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English Poetry

William Blake: The Prophetic works

1757-1827, English poet, artist and engraver. London, England.

Or they create the Lion & Tyger in compassionate thunderings: howling the Spectres flee: they take refuge in Human lineaments.

'Blake was lowering buckets down into his collective unconscious,' said Miranda.

'To Nobodaddy is about the Old Testament God, it's clear enough, replied Quintin. 'Why art thou silent & invisible, Father of Jealousy? Why dost thou hide thyself in clouds, from every searching eye? Why darkness and obscurity in all thy words & laws, that none dare eat the fruit but from the wily serpents jaws? Why do you hide in the sky? Why is the Bible so hard to interpret? Why was the Tree of Knowledge forbidden, that only a snake would let us take sustenance from it?'

'But look at the last line: Or is it because Secresy gains females' loud applause?' replied Miranda. 'The thought suddenly occurs to him that God may be female. And the whole of his illustrated book Europe, written a year later, is an enlargement and exploration of this theme. He begins to construct a myth, a myth that becomes his life's work. Enitharmon has been asleep for eighteen hundred years. Enitharmon slept eighteen hundred years. Man was a Dream! The night of Nature and their harps unstrung! She slept in middle of her nightly song eighteen hundred years, a female dream. All through the Christian period, from the birth of Christ up until Blake's own present: Albion's Angel rose upon the Stone of Night, he saw Urizen on the Atlantic, and his brazen Book that Kings and Priests had copied on Earth, expanded from north to south. And the clouds & fires pale roll'd round in the night of Enitharmon, round Albion's cliffs & London's walls; still Enitharmon slept.

'And in a poem written ten years later, his Illustrated Book Milton, we begin to get the full power of Blake's myth and the new creed of his alternative Bible. The little weeping Spectre stands on the threshold of Death Eternal, and sometimes two Spectres… Antamon takes them into his beautiful flexible hands: as the Sower takes the seed or as the Artist his clay or fine wax, to mould artful a model for golden ornaments… The Daughters of beauty look up from their Looms & prepare the integument soft for its clothing with joy and delight. But Theotormon & Sotha stand at the Gate of Luban anxious. Their numbers are seven million & seven thousand & seven hundred. They contend with the weak Spectres, they fabricate soothing forms. The Spectre refuses, he seeks cruelty: they create the crested Cock. Terrified the Spectre screams & rushes in fear into their Net of kindness and compassion, & is born a weeping terror. Or they create the Lion & Tyger in compassionate thunderings: howling the Spectres flee: they take refuge in Human lineaments.

Extracts from: Keynes, Geoffrey, 1966. Blake: The Complete Writings. Oxford University Press. To NoboDaddy: Poems from the Note-Book, 1793. p 171. Europe: A Prophesy, 1794. Plate 9, p 240 and Plates 11 and 12, p 242. Milton: A Poem in Two Books, Book the First, 1804–8. Plate 28, p 515.

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