Today we explore all those sections of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that provide a real insight into Blake’s deepest creative purpose and that also help us to understand where Patrick White was coming from in Riders in the Chariot. So we looked at his subversive “Proverbs of Hell” which sanctify the unsanctifiable (in conventional religion); we looked at his praise of “the ancient Poets” and the Prophets (Ezekiel and Isaiah) who had the capacity (unlike Priests and Philosophers) to “discover the infinite in everything” – and therefore assist in the cleansing of the “doors of perception”; we looked at the Memorable Fancy in plates 23 and 24 which champions Christ as the antinomian law-breaker who dared to challenge the outmoded rigid morality of the Pharisees. Finally we looked at “A Song of Liberty” where Blake dares to celebrate the breaking down of the walls of the Bastille in 1789 “rend down thy dungeon” and goes on, in the face of King George’s opposition to all revolution, to dramatize the way the spirit of revolution dares to stamp “the stony law to dust” shouting “Empire is no more! and now the lion & wolf shall cease”. It is no wonder that Blake did not put his signature to this work. Had he done so, and had someone read this, he would undoubtedly have ended up either hanged or transported to NSW!
Our lecture today began with a wonderful brief insight into what lies behind part of William Blake’s large work depicting the Canterbury Pilgrims. We had the privilege of having Professor Paul Hardwick from Leeds Trinity University in England telling us about his passion for Chaucer, The Medieval World and for Chaucer’s The Plowman in particular. Paul’s lecture helped our understanding of some of the reasons behind Blake’s interest in the pilgrims. Here is a quote by Blake which underpins his vision of these characters:
“Of Chaucer’s characters, as described in his Canterbury Tales, some of the names or titles are altered by time, but the characters themselves for ever remain unaltered, and consequently they are the physiognomies or lineaments of universal human life, beyond which Nature never steps. Names alter, things never alter.” – William Blake
You can listen to Paul’s lecture on this at the start of the lecture presented below. Thank you Paul!
In the lecture today we explored the way Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell was in fact a subversion of the traditional Bible and we went on to explore “The Song of Liberty”. Remember where Blake says, in Plate 24: I have also: The Bible of Hell: which the world shall have whether they will or no.
For Blake the actual Marriage of Heaven and Hell occurs in plate 23/24 when the sanctimonious, commandment-loving Angel finally gives up his/her smug sense of superiority and happily embraces the flames of fire and joins the Devil’s party, a party which believes in the presence of God in each and every human being. Prior to this moment of transformation the Angel is committed to a hierarchical view of the universe in which God controls everything and human beings are all “fools, sinners, & nothings”. This is certainly how Blake saw the attitude of the churches of his time towards people in general. It is for this reason that he attacked the tyranny of the church along with the tyranny of the law and the tyranny of the state. The image above, of Nebuchadnezzar on his knees, is Blake’s image of the justifiable fear that those in authority should feel. Nebuchadnezzar was the tyrant king who was punished by being driven into the fields for seven years. Some of Blake’s audience may well have seen this as a depiction of King George III. Like King Louise of France, King George would be confronting the forces of republicanism. In this picture he is terrified. The proverb underneath him “One Law for the Lion & the Ox is Oppression” is Blake’s way of attacking the social injustices perpetrated by the law courts of his day. This was the period during which a poverty stricken man could be transported for 7 years to Australia for stealing a hat or an 11 year old girl on the streets could be transported for stealing clothes to keep herself warm. This girl, Mary Wade, is part of the family tree of Kevin Rudd.
This concluding plate in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is followed by “The Song of Liberty” which is in fact the first work of the “Bible of Hell” which Blake promised in the above Plate (Plate 24). This “Song” announces the start of a new age in which the narrator is presented as a prophet of revolution. The new king of this revolution is the Devil himself, someone who does not see human beings as “fools, sinners, & nothings”, but rather as carriers -each and every one of them- of God, of the Divine energy, for – as the last line of “The Song of Liberty” democratically declares:
For every thing that lives is Holy
After this excursion into the depths of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell we looked ahead at how to understand Blake’s representation of The Book of Job and also how to link Brett Whiteley’s painting Alchemy to all these concerns. We also discussed the ways in which Blake’s vision of the imaginative power of his prophets (Ezekiel and Isaiah) played directly into Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot. Please listen to the end of the lecture to details about these additional elements.
Please find Paul’s slides here: Sydney PowerPoint
You can find my slides in LEO.
Blog Topics for Week 6
1/ CRITICAL Say whether Blake’s view of the Divine challenges or expands your own views of Religion.
2/ CREATIVE Take any one of Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” and expand its significance by describing its relevance to life TODAY. This can be either in the form of a poem or a short prose piece.
3/ CREATIVE In your own words, using your own imagination, continue a story that begins: “Once I saw a Devil in a flame….
4/ CRITICAL Create a Digital Kit that gives a range of annotated resources to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
5/ CREATIVE Imagine the character that lies behind this face:
6/ Don’t forget you are always permitted to create and write your own topic- in any week. And don’t forget your peer reviews!!