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: The sense of vision in the hermetic poetry of William Blake
Topic:Art & Esotericism
Art & EsotericismUntil not long ago, William Blake was considered a great visionary poet as well as an eccentric rebel. Literary critics agreed in finding in his poetry the thread that joined him to the great English romantic poets such as Byron, Shelley and Keats; this made Blake a pre-romantic forerunner or even one of the first exponents of this current. After all, it was a time when poets started a journey that would lead to the enclosure of the Ego in one’s own inner lyricism. A nonconformist lifestyle and the paroxysm of certain visions didn’t stir any sensation; emphasis was normality and the reflection of the spirit of the time, surely not an exception. Nevertheless, in the twentieth century a parallel – rather than alternative - interpretation started developing; it saw in the Blakean poetry not only the germs of the ‘poetizing self’ that would flourish in the nineteenth century, but also a reference to suggestions belonging to the world of arcane.

The sense of vision in the hermetic poetry of William Blake
by Antonio D'Alonzo

Until not long ago, William Blake was considered a great visionary poet as well as an eccentric rebel. Literary critics agreed in finding in his poetry the thread that joined him to the great English romantic poets such as Byron, Shelley and Keats; this made Blake a pre-romantic forerunner or even one of the first exponents of this current. After all, it was a time when poets started a journey that would lead to the enclosure of the Ego in one's own inner lyricism. A nonconformist lifestyle and the paroxysm of certain visions didn't stir any sensation; emphasis was normality and the reflection of the spirit of the time, surely not an exception. Nevertheless, in the twentieth century a parallel – rather than alternative - interpretation started developing; it saw in the Blakean poetry not only the germs of the ‘poetizing self' that would flourish in the nineteenth century, but also a reference to suggestions belonging to the world of arcane. T.S. Eliot, for example, was one of the first critics to try and overcome the easy reading of a ‘visionary Blake'; he tried to recognize in his works the references and suggestions of mythological literature. (Nonetheless, Eliot was a man of faith and he refused the possibility of finding in Blakean poetry and incisions symbols belonging to traditions which the Christian doctrine had openly disowned). However, this tendency started spreading and it found proselytes among other personalities of the academic world. His poetry was read again and his incisions were observed with a new interest for the symbolic and allegoric aspects that could reveal the influence of western esoteric currents. Of course this doesn't mean that private esoteric readings of Blake's poetry didn't exist before; it only means that a series of academic studies on this tendency flourished, mainly in the last century.

William Blake (1757-1827) was afflicted by strange apparitions since his childhood. At the age of four he had his first vision; God himself appeared at the window. By the age of eight he had recurring hallucinations. He told his mother that he saw the prophet Ezekiel under a tree. He curiously anticipated the famous Freudian clinical case of the Wolf man when, in the same year, he said he saw angels on trees (note 1).

At the age of ten, Blake started writing his first poems and showed a gift for drawing. He attended an art school and read his first books: the Bible, Milton, Shakespeare and Dante. At the age of fourteen he started wondering about the biblical subject of the Fall. At the age of twenty-one he enrolled with the Royal Academy and specialized in the technique of incision. Blake said that his brother, who had died a few years earlier, appeared in his dreams and taught him how to engrave on the same sheet both poetry and drawing. The writing and the drawing on copper were treated with an acid-resistant liquid. The rest of the plate was etched by the acid and the drawing and the poem were left in relief. In 1795 Blake produced a series of paintings inspired by his favorite subjects: Elijah in the Fiery Chariot, Newton, The house of Death, Elohim creating Adam. In the following years he refined his technique and he started to enjoy the taste of fame both as an artist of apocalyptic and prophetic subjects and as a poet; his Songs of Innocence and Experience were published. Wordsworth gave an interesting opinion about Blake; he was positive about his madness, nevertheless he was more interested to it than he was to Byron's and Walter Scott's health (note 2).

