Today is William Blake’s birthday.
I am thinking about Blake today and I have in front of me the catalog from my college senior thesis/art exhibition, “William Blake, The Apocalyptic Vision.”
And I am reading:
From the introduction:
“For Blake, the apocalyptic moment was personal and could happen at any time evil is recognized. Revelation and Judgment are internal affairs of the spirit, arising from a clearing of the senses which the artist, by virtue of his imaginative genius, can promote. The true artist then has a social role bordering on the religious. Blake took this very seriously. He sought prophecies of a particular visionary nature, and found them in the Books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Job, and Solomon……Apocalypse was not the only myth with which Blake was concerned. It was part of a general sequence, a cycle beginning with Creation and Fall and culminating with Apocalypse and Redemption. Apocalypse becomes the correction of the Fall, and Redemption, a reversal of the process by which the spirit was contracted into human form……This constrictd state Blake called Experience; its opposite was Innocence. Blake’s cycle from Creation to Judgment or Redemption is paralleled on a personal level as a progress from Innocence to Experience. The tension between the two states is essential: “Without Contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.” This progress of opposites is man’s learning to develop his spiritual aspects, to reject selfhood and learn true foregivness. Final Revelation will be “seen by the Imaginative Eye of Every one according to the Situation he holds” and the Last Judgment will happen “whenever any Individual Rejects Error & Embraces Truth.”
Often considered one of Blake’s most striking visual images, the frontispiece to “Europe, a Prophecy” (1794) and usually called “The Ancient of Day’s.”
Again, from the catalog:
(It) represents the Creator striking the limits of the fallen world with his brazen compass. From the midst of a brilliant heavenly sphere, the old man leans forward and down, his flowing hair and beard blown to the side, his left hand firmly holding the compass down over the black depths he studies from above. The pictorial tradition connecting the compass to the Creation goes back to the Middle Ages and derives from Proverbs 8:27: “When he prepared the heavens, I was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth.” It first occurs in Blake’s work in connection with Milton’s “He took the golden Compasses…to circumscribe this universe, and all created things” (Paradise Lost VII: 225-227). Blake’s source for the striking pose of Urizen was ultimately Christ in Michelangelo’s Conversion of Saint Paul. The powerful deity, who orders the unformed world, is Urizen, who by this terrible act limits the universe and inflicts woe upon the world by reducing the infinite to the finite. As his name suggests, he is “your reason,” the faculty which defines and delimits. In Urizen 12:4, he opens the awful Book of Brass, the code of rational laws copied by kings and priests for the purpose of organizing and suppressing society. Once revealed, the code spreads through the ages: it is this terrible propagation that Blake follows in the cycle from Adam to Resurrection.
Blake’s friends often made much of his seeing visions and receiving divine guidance. But Blake himself knew well the nature of his visions. In “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” Blake describes a dinnertable conversation with Isaiah and Ezekiel:
“I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition. Isaiah answer’d: “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discovr’d the infinite in everything, and as I was then persuaded, & remain confirm’d, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences, but wrote.”
And, here, me and my mentor and teacher and friend Harvey Stahl :
Let me end with this quote
reminded of Thel’s Motto from William Blake’s “The Book of Thel.”
Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?
Or Love in a golden bowl?
And you dear reader and friend?