The Book of Los also examines man's fall and the binding of Urizen, but from the perspective of Los whose task it is to place a limit on the chaotic separation begun by Urizen. The decayed world is again one of ignorance where there is "no light from the fires." From this chaos the bare outlines of the human form begin to appear:
Many ages of groans, till there grew
Branchy forms organizing the Human
Into finite inflexible organs.
The human senses are pale imitations of the true senses that allow one to perceive eternity. Urizen's world where man now lives is spoken of as an "illusion" because it masks the spiritual world that is everywhere present.
In The Song of Los, Los sings of the decayed state of man, where the arbitrary laws of Urizen have become institutionalized:
Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave
Laws & Religions to the sons of Har, binding them more
And more to Earth, closing and restraining,
Till a Philosophy of five Senses was complete.
Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke.
The "philosophy of the five senses" espoused by scientists and philosophers argues that the world and the mind are like industrial machines operating by fixed laws but devoid of imagination, creativity, or any spiritual life. Blake condemns this materialistic view of the world espoused in the writings of Newton and Locke.
Although man is in a fallen state, the end of the poem points to the regeneration that is to come:
Orc, raging in European darkness,
Arose like a pillar of fire above the Alps,
Like a serpent of fiery flame!
The coming of Orc is likened not only to the fires of revolution sweeping Europe, but also to the final apocalypse when the "Grave shrieks with delight."
The separation of man is also examined in The Book of Ahania, which Blake later incorporated in Vala, or The Four Zoas. In The Book of Ahania Urizen is further divided into male and female forms. Urizen is repulsed by his feminine shadow that is called Ahania:
He groan'd anguish'd, & called her Sin,
Kissing her and weeping over her;
Then hid her in darkness, in silence,
Jealous, tho' she was invisible.
Blake satirizes the biblical and Miltonic associations of sin and lust. "Ahania" in Blake's poem is only a "sin" in that she is given that name. Urizen, the lawgiver, can not accept the liberating aspects of sexual pleasure. At the end of the poem, Ahania laments the lost pleasures of eternity:
"Where is my golden palace?
Where my ivory bed?
Where the joy of my morning hour?
Where the sons of eternity singing."
The physical pleasures of sexual union are celebrated as an entrance to a spiritual state. The physical union of man and woman is sign of the spiritual union that is to come.
At the same time as he was writing these individual poems that center on aspects of man's fall, Blake was also composing an epic poem on the fall of man into separate identities. Blake originally called the poem Vala and later changed the name to The Four Zoas. He worked on the poem for a number of years but never completed it. It survives in manuscript form with rough designs for illustrations, but it never became one of the "illuminated books."
The Four Zoas is subtitled "The Torments of Love and Jealousy in the Death and Judgement of Albion the Ancient Man," and the poem develops Blake's myth of Albion, who represents both the country of England and the unification of all men. Albion is composed of "Four Mighty Ones": Tharmas, Urthona, Urizen, and Luvah. Originally, in "Eden," these four exist in the unity of "The Universal Brotherhood." At this early time all parts of man lived in perfect harmony, but now they are fallen into warring camps. The poem traces the changes in Albion:
His fall into Division & his Resurrection to Unity:
His fall into the Generation of decay & death, & his
Regeneration by the Resurrection from the dead.
The poem begins with Tharmas and examines the fall of each aspect of man's identity. The poem progresses from disunity toward unity as each Zoa moves toward final unification.
In the apocalyptic "Night the Ninth," the evils of oppression are overturned in the turmoil of the Last Judgment:
The thrones of Kings are shaken, they have lost their robes & crowns
The poor smite their oppressors, they awake up to the harvest.
The final overthrow of all kings and tyrants that earthly revolutions tried but failed to achieve will be accomplished on the last day. The "harvest" imagery is from the Book of Revelations and represents the process of gathering and discarding that marks the progress of man's soul on the last day.
As dead men are rejuvenated, Christ, the "Lamb of God," is brought back to life and sheds the evils of institutionalized religions:
Thus shall the male & female live the life of Eternity,
Because the Lamb of God Creates himself a bride & wife
That we his Children evermore may live in Jerusalem
Mother of myriads redeem'd & born in her spiritual palaces,
By a New Spiritual birth Regenerated from Death.
The heavenly City of Jerusalem is the true form of God's church. The earthly city of Jerusalem and the numerous forms of religions are but pale imitations of that true religion where God and the church are joined. In that City man's separate identities are reunited, and man is reunited with God.