In 1782 he married Catherine Boucher; their life was considered eccentric even at the time of the bizarre egocentrism of Byron and Shelley. A common friend of Blake and Catherine said that one day he caught them naked in the garden of their house, whilst, careless of anyone watching them, played the roles of Adam and Eve and William read Milton's Paradise Lost. In this period Blake published works in full swing. In 1784 he opened a printing company with a friend, which left him nearly bankrupt. This was a time of great difficulties for the poet, also marked by the misunderstandings with his occasional patrons because of his revolutionary sympathies. He managed to finish the engraving and publication of his Prophetic books. In 1793 Blake openly declared his support to the French revolution and he refused to become a drawing teacher for the royal family. In 1797 he faced another failure when he published the tables of Edward Young's Nights Thoughts . In 1803 he caught a soldier of the Dragons Regiment in his garden and he threw him out violently; the soldier accused him of shouting insults against the king. However Blake managed to be acquitted, even with difficulty. He died in London in 1827. In his works Blake comes across as a fierce enemy of rationalism and a supporter of imagination as a faculty able to create and work ‘magically'. We can already see his theosophical imprint by the importance given to this faculty, considered able to reveal the superior divine worlds to men (imagination had the same important role in the Paracelsian current, which historically preceded theosophy and gave it this concept). Blake is soon influenced by the ideas of Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) and even more by those of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772); in particular the latter's doctrine was openly shared by Blake's brother, who joined the believers of the ‘Swedenborgian church'. We must remember that Swedenborg's role was marginal to theosophy compared to Boehme, whose success coincided with the highest point of this current. Swedenborg's thought received vital lymph from this detachment and affected eclectically fields that go beyond esoteric western currents. Swedenborg was certainly a thinker that stood between the reception of boehmian theosophy and the theosophy of Martines De Pasqually, Saint Martin, Friedrich Christoph Oetinger. Of course this ‘marginality' didn't affect the essential importance of the thought of Swedenborg in the study of esoteric western currents; indeed, many intermediary thinkers like him were destined to leave a mark.

In his Songs of Experience Blake immediately acquired this refusal of Newtonian mechanism and Lockean rationalism. The verses dedicated to the fearful animal beauty of the tiger reveal that we are in front of a primordial energy, the Chaos sive forma , where the elementary forces of Nature thrive:

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright /in the forest 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? (note 3)

The Tiger that burns ‘bright in the forests of the night' is this essential and primordial faculty, imagination, lost as a consequence to the Fall, but also hidden by illuminist rationalism. ‘The forests of the night' symbolize the deep and removed things, but of course also the contraposition to the illusions of Aufklarung , the positivist brightening. Let's read in the following passage how this energy is in actual fact an archetype:

And what shoulder and what art/could twist the sinews of thy heart?/and, when thy heart began to beat,/what dread hand and what dread feet?/What the hammer? What the chain?/ in what furnace was thy brain? / What the anvil? What dread grasp/ dare its deadly terrors clasp? (note 4)

The Tiger, allegorical archetype of original imagination, has been created by an extremely powerful demiurge, since its genesis requires a complex of ‘terrible' and titanic qualities that the maker reflects on the creature. Therefore the creating imagination belongs to the Tiger as well as to the demiurge, because the latter has transposed his divine powers in the former. Hobbes theorizes a dychotomic separation between the kingdom of nature ( ‘homo, homini lupus' ) and the state order, where the bestial natural compulsion explode in the former; in the Blakean Tiger primordial energy is accompanied by demiurgic afflatus. The Tiger, then, is not only the archetype of destructive fierceness, but also of the power of creating Imagination. To think about the Tiger helps freeing the removed compulsions as well as evoking this power, this energy that opens the doors to super-sensorial perception:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. (note 5)

Blake agrees to the classical platonic doctrine of the two worlds; on the contrary of the greek philosopher, though, he thinks that Imagination is the faculty that can lead man to absolute knowledge by opposing to the deceit of the senses. The divine Being reveals itself in the language of the poet and the oracle; only in this way and for His Will gnosis can happen, but in order to access the infinite, man must have re-awaken and practiced the divine faculty. Anyone who has this Imagination is able to overcome the illusory world of matter ( ‘In ages of imagination this firm persuasion removed mountains'- note 6), as well as the abstraction of the moral law, which Blake identified with the passive submission to the rules of reason. For some aspects, Blake comes across as one of the first ‘immoralists', a forerunner of Byron, Shelley and Nietzsche; on the contrary, the demiurgic conception of Imagination separates him from the glacial and hyper-rational Sadean universe.

We will go back to the blakean ‘immorality'; for the moment let's talk about this power of vision that harbors in the poet's heart, whilst it is latent in an ordinary man.

