Tag Archive: French Revolution

A Hunger for Revolution

In William Blake’s “The Tyger” from Songs of Innocence and Experience is the essence of opposing energies of anything deemed guiltless.  In further analysing its twin poem “The Lamb,” we see this notion of opposition even more; the moral that is to be taken from having engaged in both texts, is that humanity possesses both sides: innocent and sinfilled.  

The “Tyger,” therefore, symbolizes not only the sin, and/or darker point of view of the world, but it represents the truest aftermath of a world that is full of injustice, inequality, and oppression.  It is the response to the push back of a society that are oppressed and marginalized -positioned in such a way because of the unabating greed of a higher power.

Hence, in the line “The Tigers couch upon the prey & such the ruddy tide” (Europe 18/15:17), we can conclude that the Tiger is responding to the 1800 years of dark times, when none of the political and/or societal issues were being resolved in France -the poorer were becoming poorer, and the rich were becoming richer; specifically, the monarchy. . The Tiger was essentially released from those shackles that represent oppression; full of rage and hunger; having an insatiable appetite for that of revolution.  This is a counterpart, really, of the apocalypse found in Revelations in the bible. In this manner, we see that the “prey,” therefore, are the very people who were greedily living out their lives, at the cost of the loss of everyone else. The blood is what has been spilt by the mass chaos taking place from the outbreak of the revolution -those from both sides.

The Tiger, furthermore, deviates from simply being seen as the darkness of the world; but, instead, transform into a victor.

Image result for tyger william blake

-Marcy Martinez


William Blake’s Europe a Prophecy ends with an epic war in which Los and Orc prepare to fight:

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

Orc is the embodiment of rebellion as opposed to Urizen who is the symbol of tradition, therefore it makes sense that Orc would prepare for epic war along with Los (who is the creative imagination) . Los is also the father of Orc (and Enitharmon is his mother). Therefore, when Orc is born to Enitharmon in the beginning of the work, he is called the “horrent Demon” (100) to illustrate his deviation from tradition, and (perhaps away from what is considered religious because tradition and religion are part of the government in Britain). However, the symbolism or Orc and Los working together after Los becomes Urizen’s slave and partner, is immense because it marks the corruption of organized religions. Enitharmon’s 800 year old sleep is also a symbol of the repressed female figure that gave birth to rebellion.
The significance of this epic battle in relation to Blake’s prophetic version of Britain is that Blake is looking at Britain and examining the ways that Europe is repressive like Urizen, and its  failure of enlightenment is causing it to be the polar opposite of America (or what Orc is symbolizing) the energy of revolution and change. However, like Orc, America could be repressed and limited in a way, similarly to how Enitharmon was holding Orc back, even while she was pushing him to be a rebellious figure.
The “vineyards” of red France create an allusion to the French revolution that at this time is seeing the light of Orc (or revolution). The color symbolism of a “red France” is indicative of the immense blood shed that will take place. It is also foreshadowed in the birth of Orc: “And we will crown thy head with garlands of the ruddy vine”,”red stars of fire”, and “the sparkling wine of Los” (101). The poetic imagination then has to be marked with death and destruction because its mission is to destroy Urizen. However, this bloodshed would go on longer than William Blake or anybody would have expected.
-Beyanira Bautista

Below is an idea map of the French Revolution debate students collectively put together.  The green marker represents Thomas Paine; purple, Edmund Burke; blue, Richard Price; and red, William Blake.  This map is a useful study aid for thinking about Blake’s political views and historical moment.

Oh, yes….there is no blog post due this week!

Brothers in Pen

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.

Idea map of Blake’s Politics

Today in class students have made some progress in understanding Blake’s political views in the context of the 1790s.  We concluded that Blake does not fit the political categories of “Left” and “Right,” problematizing this contrary itself, and adopts the biblical language of apocalypse/the Second coming to articulate his utopian vision while deviating from the standard political discourses of social contracts, national sovereignty, and rights shared by Burke, Price, and Paine.  Clearly, Blake’s New Jerusalem is an odd political and theological duck for his era!

Students should revise this week’s post to better address the political issues raised in class today.  To help you with this task, focus on the concluding section to The Marriage, “A Song of Liberty” (pp. 81-82).  Your revised post is due by 4pm this Friday (10/4); the designated student will comment on these posts by 5pm that day.

Here are some pics of the Blake idea map students and I created collaboratively  in class:

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274 blake 1

274 blake 3

Blake & Paine

For Edmund Burke, the French Revolution represented an inversion and usurpation of natural order (at the very least a dismantling of the benign illusions thereof), a loss of the restraints and checks on mankind’s more bestial drives. However, for Blake, it was genuinely apocalyptic—in the sense it offered revelation, the casting off of fetters and a new way of seeing, not that it necessarily heralded doomsday and the end-times. It was return to something originary, deposing the hierarchies that have separated humanity from the natural—scales falling from eyes finally. He is allied with Thomas Paine in seeing the emancipatory potential in revolution, in realizing that it is outmoded ideologies that perpetuate tyranny. Shackles in the mind always being more effective than those about the ankles or wrists.

I think without a doubt, we have all come to the conclusion that Blake is a confusing character. Thus, in attempting to understand Blake’s position in regard to the French Revolution, it is again a challenge. After reading from Paine, Burke, and Price, each author takes a firm position in regard to the revolution, like most. As we discussed in class Monday, not taking a firm position was virtually impossible, the “grey area” did not exist, but, somehow, Blake exists, at least partly, here. After reading works like The Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake places himself in a position to support either side, or neither side for that matter. Blake focuses on the individual and something as mob-like as the Revolution, stands outside that belief.

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.

Violence, Revolution, and Blake

When the topic of revolution comes up, the question of violence and its role in revolution always lingers in the background. When we think of revolutionaries, our minds are filled with images of Che Guevara, George Washington, Gandhi, and the like. While the aims of their respective revolutions differ greatly, every man or woman implicated in revolutionary activity has hopes of bringing into existence a better, more free society. Likewise, those individuals must ask themselves, in each circumstance, if violence is necessary to accomplish the goals of the revolution. Furthermore, does the end justify the means? Revolutionaries like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. felt that a peaceful revolution was the only one worth having; their means were an intrinsic part of the new society they wished to build. For them, adhering to the peaceful tenets of their religions was absolutely necessary in demonstrating how one was to conduct his or herself after their goals were accomplished. One couldn’t expect harmony to arise out of chaos.
King and Gandhi’s highly principled versions of revolution have their opposites in the revolutionary activities of people like Malcolm X and Che Guevara. Their aspirations were so important to them that they were willing to actualize their hope for a better society “by any means necessary,” as Malcolm X once put it. Violence was a necessary evil; the systems these revolutionaries and myriad others throughout history sought to destroy were so entrenched that the only way to replace them was by destroying everything and starting anew.
Where does Blake stand? If he supported both the American and French Revolutions, two considerably bloody conflicts that cost the lives of many a fellow Brit, we may safely assume that Blake had little problem with armed conflict if the ends justified the means. Blake also adhered to the apocalyptic millenian doctrine that supposed the earth to be already in a state of deterioration in preparation for the return of Christ. For him, this violence could have been seen as God’s work, hearkening back to the warrior God of the Old Testament. The New Jerusalem, it seems, can only come about through the crucible. Thoughts?