Tag Archive: Song of Los


In William Blake’s The Song of Los: Africa, Adam and Noah are an odd combination to put as contemporaries given that Adam is about 8 or so generations away from Adam acording to the bible (Adam father of Seth, Seth father of Enos, Enos father of Kenan, Kenan father of Malalel, Malalel father of Jared, Jared father of Enoch, Enoch father of Methuselah, Methuselah father of Lamech, and Lamech father of Noah). However, Noah and Adam have more in common in this work than one would think.

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In this piece Adam, Noah, Moses, Abram, and Jesus are mentioned, however, the first images we see are of Adam “standing in the garden of Eden” and Noah “on the mountains of Ararat” (109). Placing Adam and Noah in this setting shows how they can be contemporaries. Adam in the garden of Eden is the first human creation, and thus the promise of the future. Noah in the mountain of Ararat, is in the setting where the Ark was rested. These mountains also symbolize redemption and a new cycle and a promise for a better future (with the slaughter of all the ‘bad’ people on Earth).Then when they see Urizen give his oppressive laws to the Nations: “Adam shuddered! Noah faded!” (109) This illustrates how Urizen is oppressing the creativity of such characters. Noah and his sons represent music, art, and poetry “three powers in man conversing with paradise” (or Adam perhaps) (LJ, K 609). Thus, Adam’s paradise is still able to be accessed through the tradition of art, or Los, and cannot be oppressed by Urizen, even if Noah and Adam are generations apart.

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However, this is only surface level comparison for Blake. Another thing that makes Adam and Noah contemporaries in their respect is their gender ambiguity.  Where Noah’s descendants all the way to Abraham would be “Female-Males, A Male within a female hid as in an Ark & curtains” (Mil 37:38-40; J 75:13-15). Similarly, Blake thinks Adam originally was of both sexes. Blake argues the sexes were not created until the creation of Eve, therefore Adam was both female and male. This ambiguity of sex relates back to Los that is more about the freedom and creative and free. The singularity of one gender then would not be a free expression, but a restrictive injustice.
-Beyanira Bautista

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Re-volution or the End of History?

For this Wednesday (3/21), students have the option to write a post on ONE of the four prompt questions:

 

1. Why does Blake deviate from the Biblical account in making Adam and Noah contemporaries? (SoL, Plate 3; 6, 7; p. 109)

 

2. What is the significance of Urizen’s weeping at the end of “Asia”? (Plate 7, line 42; p. 112).  How does this moment compare to Urizen’s earlier weeping in the “Africa” section (plate 4, line 17; page 110)?

 

3. What is the symbolic significance of creepy, crawly insects, worms, and serpents in Blake’s Europe, a Prophecy and A Song of Los?

 

4.   Interpret the line “The Tigers couch upon the prey & suck the ruddy tide” (Europe 18/15:7; page 106).  How does this line relate to animal/beast imagery in Blake’s other works, like in the “The Tyger” for instance?

 

Or, students can formulate their own question prompt about a specific line, image, theme, or motif from Europe or The Song of Los, and then provide their own answer in a post.  Please categorize under “Urizen’s Tears” and don’t forget to create specific tags.  Posts are due by 8:30am on 3/21.

La Petite Mort: Why the Orgasmic Grave?

Blake’s Song of Los ends which a curious, antithetical image of the grave, cursorily glossed by Johnson and Grant as “a regenerative orgasm” which transforms it into a “fruitful womb” (107):

The Grave shrieks with delight, & shakes

Her hollow womb, & clasps the solid stem;

Her bosom swells with wild desire:

And milk & blood & glandous wine.