According to Blake, imagination allows man to rejoin the Universal at least for a moment, and to recognize its affinity with his own nature. On the contrary, both philosophical empiricism and applied mathematics were devalued by Blake, because they limit their competence to a phenomenal field, preventing themselves from overcoming the changeable world of the becoming and opening themselves to the world of essences. We can then understand Blake's blame towards Bacon, Newton, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau; they were all strenuous defenders of reason except for the last one, which as a father of romanticism fell into an excessive idealization of the natural kingdom.

Besides, Blake's thought is not catalyzed by the philosophy of Enlightenment or by Rousseau's pre-romanticism:

As a new heaven is begun, and it is not thirty-three years since its advent: the Eternal Hell revives. And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting at the tomb; his writings are the linen clothes folded up. Now is the dominion of Edom, & the return of Adam into Paradise; see Isaiah Chap. XXXIV & XXXV (note 7)

We have mentioned that, although the third part of Swedenborg's speculation belongs to the theosophical universe, he can be considered as an author who marked a passage between two stages in the history of philosophy, viz. from Boehme to Martines de Pasqually and Saint Martin. Indeed, the first two stages of his production interested fields that went beyond the theosophists' research. At first Swedenborg studied scientist and rationalist philosophy, and then he went into Neo-Platonism, which led him to study the visionary and ascetic aspects of mystics. Later, and this was the third stage, he joined the theosophical conceptual whole.

A characteristic of Swedenborg's thought is the Manichean dualism that flows into a clear soteriological view; Evil is the sin that transforms intuitive heart into rational conscience. History is the progressive dissolution of the first church, which reaches the highest oblivion and corruption in the modern age and it is eventually destined to realize the advent of a new spiritual fusion of man with God, where the division is overcome. Good is then an original and divine intuitive spark whilst Evil is the rationalist drift. We can find the bases of the esoteric principles in Swedenborg's thought, starting from the idea of universal correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm. This idea leads to its practice; therefore the world of matter is rich of signs and traces of the divine world. We also find all the other assumptions: living Nature, the value of imagination and meditation, etc.

Blake certainly shares these ideas; but there are points where his thoughts clearly separate from Swedenborg's doctrine.

Let's read the following passage from a poem:

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. (note 8)

At a first glance it seems we are facing a kind of Hegelian dialectic intrinsic to the becoming. For Hegel the contraries are necessary to overcome the present and they coincide with the same historical motion. Nevertheless, in this passage we don't find any mention of aufhebung , the negation of the negation; it would be more likely, then, to think of a kind of proto ‘negative' or ‘open dialectic'. We talk about contraposition (Love and hate, etc.) but we are missing the third term of synthesis that includes the first two and goes beyond them. Nevertheless we can certainly establish a principle of Blakean vision: the overcoming of the rigid Swedenborgian Manichaeism; for the English poet dualism becomes relevant to the ontological fabric of Real. Swedenborg thinks that Good and Evil are drastically separated and the journey of the Spirit towards salvation is unilaterally oriented. Not even for a moment he contemplates the possibility that Evil contains a reflection of its opposite, that a final redemption of the negative is possible; indeed he titles his work Heaven and Hell , whilst Blake literally considers the possibility of a Marriage between the two antithetical terms. In the following work Jerusalem , the English poet suggests that ‘Hell is open to Heaven' .

For Blake Good is the passiveness of Reason, whilst Evil is the activity that oozes Energy. It is obvious, though, that there is an ironic reversal where the preference goes to the latter. It is not a coincidence that the following chapter of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is called Proverbs of Hell. We find the same energetic ontology in the passage that follows the one mentioned above, where Blake indulges in the enunciation of a satanic ‘revelation', emblematically called The Voice of the Devil (many alleged ‘Satanists' , also contemporary ones, love to publicize their readings, particularly an alleged ‘satanic Bible'; in actual fact they are talking about this text by Blake. In particular, the organization of the Children of Satan , whose leader is represented by the debatable figure of Marco Dimitri, often refers to the energetic concepts of Blake – besides the usual misread literature of Nietzsche.

All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.

  1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz. a Body & a Soul
  2. That Energy, call'd Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call'd Good, is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True.

