William Blake Poetry: British Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7325

William Blake’s focus is primarily on inner states; the drama of the later books has been called a psychomachia , a drama of the divided psyche. In Blake’s world, humankind was once integrated but suffered a Fall when reason sought to dominate the other faculties. The disequilibrium of the psyche,...

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William Blake’s focus is primarily on inner states; the drama of the later books has been called a psychomachia, a drama of the divided psyche. In Blake’s world, humankind was once integrated but suffered a Fall when reason sought to dominate the other faculties. The disequilibrium of the psyche, its reduced perception, is the creator of the natural world as it is now known.


The notion of “contraries” as defined and developed in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell provides a dialectical basis for the regeneration of this psyche. Contraries are to be understood as psychic or mental opposites that exist in a regenerated state, a redeemed paradisiacal state of unlimited energy and unbounded perception. Blake has in his total work depicted the progress to regeneration based on a conflict between contraries. Once contraries are accepted, energy is created, progress is inevitable, and reintegration occurs.

Blake’s paradisiacal man differs from fallen man only in that he is aware of his divinity. Paradisiacal man perceives the majesty of the imagination, the passions, the reason, and the senses. The imagination in the redeemed state is called Urthona, and after the Fall, Los. Urthona represents that fourfold, unbounded vision that is the normal attribute of the redeemed man. Such vision is not bound by the particulars it produces through contraction, nor is it bound by the unity it perceives when it expands. Blake, in the imagination’s true and saving role as poet, envisions the external world with a fourfold vision. Luvah, the passions or love, is represented after the Fall by Jesus, who puts on the robes of love to preserve some hint of divine love in the fallen world. Urizen, the zoa of reason, is the necessary boundary of energy, the wisdom that supplied form to the energies released by the other contraries. In the fallen world, he is the primary usurper of the dominion of other faculties. Tharmas, the zoa of the senses, has, in his paradisiacal form, unrestrained capacity to expand or contract his senses. In the fallen state, these senses remain but in an enervated condition. Sexuality, the sense of touch shared by two, is a means by which fallen man can regain his paradisiacal stature, but it is unfortunately a suppressed sense. The Blakean Fall that all the personified contraries suffer is a Fall from the divine state to the blind state, to the state in which none of their powers are free to express themselves beyond the severe limitations of excessive reason. Each of the contraries has his allotted place in the Fall; each sins either through commission or omission.

Contraries remain a concern of Blake from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell to the later prophecies: The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem. The metaphysic of contraries, the theoretical doctrine, is never denied. The opposition of energy to reason, however, dramatized in the Orc cycle, is no longer Blake’s “main act” in the later books. From Night IX in The Four Zoas onward, Los, who embodies something akin to the Romantic concept of the sympathetic imagination, becomes the agent of regeneration. It is he who can project himself into the existence of his polar opposite and can accept the existence of that contrary in the act of self-annihilation and consequently forgive. Thus, the theory of contraries has not altered; any contrary can assume a selfhood in conflict with dialectic progression itself. Los preserves the dialectic while Orc maintains a hierarchy.

Innocence and experience

Blake’s concern with the earthly states of Innocence and Experience, with a fallen body and its contraries, has been associated with religious apocalypse. Blake’s apocalypse involves a progression from Innocence to Experience and an acceptance of the contraries in those states. An acceptance of contraries would lead to the destruction of false perception and disequilibrium and eventually to a complete resurrection of the fallen body. Humanity would again possess divine proportions through a progressive development of its own nature rather than through obedience to the supposed laws of an external deity. Through the faculty of imagination, Blake intuits the divinity of humankind, the falseness of society, and the falseness of laws based on societal behavior. He perceives the spiritual essence of humans, displaying therefore a spiritual rather than a rational brand of humanism. Blake’s assumption that the human is a fallen god makes his psychology more than a psychology; and it makes his humanism an apocalyptic humanism. His diagnosis of the divided psyche becomes a revelation, and his therapy, an apocalypse. Blake himself dons the mantle of a prophet.

Able to see God and his angels at the age of four, Blake gave precedence in his life to vision over the natural world. He would continue to see through and not with the eye, and what he saw he would draw in bold outline as ineluctable truth. Ultimately, even the heterodoxy of Swedenborgianism was an encroachment on the supremacy of his own contact with the spiritual world. Early inspired by the revolutionary spirit of the times, he continued throughout his life to advocate a psychic revolution within each person that would lead to regeneration.