Very little of Blake's poetry of the 1790s was known to the general public. His reputation as an artist was mixed. Response to his art ranged from praise to derision, but he did gain some fame as an engraver. He received several commissions, the most important probably being his illustrations to Edward Young's Night Thoughts. In 1795 the publisher and bookseller Richard Edwards commissioned Blake to illustrate the then-famous poems of Young. Blake produced 537 watercolor designs of which 43 were selected for engraving. The first volume of a projected four-volume series was published in 1797. However, the project did not prove financially successful, and no further volumes were published. After the disappointment of that project, Blake's friend and admirer Flaxman commissioned Blake to illustrate the poems of Thomas Gray. Blake painted 116 watercolors and completed the project in 1798. Blake was also aided by his friend Thomas Butts, who commissioned a series of biblical paintings. His commissions did not produce much in the way of income, but Blake never seems to have been discouraged. In 1799 Blake wrote to George Cumberland, "I laugh at Fortune & Go on & on."
Because of his monetary woes, Blake often had to depend on the benevolence of patrons of the arts. This sometimes led to heated exchanges between the independent artist and the wealthy patron. Dr. John Trusler was one such patron whom Blake failed to please. Dr. Trusler was something of a dabbler in a variety of fields. Aside from being a clergyman, he was a student of medicine, a bookseller, and the author of such works as Hogarth Moralized (1768), The Way to be Rich and Respectable(1750?), and A Sure Way to Lengthen Life with Vigor (circa 1819). Blake's friend Cumberland had recommended Blake to Trusler in hopes of providing some needed income for Blake. Blake, however, found himself unable to follow the clergyman's wishes: "I attempted every morning for a fortnight together to follow your Dictate, but when I found my attempts were in vain, resolv'd to shew an independence which I know will please an Author better than slavishly following the track of another, however admirable that track may be. At any rate, my Excuse must be: I could not do otherwise; it was out of my power!" Dr. Trusler was not convinced and replied that he found Blake's "Fancy" to be located in the "World of Spirits" and not in this world.
Blake's rebuttal is a classic defense of his own principles. To the charge that Blake needed someone to "elucidate" his idea, Blake replied with characteristic wrath: "That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care. The wisest of the Ancients consider'd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because it rouzes the faculities to act." Blake relies on a basic principle of rhetoric that is evident in his writing: it is often best to leave some things unsaid so that the reader must employ his imagination. To the charge that his visions were not of this world, Blake replied that he had seen his visions in this world, but not all men see alike: "As a man is, So he Sees. As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers. You certainly Mistake, when you say that the Visions of Fancy are not to be found in This World. To Me This World is all One continued Vision of Fancy or Imagination." The problem then is not the location of Blake's subjects, but the relative ability of man to perceive. If Dr. Trusler could not understand Blake's drawings, the problem was his inability to see with the imagination.
Dr. Trusler was not the only patron that tried to make Blake conform to popular tastes. Blake's stormy relation to his erstwhile friend and patron William Hayley directly affected the writing of the epics Milton and Jerusalem. When Blake met him Hayley was a well-known man of letters who had produced several popular volumes of poetry. His Triumphs of Temper (1781), which admonishes women to control their tempers in order to be good wives, was very popular. In 1800 under Hayley's promptings Blake moved from London to the village of Felpham, where Hayley lived. It was expected that Blake would receive numerous engraving commissions, and his financial problems would disappear.
Hayley did provide Blake with some small commissions. Blake began work on a series of eighteen "Heads of the Poets" for Hayley's library and worked on the engravings for Hayley's Life of Cowper (1802). Hayley also set Blake to work on a series of small portraits, but Blake soon bristled under the watchful eye of his patron. In January of 1803 Blake wrote to Butts that "I find on all hands great objections to my doing anything but the meer drudgery of business, & intimations that if I do not confine myself to this, I shall not live; this has always pursu'd me." In the same letter Blake argued that his duty to his art must take precedence to the necessity of making money: "But if we fear to do the dictates of our Angels, & tremble at the Tasks set before us; if we refuse to do Spiritual Acts because of natural Fears of natural Desires! Who can describe the dismal torments of such a state!"
The "Spiritual Acts" Blake referred to include the writing of his epic poetry despite Hayley's objections. In the same month Blake wrote to his brother James that he is determined "To leave This Place" and that he can no longer accept Hayley's patronage: "The truth is, As a Poet he is frighten'd at me & as a Painter his view & mine are opposite; he thinks to turn me into a Portrait Painter as he did Poor Romney, but this he nor all the devils in hell will never do."