  1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd 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. (note 9)

We are in the presence of a kind of immorality that we could call pre-Nietzschean; the conceptual categories of this text could belong to the subsequent lebenphilosophie of the beginning of the century. The ascetic ideal of the Christianity appears as a mortification of the vital instincts, which only the rediscovery of primary forces and the following liberation of inhibited compulsions can fix. The Blakean body-reason, ideal-life antitheses are enriched by a whole mythical structure taken from cabbalistic, Gnostic and catharist literature.

Albion is the Eternal Man, the firstborn, One-Whole who split up in the Fall into the four elements ( Zoa ) that live inside the macro-microcosm: Urizen , intellect, Luvah , emotion, Tharmas, sensation and Urthona , imagination. The Eternal Man at first belongs to the category of the Eternals, therefore it is only one of the elements of the Universal system; in a later version of the myth it identifies integrally with it. In mythologies the following readings of the original must be considered as unavoidable effects of the circularity of the interpretation process. The oral transmission stratifies the primary meaning into additional meanings destined to overlap the original signs. According to the first version the Eternal Man detaches and falls from the Divine Unit; later the other Eternals will try and bring it back into it. In the second version the Eternal Man can be identified with the Adam Kadmon of the cabbalists, or with Boehme's ‘Exemplary man' or with Swedenborg's ‘Man'.

However, in both versions of the myth, the Zoas – guided by the rebellion of Urizen – cause the Fall of the Eternal Man; from the disintegration of the Whole originate these four faculties, but the true root of Evil is the icy cold promethean reason.

The four Zoas take other names in the kingdom of the becoming: Urizen becomes Satan , Luvah becomes Orc , Tharmas becomes Cherub and Urthona becomes Los.

The fight is now between Urizen-Satan and Urthona-Los; the former has broken the Divine Wholeness and in self-conscience it originates the world of the Fall. In recognizing its own individuality separated from the Whole, Urizen generates the dichotomies of the phenomenal illusions: separation of the sexes, birth and death, time. Indeed, in an interesting twist of meaning Los – identified with Time – presents itself as the son of Urizen and actively contributes to the demiurgic planning of the world. At the same time it radically opposes the principle of the rational and normative intellect represented by Urizen:

Urizen lay in darkness & solitude, in chains of the mind lock'd up. Los seized his Hammer & Tongs; he laboured at his resolute Anvil. Among indefinite Druid rocks & snows of doubt & reasoning. (note 10)

Urizen, Prime Cause of the material world, is himself condemned to the cognitive aridity and repressive morale imposed to his creature. He is a prisoner of the same authoritative and cold universe created by his individualistic rebellion and emancipating drives. Los is Time, one of the children or poles which Urizen splits into; the other is Space symbolized by Enitharmon , feminine principle opposite to the masculine Los; they both determine the existential dimensions of our physical experience. Like Prometheus, Urizen too is moved by the same feeling of intolerance towards the constituted Order, towards Totality. Whilst Prometheus disobeys Zeus will and steals the thunderbolt to give it to men, Urizen states his will of power against the Undivided Unity of the Eternal Man. They are both champions of instrumental reason against the amorphous order of metaphysics. Therefore man is almost forced by his own essence to transgress and try the fruit of Knowledge. In Adam's bite to the forbidden fruit, like in Prometheus theft or in Urizen's will of power, is hidden the destiny of human violence as laceration of the divine order. It is necessary to do a consideration.

Does this split, this will-of-laceration belong to human essence, despite all cosmogonies and metaphysics of history? Can man avoid splitting -himself from the constituted Order and live unconsciously like beasts and angels, happy with his destiny? Or is in human history hidden a Faustian plan that leads men to disown even Eden's gates in favor of self conscience?

