the lion stands in for those that have wrath. It is worthwhile to mention that all of these types of people are in positions of power and use Religion to back them up. Their counterparts, the vermin amongst the animals: the rat, the mouse, the fox, and rabbet are meant to symbolize those that are considered to be worthless but are actually the fosters of “the roots” (line 33). In light of Blake’s history as an engraver, craftsman, and mechanic, he would have been a rat amongst lions who claimed all the fame and righteousness, and yet shunned Blake and his progressive thought. This is perhaps made stark by the concluding lines, “Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you” (37), the base man being the peacock, goat, and lion, or those in power. Blake’s final message of egalitarianism and progressive thought is echoed again in another animal metaphor: “the eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow” (line 39), meaning that one loses time when they submit to those in power. This ties back to the genre of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” because it suggests that Heaven and Hell are not so different and that we may be living under the false pretense that one is the other. While conventional thought might appear to be of God, it could in reality be of the Devil.


-Sara Nuila-Chae