Archetypal themes

Blake’s mission throughout his work is always apocalyptic, although he creates a political terrain in the Lambeth books (The [First] Book of Urizen, The Book of Ahania, The Book of Los, and The Song of Los) and a psychological one in his later prophecies (The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem). His focus moves from a political-societal revolution of apocalyptic proportions to a psychic, perceptual regeneration of each individual person. It is the regenerated person who can perceive both a unity beyond all diversity and a diversity within that unity.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience demonstrates Blake’s concern for individual human life, in particular its course from innocence to experience. What are the destructive forces operating early on humans, on their childhoods, which ultimately imprison them and lead to “mind-forged manacles”? In Songs of Innocence, a glimpse of energies is uncircumscribed, of what humans were and again could be if they rightly freed themselves from a limited perception and repressed energies.

The later poems, The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem, are large-scale epics whose focus is a particularly Romantic one—epistemological and ontological transformation. Los, hero of the imagination, is not a hero who affirms the values of a culture, nor are his strengths and virtues uniformly admired by that culture. Like traditional epics, Blake’s epics begin in medias res, but because the natural world is usually seen unclearly, it is worthless to speak of its beginning, middle, or end. The reader who enters the world of Blake’s epics enters a psychic world, becomes a “mental traveller,” and in his purest states reaches heights traditionally reserved for deity in the Judeo-Christian tradition and deities in the epics of Homer and Vergil.

Blake’s work is not unconnected with the natural world, but he attempts to bracket out all but the irreducible elements of the archetypal, individual human life. Paradoxically, Blake’s work is characterized by less structural context than that of any poet of whom one could readily think; yet that work is such a dramatic reaction to the eighteenth century and such a dramatic revelation of the new Romanticism that it is unrivaled as an intense portrait of both sensibilities.

Humans imagining

In reaction to John Locke’s view that the perceiver is separated from the world because of his (or her) incapacity to do more than apprehend the secondary qualities of objects, Blake asserted the supremacy of individual perception. A human perceiving is a human imagining, an act that encompasses the totality of an individual’s energies and personality. What is perceived depends on the imaginative act. The world can be construed only imaginatively. Humanity, Blake held, can apprehend the infinity within only through imagination. The London of Blake’s poem of that name is a pitiable place because human imagination, human poetic genius, is repressed. London is at every moment available for imaginative transformation; so is every object in the natural world. In this view of imagination, Blake foreshadows Samuel Taylor Coleridge and especially Percy Bysshe Shelley and attacks the rationalism of the eighteenth century. The metaphysics of Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Locke were despicable because they elevated rationality and denied imagination, thus standing in the way of regeneration.

Besides disagreeing with the philosophy and psychology of his own day, Blake criticized traditional religious and aesthetic views. Humanity’s fallen perception created the world, not in seven days, but in what became a moment in time. Jesus was a man of revitalized perceptions, and he was fully conscious of his unlimited energies. Jesus was thus a supranatural man, one who had achieved the kind of regeneration that Blake felt it was in every person’s power to achieve. In art, Blake applauded the firm outline of Michelangelo and Raphael and despised the indeterminacy of Rubens and Titian. The artist who apprehended with strong imagination drew boldly because the truth was clearly perceived. Socially and politically, Blake, unlike Coleridge and William Wordsworth, remained unreconciled to the status quo. Blake’s revolutionary zeal, most pronounced in the Lambeth books, remained undiminished, urging him to portray error so that it could be cast out. Only Shelley equals Blake’s faith in poetic genius to transform the very nature of humanity and thus the very nature of the world humans perceive.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Songs of Innocence and of Experience shows “the two contrary states of the human soul.” The contraries cited in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are “Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate. . . .” However, because these songs are not sung outside either Innocence or Experience but from within those states, the contraries are not fully presented in their ideal forms. The songs are from corrupted states and portray disproportionate contraries. Theoretically, each contrary state acts as a corrective to the other, and contraries in the Songs of Innocence and of Experience are suggested either in the text of the poem or in the accompanying design.

The introduction song to Songs of Innocence and of Experience is a good example not only of Blake’s view of the role of Innocence and Experience in regeneration but also of the complexity of these seemingly simple songs. This song manages in its twenty lines to present a transition from absolute sensuous Innocence to a recognition of Experience and finally a transition to a higher state. The first stanza presents an almost complete picture of absolute carefree innocence. The adjective “wild” may imply a condemnation of an aspect of absolute Innocence. Because Blake believed that Experience brings an indispensable consciousness of one’s actions so that choice becomes possible, the essential flaw in the state of Innocence is that it does not provide the child with alternatives.

The second stanza of this lyric presents the image of the lamb, a symbol of Christ. The lamb, while creating the image of the Innocence of Christ, also exhibits the equally true image of Christ crucified. It is this symbol of Experience that brings tears to the child, and on a psychological level, the child is emerging from a “wild” unconscious realm to a realm of consciousness, of Experience.

