The Fascination of Blake

by andymarshall on January 9, 2007

Since the last meeting I have found that Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell has really stayed with me. And so I was delighted and interested to see a great piece by Philip Pullman in the Christmas edition of The New Statesman with an intensely personal view on how Blake resonates with us all. I’m delighted we spent time on this work.

I’ve pasted highlights of the feature below – click this link to read the original New Statesman article:

What I’ve come to cherish most of all in Blake, as I’ve grown older, is a quality that (to use his own term) I have to call prophetic. It is prophetic in two senses: it foretells, and, like the words of the Old Testament prophets, it warns, it carries a moral force. Furthermore, without being a Blakeian (except in the sense that I follow his own proclamation “I must create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s”), I admit that the words of Blake have joined a very small number of other texts as the best expression of the most important things I believe. If I didn’t believe them, I wouldn’t be able to work. How I came to believe them is another story, but I seem to have been feeling my way towards the principles set out below all my life. When I needed to find words for them, I found that Blake had already said what I wanted to say more clearly and powerfully than I ever could.

…and shew you all alive
The world, where every particle of dust
breathes forth its joy.

To begin with, then, this world, this extra ordinary universe in which we live and of which we are made, is material; and it is amorous by nature. Matter rejoices in matter, and each atom of it falls in love with other atoms and delights to join up with them to form complex and even more delightful structures.

Man has no Body distinct from his Soul;
for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five senses…

Things arise from matter-in-love-with-matter that are not themselves matter. Thoughts emerge from the unimaginable, the non-disentangle-able complexity of the body and the brain, thoughts that are not material, though they have analogues in material processes. You cannot say where one ends and the other begins, because each is an aspect of the other.

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense World of delight, clos’d by your senses five?

The consciousness that emerges from matter demonstrates that consciousness, like mass, is a normal property of the physical world, and much more widely present than human beings think.

2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

Bodily experience underlies, sustains, inspires, and cherishes mental experience. The mental templates on which are formed such things as metaphor, the very ways we understand and interpret our experience, are based on the ways our bodies move around in the world and interact with other physical entities.

A dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State

The visionary and the imaginative are not different realms from the political, but the very ground on which politics stands, the nourishing soil from which political awareness and action grow.

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

The fullest and most important subject of our study and our work is human nature and its relationship to the universe.

Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

Lastly, we should never forget that the work we do is infinitely worth doing. I know that this credo of mine is highly selective, and that it would be possible to put together passages from Blake to support a quite different set of propositions. What do I care about that? I have never doubted that Blake was larger than my understanding of him. Blake was a poet and artist before he was anything else, and he worked as all writers and artists do, feeling his way through the medium (the words, the forms, the colours) to the truth. There is an astonishing example of that in the draft of “The Sick Rose” in Blake’s notebook, now in the British Library. In the last line but one, he originally wrote “his dark secret love” – and then crossed out “his” and wrote “her”. Later he changed it back, but there was a stage in the composition of that poem, which is so simple and so rich in implication, when he might have turned it quite another way. The dense and disturbing lyrics in the Songs of Innocence and of Experience were not just pretty ways of dressing up ideas that had already been fully worked out in the medium of prose: they were the very hammer and anvil of thinking itself.

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