Tag Archive: Poetic Genius

Bounding the Poetic Genius

In plate 2 of William Blake’s “Milton: Book the First”, the oppressed poetic Genius is revealed within the renowned poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. Blake writes how the poetic Genius is called upon in Milton through various physical awareness, specifically focusing on tactile imagery (that of touch), to highlight this. Blake mentions how the Poet’s Song is evoked through “soft sexual delusions” (3), “burning thirst & freezing hunger!… descending down the Nerves of my right arm” (5-6), in which a poet can conjure their imagination through visceral physical reactions in which ideas “Come into my hand” (5) and move down the arm and into the page. This focus on the physical touch is one that is hypersexual: it is “of terror & mild moony lustre” (3) that forces the poet into a frenzy of lust for art. This focus on the hypersexual and tactile imagery then presents a paradox. If interaction with the art is a sexual one that allows humanity to engage with “Paradise” (8), then why is Blake critiquing an esteemed poet for being “Unhappy tho in heav’n” (18), and failing to reach salvation, instead “himself perish” (20).

The conclusion of this plate then takes a startling turn, focusing on “A Bard” (22) who recounts this paradox to the reader, a meta commentary perhaps even self-referential to Blake himself. The rest of poem is focused on the salvation of Milton, and his deliverance from Urizen. This is perhaps why Milton needs “to go down the self annihilation and eternal death”, as explicated in Book 1, plate 15, line 22. Milton was bound and unhappy in his poetic Genius, which is why he must experience death to overcome this.

-Sara Nuila-Chae



   In Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “A Memorable Fancy,” is an eerie message in in which the Devil is basically tempting humanity to feel exaltation, even more so, by not just simply using our five senses, but finding a way to embody the same powers that God does to see, hear, touch, and smell the way that He can:
    “I saw a mighty Devil, folded in black clouds, hovering on the sides of the rock: with     corroding fires he wrote the following sentence now perceived by the minds of men, and read by them on earth:—
How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,

Is an immense World of Delight, clos’d by your senses five?”

In the article by Martha Keith Schuchard, “Young William Blake and the    Moravian Tradition of Visionary Art,” she writes and cites: “Similarly, Moravian artists were Instructed to arouse and utilize all the senses, so the viewer would move beyond mere understanding and would fully participate in, fully sensate, Jesus’s experiences from crucifixion to resurrection [(Peucker, “Kreuzbilder” 169)]”(91).

As one can see, this would be exactly the process of which the Devil wanted everyone to approach life with.  To “experience,” so to speak, the senses to its fullest capacity, and to, therefore, become God.  The Devil is tempting us to fly and to feel a freedom that the “Bird” does.  By the Devil presenting it in a rhetorical form, it creates that Devil-on-your-shoulder curiosity to want to know the Everything that God does, and the Everything that nature does, as well.  Essentially, the Devil is saying that it is only by abandoning one’s imperfect human capacities, and channeling that of a greater power, however be it, that one will reach Genius.  In addition, Schuchard in citing Peucker, writes that “artists were instructed to arouse and utilize all the senses.”  Focusing on the word “arouse,” one can infer the connotation with that, which is to say that we our not only to go above and beyond our natural senses, but we are to gain such powers through sexual arousal.  Again, the message is: in order to reach a Genius (both passages are indicating that) we must deviate from Godly principles.

-Marcy Martinez

Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was a religious reformer better known for as a bishop of the Moravian church. He along with other Moravian followers believed in the the importance of our five senses, and the idea that attaining a relationship with God lies not in following order and practices, but through more of a spiritual experience, body and soul can we truly get closer to god. Marsha Keith Schuchard’s article focuses on the potential Moravian beliefs Blake may have had by close reading some of his work. Schuchard describes that “…pious and self-righteous standards of behavior, which led to hypocrisy and joylessness, were not proper expressions of Christian worship” according to Moravian beliefs (Schuchard, 85). She further explains that Moravians instead beileved in the concept of Herzensreligion (religion of the heart) in order to help us “sensate Jesus’s love and to identify with his wounds…” (86).

From what we already know of Blake, he believed that in order to achieve the true poetic genius, we must stray from Urizen, which thus leads us closer to Los. By looking at Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, we can observe certain passages which not only emphasize the idea of Urizen and Los, but portray Blake as a Moravian believer. Specifically in the passage where he tells us of a conversation he has with the prophet Isaiah, he says “Isaiah answer’d “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in everything…” (Blake, 74). The idea of the senses is emphasized here, by Isaiah denying that God exists in a solid, bodily form, which most people make him out to be. We can see this by the many religious depictions of God himself through art such as paintings, sculptures, etc. Blake here illuminates the idea that God exists in an “infinite” form. In order to truly be one with God or the “infinite”, we must be spiritually connected to our five senses. By embracing what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell, we will not only discover God’s true form, but we would finally have achieved Los in which Blake highly stresses us to reach . 

