Tag Archive: Urizen


All Mythologies Are One

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.

Re-volution or the End of History?

For this Wednesday (10/23), 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.   Does the line “The Tigers couch upon the prey & suck the ruddy tide” (Europe 18/15:7; page 106) allude to a Moravian view of Christianity or, literally, to images of fearful tigers in other Blake poems (such as “The Tyger” for instance)?

 

Or, students can formulate their own question prompt about a specific line, image, theme, or motif from 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.

This might be a pretty late post on this topic.

I remembered that in class we talked about Blake’s reception and I raised the example that even English teacher in a good high school is reading the famous picture of Urizen in The Ancient of Days as God the Almighty. And Urizen’s act of systemizing and confining the human race is read as the creation of human.

It really strikes me when I again see this image with a  incorrect annotation during summer. I received a book from my teacher in China and was asked to change them into some SAT writing materials. The name of the Book is the Art of Being Human. In the chapter of Religion in Themes in the Humanities, the author uses Urizen as the preface to the chapter.

“An artist visualizes God the Almighty as described in the Hebrew bible.”
William Blake, The Ancient of Days 1794.

It brought me back to the beginning of the lesson when we saw how Urizen appears in the entrance of GE building.

People thought that’s God.

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.

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.

Blake seems to deviate from a truly anti-reason standpoint in this piece, incorporating contraries that posit doubt as to whether he holds reason strictly in a negative light. In “Asia,” Blake writes: “the darkness was startled/ At the thick-flaming, thought-creating fires of Orc” (6:5-6:6). The adjective “thought-creating” calls to mind an almost Urizenic image–of course, this reading is one in which “thought” is translated to “logic/reason” as opposed to “imagination.” However, I find that my first definition seems to hold some water due to the paradoxical content Blake strings together. While he seems to negate generational boundaries of time and existence through his conflation of Adam and Noah (two biblical characters who were not, in fact, contemporaries), his “Song of Los” follows a cyclical pattern. Yes, his model of revelation is not Euro-centric, but it follows a cadence: Africa to America to Europe to Asia. This pattern is a clockwise navigation of the world from right to left and back to the right again. This lends a systematic aspect to his tale, which may indicate the intrusion, presumably an unconscious inclusion,  of Urizenic thought and martial law. Considering this interpretation, the conclusion to “Asia” fosters even greater significance. When “The Song of Los” is ended, Urizen’s deceptive intrusion is combatted–his influence ceases. Urizen’s act of weeping suggests his ultimate failure to continue coercion on a subconscious, if not first-person, level. Urizen’s weeping signals hope for humanity, or at least the form of humanity that Blake approves of.