Blake left Felpham in 1803 and returned to London. In April of that year he wrote to Butts that he was overjoyed to return to the city: "That I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoy'd, & that I may converse with my friends in Eternity, See Visions, Dream Dreams & Prophecy & Speak Parables unobserv'd & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals." In the same letter Blake refers to his epic poem Milton, composed while at Felpham: "But none can know the Spiritual Acts of my three years' Slumber on the banks of the Ocean, unless he has seen them in the Spirit, or unless he should read My long Poem descriptive of those Acts."
In a later letter to Butts, Blake declares his resolution to have Milto
This Poem shall, by Divine Assistance be progressively Printed & Ornamented with Prints & given to the Public. But of this work I take care to say little to Mr H., since he is as much averse to my poetry as he is to a Chapter in the Bible. He knows that I have writ it, for I have shewn it to him, & he has read Part by his own desire & has looked with sufficient contempt to inhance my opinion of it. But I do not wish to irritate by seeming too obstinate in Poetic pursuits. But if all the World should set their faces against This, I have Orders to set my face like flint (Ezekiel iiiC, 9v) against their faces, & my forehead against their foreheads.
Blake's letter reveals much of his attitude toward his patron and toward his readers. Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by the general public, but he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to become popular. Men of letters such as Hayley would not be allowed to dictate his art. Blake compares himself to the prophet Ezekiel, whom the Lord made strong to warn the Israelites of their wickedness. Blake's images of a stern prophet locked head to head with his adversary is a fitting picture of part of Blake's relation with his reader. Blake knew that his poetry would be derided by some readers. In Milton Blake tells us that "the idiot reasoner laughs at the Man of Imagination," and in the face of that laughter Blake remained resolute.
In his "slumber on the banks of the Ocean," Blake, surrounded by financial worries and hounded by a patron who could not appreciate his art, reflected on the value of visionary poetry. Milton, which Blake started to engrave in 1804 (probably finishing in 1808), is a poem that constantly draws attention to itself as a work of literature. Its ostensible subject is the poet John Milton, but the author, William Blake, also creates a character for himself in his own poem. Blake examines the entire range of mental activity involved in the art of poetry from the initial inspiration of the poet to the reception of his vision by the reader of the poem. Milton examines as part of its subject the very nature of poetry: what it means to be a poet, what a poem is, and what it means to be a reader of poetry.
In the preface to the poem, Blake issues a battle cry to his readers to reject what is merely fashionable in art:
Rouze up, O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court & the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War. Painters! on you I call. Sculptors! Architects! suffer not the fashionable Fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive advertizing boasts that they make of such works; believe Christ & his Apostles that there is a Class of men whose whole delight is in Destroying. We do not want either Greek or Roman Models if we are but just & true to our own imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live for ever in Jesus our Lord.
In attacking the "ignorant Hirelings" in the "Camp, the Court & the University," Blake repeats a familiar dissenting cry against established figures in English society. Blake's insistence on being "just & true to our own Imaginations" places a special burden on the reader of his poem. For as he makes clear, Blake demands the exercise of the creative imagination from his own readers.
In the well-known lyric that follows, Blake asks for a continuation of Christ's vision in modern-day England:
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green & pleasant Land.
The poet-prophet must lead the reader away from man's fallen state and toward a revitalized state where man can perceive eternity.
"Book the First" contains a poem-within-a-poem, a "Bard's Prophetic Song." The Bard's Song describes man's fall from a state of vision. We see man's fall in the ruined form of Albion as a representative of all men and in the fall of Palamabron from his proper position as prophet to a nation. Interwoven into this narrative are the Bard's addresses to the reader, challenges to the reader's senses, descriptions of contemporary events and locations in England, and references to the life of William Blake. Blake is at pains to show us that his mythology is not something far removed from us but is part of our day to day life. Blake describes the reader's own fall from vision and the possibility of regaining those faculties necessary for vision.
The climax of the Bard's Song is the Bard's sudden vision of the "Holy Lamb of God": "Glory! Glory! to the Holy lamb of God: / I touch the heavens as an instrument to glorify the Lord." The vision of the "Lamb of God" is traditional in apocalyptic literature. In this case the Bard's final burst of vision is important not only for its content, but also for its placement in the poem. The Bard's sudden vision of the Lamb of God testifies that man need not remain "in chains of the mind Lock'd up." The Bard begins by describing the fall from vision, but he ends with a vision of his own that indicates that man still possesses the powers of vision.
At the end of the Bard's Song, the Bard's power of vision is questioned much as Blake's prophecies were criticized. The Bard's spirit is incorporated into that of the poet Milton. Blake portrays Milton as a great but flawed poet who must unify the separated elements of his own identity before he can reclaim his powers of vision and become a true poet. Upon hearing the Bard's Song, Milton is moved to descend to earth and begin the process of becoming an inspired poet. It is a journey of intense self-discovery and self-examination that requires Milton to cast off "all that is not inspiration."
