Internal Eternity: Self Becomes Other


    Like Coleridge, Blake will settle for nothing less than all. 

David Erdman reports in the preface to his Concordance to Blake's

writings, that "all" is the most frequent word in Blake's

writings, more than twice as frequent as the next word (except

for the commonest English words such as "and," "the," "he," etc.)

<1> The similarity between Blake and Coleridge was so striking to

some observers that the London University Magazine reported:


    A witness to a meeting of the two reported that 'Blake and

    Coleridge, when in company, seemed like congenial beings of

    another sphere, breathing for a while on our earth: which may

    be perceived from the similarity of thought pervading their



Even Coleridge recognized the similarity, but gave pride of place

to Blake in the realm of the other world:


    You perhaps smile at {my} calling another poet a {Mystic};

    but verily I am in the very mire of common-place common-sense

    compared with Mr. Blake, apo- or rather--anacalyptic Poet,

    and Painter!  <3>


Without mentioning Blake, Richard Holmes describes Coleridge in

very Blakean terms:


    Coleridge's own imagination belongs to a distinct literary

    tradition: it is deeply English, rural, and with a strong

    idealising or neo-Platonic strain. . . .  Everywhere it seeks

    the 'radiance' of the eternal in the particular.<4>


Yet, while Blake and Coleridge may work from very much the same

presumptions and predilections, predilections which help them

lean toward the coincidence of opposites, Coleridge eventually

becomes a conservative, using the coincidence of opposites to

support the status quo.  Blake, however, uses the coincidence of

opposites to burst bounds, to redefine all of existence.  After

the disastrous, inescapable cycles of "The Mental Traveller," his

epics, especially Jerusalem, reveal a powerful use of the

coincidence of opposites to achieve a more imaginative plane of



    For Blake . . .  Jesus the Imagination, rather than taking

    part in a Coleridgean unification and idealization, is an

    iconoclast . . .<5>  


That iconoclasm exhibits itself early in Jerusalem when Blake

states the purpose of his work:


     To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes

     Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity

     Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.

                                          (5:18-20; E147)


The movement into Eternity is both interior and exterior,

penetrating into depths and expanding into heights.  Like the

writers already discussed, Blake sets up circles of expansion and

contraction, but instead of presenting them as contrary forces in

balance or reconciliation or oscillation, he boldly assumes that

they are identical.  The centripetal, inward force that


penetrates into "the Worlds of Thought" enables the poet to "open

the Eternal Worlds," juxtaposed in Blake's syntax to an

identical, centrifugal force, which is "expanding in the Bosom of

God."  Instead of the philosophical arguments of a Cusanus or a

Pope or a Coleridge, instead of the agnonized tensions of a Mary

Shelley or a Percy Shelley or the Blake of "The Mental

Traveller," the Blake of Jerusalem simply states his outrageous

coincidence of opposites in the most declarative terms. 

Furthermore, he conflates God and Man without any of the

geometrical inventiveness of Cusanus or any of the soul searching

of Coleridge.  In simple geometrical terms, the expanding

circumference of God equals the focussing center of humanity.

    Several critics imply, in various ways, that Blake's inward

movement emphasizes the inward at the expense of the outward. 

Otto indicts most of us:


    Blake criticism, particularly since the work of Northrop

    Frye, has worked within a discourse which tends to erase the

    very distinction between self and other, and time and

    Eternity.  As a result the question of how our worlds are to

    be opened, and how we can perceive what is other, does not

    appear in its full force.<6>


Attention to the concept of the coincidence of opposites can help

to rectify that distortion.  Whereas Cusanus, Pope, Coleridge,

Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley find balance or unbearable

tension or unsolved mystery in the oppositions of inward and

outward forces, Blake plays in both forces to the full extent of

their power.  His "Mental Traveller," explored in the previous

chapter, shows what can happen when the opposing forces merely

try to counter and even dominate each other: they create circles

of torture.  His later works, especially Jerusalem, show how one

can escape from the horrible circles, essentially by plunging

more deeply into the opposing forces and allowing them to


    Stephen Behrendt, like Otto, emphasizes the outward rather

than the inward:


    Blake's own art is explosive rather than implosive in its

    intellectual and aesthetic signals, directing its audience

    outward even when it appears to be doing just the reverse:

    the objective is to see not so much the grain of sand as the

    World it contains, to 'Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

    / And Eternity in an hour' <7>


Behrendt's explanation is useful as a corrective to too much

emphasis on the inward, but it should not be read as an absolute

in which explosion replaces implosion; both are necessary. 

    I want to concentrate my discussion of Blake's coincidences

of opposites in Jerusalem especially on his interpretation of the

Bible, which, according to Northrop Frye, is one of the only two

approaches to the poem:


    In reading Jerusalemthere are only two questions to consider:

    how Blake interpreted the Bible, and how he placed that

    interpretation in an English context.<8> 


I shall neglect the latter admonition to pursue the former.  In

Jerusalem Blake uses the Bible to teach his readers to look

inward and expand outward, a simultaneous double movement that

reveals Eternity.  On plate 16 the Bible is equated with the

sculptures in Los's Halls where every possible story is told. 