Although there are other passages within The Marriage of Heaven and Hell which leads us to believe Blake was a Moravian believer, this specific passage truly captures that essence because Blake portrays a biblical prophet as his own infernal opposite.

-Kimberly Martinez-Melchor

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

Have you ever caught yourself rewatching a film you watched as a child, or listen to a song you heard growing up, and finally understood the dark, or “scandalous” humor/lyrics used that you never understood as a child? I know it happens to me a lot, especially within my four years here in college. The reason for this is because growing up, we are naive and unaware of the “bad” in the world; our minds are ultimately innocent. It is through experience, and growing up that we come to the realization that the world isn’t just black and white.

Relating to this idea of “coming of age”, I particularly looked at Blake’s “The Echoing Green” from The Songs of Innocence, and “The Angel” from The Songs of Experience. I found these two poems to be contrary with similar ideas of this concept of “coming of age” in question. The contrary between these two poems is that The Echoing Green describes childhood as this lively and joyful time, filled with bells of “chearful sound” (Blake, 14). Readers here envision childhood as the “ultimate paradise” one can be in. The Angel on the other hand, relates this state of childhood with constant shed of tears “both night and day” (Blake, 38). Childhood here is seen as this dark, and crippling state, with the Angel having to constantly comfort the maiden Queen. Both poems however, end with the idea that childhood eventually comes to an end, when we grow up, experience, and become fully aware of the kind of world we live in. The Echoing Green ends with “And our sports have an end…sport no more seen, On the darkening Green” (Blake, 14). The last two lines of The Angel read “For the time of youth was fled…And grey hairs were on my head” (Blake, 38).

Identifying the similarities and difference between the poems we can begin to see Blake’s “poetic” genius forcing us to ponder on how poems in both Songs work together to provide the “big picture”.

-Kimberly Martinez-Melchor

I think the most fascinating line in Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” is the very last one. He writes, “Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not to be believ’d” (73). If we read the rest of “Proverbs of Hell” with this line in mind, we can begin unpacking Blake’s complicated rhetoric. First of all, Blake has named this piece “Proverbs of Hell.” A proverb is generally understood to convey truth or advice, and the most famous example of collection of proverbs is the book of Proverbs in the Bible. However, Blake’s last proverb contradicts the fundamental meaning of a proverb—a proverb is a fundamental truth, yet Blake is arguing that truth can never be told in a way that conveys understanding. This is a theme we see woven throughout Blake’s works—truth cannot merely be heard and believed, it must be imagined. The complicated imagery and rhetoric of “Proverbs of Hell” is not meant to be taken at face value. Instead, this piece as a whole acts as a foil for both the book of Proverbs and the religious teachings of Blake’s contemporaries, such as Emanuel Swedenborg. Much like he does in “The voice of the Devil,” Blake uses an unbelievable narrator (someone from hell) to cast doubt on this work, and to force readers to make comparisons between these proverbs and the proverbs of religion. When compared, are they really all that different? In this way, Blake is inspiring his readers to find their own truth—for after all, “truth can never be told so as to be understood.”

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We read much of Blake’s work as an attack on empiricism.  Beginning with his critique of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ representation of genius as following a certain form, Blake continually critiques acceptance of absolutes.  Through this Blake uncovers the contraries constructing the idea of absolute fact, implying that empirical “proven” data is not more valuable than imagined ideas.  The imagined and the proved are transitory rather than permanent states.  If this is the case there is more room for individual interpretation of one’s circumstances and surroundings.  That is, man need not subscribe to another’s system of determining meaning.

By placing this aphorism amongst the “Proverbs of Hell,” Blake requires the reader to question whether the speaker can be trusted.  In so doing the reader replaces the “proved” idea that things of hell are entirely evil and misleading with the “imagin’d” that even the words of the devil may contain truth.  We can extend this reading beyond the “Proverbs” to the broader work of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” presenting the work as Blake’s covert attack on the widespread acceptance of the absolute authority of religion.  Rather than directly criticize the dominance of the church, Blake gives value to the voice of hell.  Then, as the reader discerns truth amongst these proverbs, he must refute the idea of absolute evil and absolute good put forth by the church.  In this way Blake guides the reader to a position of religious skepticism while also providing the individual reader with interpretive space as he reaches an independent conclusion.

Freedom through Death and Rebirth

In response to kathcal and singerofinnocence,

I agree that there are strong connections between Milton and slave spirituals, and especially the link to Blake’s disapproval of the mental enslavement by Urizen’s reason. When re-reading this plate, I was reminded of part of a poem by the Muslim mystic poet, Rumi, in which the speaker invokes the voice of G-d:

I would love to kiss you.

The price of kissing is your life.

Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,

What a bargain, let’s buy it.