As Milton is presented as a man in the process of becoming a poet, Blake presents himself as a character in the poem undergoing the transformation necessary to become a poet. As Milton is inspired by the "Bard's Song," Blake is inspired by the spirit of Milton:
Then first I saw him in the Zenith as a falling star
Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift:
And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, enter'd there
But from my left foot a black cloud redounding spread over Europe.
This sudden moment of inspiration extends to the very end of book one. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, the character Blake is not fully aware of the importance of this moment of illumination. Like Milton, Blake is in the process of becoming a poet.
In a moment of sudden inspiration, Blake overcomes his "earthly lineaments" and binds "this Vegetable World" as a sandal under his foot so that he can "walk forward thro' Eternity." Blake's act of creativity enables him to merge with Los:
And I became One Man with him arising in my strength
'Twas too late now to recede. Los had enter'd into my soul:
His terrors now possess'd me whole! I arose in fury & strength!
Blake's act of faith in the world of the imagination enables him to increase his powers of perception and sets a pattern for the reader to follow. Blake's union with Los marks the end of one stage of the unification process that began at the completion of the Bard's Song. In each case faith in the power of the imagination precedes union.
Only Milton believes in the vision of the Bard's Song, and the Bard takes "refuge in Milton's bosom." As Blake realizes the insignificance of this "Vegetable World," Los merges with Blake, and he arises in "fury and strength." This ongoing belief in the hidden powers of the mind heals divisions and increases powers of perception. The Bard, Milton, Los, and Blake begin to merge into a powerful bardic union. Yet it is but one stage in a greater drive toward the unification of all men in a "Universal Brotherhood."
In the second book of Milton Blake initiates the reader into the order of poets and prophets. Blake continues the process begun in book one of taking the reader through different stages in the growth of a poet. Ololon, Milton's female form, descends to earth to unite with Milton. Her descent gives the reader a radically new view of this world. Ololon's unique perspective turns the reader's world of time and space upside down to make him see the decayed and limited nature of this world. If he can learn to see his familiar world from a new perspective, then the reader can develop his own powers of perception. Indeed "learning to see" is the first requirement of the poet.
The turning of the outside world upside down is a preliminary stage in an extensive examination of man's internal world. A searching inquiry into the self is a necessary stage in the development of the poet. Milton is told he must first look within: "Judge then of thy Own Self: thy Eternal Lineaments explore, / What is Eternal & what Changeable, & what Annihilable." Milton descends within himself and judges the separate parts of his own identity; he must distinguish between what is permanent and what transitory. Central to the process of judging the self is a confrontation with that destructive part of man's identity Blake calls the Selfhood. The Selfhood continually hinders man's spiritual development. Only by annihilating the Selfhood, Blake believes, can one hope to participate in the visionary experience of the poem. Unless the Selfhood is annihilated, one cannot become a true poet, for the Selfhood continually blocks "the human center of creativity."
The Selfhood places two powerful forces to block our path: the socially accepted values of "love" and "reason." In its purest state love is given freely with no restrictions and no thought of return. In its fallen state love is reduced to a form of trade: "Thy love depends on him thou lovest, & on his dear loves / Depend thy pleasures, which thou hast cut off by jealousy." "Female love" is given only in exchange for love received. It is bartering in human emotions and is not love at all. When Milton denounces his own Selfhood, he gives up "Female love" and loves freely and openly.
As Blake attacks accepted notions of love, he also forces the reader to question the value society places on reason. The Seven Angels of the Presence warn that the "memory is a state Always, & the Reason is a State / Created to be Annihilated & a new Ratio Created." Both Memory and Reason exercise the lesser powers of the mind. Nothing new can be created by the mental processes involved in memory and reason. In his struggle with Urizen, who represents man's limited power of reason, Milton seeks to cast off the deadening effect of the reasoning power and free the mind for the power of the imagination. Milton gains control of Urizen, and it is clear that in Milton's mind it is now the imagination that directs reason.
Destroying the Selfhood allows Milton to unite with others. He descends upon Blake's path and continues the process of uniting with Blake that had begun in book one. This union is also a reflection of Blake's encounter with Los that is described in book one and illustrated in book two. As was the case with seeing Los, Blake is startled by Milton's arrival. Los appears as a "terrible flaming Sun," and Milton's arrival turns Blake's path into a "solid fire, as bright as the Clear Sun." Both events describe the process of union and the assumption of the powers of the imagination necessary to become a true poet. All of this comes about through the individual annihilation of the Selfhood. To become a poet and prophet, the man of imagination must first look within and destroy the Selfhood.
