Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The [First] Book of Urizen is an unorthodox version of the Creation and the Fall, written to satirize the traditional accounts in Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667, 1674). In The [First] Book of Urizen, the creator, Urizen, is neither all-powerful nor benevolent; his creation is not “good” as in Genesis, but flawed from the beginning. As a product solely of the unenlightened rational intellect, his world is incomplete. Cut off from the creative power of the imagination, which is personified in the poem by Los, Urizen can only create a world full of suffering and death.
The [First] Book of Urizen begins with a preludium, in which Blake gladly accepts the call of the Eternals to dictate their story. The poem is then divided, like Genesis, into chapter and verse. Chapter 1 describes Urizen’s activity in wholly negative terms. He is “unknown, unprolific,” and “unseen”; he broods introspectively; he is “self-clos’d” and a “self-contemplating shadow.” That is exactly the withdrawn, abstract type of mental activity that, in Blake’s view, was responsible for many of the ills that he saw in contemporary society. By retreating into a void within himself, Urizen is beginning to close himself off from the primal joy of existence.
In chapter 2, it transpires that Urizen’s activity is taking place before the creation of the world, before the existence of death, and before there...
(The entire section is 862 words.)
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