Tag Archive: christianity


Blake’s Mythology- Is it in you?

This post responds to the first question, “Why does Blake deviate from the Biblical account in making Adam and Noah contemporaries?” In “The Song of Los,” Blake depicts several scenes of his mythological characters delivering gospel and religion to various important religious figures. This image of Blake’s characters as the root of all common religions reminds us of “All Religions are One,” in which Blake posits that all religions come from the same source, and therefore are no different at their core.

It is also important to note that “All Religions are One” claims that religion comes from the poetic genius, which resides within man. Since he depicts his mythological characters as delivering these religious principles to each of the creators of religion, Blake is saying that each of his mythological characters actually resides within these religious leaders, and it is the work of each character that influences each religious leader’s doctrine. For example, Theotormon—the representation of desire that becomes jealousy when repressed—delivers the gospel to Jesus. The decision to have Theotorman deliver Christianity was a conscious one, as Blake is making a comment on the sexual repression perpetuated by the Christian leaders of his time.

The decision to have Urizen deliver his “Laws” to both Noah and Adam together (as contemporaries) was also a conscious one (109). As Urizen delivers the laws to both men, we can assume that both men are crippled by mankind’s reason. Blake undermines the Bible by pointing out the utter uselessness of time—to Blake, Noah and Adam may as well be the same person, as they are crippled by the same thing—man’s logical reason, represented by Urizen’s laws.

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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.

Newton’s Revolution

Enitharmon sleeps for 1800 years, only to be awoken by Newton’s blowing of the trump. In order to understand Newton’s role in this scene, we must first understand Enitharmon’s slumber. Enitharmon’s slumber begins with the birth of Christ and ends 1800 years later, at the beginning of the French Revolution. Also, her slumber is highly sexually charged: it is described as a “female dream,” and it in, “Man was a Dream” (101). With this knowledge, we can assume Enitharmon’s slumber represents traditional Christian doctrine, in which female sexuality is repressed and seen as a sin.

Why then does Blake decide to have a champion of scientific thinking blow the trump that awakens Enitharmon from this repressive Christian doctrine? Blake rejects Newton’s doctrine because it does not acknowledge creativity or passion. Instead, it attempts to explain worldly phenomena through reason and experimentation. Blake’s use of Newton to awaken Enitharmon revolves around Newton’s involvement in the Scientific Revolution—Blake does not agree with Newton’s doctrine, yet he helped lead a revolution that attacked the current doctrine of thinking in Europe. Newton, therefore, is awakening Enitharmon from her slumber in order to begin a new revolution against traditional sexual repression in Christian doctrine. In this way, Blake paints Newton as someone to be emulated—someone who could think for himself and create his own system of belief—even though Blake disagrees with Newton’s scientific thought process.

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers 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 (10/2), 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 antinomian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.  Categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.

 

I’ve included below pictures of the idea map we created collaboratively in class today (the markings are color coded: yellow for Richard Price, blue for Edmund Burke, and red for Thomas Paine).  Use this map as a rough guide to help you position Blake’s political views in preparation for this week’s blog question prompt.

 

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I chose this proverb because it is very incongruous with the Proverbs of Hell. If, as a footnote in our Norton Critical Edition explicates, the proverbs are “nuggets of infernal wisdom [that] counter the prudent ‘heavenly’ Proverbs of the Hebrew Bible,” then why would Blake include a proverb that sounds so like a biblical one? The idea of setting another before you is reminiscent of Biblical proverbs such as “The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself” and the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Perhaps its place in the Proverbs of Hell suggests that Blake wants to attack Christians who he would view as self-serving or hellish rather than neighbourly. As a dissenter who was affected by Anglican and state persecution, Blake might want to shock these readers out of their complacency by putting a heavenly commandment in the mouths of devils.

However, Blake is also drawing attention to the fact that setting others before you is an energetic act. It is also a sublime act, a term which in the Romantic context takes on a particularly complicated meaning. This is the diabolical element of this proverb in the context of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell because energy is associated with the devil and evil. For the Romantics, the sublime was associated with powerful experiences of awe, terror and danger. For example, Burke wrote that the effect of the sublime could place the soul in a state “in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror.” The proverb can therefore imply that setting others before you has to be done against a powerful compulsion not to do so. It stresses that you have to be powerful and energetic in order to be self-sacrificing. In other words, it is impossible to be good if you are passive.

In conclusion, this proverb illustrates a harmonious marriage of Heaven and Hell because it conveys a highly moral idea through Blake’s constructed logic of Hell. For this reason, I am inclined to view this proverb as sincerely meant even though it is designated as a proverb of Hell.

 

 

 

 

 

This version of Songs of Innocence tells a story about religious education and its effect on children. In “Nurse’s Song,” the nurse watches a group of children play outside. The sounds of their games and general happiness mesh with nature, and she feels an overwhelming sense of peace at the scene. The children seem to be young—they are described as “little ones” and are still being cared for by a nurse (Blake 25). They probably have not begun learning about Christianity from their mother, so they play peacefully outside together, seemingly one with nature. The image depicted on this particular page reminds me of a statue found on Vanderbilt’s campus called “Come Play,” which depicts a group of children motioning for another child to come join in their game. This inclusiveness suggests nativity and innocence, both in Blake’s work and in the statue found here in modern day (Haven).

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The second song, “The Lamb,” again sounds peaceful, but there are major discrepancies between the tone and the content of the song. The young child begins by innocently asking a lamb, “Little Lamb who made thee?” He then goes on to answer his own question, stating that “He is called by thy name, / For he calls himself a Lamb” (Blake 15). This appears to be a direct link to Jesus and Christianity. However, the little child cannot decide whether the lamb he is directing his question to is a lamb or a Lamb, indicating some confusion about the religious symbol of the lamb. It seems as if the child does not understand whether Jesus was a literal lamb, a figurative lamb, or the very lamb in front of him. This reflects the general ambiguous nature of religion in the purest way possible—the little boy is confused, but are people ever not confused about religion?

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The third song, “The Little Black Boy,” transitions from Christian ambiguity and confusion to twisting Christianity to explain or justify racism. The little black boy is told by his mother that his blackness “is but a cloud” that will disappear when he goes to Heaven. A picture of equality in Heaven is created—both “clouds” of black and white will disappear, and the little black boy “will be like [the English boy]” and will be loved by the English boy as an equal. He also claims that he will “shade [the English boy] from the heat [of God] till he can bear” (Blake16). This implies that being black is an extra hardship that will prepare the little black boy for Heaven better than the little English boy—as if God intended for blacks to face more trials than whites. This explanation twists Christianity until it justifies racism as a construct intended by God.  Although this song seems comforting on the surface—after all, the little black boy accepts himself and believes one day he will be equal with the English boy—he has still ultimately accepted racism as a Christian construct.

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Throughout these three songs, we see Christianity and religious education slowly confusing and even corrupting the children in question. In the first song, the children are innocent and young—they know nothing of religion, only of playing outside. In the second song, the little child is beginning to learn about his religion, but his understanding is muddled and confused—something that is unlikely to change as he gets older. In the third song, the little black boy utilizes Christian teachings to accept himself, but at the same time he accepts racism as a part of Christianity. These songs, when read in this order, tell the story of the corruption of Christian teachings—while each child means well in his understanding and application of religion, ultimately the happiest children are the ones with no knowledge of Christianity.

Works Cited

Haven, Katharine. Come Play. 1985. University General Sculpture Collection, Vanderbilt University, Nashville. University General Sculpture Collection. Web. 3 September 2013. <http://cpc-fis.vanderbilt.edu/view.php?label=3&gt;