Tag Archive: Europe


Why so many “Moravian” animals?

This post is a response to the previous post’s fourth question,  “Does the line ‘The Tigers couch upon the prey & suck the ruddy tide’ (Europe 18/15:7; page 106) allude to a Moravian view of Christianity or, literally, to images of fearful tigers in other Blake poems (such as ‘The Tyger’ for instance)?”

Firstly, why do we have to choose between two possible interpretations? Surely the line can allude to both Blake’s other images of fearful tigers and a Moravian view of Christianity. To suggest that interpretation is a matter of either/or is especially “Urizenic” (it has just struck me that metalworkers call compasses “dividers”). Indeed, I think that its allusion to a Moravian view of Christianity makes Europe’s image of a tiger more fearful and therefore more likely to evoke the fearful description (but not depiction) of the tiger in “The Tyger.”

I have argued before that Blake used seemingly Moravian imagery in connection with animals; Europe‘s image of a tiger seems to be an extension of that (my argument is in the third comment down). We don’t have to be aware of the image’s Moravian undertones to find it fearful, but it is easy to read as Moravian. “Couch” gives the image a sexual interpretation that it would not otherwise have had. Although “couch” functions in this sentence as a verb with a similar meaning to “crouch,” it also evokes the idea of beds and lovemaking. The tiger’s sucking of blood then can allude that specific Moravian practice in The Shifting Times. The main cause of the fearfulness of the tiger in “The Tyger” is its predatory nature, the fear it inspires in humans and other animals alike. The image of the tiger in Europe takes this further by suggesting the tiger is also a sexual predator like the primates in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

So, why does Blake make images of animals fearful by having them engage in predatory/destructive sex or sexual acts? The sexual images of the tiger and the primates contrast with the visual images of couples having apparently very enjoyable sex throughout Europe and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. One possible interpretation is that Blake is commenting on ideas of prelapsarian and postlapsarian sex, given the figures in the clouds are angelic and therefore presumably not fallen. However, the excessive and hedonistic depiction of floating couples having intercourse would probably not have matched traditional understandings of prelapsarian or ideal sex1. The naked couples’ obviousness to what is going on around them suggests they aren’t entirely earthly or fallen beings. In contrast, the animals’ sexual behavior is predatory, fatal and therefore very morally compromised. However, in the case of the primates, it is very highly exaggerated and the same is somewhat true with the tiger. It is also incongruous, even ridiculous,  to have happy couples mating amid textual and visual images of destruction. Maybe Blake is lampooning the idea of an unsurpassable distinction between ideal prelapsarian sex and less ideal postlapsarian sex. I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw the distinction as “Urizenic.”

1 I’m drawing on the distinction between prelapsarian and postlapsarian sex from Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which sex before the Fall is depicted as purely loving, whereas afterwards it is more lustful. Perhaps someone could enlighten me further on ideas of prelapsarian sexuality? Given Blake’s obsession with Milton, it does seem highly credible he could be playing with his distinction, but I wonder if it was a manifestation of a wider theological distinction.

To answer the question of why Enitharmon’s eighteen hundred year-old slumber is described as a “female dream,” we must first establish exactly what her dream is. There are three important facts about her dream:

1)      It begins with the birth of Christ and lasts for eighteen hundred years until the French Revolution.

2)      It is a dream of female domination of men: it begins with Enitharmon calling on her sons so “That Woman, lovely Woman! May have dominion” (8/5:3).

3)      It entails the introduction of ideas about the immortality of female sexuality: Enitharmon tells Rintrah and Palamabron to “tell the human race that Woman’s love is Sin” (8/5:5).

