Tag Archive: Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Gadzooks! Leviathan’s Wounds!

Moravian tradition features frequent sexual imagery, and this is comparable to Blake’s rather horrifying description of the Leviathan’s mouth. It is all incredibly strange. A large portion of Moravian theology focuses on the wounds of Christ. These include the wounds of circumcision and the wound of the spear in the rib. These wounds are highly sexualized, as Marsha Schuchard describes in the article “Young William Blake and the Moravian Tradition of Visual Art.” Schuchard asserts that Moravians “focus intently on the bloody wounds of the crucified Jesus, which he interpreted in highly eroticized language—i.e., as the centurion’s phallic spear penetrated the vaginal side-wound, new souls were birthed in the gushing blood from this mystical intercourse” (Schuchard). The emphasis on the strange juxtaposition of the wounding of Christ against the phallic sexual imagery of the spear is both curious and applicable to Blake’s writing. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake describes the Leviathan that faces him, using the same semi-sexual imagery. The Leviathan approaches, and Blake sees its “mouth & red gills hang just above the raging foam tinging the black deep with beams of blood, advancing toward us with all the fury of a spiritual existence” (Blake 77). This passage uses the same semi-sexual imagery to describe the events that cause the growth of Blake’s narrator. The description of the Leviathan as a kind of reddish, bleeding, flesh-frilled, hole-centered maw is simultaneously horrifying, as well as reminiscent of the miracle of birth. The erotic imagery of Moravian biblical study is perfectly captured in Blakeian demonic study, showing William Blake’s influence by a possible Moravian childhood.


Hey, this is disgusting and I hate when William Blake makes me think about stuff.

Ross Koppel


Blakes touches on his idea of the poetic Genius again, in “Provers of Hell”; he claims that it is both a natural–not taught–kind of Genius, and that it isn’t necessarily the best looking process. Blake writes in lines 66-7: “Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.” This goes back to the conversation with Blake and Reynolds wherein Blake argues that the kind of poetic Genius he is talking about cannot be taught in an institution; it is merely within us all and only within ourselves can we find that power.

So then, what Blake is restating in this proverb is the “naturalness” of that Genius, claiming that though it is not practiced and taught, it is the best path to walk on. In addition, he is also stating that through the Genius, improvement is futile because what is written through the Genius cannot be perfected nor improved; it is already perfect.

The same idea comes in form of another proverb: “All wholesom food is caught without a net or a trap”, which alludes to the unnecessary use of extra tools. Relating back to my argument, those tools would be practices of exploiting the Genius out of the body by way of force through an institution. The way of the Genius, the natural & crooked, is more wholesome than using the aid of others.

I suppose the first part of the proverb, the institutionalized aspect of learning, belongs to hell; Blake sees this way of thinking as an infernal belief. The reason for this is because the narrator of the Marriage texts reflects Blake’s character and artistry, through the fact that he is self-educated and discusses his teaching of the proverbs he’s found. The parallel then shifts the poetic Genius to the divine image of heaven. In the marriage between himself and society, he is the prophet.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

Infernal Wisdom and Marilyn Manson

For next Wednesday (2/14), students will write a post that explicates ONE of the “Proverbs of Hell.”  Please take the time to unpack the meanings of the images, symbols, themes, and paradoxes contained in these explosive proverbs or aphorisms.  What do the infernal wisdom of these proverbs imply about the genre of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell?”  Alternatively, students can answer this question in connection to Marilyn Manson’s recitation of the Proverbs of Hell during a 2011 poetry reading at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (click on the YouTube video link below).  How does this performance alter the meaning of these proverbs?

Please categorize under “Proverbs of Hell” and don’t forget to specific and relevant tags.  Posts are due by next Wednesday (2/24) 8:30am.

The aphorisms of “Proverbs of Hell” operate on an antimonian rhetoric—indeed, their ideas often diametrical oppose to traditional conception. Such is there purpose: they are defibrillators for the soul, some shock, to stab into the stubborn, sluggish self and usurp pat formulations. Their infernal wisdom is one couched in dialectics. The proverb: “Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are the roads of Genius” is curious in that we imbue notions like “improvement” and “genius” with positive valences and prefer to pair like with like, yet it is the “crooked roads,” those that we would traditionally think of negatively—i.e. difficult to traverse, hazardous—that those of Genius. They do not lead to Genius but are of it; Genius is an inhabited state rather than a telos. “Improvement” here is pejorative, an imposition on what would otherwise lead to natural discovery. Patching the world as we are able provides resolutions, which precludes revelation. James Joyce, a disciple of Blake’s, is particularly elucidating here, having his Stephen Dedalus espouse: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” The dark, the gaps, the crooked, the imperfections in the world or ourselves (self-constructed or foisted) are apertures though which we can launch our search for constitutive meaning. Any attempt at an accord requires a delving down to some constitutive core, a common denominator that ties things together—the essential element in things. The essential element of anything cannot be approached via any convention as that preconditions it in some regards; it is already tainted with some self-perceived sine qua non and thereby the object/subject in question is distorted. “The eye altering alters all,” said Blake, after all. Conventions must be unsaid, emptied, dispensed, “the lights, the definitions[1]” thrown away. Otherwise we buy into the myth of even referentiality—that our words possess an empirically verifiable equivalence with that to which they refer, that they get at some definitive quid. The man of Genius recognizes that the world must be experienced and seen afresh, worn anew, and platitudes, assuagments, or “improvements” prevent such.

[1] Stevens, Wallace. “The Man With the Blue Guitar.” The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Knopf, 1954. Print.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split (Matthew 27: 50-51).

