We are beginning to break into the secrets of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. There were some wonderful insights in class this week about the relationship of the opening poem to the text of this prophetic book as a whole. War in France and America are, for Blake, mirroring the war described so vividly in Isaiah 34:
And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.… The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow...
while the promises of Isaiah 35 predict the new age of well-being and harmony that follow the revolutionary cleansing of the previous chapter:
…the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
These two movements are mirrored precisely in “The Argument” which opens this prophetic book, and in fact the book as a whole can be seen as a dramatization of the ways in which all things that stand in the way of liberty and personal freedom are gradually dismantled. In Blake’s case the agent was not physical revolution but poetry. Blake aligns himself with the voice of “The Ancient Bard” – in Plate 11 it is with “The ancient Poets”- and this alignment – through the vision that these poets have- is Blake’s way of creating a pathway towards Golgonooza, the city in which art, poetry, music transfigures the world of ideologies that breed violence and corruption. So it is amazing the way that Blake’s contemporary meaning – meanings that still have such resonance for us today- are so deeply intertextually aligned with the Bible.
Here are some Questions you might like to tackle as an aid to understanding more deeply the essence of this amazing Prophetic Book:
1/ Pick your top five Proverbs of Hell and say why you have designated these as “top”.
2/ Write a letter to William Blake telling him how much you appreciate his daring to challenge conventional pious views about Jesus.
3/ Find a single line in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and write a short paragraph explaining what it is about this line that you find so arresting.
4/ Explore some of the images that Blake has designed for this book. Chose one and say how you see it amplifying the words on the page.
5/ Tell your story of what you saw when you entered “a Printing house in Hell”…..
6/ Compose your own topic that arises from your wrestle with The Marriage…