We have seen that Los represents Time. In particular, according to Sloss-Wallis, Los has the function to ‘secure' Urizen's changes, according to a temporal rhythm able to break the inviolate horizon of the endless possibilities of Eternals. (note 11) Sloss-Wallis reverses the classical structure of metaphysics, because now it is not the becoming that dissolves the monist rigidness of the Being, to relativize the ontological value of the moment of its diachronic overcoming. In other words, according to this reading, the becoming doesn't only contextualize and relativize events, but on the contrary it gives density to the meaning and traces the irreversibility of the event. The teaching of Los is that our time must not be read as an expression of earthly finiteness; this is why in the Heraclitean River all becomes and it is not possible to dip twice in the same water. On the contrary, it must be seen as a narrowing of the horizon of existential destiny, therefore the choice of a possibility leads to the exclusion of others and the sequence of following events. In the film Sliding Doors , the future life of the main character depends on the fact that she can catch the underground train or not. Of course in this case it is difficult to talk about choices; we are facing a random event like a delay for the departure of a train. On the other hand, according to this principle, at the root of a series of unavoidable events there is an arbitrary act. Such as the wing-stroke of a butterfly in the equatorial forest that causes an earthquake in Los Angeles or a faster step when walking towards the train of our destiny. We can call it Moira or Karma. Even delaying the choice between two possibilities is a choice. The Kierkegaardian esthete or the Musilian man without qualities choose the possibility of the possibility, the delay, the possibility as an end in itself. However it is, though, this choice brings the possibility to escape other possibilities, for example ethical life or political commitment. It is a defeat in any case, because as Heidegger said, the dimension itself of human finiteness, the being-for-death prevents man from escaping the attempt to plan his existence (planning not to plan anything is self-referring, because it is still a plan. It is a vicious circle of thought).

For Blake Los symbolizes the Time that marks the rhythm of the point of no return ( ‘it is like that, it can't be otherwise any more' ), but at the same time the Spirit of the Prophecy, the certainty that the icy cold and arid world of matter determined by the separation of Urizen is destined to end. Los is the prophetic Vision that comes to warn men who are going to be untied from the ratiocentric bonds and the illusion of senses. In other words, Los is for Blake the same creating imagination or visionary ability that ends the Fall in the world of matter. Vision is ingrained in Time that announces the prophecy; after all Los generates the world under the constriction of Urizen. What is the function, in the Blakean mythic cosmos, of the other category of our experience, Enitharmon, space?

Enitharmon, the feminine principle of cosmogony, split from Los at the beginning of the original laceration of Albion, the Eternal Man. The Androginous, perfect fusion of the two sexes, splits in two principles, Los and Enitharmon, Time and Space. Enitharmon, space, is after all the principle of individuation that gives sex and personality to the living creatures. It also embodies the illusion of the senses and the repressive morale, since it is a feminine principle. At a first glance, the Blakean reading of Sloss-Wallis seems to fall in an obvious oxymoron, because we can't hide the radical contraposition of the binomial sensuality-law . There is a flourishing literary tradition that assimilates the woman to a gift, a fruit of Nature. It is the woman with the ‘sexed' body who undoes her plaits and her flowing hair go on the ground symbolizing the root in the Earth. The long hair symbolizes the roots, the attachment to the Ground, the world of Nature. According to Kierkegaard man is a principle of the spirit, because he always tends to the absolute, whilst the woman has the simple role of distracting him from the contemplation of the Heights, since her sensual body refers to simplicity and naturalness of the creation. (note 12)

Of course it is a literature affected by the ingenuous stereotypes of the time; nobody nowadays could support this theory. Nevertheless, at the time of Blake these ideas were quite rooted. Besides, classical arts, also using mythological literature, have for a long time represented the woman as a nymph that bathes in the rivers or as a charming fairy who owns the secret of nature, being its daughter herself. Women were the maenads who danced all night in the woods in honor of Dionysus; likewise the followers of Orpheus and the first medieval witches. We must not forget that the idealization of women as ‘gifts of nature' is deeply affected by the importance that she had in the Neolithic in coincidence with the discovery of agriculture. Eliade describes very well the cultural, social and religious revolution that leads to relate the agricultural work to the cyclic renovation of the cosmos, to the rhythm of deaths and the re-births that follow one another continuously. The fecundity of the land is equalized symbolically to the fertility of the woman, with a consequent identification of the former with the latter and the idealized projection of the corresponding archetype: the Mother-Earth ( Tellus Mater ) (note 13).

On the other hand in the modern era the rigid bourgeois education given to women was heavily affected by this prejudice; it was used to channel the flow of wild compulsions, to ‘domesticate' the sensual element that dangerously slept inside a woman. It was a matter of removing the archetypical fear (the ‘Woman-wolf' , the ‘ Woman-vampire' ) that was present in the literary culture of the time. It is not a mystery, then, that Enitharmon embodies both the illusion of the senses and the repressive morale.

