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William Blake (BLI-14)

Class 14 in British Literature I Course

Irena Księżopolska

on 6 May 2018

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Transcript of William Blake (BLI-14)

The errors:
Exploration of duality of human nature
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
Composed between 1790 and 1793 (immediately after the French Revolution)
William Blake
The Poet as a Prophet
The Devil's speech
Songs of Innocence and Experience
Songs of Experience
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
William Blake
Born in London in a family of dissenters
No formal education, except a drawing school
Was meant to become an engraver, was a student of Royal Academy
subjectivity and egotism
The Truths:
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.

3. Energy is Eternal Delight.
Invented his own technique for engravings - relief etching (illuminated printing)
Did not follow the fashions and conventions of his time, and thus was too esoteric for popular taste
Developed his own mythology in his writings and etchings
His drawings, papers and manuscripts were partially destroyed after his death (for their apparent heretical or sexual content)
System of beliefs
search for a personalized version of spiritual reality
"There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott."
Wordsworth on Blake:
development of private mythology with complex symbolism
Romantic Age
French Revolution:
„the master theme of the epoch in which we live”
French Revolution
Revolution as a new religion: apocalyptic expectations of the regeneration of the human race
Rejection of the concept of human mind as a mirrorlike recipient of the universe already created;
mind as itself creating the universe it perceives
Blake: the mind creates by totally rejecting the material world
Creative power
With his mystical, esoteric, rebellious poetry Blake opens the era of Romantic Sensibility, representing the mythopoetic imagination that will become the hallmark of the Romantic poets.
Poetry becomes visionary
Mythopoetic Imagination
the poet is the creator: expressive mode
the poet as a reasonable person who knows his limits
The figure of the Poet
poetry is a mirror held up to Nature, the poet is the imitator of Nature: mimetic mode
poet as a discoverer of his own self
growing distance between the artist and the vulgar public
poet as a visionary, a prophet
Importance of the individual, unique, eccentric
Symbols allow to communicate the inexpressible
found through imagination (and not reason), mystic practices
Dynamic opposition
Particular and very elaborate
mythological system invented by the poet
Spiritual life presented as just as real and important as the corporeal life
Mythical figures acting out an epic plot
Poetics of Rebellion
Freedom in poetry - departure from the established forms and conventions, innovation in everything: style, themes, materials...
maximum suggestiveness, even at the cost of clarity or formal features
Fascination with revolutionary ideas - both in the political and social sphere (abolitionism, ideas of free love, women rights)
the supreme faculty of mind
a dynamic power, the faculty behind all art
the faculty that allows us to perceive the world: we constitute reality through it
enables us to read the nature as a system of symbols
enables us to reconcile opposites, envision the future and revive the past, escape from the undesirable
Symbols are the human aesthetic correlatives of nature's emblematic language
Preoccupation with myth as symbolic narrative
Multiple possibilities of interpretation, unlike in allegory
The hero frequently appears as a demonic figure, attractive for its rebellious energy, dark mystery and fierce individualism
The artist as hero becomes the protagonist of prose and poetry
Radical individualism: high esteem of human potentialities and powers
Interest in spirituality and religion, but outside its accepted forms
rejection of absolute systems - both in philosophy or religion
Discussion of complex philosophical questions -
a debate with contemporary philosophers and scientists:
Faith is an inspired imagination and is alone a source of truth
Rationality presented as the dark side of experience, destroying man’s spiritual life
Primacy of imagination over reason
The world as an incarnation
of the Absolute
Through the study and admiration of the world we acquire knowledge of the Absolute Spirit
Literary influences
The Bible
Jakob Böhme
Emmanuel Swedenborg
a philosopher and Christian mystic, a founder of the New Church doctrine
German mystic and theologian
A system of belief that is not regulated by any religious orthodoxy
accused of dry, intellectual rationality
John Locke
Francis Bacon
Isaac Newton
Each fragment in one part has its counterpart in the other, achieving complementarity, illumination of one state of being by its opposite:
Deceptively simple, childlike language
Infant Sorrow
Infant Joy
The Lamb
The Tiger
The Blossom
The Sick Rose
ancient Persian beliefs of the opposites:
Dynamic opposition (not black and white), productive – „without contraries is no progression”:

harmlessness as freedom from sin:
Experience of the absolute is incommunicable, esoteric – meant for the chosen few, secret
Songs of Innocence
Childlike discovery of the world
The Sick Rose
A response to Swedenborg's ideas of good and evil (Heaven and Hell) - a vision of the cosmos where both desire and reason are part of the divine order
Describes the poet's visit to Hell (a reference to Dante and Milton)
1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.