Both in Rumi’s poem and Blake’s work, the idea of abandoning life on earth in order to connect with G-d is the only way for a person to achieve the level of oneness they desire. Without death, and the self-annihilation of the current state of existence, mankind will be deprived of the of the greater significance and connection for which they yearn, forever trapped in their own “Selfhood.”

One aspect of the picture on page 167 that I also noticed was the shape of the muscles depicted on Milton’s back as he pushes against Urizen. There seems to be a small, angular opening in his lower back that reminded me of the vaginal imagery we discussed in earlier works that is a symbol for Christ’s wound, as well as a path through which one can experience the poetic genius. Because of this, Blake perpetuates the link between self-annihilation and rebirth that ultimately brings man closer to Christ through an exertion of poetic genius and uninhibited sexuality.

The Nightmare of Female Power

Enitharmon’s “female dream” is not the first mention of the goddess’s eighteen-hundred-year reign on the earth: a few stanzas previously, Enitharmon expresses her intent to have “dominion” over “the human race”: “Who shall I call? Who shall I send? / That Woman, lovely Woman! May have dominion?” (Plate 8, line 3; Plate 8, line 5; Plate 8, lines 2-3) Her plan to dominate mankind is clearly premeditated and involves summoning two of her sons, as well as their nameless female counterparts, to carry out her plot on the earth. A definite method of dominance exists in the “spread[ing] of nets in every secret path” by “the little female”: from their youth, women are to serve as the forbidden objects of desire by men, for Enitharmon’s plan of conquest rightly perceives that men are easily ensnared by sexual attraction that is denied consummation (Plate 8, line 9; Plate 8, line 8). For in Blake’s worldview, suppressed desire (particularly sexual desire) is the ultimate means by which humanity’s imaginative link to the divine is controlled and repressed.

Enitharmon’s plan is evidently successful, for an eighteen-hundred-year period passes in which “Man was a Dream” (Plate 12, line 2). The end of this tyrannical period is marked by Orc’s successful bid for revolution on the earth, and thus we may equate man with freedom of desire and woman with desire’s repression. Openness and liberty in desire are termed a “Dream” because they exist only in the imagination during the period in which false chastity, counterfeit modesty, and the tenet that “Woman’s love is Sin” reign over humanity (Plate 8, line 5). According to Blake, it is this imagination, associated with the figure of Orc, that eventually overcomes woman’s rule and allows for the freedoms of desiring, creating, and acting that, to Blake, are the ultimate marks of mankind’s “poetic genius.”

The “female dream,” then, is the antithesis of Man’s Dream: it represents the exploitation and control of desire perpetuated by Enitharmon’s system. Unlike the male “Dream,” the female “dream” is not capitalized and is thus symbolic of systematic, repressive traits and actions associated with created society rather than the natural, creative elements that exist because of the divine. It is not a positive, imaginative state of mind like that Blake advocates; rather, it is the hazy existence under authority that is much like the literal dreams one has during sleep. Such dreams are without meaning and, unlike the Dreams produced by desire, contain no implications for one’s mortal or immortal life. Clearly life under the influence of the female dream is, according to the poem, a fuzzy and unreal experience in which the manipulative power of women dominates. Freedom occurs when woman’s authority is revoked and the Dream of man is restored: in this sense “Europe a Prophecy” is a strikingly anti-feminist vision of how the world should look.

The Epic War

Los and Orc serve to be an interesting combination for Blake’s prophecy. Los being a representation of the Creative Poetic Genius and Orc serving as Revolution in the Material World work together to spread the spirit of revolution, eternalized by the Poetic Genius, throughout the “vineyards of red France” (106). It is Blake’s, taking the form of the Blacksmith Los, to have revolution continue and not be constrained as Orc has been bound by Enitharmon–his mother–for most of the work.

Orc–the son–serves to be a means for Los–the father–so that people can access the Poetic Genius. For Blake’s ideal revolution, one that does not merely deteriorate as it progresses and is then restrained by a new and corruptible system, Los and Orc must be together. The pair represent Blake’s hope of an ideal revolution in his work, or at least how he hopes the revolution will play out. Their portrayal as warriors fighting an epic battle is Blake’s effort to symbolically demonstrate what he is doing in his work–waging war with the corrupted system.

Blake wishes to overturn the corrupted system in France with the spirit of revolution, Orc, and wishes to diminish any chance of the system returning through the Poetic Genius, Los. However, one issue comes to mind: Europe was published right in the beginning of the French Revolution–1794–so Blake obviously sees the potential of the Revolution; my question though: is it possible that Blake could foresee the imminent deterioration of the Revolution in favor of a new system? Or was he fully on board with the French Revolution being the spiritual revolution that he hoped for? The reason I ask is that Blake ends his prophecy with the beginning of the war cry of Los, but does not seek to go further. This is why I ask if Blake is having second thoughts–any thoughts on the matter?