Milton's final speech in praise of the virtue of self-annihilation is followed by Ololon's own annihilation of the Selfhood. She rejects her virgin Selfhood and joins with Milton:
Then as a Moony Ark Ololon descended to Felpham's Vale
In clouds of blood, in streams of gore, with dreadful thunderings
Into the fires of Intellect that rejoic'd in Felpham's Vale
Around the Starry Eight; with one accord the Starry Eight became
One Man, Jesus the Savior, wonderful!
As Noah's Ark saved lives upon earth, the "Moony Ark" of Ololon preserves man's individual nature. The Seven Eyes of God that had instructed Milton are now merged with Milton, Blake, and all men on earth. Jesus is "One Man," for he unites all men in a Universal Brotherhood. By destroying the Selfhood, we do not lose our identity but rather gain a new identity in the body of the universal brotherhood. Our entry into this union prepares us for the promise of vision.
The apex of Blake's vision in Felpham is the brief image of the Throne of God. In Revelation, John's vision of the Throne of God is a prelude to the apocalypse itself. Similarly Blake's vision of the throne is also a prelude to the coming apocalypse. Blake's vision is abruptly cut off as the Four Zoas sound the Four Trumpets, signaling the call to judgment of the peoples of the earth. The trumpets bring to a halt Blake's vision, as he falls to the ground and returns to his mortal state. The apocalypse is still to come.
Blake's falling to the ground is not a mystic swoon, but part of his design to take himself out of the poem and leave it to the reader to continue the vision of the coming apocalypse. The author falls before the vision of the Throne of God and the awful sound of the coming apocalypse. However, the vision of the author does not fall with him to the ground. In the very next line after Blake describes his faint, we see his vision soar: "Immediately the lark mounted with a loud trill from Felpham's Vale." We have seen the lark as the messenger of Los and the carrier of inspiration. Its sudden flight here demonstrates that the vision of the poem does not end but continues. It is up to the reader to follow the flight of the lark to the Gate of Los and continue the vision of Milton.
Milton does not come to a firm conclusion, for it can only be concluded by the reader. The reader, armed with the creative power of poetry and the power of his own imagination, is asked to continue the work of the poet and prophet.
Before Blake could leave Felpham and return to London, an incident occurred that was very disturbing to him and possibly even dangerous. Without Blake's knowledge, his gardener had invited a soldier by the name of John Scofield into his garden to help with the work. Blake seeing the soldier and thinking he had no business being there promptly tossed him out. In a letter to Butts, Blake recalled the incident in detail:
I desired him, as politely as possible, to go out of the Garden; he made me an impertinent answer. I insisted on his leaving the Garden; he refused. I still persisted in desiring his departure; he then threaten'd to knock out my Eyes, with many abominable imprecations & with some contempt for my Person; it affronted my foolish Pride. I therefore took him by the Elbows & pushed him before me till I had got him out; there I intended to leave him, but he, turning about, put himself into a Posture of Defiance, threatening & swearing at me. I, perhaps foolishly & perhaps not, stepped out at the Gate, & putting aside his blows, took him again by the Elbows, &, keeping his back to me, pushed him forwards down the road about fifty yards--he all the while endeavouring to turn round & strike me, & raging & cursing, which drew out several neighbours....
What made this almost comic incident so serious was that the soldier swore before a magistrate that Blake had said "Damn the King" and had uttered seditious words. Blake denied the charge, but he was forced to post bail and appear in court. Hayley came to Blake's aid by helping to post the bail money and arranging for counsel.
Blake left Felpham at the end of September 1803 and settled in a new residence on South Molton Street in London. His trial was set for the following January at Chichester. Hayley was almost forced to miss the trial because of a fall he suffered while riding his horse, but he was determined to help Blake and appeared in court to testify to the good character of the accused. The soldier's testimony was shown to be false, and the jury acquitted Blake. A local newspaper, the Sussex Weekly Advertiser(16 January 1804), reported on the acquittal: "After a very long and patient hearing, he was by the Jury acquitted, which so gratified the auditory, that the court was, in defiance of all decency, thrown into an uproar by their noisy exultations."
Blake's radical political views made him sometimes fear persecution, and he wondered if Scofield had been a government agent sent to entrap him. In any event Blake forever damned the soldier by attacking him in the epic poem Jerusalem. One positive result of the trial was that Blake was reconciled with Hayley, whose support during the trial was greatly appreciated.