The third stanza presents two interesting additions: The pipe is replaced by human song and the child weeps with joy. The pipe had first produced laughter and then tears, but it is the human voice that elicits the oxymoronic reaction of joyful weeping. It is only in the human form that the attributes of the two contrary states of Innocence and Experience can exist harmoniously. “Piping down the valley wild” had brought unconstrained laughter, while the figure of the Christ-lamb had brought a more tearful vision of Experience; yet in stanza 3, such contrary reactions exist, unresolved but coexistent, as do the contrary states that foster them.

The fourth stanza alludes to the loss of childhood through the disappearance of the child of the poem and implies that the elemental properties of Innocence remain after the departure of the physical state of childhood. By plucking the hollow reed, Blake, the piper and singer, reveals a move toward creation that is fully realized in the last stanza. From the vision of Experience of stanza 2, and the acceptance of the necessary contrary states of Innocence and Experience through their inherent qualities, laughter and tears, presented in stanza 3, Blake has reached the higher plateau of conscious selflessness described in stanzas four and five. Through the act of creation, the conscious selfless act, which intends to give joy to every child, the conscious selflessness of Blake’s paradisiacal reintegrated state is achieved.

The Book of Thel

In The Book of Thel, a young girl in Innocence named Thel is fearful of advancing to a state of Experience. Lily, Cloud, Clay, and Worm, symbols of innocence and experience, try to allay her fears. Experience may contain key contraries in extreme form; it may be the wrath of the father and the restraint of morality and the curtailment of vision, but it is a state that provides Thel her only opportunity of advancement, of completion and eventual salvation. Experience is a necessary step to the “peace and raptures holy” described by the Cloud. Thel, however, surveys the traditional misfortune of Experience—mortality. She finds no meaningful comfort in the Lily’s belief that from Experience, from death, one flourishes “in eternal vales.” Thel laments the consciousness that is hers when she takes a trial step into Experience. She finds morality, which represses sexual energy, unbearable. Thus, in spite of the eventual “peace and raptures holy” that Thel can proceed to from a state of Experience, her first look at that state proves too much for her. She flees Experience and consciousness to the vales of Har, the land of superannuated children, described in the poem Tiriel; it is a land of unfulfilled innocents who have refused to graduate into the world of Experience. A Songs of Innocence poem, “The Lamb,” and a Songs of Experience poem, “The Tyger,” depict the nature of perception in those states and the contraries that abide in each state. The poems may be viewed as “contrary poems.”

The questions of the child in “The Lamb” are not the reason’s questions but imagination’s—questions he can answer because he has perceived the identity of himself, the lamb, and God. The equation is formed thus: The lamb is Christ the lamb; the child is Christ as a child; and the lamb and child are therefore joined by their mutual identity with Christ. In Innocence, all life is perceived as one and holy. Because there are two contrary states of the human soul and “The Lamb” is a product of only one, Innocence, it is not possible to conclude that this poem depicts Blake’s paradisiacal state. The vines in the design are twisting about the sapling on both sides of the engraving, indicating in traditional symbolism the importance of going beyond childhood into Experience. If the child-speaker can see all life as one, can imaginatively perceive the whole, he cannot perceive the particularity, the diversity, which makes up that unity, which Experience’s reason so meticulously numbers and analyzes. Even as the adult speaker of “The Tyger” can see only a fragmented world that his imagination is too weak to unify, so the child-speaker cannot see the fragments that comprise the world.

The spontaneity and carefree abandon of the lamb in Innocence can in Experience no longer be perceived in the form of a lamb. The perceiver in Experience fears the energy of Innocence and therefore shapes it into a form that his reason has deemed frightening—that of a tiger. This form that the tiger of the poem “The Tyger” possesses is symmetrical, its symmetry lying in its perfect relationship with the energy it contains. It is a “fearful symmetry” only to the perceiver in Experience, who is riddled with the prejudices of Experience, prejudices regarding what is good and what is evil, what is rational and what is irrational, or wild. The moral hierarchy of Experience—good is good and evil is evil—does not permit the perceiver in Experience to perceive a Keatsian “fineness” in the tiger, a marvelous interrelationship of form and energy.

