William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His so-called prophetic works were said by 20th century critic Northrop Frye to form “what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language”. His visual artistry led 21st-century critic Jonathan Jones to proclaim him “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Although he lived in London his entire life (except for three years spent in Felpham), he produced a diverse and symbolically rich œuvre, which embraced the imagination as “the body of God” or “human existence itself”.
William Blake’s mythology
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The prophetic books of the English poet and artist William Blake contain a rich invented mythology (mythopoeia), in which Blake worked to encode his revolutionary spiritual and political ideas into a prophecy for a new age. This desire to recreate the cosmos is the heart of his work and his psychology. His myths often described the struggle between enlightenment and free love on the one hand, and restrictive education and morals on the other.
Among Blake’s inspirations were John Milton‘s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, the visions of Emanuel Swedenborg and the near-cabalistic writings of Jakob Böhme. Blake’s vision went further, in that he not only expanded on the world of Biblical revelation, but sought to transcend it by fusion with his own interpretations of druidism and paganism.
The Fall of Albion
The longest elaboration of this private myth-cycle was also his longest poem, The Four Zoas: The Death and Judgment of Albion The Ancient Man, written in the late 1790s but left in manuscript form at the time of his death. In this work, Blake traces the fall of Albion, who was “originally fourfold but was self-divided”.This theme was revisited later, more definitively but perhaps less directly, in his other epic prophetic works, Milton a Poem and Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
The parts into which Albion is divided are the four Zoas:
- Tharmas: representing instinct and strength.
- Urizen: reason, tradition; a cruel god resembling the Gnostic Demiurge.
- Luvah: love, passion and emotive faculties; a Christ-like figure, also known as Orc in his most amorous and rebellious form.
- Urthona, also known as Los: inspiration and the imagination.
The Blake pantheon also includes feminine emanations that have separated from an integrated male being, as Eve separated from Adam:
- The maternal Enion is an emanation from Tharmas.
- The celestial Ahania is an emanation from Urizen.
- The seductive Vala is an emanation from Luvah.
- The musical Enitharmon is an emanation from Los (Urthona).
The fall of Albion and his division into the Zoas and their emanations are also the central themes of Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
Rintrah first appears in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, personifying revolutionary wrath. He is later grouped together with other spirits of rebellion in The Vision of the Daughters of Albion:
- The loud and lustful Bromion.
- The “mild and piteous” Palamabron, son of Enitharmon and Los (also appears in Milton).
- The tortured mercenary Theotormon.
The mythology and the prophetic books
Scholarship on Blake has not recovered a “perfected” version of Blake’s myth. The characters in it have to be treated more like a repertory company, capable of dramatising his ideas (which changed, over two decades). On the other hand, the psychological roots of his work have been revealed, and are now much more accessible (with study) than they were a century ago.
America a Prophecy is also one of the “prophetic works”. Here, the “soft soul” of America appears as Oothoon.
Other works concerning this pantheon:
- America a Prophecy
- The Book of Urizen
- The Book of Los
- The Book of Ahania
- Visions of the Daughters of Albion
Notes and references
- Watershed Online Retrieved on 2008-08-29