Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

form of corporeal passion (the worm). Oothoon, active, stimulates with the desire of her conquest the violent, the earthly thunder and fire, and, mingling with it, becomes, to her surprise, outcast from the privileges of mingling her active joy with the sympathetic principle, now turned into her own opposite, passive sorrow, spiritual doubt and melancholy, uncertainty, and jealousy.

A consideration of this will go further than most forms of meditation about Blake towards enabling us to understand the connection between the discovery of what the Spectre of Tharmas is and the Closing of Albion's Western Gate, when the two ideas are brought together in Vala, Night I, 211 or 219.

Oothoon's doctrine, as put forth in this poem, in its commonest social manifestation might be illustrated by money and the history of money, though Blake would not have liked the illustration.

"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise,” Blake says, and in society we see how the golden river runs itself pure, and how persons originally given to servility and snobbishness on attaining power through acquired wealth bear children who, first relieved of the necessity to struggle for existence, presently lose most of the servility, selfishness, and cruelty belonging to such struggle, and achieve a pure and sweet aristocracy, like that which springs from noblemen whose remote ancestors were brigands. The only disadvantage of this commerce-born aristocracy is that it has not vindicated its courage in the past. We see, however, that this does not matter. Our list of those who wear the Victoria Cross shows that a man may fight well and yet be the first of his family to fight at all. But the propitiativeness needed to win customers in the shop and to negotiate bargains “on the Rialto" survives in the kindness of the educated classes that wins them friends. The keen eye that in earlier generations selected merchandise now educates the taste that turns to art. At first much boasting and foolishness is seen, but the exuberance of self-love in foolish luxury goes past, and a better and sweeter tradition to mould all life remains. The abstract impersonality of gold, its riverlike habit of always flowing, has purified family after family in a few generations, “as the clear stream muddied by the feet of beasts grows pure and smiles."

Blake said that beauty, or the holiness of life, would do all this. The evil side of the passions of the flesh that are not mere covetousness would vanish from every single bosom if people would but keep the faith in ultimate good, and not try to promote by a negative thing called morality a positive thing called virtue. They would then enter into spiritual life. Jealousy has no power beyond bodily life. Bodily life has no power over spiritual life, except through the sad spirit of uncertainty that suspects always the authenticity of joy and the soul, and fears lest sorrow or the body be the ultimate truth. This melancholy vacillation is symbolised in the ever-moving wave, and is here called by its secondary name, not “Tharmas,” but “Theotormon," whose highest good is the poor chastity of restraint when he is deprived of Oothoon. Night is not darker than the daytime of common sense, "single vision or Newton's sleep," whose sun in the heavens is “a black shadow like an eye.” Restraint means here not only the law of ordinary social morality. It is prohibition that is used by Reason's jealousy against the imaginative or visionary life. This meaning in Blake's writing is not surprising. The first naughtiness for which he was whipped as a child was the sin of having visions. He now cries out that so far is this from being a sin, that even the wickedness of so far believing in the non-visionary eye as to allow it to couple the soul in spiritual marriage with a sunset by lying on a bank and gazing, should be forgiven.

In view of this exalted doctrine, the puritanical morality of Mrs. Blake's decent and modest girlhood must have seemed a poor thing in her married—her ardently marriedhome. She struggled for it a long time, though. There is more than the experience of symbolism only in that allusion in Jerusalem (page 36, line 45) to the “judgment” which forbids delight so severely that “a man dare hardly to embrace his own wife for the terrors of chastity that they call by the name of morality.”

The Visions of the Daughters of Albion was composed as part of the education of Mrs. Blake as well as that of posterity, and as such its interpretation on the side that concerned her has its place here. It was first made for her, and then for us, though essentially part of Blake's great task of one process, that of “opening the eyes of man inward into the world of thought, into eternity."

One line in it—or rather less than a line of this poemmight be written over a temple dedicated to Blake. It is all his doctrine in a symbol

The village dog barks at the breaking day.

With the poetry rubbed away, the flesh of beauty torn from its bones, and the hard skeleton of unchangeable prose meaning left permanent, if hideous, in the wind, it reads :

Appetite heralds Inspiration.

CHAPTER XVII

ENGLAND AND AMERICA

In the promised Bible of Hell or Book of Desire which was to be thrust upon the world, America was probably the next part. Yet both in the text and in the drawings it is so unlike the Visions that this indicates that there was some complete separation between the one effort and the other, some important change, some bustling and worry outside the studio, with a return afterwards to the region of art and poetry by a new self-concentration.

The title-page records this in the one word “ Lambeth," printed above the signature. In fact, between engraving the Visions and America Blake had left Poland Street and crossed the river to Hercules Buildings, No. 13. The change of address and the number of the house both show that he was growing poorer, and must economise. A house numbered 13 is likely to be less popular than those numbered 12 and 14, therefore to be cheaper. The staircase in this particular house will always be remembered as the place where Blake saw the vision of the Ancient of Days that he drew with so much dignity and style that it became one of his favourite pictures, and repetitions of it were called for till the last working day of his life. It occurs in the beginning of Europe, and is so fascinating that even an artist may be forgiven for not breaking out into fury at the effrontery of its impossible and ill-joined limbs. In the Europe of the British Museum we see this design as a figure kneeling and reaching down one arm. It has no other arm, and though in some replicas Blake added another, it could not rise, and if it did, large portions of its form would be found to have been cut out to make the kneeling position possible. It was sometimes less incorrectly drawn than in this version, but never more impressively. Here also Blake saw a ghost, as he chanced to look

when weinhold age a home to the city lust, as chap. iv. These

upwards while standing near his garden door. “It was,” he himself said, “a horrible figure, scaly, speckled, very awful." He saw it actually coming down the stairs towards him, and was so frightened that he took to his heels.

He was not experienced in ghosts, and admitted that he never saw one before or after, although one of his more grotesque designs is popularly known as the Ghost of a Flea. In the poem of America the last lines explain the whole. The fires of passion have melted the hinges of the gates of the five senses. Blake still believed this to be a natural result of unrestricted fleshly pleasure. In fact, he held this creed to the end. Indulgence, he thought, would instantly so arouse every energy of man that the spiritual energies, which were (of course) the stronger, would immediately put down the five senses, and the liberty of imagination on a spiritual plane from the bondage of what is commonly called “reality” would follow at once. Eternity would open for us now, as it will eventually after death, when we shall “ go into Mind," as he phrases it in his letter written in old age about the death of Flaxman. Yet, to be able to devote more time to the service of God, he admitted a use in the prohibition of bodily lust, as he will write presently in Jerusalem, page 77, preface to chap. iv. The opening and closing of gates, the cleansing or obscuring, was all through Blake's life one of his favourite figures of speech. Already in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell he had said, “ If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man, as it is, infinite.” In his last book, Milton, he says, on the last line of page 42, “ To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by self-examination," and the cleansing is explained at length on the following page.

“Every natural event has a spiritual cause” was one of his chief tenets.

The solidity of Nature had a spiritual cause, namely, the state of mind in which man cannot, in ordinary waking life, be clairvoyant enough to see through it, and consequently is equally incapable of seeing through the natural meaning of the words of Scripture, whose literal sense is a cloud (Luvah's robes of blood), and a toinb (Albion's), and a Rock (that“ of Ages "), and on giving this state of mind a Scriptural name Blake called it Og. He is king of the closed heart that will not open its brass gates to let love illuminate nature, and he misreads Scripture and nature into a narrow sense, literal and hateful, suited to his moods. His is the

« ZurückWeiter »