In rivers rush & shout & dance

On mountain, dale and plain. (112)

What then to make of this? Life’s natural, teleological progression would, obviously, be toward that of the narrow house, the final and ever-abiding stasis of the grave. This grotesque image upsets and usurps such a formulation, however, making death not decaying but pregnant. There is a Dionysian degradation and delight. Though a degradation that here is more similar to a  “coming down to earth, the contact with the earth that swallows up and gives birth at the same time,” the vital loam; it is to take the idealized and make it fleshy, making lofty concepts corporeal. A discarnate existence in a contradiction in terms—whether here or in the here-after. Blake loathes what ignores the spiritual—e.g. “a Philosophy of the Five Senses” (110) alone—as well as what’s bloodless—e.g. Urizen’s fettering “mechanistic dictates” (107). Blake’s philosophy—however difficult such might be to pin down and delineate (but isn’t that his point?)—is an autochthonous one, one that “transfer[s] every high ceremonial gesture or ritual [here, specifically, death, the lapsing from one life to the next] to the material sphere” (Bakhtin).

 

Works Cited:

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Print.  (pg.21)

Blake, William. “The Song of los.” Blake’s Poetry and Designs. Ed. Mary Lynn Johnson and John E. Grant. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print. (pg. 107-12)

Blake creates his own system of mythology in order to communicate his revolutionary message allegorically.  The characters’ meaning and symbolism constantly change through a complex web of relationships with each other and in the context of each prophecy.  While his mythology is an important tool for creating his own system, by incorporating Biblical figures into his writing, Blake breaks from his mythology to communicate through universally understood characters.  By modernizing Biblical characters, Blake mythologizes these figures to as existing outside the limits of historical time.  As mythological entities their symbolic value is more important than their specific actions as outlined in the Bible.

Returning to our earlier reading of Blake’s All Religions Are One, Blake rejects the idea of any individual religion having total authority and instead claims that there are no true differences between religions.  By making these Biblical figures contemporary with his mythological characters, he inserts his system of mythology in the religious sphere on equal footing with the most established religion in England.  Particularly, in Africa, he gives his own characters greater power than these pillars of the Christian faith as “Adam shuddered!” and “Noah faded!” in response to Urizen’s laws.  His mythology is no longer an isolated system or tool in Blake’s writing but a component of a universal religious system.

It is also worth noting which particular Biblical figures he co-opts into his mythological system.  The three men he alludes to in Africa, Adam, Noah, and Abram, all represent fatherhood:  Adam as the father of man, Noah as the only remaining father after the flood, and Abram as the father of the nations.  By placing each of these figures in a weak, responsive position, he emphasizes the unquestioned power of Urizen he seeks to create.  Then, this power dynamic between Urizen and man easily extends through their descendants to include every modern reader.  This allows him to present a mythological system that he discovered rather than created, as though he illuminates characters and relationships that shaped these figures of the past and continue to shape individuals in the present.

Urizen Wept

The turning point once “the kings of Asia heard/ The howl rise up from Europe,” (or once Orc moves from Europe to Asia), is line 9, “Urizen heard them cry.”  It seems that the lamentations of the Asian Kings causes his reaction, stirs him to move and stand over Jerusalem.  Their “hopes” are that

The pride of the heart may fail;

That the lust of the eyes may be quench’d

That the delicate ear in its infancy

May be dull’d: and the nostrils clos’d up:

To teach mortal worms the path

That leads from the gates of the Grave. (plate 7, lines 3-8).

The footnote says “the senses are being narrowed as humanity accepts a religion of asceticism for the sake of the life hereafter,” and I wonder, does Urizen approve of this deadening of the senses?

What interests me is that there seems to be a call and response throughout the Song of Los, an overload of the senses (not a deadening of them), as though one howl or cry sparks another dramatic reaction.  For instance: “Then the thunders of Urizen bellow’d aloud/From his woven darkness above,” sparks “Orc, raging in European darkness,/Arose like a pillar of fire above the Alps.”  And Urizen’s thunder arises from the lamentations of the Asian kings, who begin their cry in response to Europe’s howl, and so on and so forth.  Is crying a trigger reaction? One sadness leads to another?  The earth seems to be physically shaken up by these tears.  After “Jesus wept,” he rose Lazarus from the dead.  It says that “Urizen wept” is supposed to be ironic, and over the resurrection of humanity, but I wonder if this chain of weeping, culminating in “Urizen wept” means that in “The Book of Urizen,” Urizen will resurrect something himself.