The reader goes back and forth in this poem from a vision of the energies of the unconscious mind to a perception of the boundaries of those energies. It is the mixture of energy and boundary that the speaker-perceiver finds disturbing. The tiger in the first stanza is seen as a burning figure in the night, perhaps symbolizing the burning vibrant passions repressed in the darkened areas of the mind. The tiger perceived by the speaker can live only in the dark because both reason and moral hierarchy have relegated it to that realm. The tiger is, in its energies, in its fire, too great for the conscious mind to accept; yet, like a recurrent nightmare, the tiger burns brightly and cannot be altogether denied. The tiger cannot be quietly integrated into the personality of the speaker-perceiver without doing severe damage to the structure of self carefully fabricated by reason and moral hierarchy. Rather than transform himself, question himself, the speaker-perceiver questions the tiger’s creator. What creator could possibly give form to such uncontrollable energy? How can such energy be satisfactorily bounded? The perceiver in Experience assumes that such energy as the tiger represents can be denied only through repression. It cannot be given necessary form; it must be perceived as having a fearful rather than a fine form. This speaker turns questioner and by his questioning reveals his subservience to analytical reason.

The questioner proceeds under the assumption that no creation can be greater than its creator, that in some way the dangerous, fearful energies of the tiger are amenable to that creator, are somehow part of that creator. Where is such a creator to be found? More specifically, where are those burning energies to be found in the spiritual realm? The questioner is already convinced that the creation of the tiger is a presumptuous act and he therefore concludes that Satan is the great presumer. This tiger is, therefore, in the questioner-perceiver’s mind, Satan’s work, a hellish creation forged in the fires not of Blake’s Hell but of a traditional Hell.

The final questions to be asked are merely rhetorical. The questioner has decided that his creator could never have created the tiger. The creator involved here has dared to create the tiger. There exists here a Manichaean split, a desperate attempt to answer the problem of the existence of evil. Part of humanity has been made by God and that part is good, while Satan has made the evil part of humanity, the part symbolized by the tiger. The only symbol of energy that the questioner-perceiver is prepared to face is that of the lamb. However, while the lamb sufficed in Innocence as representative of certain energies, it is no longer indicative of the growth of energy that is a mature person’s in Experience. The tiger of Experience expresses the symbolic balance of energy and reason, fire and form; however, only a perceiver whose energies are brought from Innocence and matured in Experience under the guidance of reason in necessary proportions can perceive that balance. This uncorrupted perceiver can see the child lying down with the tiger, as in “A Little Girl Found.” That tiger is the perfect symbol of the balance of contraries and is perceived as such; the tiger of “The Tyger” is also a perfect symbol but improperly perceived.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The raison d’être of the incorporation of all contraries as they are perceived in the two contrary states, Innocence and Experience, is provided in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It fulfills more than a mere metaphysical role. It is the foundation of Blake’s prophecy, the basis not of extended system but of vision. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell preserves the whole body of contraries by a relentless attack on all divisive factors. Dualism in all areas is negated and the suppressed half of the fallen body, represented by the suppressed division of contraries, is supported and affirmed in opposition to the deadening voices of the “Angels.”

The framework of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is traditional Judeo-Christian religion and morality. Blake completely alters and destroys this traditional structure and replaces it with an equal acceptance of the two contrary states of the human soul and their inherent contraries. Energies that are indigenous to childhood must take their place alongside the necessary contraries of Experience—reason, repulsion, and hate. The traditional moral hierarchy of good over evil allows one state and its contraries to have ascendancy over the other. Blake boldly adopts the standard nomenclature and marries good and evil as true opposites, essential contraries. Both the passive and active traits of humankind’s nature are assumed. Rather than an exclusive emphasis on good, as in the Judeo-Christian ethic, or evil, as in sadism, Blake seeks the reintegration of the unity of humans through the opposition of these strategic contraries. Once Blake’s doctrine of contraries as presented in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is understood, it becomes clearer what Songs of Innocence and of Experience is describing, what the basis of Orc’s battle on behalf of energy in the Lambeth books is, and in what way Los preserves the contraries in the later books.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a theoretical base for Blake’s vision; however, the form of the work is by no means expository. It presents a dialectic of contraries in dialectical form. Blake’s dialectic is not a system of reason in the Hegelian sense, not a system leading to an external synthesis and to the creation of new contraries. Blake’s dialectic is composed of contraries immanent in the human personality, contraries that do not change but that generate increasing energy.

In the “Argument” section, “keeping the perilous path” refers to primal unity, Blakean primal unity, and means maintaining all contraries. The man in the vale maintains the dialectic between the conscious and unconscious mind. In Blake’s view, once the “path is planted,” once the Fall has occurred, man must journey forward, through Innocence and Experience to reintegration.

In Plate 3, Blake declares the immanence of contraries within the human personality and denies the moral dualism of the Judeo-Christian ethic. These contraries are not illusory; their opposition is real, but one contrary does not subsume or upset another. No hierarchy is imposed. The energies that are traditionally classified as “good” are not superior to the energies traditionally classified as “evil.” Neither is the reverse true, because Blake is no disciple of the Marquis de Sade. In Blake’s view, the hierarchy of morality is particularly insidious because it prevents man from espousing contraries and achieving the progression resulting from that act.

