Tag Archive: Jesus

William Blake’s Milton “Book the First” is introduced with images of Beulah and her daughters. This reminded me of the image of Oothoon surrounded by both her tormented lover and rapist. 

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Milton’s emanations are for Blake the earthly contradictions beheld in the “heavens of Albion,” (148). Death and annihilation are central themes for Blake, but as he wants us to envision a rape in describing Milton’s work, what does this mean for his subjective idealization and gazing upon the female body? The women are described as muses who’s experiences inspire the poetic genius. Within Blake’s system he realizes Christian morality in telling them to “record the journey of immortal Milton,” (148) in doing so attributes a normative role to the sex of the allegorical women characters; however, we also know from the Blake Dictionary that in Beulah, Blake also realizes “God’s favor” (Damon, Blake “BEULAH”, loc 1814) in terms of negotiating women’s sexual freedom, “thro’ your Realms of soft sexual delusions,/ Of varied beauty, to delight the wanderer and repose/ His burning thirst & freezing hunger!” (148). The union of the sexes that exists in the earthly, Beulah anticipates the “delight” of being raped.

Blake introduces the “Spectres of the dead” as a way of treating the problematic employment of female virtue-signaling, and thus satirizes Milton, a man who himself was arrested for political and social dissent, as a way of critiquing systems and the “false tongue” which “vegetated” the complacent minds of the French Revolution, both before and during the rise of Napoleon and Cromwell in England and Europe. Blake signifies “Paradise” and “Jerusalem” in naming the historical epoch, “Beneath your land of shadows,” (148) and also alludes to regicide, “of its sacrifices, and Its offerings,” (148), but this only comes after Blake evokes Palestine, the restored land of God’s empire, in forcing readers to confront the violent imagery of the daughters and their so-called, inspiring freedom. Why does Blake describe Milton’s self-annihilation? The alternative, which was describing Milton’s demise through political assassination, would have been perceived less effectively. The more material images of “descending” power, “nerves of my right arm,” and “portals of my brain,” are employing visceral and anatomical allusions to mock religion- as Milton’s Paradise Lost also describes Dante’s descending Satan’s upside-down limbs. Blake proceeds with a  “curse,” describing in biting tone reactions to Milton, “even till Jesus […] Became its prey […] and an atonement,” (148). Blake has a problem with how Milton is treated, but by mythologizing Christianity, “Jesus, the image of the Invisible God,” (148) he replaces modern treatment of the poet with the equal treatment Christians give to Satan casted down to earth. Religion and literature are intersecting objects of Blake’s social satire and history-myth system-building, but this cannot excuse the poet/author/engraver from subjecting the female body “Of terror & mild moony lustre,” (148) to his idealized representations of revolution, liberty, and inspiration, for male gazing, or for “the Poet’s Song,” (148). Political and religious expression is guaranteed in nations such as eighteenth-century England which so frequently overlooked the existences of individuals such as women and children, or merely saw them as contemporary subjects in the patriarchal traditions of white literature dominating continental Europe.

-Bradley Dexter Christian


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.

The LambHoly ThursdayThe Divine Image

The three images above all deal with some dimension of the likeness between God and mankind. I have arranged them in this order, moving from “The Lamb” to “Holy Thursday” and finishing with “The Divine Image” because I saw a natural sequential development of the course of the three plates. Beginning in “The Lamb,” Blake explores the likeness  between three triangulated figures, Jesus, a lamb, and a child. As part of “Songs of Innocence,” this poem explores the innocence of all three creatures. The innocence of children is what I found to be the most important theme or motif running throughout the plates in “Songs of Innocence.”  The similarities between children and lambs continues into the second plate “Holy Thursday.” Through the change in perspective from a child in “The Lamb” to a speaker that seems decidedly separate from the innocence of children and almost nostalgic for that lost innocence, the development that occurs over the course of these plates begins. The speaker is an observer of their innocence and is so moved by their presence and purity that he elevates these children, too often shunned by society, to angels. With “The Divine Image,” a final expansion of the original likeness explored in “The Lamb” occurs in “The Divine Image.” Here Blake departs from the innocence of children and explores the divine attributes of mankind in general. “Songs of Experience” deals with the capability adulthood has of destroying the innocence found in childhood. Blake offers some hope for a connection with the divine past childhood by reminding readers that all men have the qualities of Mercy, Pity, and Peace inside him.

Tears and Resurrections

The final line of “Asia” simply states, “Urizen Wept” (42). The associated footnote asserts the wording is ironic because of its parallelism to the biblical line, “Jesus wept,” from John 11:35 but fails to explain the reasoning behind this. Immediately preceding the end of “Asia,” Blake portrays the earth in revolution, a state combining the calling forth of the deceased with the liberation of passionate female sexuality. Whether Blake means for this image to be understood as the apocalypse is unclear, but he definitely pinpoints it as a moment in which there is a definite change–what the footnote calls “the resurrection of humanity.”

This word resurrection ties into Blake’s biblical allusion because the verse, “Jesus wept,” occurs before Jesus performs the miracle of raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. After hearing the deceased’s sisters Mary and Martha recount the story of his death, Jesus was emotionally troubled and moved to weep, and he subsequently gave life back to Lazarus. The details of this story provide an interesting comparison to that of Urizen in several ways. First, Jesus literally resurrects Lazarus, much like the end of “Asia” proclaims the bones of the dead will rise (“the shivring clay breathes” (32)), so these images question the uniqueness of earthly life. Second, both highlight the importance of women: Jesus is swayed by the pleadings of Mary and Martha, and Blake concludes “Asia” with a vivid image of a female orgasm, stating, “Her bosom swells with desire” (37). Finally, I feel the editors chose the word “ironic” to describe this allusion because whereas Jesus weeps from empathy with humanity and acts from this emotion, Urizen weeps because humanity and all its imaginary pleasures–the antithesis of his reason–is being resurrected, rendering him powerless to control the direction of the earth any longer.