Tag Archive: Hell


An ancillary contrary.

The “Proverbs of Hell” section of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell offers yet another glimpse into Blake’s complex system of contraries. As we have seen in “All Religions are One”, “There is No Natural Religion”, and the Songs of Innocence and Experience, these contraries can lead the meticulous reader down a wormhole of contradictions. Such as is this case with The Marriage, where one may find difficult the challenge of pinpointing exactly where Blake and his purported Christianity stand in all the madness. In this fascinating piece, angels are put in their place by demons and devils preach an inverted doctrine, all while Blake maintains the voice of those supernatural antagonists. Interestingly, Blake offers no discerning narrator who can lead the reader to the proper moral in spite of the ghoulish orator. We are left only with the words of the demon and the responsibility to take seriously or not his conclusions falls to us.

Take for example this proverb: “Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.” We know that Blake has his issues with organized religion. Recall that in our explication of “And did those feet in ancient time,” we revealed the anti-cermony, anti-dogma, anti-Anglican undertones that made its performance in the royal wedding ever so ironic. In this proverb, we see those same sentiments, but coming from Hell. Are we to believe Blake dabbled in the occult and truly felt that the voices from Hell could adequately guide mortals towards a more happy and peaceable existence? How dense are you? There is obviously a more nuanced answer, and again I must return to the madness to find it. Thoughts?

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In Songs of Experience, Blake narrates a debate about love between two natural elements in the poem “The CLOD and the PEBBLE.” Divided into three four-line stanzas of iambic tetrameter, the poem first opines the perspective that love is selfless and capable of creating “a Heaven in Hells despair” (4). Functioning as a transition, the second stanza identifies the previous speaker as the clod of clay, which is described as little, trodden, and singing—all images associated with innocence (think, “Little Lamb who made thee…Gave thee such a tender voice…He is meek”). At the exact middle of the poem, Blake shifts to the second natural element, a “Pebble of the brook,” marking the departure with a colon at the end of line 6. Presented as a direct contrary to the clod, the pebble asserts in stanza three that love is selfish, defiantly building “a Hell in Heavens despite” (12).

Although Blake strictly separates the clod and the pebble through poetic form, he refuses to accept their complete animosity and emphasizes their natural origins. The definer “clay” is meaningful to Blake (it appeared in his first draft of “The Tyger” as well) because it connotes malleability and incompleteness, much like an impressionable child. Though the pebble has been hardened by the constant bombardment of the brook, it is near enough to the clod to hear its song, indicating the imaged locales of Heaven and Hell exist in the same physical space. Blake also uses the same rhyme of “please” and “ease” in the first and third stanzas, undermining disparate opinions through diction. By binding together the seemingly apparent oppositions of the clod and the pebble, Blake questions the absoluteness of the divides between innocence and experience, youth and adulthood, Heaven and Hell, by highlighting characteristics shared by each pair.