In Plate 4, Blake indicates that the contraries transcend the dualism of body and soul. It is the Devil who proclaims the body as the only portion of the soul, and thus Blake’s Devil is his hero, his spokesman. This identification of the soul with the observable, physical body, when combined with Blake’s notion of progression based on a dialectic of contraries, implies that although the body is a mere portion of the soul, its most debased portion, it is the only medium available to man by which an amplified body, a spiritual body or soul, can be reached. Contraries existing within the body that are perceived in this fallen world are accepted in pursuit of “ideal” or amplified contraries. In Blake’s view, the body and its contraries are sacred.

In Plates 5 and 6, Blake’s Devil says that energies are too often repressed. The person who represses his energies in turn suppresses the energies of others. Plate 5 begins the “Proverbs of Hell” section. The proverbs are designed to strengthen the imagination of the reader so that the dynamic of contraries is perceived. Once the reader perceives imaginatively the reality of this dynamic, the dynamic is maintained and energy ensues. Ever-increasing energy leads to ever-expanding perception, and perception, for Blake, ultimately determines ontology. The Proverbs of Hell are pithy “consciousness raisers,” each demonstrating the dynamic or dialectic of contraries in both content and form.

Plate 11 continues Blake’s assault on the priesthood. In Plates 12 and 13, Blake allies himself with the prophets, Isaiah and Ezekiel—voices of “firm persuasion” and “honest indignation.” In Plates 14 and 15, Blake describes the creative process that produced The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He further defines the psychic terrain in Plate 16 by presenting two groups, “Prolific” and “Devourer,” that can be seen as personified categories incorporating all dichotomies previously discussed in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; Devil-Evil-Energy-Hell are subsumed by the Prolific, and Angel-Good-Reason-Heaven are subsumed by the Devourer. Plates 17 to 20 contain Blake’s “fantastic” satirical drama between an Angel and Blake, as Devil. Limited or bounded perception creates a world and an end for itself that a liberated, diabolical perception can alter in the twinkling of an eye. The Angel perceives such a world of error because he has no sense of the dynamic interplay of contraries, no idea that “Opposition is true Friendship.”

The French Revolution

Some of the political implications of Blake’s doctrines in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are evident in The French Revolution. This poem of twenty pages, posthumously published, has no accompanying designs and was written for the radical publisher Joseph Johnson. It is conjectured that by 1791 it was dangerous for an Englishman to express a revolutionary enthusiasm inspired by the French Revolution. In this poem, Blake’s own political radicalism is not couched in symbolic terms, and therefore, he may have had second thoughts about printing it and risking imprisonment. Blake chronicles, with ample poetic license, the period in France from June 19 to July 15, when the king’s troops were dispersed. Louis XVI and his nobles debate their course of action in the light of the growing revolution outside, and they finally decide to remove the troops surrounding Paris. In Blake’s telling, this decision represents a renewed perception on the part of the king and his nobles. The Bastille, a symbol of political repression, consequently falls. In actuality, the Bastille fell before the decision was made to remove the king’s troops.


There is more of what will become Blake’s completed mythology in America than there is in The French Revolution. Besides historical characters such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine, Blake here introduces Orc and Urizen, personifications of revolutionary energy and reason. In a preludium or preface, Vala, the shadowy female who symbolizes North America, is in chains. Her liberation occurs through her sexual relations with the fiery Orc. To Blake, therefore, a successful American revolution is not only political but also sexual. George III is the Angel of Albion (England) who worships Urizen and Urizen’s law of the Ten Commandments. These two attempt to saturate America with their own diseases by sending a plague across the Atlantic to America. However, the plague is countered by the revolutionary zeal of Orc, who replaces the oppressions of Urizen with genuine political and sexual freedom. All Europe is affected by this revolution, but England, seeking the protection of Urizen, hurries to rebuild the gates of repression, the gates of moral good and evil and a dominant rationality.

Blake’s Orc, revolutionary energy, successfully counters Urizen (“your reason”) just as the French Revolution countered the Ancient Regime. However, the French Revolution lost its revolutionary energy in the tyranny of Napoleonic France. It became obvious to Blake that historical, political solutions—revolutions—could not effect a break in the historical cycle, a break that would be an apocalypse. Thus, in The Four Zoas, Orc becomes a destructive force in nature, an opponent of reason totally oblivious to reason’s importance on a regenerated scale. Orc becomes as tied to the natural, unregenerated cycle as Vala, the embodiment of the natural process itself.