As we discussed in class last Friday, I think these lines from Matthew are central to the allegorical “Argument” that prefaces “Visions of the Daughter of Albion,” particularly the last two lines “But the terrible thunders tore / My virgin mantle in twain.” In order understand the significance of this biblical allusion for Blake’s sexual politics, we need to discover how and why this moment of vaginal penetration as rape (why rape?) is ironically related to the holy place of the tabernacle: an inner room called the holy of holies, or the most holy place.

As decribed in the Old Testament, this inner room of the temple was a most sacred room, because it was God’s special dwelling place in the midst of His people during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness. The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube separated by a thick curtain, known as the “veil” (in Hebrew means a screen, divider or separator that hides). What was this curtain hiding? It was shielding a holy God from sinful man. Whoever entered into the holy of holies was entering the very presence of God and anyone other than the high priest who entered the holy of holies would die. Even the high priest, God’s chosen mediator with His people, could only pass through the veil and enter this sacred dwelling once a year, on a prescribed day called the Day of Atonement. “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Hebrews 9:7). So the presence of God remained shielded from man behind a thick curtain during the history of Israel. However, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross made direct access to God available to all people–not just the priests. When Jesus died the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn in half, performing the sacrificial atonement that could finally unveil the holy of holies.

But what exact does the holy of holies look like? To answer this question, we need to know about the figure of cherubim (plural term for hybrid lion/human angels) that were embroidered onto this curtain. They were spirits who serve God, and God was thought to be present in between these two spirits. The cherubim serves as a reminder of what use to be housed in this inner room: the Ark of the Covenant. This transportable ark was said to contain the testimony of the people of Israel, or the Law of the original Ten Commandandments written on stone tablets. A special lid or “mercy seat” covered the top of the ark and was ornamented with two cherubs whose outspread wings overarched the cover and touched one another (see image below).

illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries

According to Kabbalists, Moravians, and Swedenborgians, the golden sculpture of male and female cherubs that guarded the Ark were entwined in the act of marital intercourse, thus forming an emblem of God’s joyful marriage with his female counterpart, Jerusalem. When the Temple was sacked by pagans, the erotic statuary was paraded through the streets in order to embarress the Israelites. In other words, God manifests through sexual union and guides those who work with this holy mystery.

This indicates a profound relationship with Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, as displayed in the santuaries of their temples:

So to return to Blake’s image of virginal penetration as rape. Oothoon, in picking the ideal feminine flower of beauty from Leutha’s vale, or sex regulated under the law, has freely choosen the joys of sexuality but also, ironically, the very patriarchal law that probits womem’s full enjoyment of sexuality: Bromion’s “terrible thunders” of reason, acting on behalf of Urizen (“your reason”). In other words, the holy of holies–sexual union of the cherubim–is violated by reason’s violent penetration (rape). Hence, the holy of holies cannot be made universal until humanity is free from sex under the law, especially for women, as revealed in Christ’s bodily crucifixtion (for Moravians, Christ’s death wound/womb). This allegorical argument, I believe, aligns Blake’s sexual (Moravian) theology with his feminist politics, which is clearly very different from Mary Wollstonecraft’s more secular feminism.

I’m offerring a provisional reading here…any other thoughts?

Marriage is not friendship

After learning about Blake’s Moravian tradition, I will assume I am not the only who feel slightly uncomfortable about the Sifting Time theologies. Yes, we cannot deny the influence of Moravian on Blake, so does that of Swedenborg. However, I don’t see Blake’s devil will agree with either of them. The voice of the Devil is definitely anti-Swedenborg, who believes in the separation of spirit and body: “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that called Body is a portion of Soul” (70). Meanwhile, I don’t think the devil will believe the actual sexual relationship between Soul and Body, Heaven and Hell, as a good idea. Instead, the Blakean character says: “Opposition is True Friendship” (78). Blake does not characterize the relationship between contraries as marriage or sexual, but as friendship. This word choice reveals Blake’s fundamental difference from Moravian tradition. Moravian tradition believes that the only way to transcend rules and see vision is to reconcile the contraries between Body and Soul through sex. Blake does not want to reconcile the contraries because “without contraries is no progression” (69). When contraries are reconciled, there will not be contraries and people will stop thinking. Thus, new rules will be established. What Blake wants instead is a constant breaking of law. What he pursues is this constant motion of transcending. A word like Marriage in the title of this series is against the theory of contraries because a marital relationship is too intimate for contraries.

Contraries and Connotations

I find it quite interesting that Blake employs the religious and rational in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell to intrinsically and syntactically suggest the state of contraries that he discusses and upholds. The “Proverbs of Hell” section serves as a dual contrary, both representing and juxtaposing the biblical Book of Proverbs in content and intent. Indeed, Solomon’s Book of Proverbs contains its own set of contraries (appropriately, as this further reinforces Blake’s prophetic contention that the world as a whole exists as a system of contraries and the tension among and between them all–a sort of symbiotic coexistence), most apparently with its comparison and contrast of “wisdom” and “foolishness.” While this section serves to represent religion, the realm of reason is also incorporated into the text, most obviously through Blake’s employment of the Aristotelian, logical form of syllogism: “[The Devourer and the Prolific] are always upon the earth, & they should be enemies; whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence. [therefore] Religion is an endeavor to reconcile the two” (76). In this case, Blake is referring to systematic/organized religion.

Considering contraries in this way, the title takes on even greater significance. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell metaphorically symbolizes the enactment of Swedenborg’s “doctrine of correspondence”–pitting good against evil in an equilibriumatic state of contrariness. The concept of marriage as a relationship fosters the implication of symbiosis as the two partners work for their own individual gains and those of their partnership reciprocally and contradictorily. Blake recognizes this dynamic relationship of contraries with his statement: “Opposition is true Friendship” (78).