According to Sloss-Wallis, Enitharmon generates three children: the ‘two-horned priest', the ‘queen of the silver arch' and the ‘prince of the sun'. They represent respectively the animal nature and its corresponding moral law, the moon and the desolation of the spirit (possible misogynous interpretation of the symbol) and finally the sun and the swarming heat of the spirit. Flesh and spirit are produced by Enitharmon, the space, who re-affirms the principle of individuality but puts it under the Christian morale, since she is the mother (Freud would talk about the conflict between unconsciousness and the defensive mechanisms of the super-ego). From what we have read so far, Blake seems to suggest us to try and overcome the dichotomy sensuality-morale – the two sides of the same coin – to scan the real world of essences: ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom' (note 14) .

Enitharmon and Los, Space and Time, are grafted on to an eschatological project whose result is the re-found primordial harmony between spiritual nature and intellectual nature of the Eternal Man. The messianic projection, the èschaton , is destined to concern both polarities of the principle of universal interdependence, on the plane of both the macro and microcosm ( Emerald Tablet: ‘That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below') . In the macrocosm the dilation of the becoming will stop the Fall by contracting in a divine and eternal segment, whilch will mark the return of the mythical time, but this time eternally and without undergoing the escape in the cycle of the eternal ring. The advent of the return of the age of gold will be definitive and without the danger of other cyclical descents, because at that moment time will dissolve in the immobile eternity of the Kingdom. Even on the microcosmic level man will find again his spiritual essence that arid reason and meaningless empiricism had imprisoned, and it will give it back to oblivion. But the importance of the eschatological project in Blake's vision is confirmed by the subordination of Enitharmon to Los; space, simple emanation and negative separation, is destined not to survive to the fragmentation of profane time in the meeting with the advent of the messianic èschaton .

Terrified Los stood in the Abyss & his immortal limbs grew deadly pale; he became what he beheld: for a red Round Globe sunk down from his Bosom into the Deep in pangs <…> He cherished it in deadly sickening pain: till separated into a female pale as the cloud that brings the snow; all the while from his Back a blue fluid exuded in Sinews hardening in the Abyss till it separated into a male form howling in Jealousy. (note 15)

The meaning of this passage is quite clear. Los, Time, the masculine principle, generates Enitharmon, Space, the feminine pole, who generates on its turn a new masculine form; it has started the process of earthly conception because the first mortal man has seen the light. ‘Howling in Jealousy' because obviously he aspires to a sense of totality, to living-with-the-Gods that the Fall has taken away from him. In order for this re-integration to happen, to overcome the categories of space-time and re-join the Divine, it is necessary that man strengthens the imaginative vis and overcomes the satanic illusion of the sensitive world and its ephemeral charms. The opposites Energy-Reason, Soul-Body are necessary, because without them there is no progress, but only on the historical level. On the messianic level, on the other hand, both must be overcome in favor of the faculty of active and creating imagination, the only one able to accelerate the accomplishment of the process that will happen anyway . This is the true sense of the vision in William Blake's poetry. We have seen which esoteric influences in his poetry are. He mainly draws from cabbalists the suggestion of the Eternal man – which he renamed ‘Albion' instead of Adam Kadmon – and also the idea that some words have a mystic power ( Fiat) able to influence the macrocosm. We have also examined his credits to and divergences from the Swedenborgian doctrine. Before concluding, we will compare Blake's elaborations with those of the other great representative of the theosophical current, Jacob Boehme. In Boehme the divine act through which the Absolute leaves its own perfect and eternal unity (Father) to show himself as determination (Son) – through creatural Love (Spirit) – is at the same time an expression of divine wisdom, a Mysterium Magnum , and an unavoidable detachment of the Nature from the Principle. God reflects in Nature his own seven qualities; therefore Nature is a divine mirror but at the same time it is separated and far from God because of the act of determination (Son). Every created being has a two-fold nature, good and evil, and this is the tragic side of life. Nevertheless this tragicalness is not radical, because whilst it reveals to man the abyss of his desperation and limits, at the same time it throws the possibility of redemption. If man takes on the sense of this tragicalness in the consciousness of the separation of his soul in the polarities of good and evil, then he ensures his return to God through an act of love. Will frees his wish for love; through the redemption of the Son, the finite being re-joins the Absolute Principle.