Although Urizen is easily defeated by Orc in America, he remains an important character in Blake’s myth. He is at once Nobodaddy, a comical, ridiculous father figure, and the Ancient of Days, depicted with grandeur in the frontispiece to Europe: A Prophecy. Urizen represents the urge to structure and systematize, to reduce all to rational terms. In the language of our own day, he recognizes only what can be quantified and, like a good logical positivist, seeks empirical referents to instill meaning in words.


Europe can be viewed as a continuation of America in which revolutionary zeal has been replaced by a repressive conservatism that binds both energies and perceptions. The time is the birth of Jesus, a time of possible regeneration through his example. This possibility is not realized and the world falls into a long sleep, an eighteen-hundred-year sleep of Nature. Los, the poetic genius, naïvely rejoices in a promise of peace while Urizen is attempting to rule outside his own domain; and Los’s female counterpart, Enitharmon, is a victim of Urizen’s dominion and seeks to bind sexual love with moral law. Urizen solidifies his rule, his brazen book of law that ignores imagination, forgiveness, and the necessity of self-annihilation. Edmund Burke and William Pitt, represented by the characters Palamabron and Rintrah, are also under the dominion of Urizen and Enitharmon. The revolutionary spirit of the youth of England is doomed. Pitt-Rintrah three times attempts to lead England to war, into total devastation. In Blake’s view, however, Sir Isaac Newton and his system are the real beginning of devastation in England. Newton’s blast on the trumpet does not lead to glorious apocalypse but to death-in-life. Enitharmon wakes and calls her perverted children to her—materialism, delusion, hypocrisy, sensualism, and seduction. The poem ends with Orc inspiring the French Revolution, the spirit of which will be challenged by a Urizenic England. Los, the poetic genius, summons his sons to the coming strife, but it is as yet unclear what his precise role will be. That role is defined in The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem.

The [First] Book of Urizen and The Book of Los

In The [First] Book of Urizen and The Book of Los, Blake does not present a cryptic intermingling of history and myth but rather a first attempt at describing his cosmogony and theogony. The Book of Los tells the story of the Fall from Los’s point of view and The [First] Book of Urizen from Urizen’s point of view. Thus, the texts interconnect and gloss each other. The Fall is a fall into creation, one precipitated by Urizen’s desire for painless joy, for laws binding everything, for “One King, one God, one Law.” Urizen’s usurpation of power is clearly an act of the Selfhood, a condition in which the legitimacy and importance of other energies are not recognized.

Los, as imagination, is the epistemological faculty by which truth or error is perceived. Urizen’s revolt on behalf of reason skews perception and plunges Los into the Fall. The world of time and space, the Natural World, is formed by Los, and both Los and Urizen, fallen, are bound to this Natural World. A fall into sexuality follows the fall into materiality. Sexuality is subject to moral constraints. Science is a woven “woof,” which is created to hide the void. Orc is born but his youthful exuberance is bound by the perversions of the Net of Religion, a direct product of the perverted dream of Reason. Urizen explores the dens of the material world and observes the shrunken nature of a humanity that has completely forgotten its eternal life.

The Song of Los

The Song of Los can be viewed as the mythological framework for America and Europe. The first part of Los’s song, “Africa,” recounts history leading up to George III—Guardian Prince of Albion’s war against the Americans, as depicted in America. What exists here is also a historical counterpart to the mythology presented in The [First] Book of Urizen and The Book of Los. Dark delusion was given Moses on Sinai; abstract law to Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato; a wretched gospel to Jesus; and the reprehensible Philosophy of the Five Senses to Newton and Locke. The second section, “Asia,” is a continuation of Europe; it does not speak of events but of the psychological-physiological consequences of Urizen’s reign. King, Priest, and Counsellor can only restrain, dismay, and ruin humanity in the service of Urizen. Orc rages over France, but the earth seems too shrunken, humankind too imprisoned to heed. Again, Orc himself, as revolutionary energy, is a questionable savior as he is described as a serpent. The energy of the French Revolution had become debased, and although Blake hoped for a renewal of its original energies, he was already too skeptical of revolution to present Orc as a hero.

