Blake's Book of Urizen is a parody of sorts of the biblical creation story. It has other potential parodic elements as well. What are some of the other potential targets and how are they related...
Blake's Book of Urizen is a parody of sorts of the biblical creation story. It has other potential parodic elements as well. What are some of the other potential targets and how are they related to larger themes in Blake?
William Blake’s late-18th Century literary creation The Book of Urizen is widely considered a parody of the Bible’s Book of Genesis, the story of creation. If the Book of Genesis is considered by many the word of God, Blake’s effort more appropriately constitutes the word of Satan. The Old Testament, of course, is hardly a Disneyesque fairy tale; on the contrary, it is replete with sin, war and violent death, the latter often meted out by a vengeful Creator disturbed by His people’s seeming unwillingness to countenance the Divine’s expectations of man. That said, the Book of Genesis purports to describe the origins of the universe and of human life, and of God’s role in attempting to guide his creations towards eternal enlightenment. Blake, in contrast, launches immediately into a bleak, dark vision more typically associated with the kind of Gothic literature that spawned Dracula, the Monk, and Victor Frankenstein’s wretched demon. Whereas the Book of Genesis brings earth out of the dark (“the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. . .Then God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”), Blake’s vision, and apparent rejection of the concept of a Holy Scripture, prefers imagery more appropriate to a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. At the beginning of Chapter I, Blake’s version of “Genesis” is clearly inspired more by thoughts of Hell than of Heaven:
"Lo, a Shadow of horror is risen
In Eternity! unknown, unprolific,
Self−clos'd, all−repelling. What Demon
Hath form'd this abominable Void,
This soul−shudd'ring Vacuum? Some said
It is Urizen. But unknown, abstracted,
Brooding, secret, the dark Power hid."
Similarly, in Chapter III, he continues this theme of eternal immorality and the dominance of Evil:
“But no light from the fires! all was darkness
In the flames of Eternal fury.”
Whereas God created man out of dust and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” Blake’s concept of humanity had considerably less idyllic origins:
“Los wept, howling around the dark Demon,
And cursing his lot; for in anguish
Urizen was rent from his side,
And a fathomless Void for his feet,
And intense fires for his dwelling”
Blake’s imagery throughout The Book of Urizen is unrelentingly bleak, and his characterizations complex. Urizen represents the Creator, but his origins are murky; Los represents contemplation, but without any kind of parameters. The nature of the Eternals is similarly vague, as they might represent a chosen people, but they seem to precede Urizen. The Eternals relationship to Urizen seems to suggest a parallel to the tumultuous relationship between God and Moses on one hand and the rebellious ever-questioning masses led out of bondage in Egypt on the other hand. To reiterate a point made earlier, the long journey to the Promised Land is hardly without incident. Untold numbers of those following Moses are summarily executed for the crime of rejecting God’s teachings and arguing with Moses and Aaron, and, in the end neither of those two prominent leaders entrusted with God’s commandments are even allowed to enter the Promised Land. If Blake’s counter to the Bible constitutes one long pro-Satanic text, he can be excused for his pessimism. His opening to Chapter IX differs from much of the Five Books of Moses only in tone:
"Beneath the Net of Urizen.
Persuasion was in vain;
For the ears of the inhabitants
Were wither'd and deafen'd and cold,
And their eyes could not discern
Their brethren of other cities"
In the Book of Genesis, an aged Noah gets drunk and disrobes, to the dismay of his family. If that’s a sign of the times in the Bible, what can one expect from William Blake?