This Boehmian dialectic of the opposites certainly appears excessively sweetened compared to what comes out of Blake's gloomy rebellion. Provided that for Blake as well contraposition must be overcome in the reintegration of the origin, the English poet – compared to the ‘scholastic' balance in the Boehmian doctrine – seems to prefer a voluntarist and promethean drive that Hutin calls Nietzschean. (note 16)

Blake doesn't only interiorize the will in an act of love; he wants to immediately overcome the dichotomy and therefore he relies on the power of negative, on the ‘road of excess' that forces the balance of the opposites and wishes to turn dialectically the opposite into its contrary (‘the palace of wisdom'). Like in Tantrism – which was certainly known to the English poet – it is believed that the repeated and systematic transgression can lead to fullness first, then to the nausea of excess and finally to Liberation. Blake suggests this road as a possibility to find again the energy smothered by the rigid moral laws of repressive reason; but as we have seen, it is only a middle step, because the true goal is not the liberation of the bodies, but the restoration of the creating Imagination. He opposes the body to the reason to break its domain, but he soon abandons the former in favor of the power of Vision. Blake joins the Boehmian doctrine of the creation by atomistic fission of elements that affirm their identity in their rebellion to the homologating power of the Whole. Individualistic desire is the cause of the original fragmentation that breaks from the Whole and projects the elements in the corrosion of the separation of the two worlds, the sensitive and the super-sensitive. For Boehme the creatures who have decided to be subdued to God are angels, whilst the others – the rebels – are demons. The Faustian gesture of resistance to the divine Order, which detaches the accomplisher from the Principle, is characteristic of infernal creatures, because it is the fruit of a will of power not irradiated by love; only devotion and creatural submission can guarantee the return to God. We have seen that Blake has never accepted this last point, nevertheless for him, too, creation originates from an act of individualistic revolt, that of Urizen against Albion. The Zoas are separated from the soft pantheistic embrace, causing us to fall in the darkness of the sensitive world; but we are destined to go back to the Whole. Blake agrees with Boehme on the diagnosis of evil and dissents on the choice of the therapeutic remedy. Only on one point he reconciles with Boehme. The true inner transformation can occur only in virtue of the force of the creating Imagination. Therefore either we choose love or excess, the re-found visionary ability ensures the reintegration of the divine Center.



(note 1) Cf. A. Gilchrist , The life of William Blake, 1928 John Lane The Bodeley Head, London; M. Wilson, The life of William Blake, Rupert Art-Davis 1948, London.

(note 2) Cf. Id.

(note 3) W. Blake, The Tiger, From Songs of Experience, 1794

(note 4) Cf. Id.

(note 5) W. Blake, The marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790

(note 6) Cf. Id.

(note 7) Cf. Id.

(note 8) Cf. Id.

(note 9) Cf. Id.

(note 10) Cf. W. Blake, Milton, 1804

(note 11) Cf. Sloss-Wallis , The Prophetic Writing of William Blake... 2 vol., Clarendon Press, 1926.

(note 12) Cf. S. Kierkegaard , Either/or ; A Seducer's diary.

(note 13) Cf. M. Eliade , The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion.

(note 14) Cf. W. Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790

(note 15) Cf. W. Blake, Milton, 1804

(note 16) Cf. Hutin , Le disceples anglais de Jacob Boehme aux XVII-XVIII siècles, 1960, Paris, Ed. Deno ë l).

Essential bibliography

Gilchrist, The life of William Blake, 1928 John Lane The Bodeley Head, London

M. Wilson , The life of William Blake, Rupert Art-Davis 1948, London

Sloss-Wallis , The Prophetic Writing of William Blake… 2 vol, Clarendon Press, 1926.

S. Kierkegaard , Either/or, 1992 Penguin Books ; Diary of a Seducer, 2000 Pushkin Press

M. Eliade , The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, 1968 Harcourt Australia

Hutin , Les disceples anglais de Jacob Boehme aux XVII°-XVIII siècles, 1960 ed. Denoël. Pris.

Keynes , Poetry and Prose of William Blake. The Nonesuch Press, London 1961

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