The Book of Ahania

The Book of Ahania takes its name from Urizen’s female counterpart or emanation, who comes into existence when Fuzon, an Orc-like figure, battles Urizen. Urizen immediately calls Ahania sin, hides her, and suffers jealousy. Ahania becomes the “mother of Pestilence,” the kind of pestilence that is a result of a sexuality restrained by the moral law. Urizen’s mind, totally victimized by a repressive rationality and the resulting morality, breeds monsters. From the blood of one of these monsters, Urizen forms a bow and shoots a rock at Fuzon, killing him. Fuzon is pictured as a revolutionary who has assumed the seat of tyranny previously occupied by Urizen. Urizen nails Fuzon to a tree, an act that imitates the death of Christ, Christ as rebel. Fuzon dies because he has not broken the material cycle and is thus vulnerable to the repressive laws of the material world. In the same fashion, the creators of the French Revolution failed to achieve a significant ontological and epistemological revolution and therefore became ensnared once again in nets of mystery that led to the Reign of Terror. Fuzon and the French Revolutionaries achieve no true revolution and fall victim to the “black rock” formed by a mind whose energies are repressed in the name of reason and its countless offshoots.

Visions of the Daughters of Albion

One of the ways to Blakean regeneration is through sexuality, specifically through a reassimilation of the female emanation and the re-creation of the Edenic androgynous body. In Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Oothoon is a female emanation; Theotormon is her male counterpart and a victim of a repressive moral code; Bromion is a spokesman of that code. Sexually, Oothoon represents the Prolific; the Devourer equivalent, the opposing sexual nature, must be created in Experience. Jerusalem, in the poem Jerusalem, becomes that female emanation cognizant of the nature of the regenerated, androgynous body, and she has gained that knowledge in Experience.

Oothoon is raped by Bromion, and Theotormon treats her like a harlot because she has been raped. Oothoon’s imagination gives her a vision of her intrinsic sexual nature. Her vision is of the body, the sexual body no less, a body that is not distinct from the soul. In her newfound identity, Oothoon tries to bring Theotormon to the same vision, tries to bring him beyond the moral categories; but Theotormon demands a rational proof for all living things. Why, he asks implicitly, should he believe Oothoon is pure when the moral code clearly states that she is not pure? Bromion declares that only what can be perceived by the five senses has merit. Oothoon attacks priests and their restraining moral ethic but finally gives up trying to win Theotormon to her newly liberated vision. Her comprehension of the warped picture of sexuality in Experience as demonstrated by Theotormon and Bromion causes her to conclude that Experience has nothing to offer. Although she is not blinded regarding her own sexual nature, she is unable to reunite with Theotormon, male sexuality, and is denied a vision of sexuality based on energies of both Innocence and Experience. Thus, sexual relations, androgyny, and regeneration are denied both Oothoon and Theotormon.

The Four Zoas

The Four Zoas is an unengraved poem written in two overlapping stages. The main characters, Luvah, Urizen, Tharmas, and Urthona, are the “zoas” of the human personality, each representing an inherent, indivisible quality of the human personality. However, these characters are true characters and not mere allegorical representations. The Four Zoas is Blake’s account of a split in the Edenic personality of Man, called Albion, of a Fall into the cycle of the natural world, and of the labors of Los, the imagination, to reunite and regenerate the four zoas. This poem is both a historical drama inevitably unfolded in time and space and a psychological drama, one in which time and space have no validity. As a historical drama, the poem lends itself to the kinds of historical connections made in Europe or America, but this is not a consistent base from which to read the poem, nor will expectations of a conventional narrative structure be at all fruitful.

The poem begins when Luvah and Vala rush from the loins and into the heart and on to the brain, where they replace Urizen’s ordering of the body’s life with their own cyclical, generative ordering. This sleeping man, Albion, who has within him the whole world—the powers to contract and expand—wakes up in Night VIII of the poem. Albion was asleep because he was in repose in Beulah, a state of threefold perception between Eden (fourfold perception) and Generation (twofold perception). To be in Beulah is to be at rest from the dynamic interplay of contraries of Eden, Blake’s paradisiacal state. The aura of Eden pervades Beulah but the threat of the lower state, Generation, is always present. A fall into a reduced perception is always imminent. In The Four Zoas, that fall occurs. The fall into Generation is a fall into the natural world; it is Blake’s version of the biblical Fall.

In the state of Generation, Urizen declares himself God; the “mundane shell,” the material world, is built, and Jesus appears and is sacrificed so that regeneration can become possible. Jesus is identified with Luvah, love; with Orc, revolutionary energy battling Urizen in the Lambeth Books; and with Albion, Universal Man. Under Jesus’s inspiration, Los perceives the errors of the Fall and begins to build Jerusalem, a spiritual freedom in which regeneration is possible. From Night IX in The Four Zoas onward into Milton and Jerusalem, Los, who embodies something akin to the Romantic concept of sympathetic imagination, becomes the agent of regeneration. It is Los who can project himself into the existence of his contrary, can accept the existence of that contrary in the act of “self-annihilation,” and can consequently forgive. Thus, in the later books, the theory of contraries is not altered; any contrary can assume a selfhood in conflict with dialectical progression itself. Los preserves the dialectic, while Orc maintains a hierarchy—“saviour” and “villain.”