2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, called Good, is alone from the Soul.

3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
2nd C: Persian beliefs
Ahura Mazda
goodness and light
evil and darkness
3rd C: Maniceaism
Mani - a Christian monk who attempted to transfer these beliefs to Christianity
as the struggle of good and evil
Progress in the development of moral life is only made possible by a clash of the 2 opposites
His artwork and writings are interrelated and create a unified whole
intended to be sung, but original melodies are now lost
Little lamb, who made thee?
Does thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Does thou know who made thee?
The Lamb
extremely simplistic rhyme scheme, with some of the lines rhyming through simple repetition
Use of a refrain indicating the song nature of the poem
use of well-known Christian imagery: Jesus as the Lamb of God
the imagery (white fleece, gentle voice) is meant to invoke simple goodness, meekness, innocence
The Tyger
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
The rhyme scheme, though still rather simple, is much more elaborate than in the Lamb
Use of refrain as in The Lamb
The theme of the Creator continued, deepening the originally rather flat image of goodness of the Maker reflected in goodness of his creature
If the ferocious tiger is made by the same hand as the lamb, what does it tell us about the nature of God?
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is callèd by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are callèd by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!
The Blossom
Merry, merry sparrow!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Sees you, swift as arrow,
Seek your cradle narrow,
Near my bosom.
Pretty, pretty robin!
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Hears you sobbing, sobbing,
Pretty, pretty robin,
Near my bosom.
Simple, childlike rhythms
Spring imagery: flowers, birds, cheerfulness of the season with a slightly sadder note (sobbing robin).
There seems to be fulness of life and beauty.
The poem may be interpreted as a metaphor of simple sensual love - sobbing of the robin may then be read as orgasmic sound of joy.
O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Represents beauty afflicted by a dark evil force, which remains invisible
multiple interpretations possible
love, beauty of a woman corrupted and self-destructing through jealousy
purity destroyed through sexual passion
1. The Argument
2. The Voice of the Devil
4. Proverbs of Hell
3. A memorable fancy
5. A memorable fancy
6. A Song of Liberty
7. Chorus
Without Contraries is no progression.
Attraction and Repulsion,
Reason and Energy, Love and Hate,
are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason.
Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven.
Evil is Hell.
The main idea: unification of the opposites
"I was walking among the fires of hell,
delighted with the enjoyments of Genius;
which to Angels look like torment and insanity..."
Hell as a Place of Creative Energy
The Poet appears as a Prophet, who enjoys vivid visions, mysterious in their content, which reveal the nature of the World and contain the information closed to the five senses.
The proverbs of Creative Energy
"Drive your cart and your plow
over the bones of the dead."
"Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity."
"Eternity is in love with the productions of time."
"No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings."
paradoxical, provocative in tone and content
"Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion."
"Expect poison from the standing water."
"The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.
And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity.
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And a length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast."
Explanation / condemnation of Religion
A conversation with the Biblical prophets (a dinner party)
A visionary session with an Angel (who becomes a burning Devil at the end)
Adventures of the Prophet
The Angel attempts to convert the Poet through horrific visions of Hell, made according to the conventions of the Revelation
The Poet perceives that the visions are produced through the (false) metaphysics of the Angel's system of belief and do not constitute the reality
The Poet takes the Angel into his own visions of the evils that Religion produces and repays him in kind for the fanciful horrors
Apocalyptic vision
The images blend and become uninterpretable; the mystic strain moves the reader out of the sphere of understanding...
"Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn, no longer in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the sons of joy.

Nor his accepted brethren, whom tyrant, he calls free: lay the bound or build the roof.

Nor pale religious lechery call that virginity, that wishes but acts not!

For every thing that lives is Holy."
"To generalize is to be an idiot.
Singular and Particular detail is the foundation of the Sublime"
(letter from Shelley to Byron, 1816)
Fascination & disappointment
the Poet receives the vestiges of the Prophet
an inspired being, who understands the Truth about the world and the intricacies of the human soul through his own creativity
Confessional narratives, lyrical poetry tracing personal development of the poetic speaker in epic terms
cosmic dualism
conflict and confrontation of two opposing principles
in human nature:
one soul bound to the absolute
the other bound to the world
both souls coexisting in a man
The Absolute
lack of experience of evil
simplicity and freedom
other side of the reflection of the same creature
dark side reveled, complex imagery
inviting the reader to interpret symbols
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