As it lasts from the birth of Christ to the French Revolution, Enitharmon’s dream is pre-French Revolution Christianity. However, the depiction that follows is entirely about the consequences of a woman’s choice rather than male subjugation of women. The description of this period as a “female dream” suggests that women desire dominion over men, but chose to achieve it through underhand methods. Therefore, they merely experienced the illusion of being in charge. This is emphasised by the facts that Enitharmon has to call upon her sons to enact her wish of female dominion and that she sleeps during the apparent reign of women. Paradoxically, Enitharmon is passive when she changes the nature of all humanity.

The dream is a female one because it is about female desire. As Enitharmon is “the Eternal female” from the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the Great Mother and occasionally plays the part of Eve, she problematically stands for womankind (Damon 125). She is aware that her actions will affect all women because she says that “from her childhood shall the little female/Spread nets in every secret path” (8/5:7-8). So she represents a female desire to subjugate men while also embodying Eve’s sabotage her own sex and the human race. She is depicted as the one responsible for propagating negative ideas about female sexuality. Blake is suggesting that female desire is powerful and dangerous. However, we also suspect that Enitharmon is confused about what she wants for women.

In informing the human race that women’s love is a Sin, Enitharmon denies women the ability to use overt erotic capital and limits their lives to performing underhand romantic conquests. This evokes Mary Wollstonecraft’s critique of these female manners as destructive to women’s emotional and intellectual development. Blake alludes to this both in his description of the female as “little” and her spreading nets in secret paths. However, in making Enitharmon responsible for why women must do this, Blake suggests that such artifice is inherent to female nature. Enitharmon is underhand in establishing female dominion because she tricks humanity and gets two men to do it on her behalf. In presenting this depiction of female desire undermined by female self-sabotage, Blake presents a female dream as the illusion of female power. What troubles me is that this illusion is presented as resulting from the desires of women rather than the desires of men.

Works cited

Damon, S. Foster. A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake. Hanover and England: University Press of New England, 1988. Print.

Europe, A Prophecy

For next Wednesday (10/16), students will write a post that answers ONE of the three set prompts on Europe A Prophecy (see below).  Or, brave and daring students can formulate their own question and answer regarding a specific line(s), image, motif, theme, or symbol in Europe, A Prophecy. 

 

1. In Plates 17 and 18, lines 37-39, 1-11 (p. 106), why does Los prepare for epic war along with Orc, who arrives with “furious terrors” and “golden chariots”? Explain the significance of this cosmic battle for Blake’s prophetic vision of Europe.

 

2. In Plate 12, line 5 (p. 101), why is Enitharmon’s eighteenth hundred year-old slumber described as a “female dream”?

 

3. In Plate 16, line 5 (p. 105), explain the significance of Newton’s blowing of the “Trump.”  Why is the English scientist held responsible for awakening Enitharmon from her eighteen hundred year-old slumber?

 

Please categorize your post under “The Flames of Orc” and don’t forget to create interesting tags.

Blake Dictionary p.246: LOS is Poetry, the expression in this world of the Creative Imagination.

Blake Dictionary p.309: ORC is Revolution in the material world.

The father-son relationship of Los and Orc symbolizes an important causation. Los is Poetry and imagination, which is the Poetic Genius. By experiencing and expressing Poetic Genius, people will see beyond the contraries and recognize the need of a revolution in the material world. Thus, just like the father-son relationship, poetry and imagination are forms to achieve Revolution.

However, Los also has to prepare for the epic war because the revolution brought by Orc is not enough. Los, the father, symbolizes the progression beyond Orc. The revolution brought by Orc is represented as the French Revolution: “But terrible Orc, when he beheld the morning in the east, Shot from the heights of Enitharmon; And in the vineyards of red France appear’d the light of his fury” (106). The French Revolution, though achieved a substantial amount of overthrowing, is never radical enough for Blake. It was still bounded by reason and did not free the human race ultimately. Los represents the revolution brought by Poetic Genius, which leads to infinite and the New Jerusalem. So the battle between Los and Orc is necessary. This cosmic battle will result in the victory of Los and the apocalypse, the coming of Christ and the New Jerusalem.