The historicalJohn Milton is revived in Blake’s Milton so that he can experience a personal self-annihilation that leads to the incorporation of his Spectre, Satan. Blake’s Milton is a Milton of energy and imagination, a Milton determined to correct his view (expressed in Paradise Lost, 1667, 1674) that love “hath his seat in Reason.” Through self-annihilation, Blake’s Milton acknowledges the validity of Reason, his Spectre. Once Milton is united with his Spectre, he can preach effectively to the public. The repression of the reasoning power is peculiar only to the Blakean “heroes,” such as Blake’s Milton. Outside this Blakean world, in the world of Innocence and Experience, the reasoning power is not repressed but assumes the role of usurper, a faculty of mind that has overridden the powers of all other faculties. Reason as Blake perceived it in the eighteenth century was in complete control. It is this unrepressed, dominant, reasoning power that Milton calls a “Negation.” The reasoning power that Blake’s Milton finally accepts is reason as Spectre, not as Negation, reason in its Edenic proportions.

An act of self-annihilation also precipitates the union of female emanation and the fallen male principle. Blake’s Milton is reconciled with his emanation, Ololon. What Blake’s Milton undergoes here becomes a precedent for what Los and other contraries will undergo. In annihilating his Selfhood, the Los-Blake-Devil Selfhood, Blake’s Milton shows that reason is a necessary contrary, that man is not ruled by energies alone. The Spectre as reason has been accepted and Blake’s Milton attains an expanded perception. His emanation perceives her power fade. In “delighting in his delight,” they are again one in sexuality.

Blake’s Milton enables the contraries to be saved, enables a dynamic interplay of contraries once again to take place. In contrast, Orc’s obdurate maintenance of his own Selfhood and his denial of Urizen’s reality in any proportions did not preserve Edenic contraries and could not therefore lead to regeneration. Blake’s Milton achieves self-annihilation through forgiveness, itself based on the imagination. It is Los, the imagination, who perceives the dialectic of contraries and recognizes the message of continued forgiveness. It is Los, the imagination, who is employed by each contrary in recognition of its polar opposite.


In Jerusalem, Los and the Spectre of Urthona take center stage. Los addresses his Spectre as “my Pride & Self-righteousness,” indicating that the Spectre’s presence tends to affirm Los’s obdurate Selfhood. Throughout Jerusalem, the reader witnesses a “compensatory” relationship between the Spectre and Los, although the Spectre seems to be “watching his time with glowing eyes to leap upon his prey.” In Chapter IV, Los ends this struggle with his Spectre by accepting it. Once Los, identified here with Blake, becomes one with his Spectre, he appears to Albion, fallen humankind, in the form of Jesus and preaches forgiveness based on imaginative identification and self-annihilation. Jesus-Los annihilates himself before Albion and thus points to the necessary destruction of the Selfhood. Overwhelmed by this act, imaginatively caught in Jesus-Los’s sacrifice, the albatross drops from Albion’s neck, and it is the Selfhood. This is the apocalyptic moment when Albion, like the phoenix, descends to the flames and rises anew. Regeneration is intimately connected with self-annihilation, as it was in Milton.

Albion’s emanation, Jerusalem, is also spiritual freedom. A reassimilation of Jerusalem generates a climate of freedom in which contraries can interact. Jerusalem as an emanation is beyond morality. She represents the whole of life, but a fallen Albion applies “one law” to her. Because of this application of a rigid “one law,” a rigid hierarchical ethic, Jerusalem is separated from Albion. A female emanation repressed becomes a tyrant. Blake gives readers a close view of this “proud Virgin-Harlot,” whom he calls Vala. The Vala whom Blake presents is corrupt, since she stands for restraint in all areas, especially moral, as opposed to Jerusalem-as-liberty. The Vala figure, advocate of a repressive morality, both tempts and lures, and also upholds the sense of sin. She thus becomes woman-as-tyrant. She is the femme fatale who incites desire but never acts. Such a morality turns love into prostitution, the free lover into a prostitute.

Again, Los, the imagination, perceives the validity of Jesus’s word to Jerusalem regarding forgiveness, annihilation, and regeneration. Los applies what he has learned, unites with his own Spectre, and sends him forth to preach the methods of regeneration—forgiveness and self-annihilation. Albion regains his Jerusalem; spiritual freedom once again exists; and England itself has apocalyptically become Jerusalem, the city of God.

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William Blake World Literature Analysis