From that point of view the Bible is a revelation, hammered out

in detail by the artist. On plate 48 the Bible makes up the

pillars of the couch where Albion awaits the resurrection.  From

that point of view, it is a creation of mercy, given to man to

keep him safe.  But in this latter scene, the couch which is

identical with the Bible is brought to man by his enemies, as

well as by Jesus, and thus appears also as a tomb.  Therefore the

Bible is both evidence of our fallen condition and at the same

time a solace and a means of escape from the fallen condition.<9>

    Blake insists that human perceptions and actions must be

raised from the fallen, temporal world which seems all too

obvious to men's eyes into the eternal world of Vision which he

is trying to open to them, and open them to.  Paradoxically the

only way to reject that fallen world is to embrace it; the

eternal and the temporal are inseparable, even though they are


exact opposites.  Fallen vision refuses to see this fundamental

identity and tries to separate the two worlds, either mystifying

or ignoring the Visionary world. Like the opposing forces in "The

Mental Traveller" fallen vision tries to divide the contraries

(in that poem represented by male and female) and pit them

against each other because they believe that they must destroy or

dominate each other instead of seeing the other as identical to

the self even while other than the self.  Eternal Vision reverses

and then includes fallen vision by forgiving and transfiguring

it.  For Blake the Bible is a model of a text which induces in

the reader a transformation, a transubstantiation, a

transfiguration from fallen vision to Eternal Vision.  But since

Eternal Vision includes fallen vision, the Bible contains both

perspectives, and so does Blake.  Eternal Vision is full of

fallen vision.  Thus the Bible, like Blake, can be read by some

readers as a code book of morality instead of as a means of

expanding vision.  The reader must actively, creatively, and

responsibly read the Bible, just as he must live his life,

accountable for his moral stance.  Blake does to the Bible what

eternal perception does to the fallen world: reveal, oppose,

forgive, and transfigure it, reversing it and including it in

total Vision.

    The transfiguration that Blake works on the Bible is based on

a method of presenting oppositions and then transforming them,

much as happens at the transfiguration of Jesus (see following

chapter for discussion of the transfiguration scene in

Jerusalem).  That is, the Bible clearly stands inside Jerusalem;

it is essential to the poem.  At the same time Jerusalem can be

said to alter the Bible so radically that it virtually dispenses

with the Bible altogether; it surpasses the Bible.  Similarly,

when Jesus stands transfigured on the mountain, his human body

exists within his divine one: the transfigured form clearly

includes the earthly form.  At the same time the presence of

Jesus is altered so radically that his physical form seems

unnecessary, completely transcended.  From a different

perspective, the transfigured form, whether Jesus or Jerusalem,

reveals the glowing presence that was co-existent with the

apparently ordinary form, whether the man of Nazareth or the

Bible, all along. 

    And Blake refuses to compromise this radical combination of

divine and ordinary existence.  The eternal Vision that is

celebrated in the transfiguration scene at the end of Jerusalem

can be achieved only through an embrace of the fallen world as

brought about by the birth of Jesus.  Unity and individuality,

God and man, transcendence and immanence, minute particulars and

Eternity, none of these pairs of supposed opposites can be

understood by choosing between them.  And neither can fallen

vision and eternal Vision, for to choose between them is to fall

again, but to see them both is to enter Eternity. 

    My search for the principle of transfiguration in Blake

receives confirmation from David Wagenknecht's idea that a

principle of transformation may be the key to Blake:


    As intensive work on Blake continues, it becomes increasingly

    evident how central and common to all approaches is the idea

    of transformation.  On this common ground meet ways of

    reading Blake as different from each other (though not

    necessarily opposed) as Kathleen Raine's and David Erdman's.

    . . . Whether or not we want to accept a given reading ought

    to give way eventually to a concern for the principle of

    transformation itself.<10>


Quoting Richard Cody's The Landscape of the Mind, Wagenknecht

sees the idea of pastoral as a compromise between transcendence

and immanence.  But he intensifies the relationship:



    . . . the more apocalyptic the outlook, the greater is man's

    awareness of his fallen condition.  The closer Blake comes to

    the achievement of imaginative transcendence, the more man

    comes to seem immersed in a satanic immanence. . . .Blake's

    secular and religious concerns are one: to demonstrate that

    the ordinary world of extensive, fallen vision includes the

    imaginative wherewithal for that world's intensive, visionary



Wagenknecht concludes with a reading of the end of Jerusalem

which agrees with mine: "the paradoxical intercourse between

universal and individual. . . is the final . . .


    Herbert Schneidau, in Sacred Discontent, although he mentions

Blake only twice in passing, sees the whole development of

Western culture as based on a tension between acceptance and

rejection.  The essence of biblical Hebrew culture and of the

Christian and secular cultures which have descended from it,

according to Schneidau, is the struggle between continuity and

revolution: "We love and hate our culture, and the resultant

force is toward change.  This ambivalence derives from the

Bible".<14>  The Yahweh of Israel, even though He is the very

foundation of the integrity and continuity of the community,

intercedes again and again to discredit the culture of His people

and to redefine His relationship to them.  Each intervention is

simultaneously a destruction of established structures and a

construction of new ones.

    If Schneidau's thesis about biblical culture and its

descendants is accepted, then no one stands more clearly than

Blake in the main line of Western cultural development, for Blake

insists on redefining both his culture and its Bible even while

he claims to honor them.  Schneidau traces the dilemma of

continuity-in-revolution through Christianity and into modern



    The dilemma is an old one in the Judaeo-Christian tradition:

    whether to regard the event primarily as that which founds

    and centers new structures or as that which broke away so

    radically from former structures as to put in question all

    possible new ones.<15>


This dilemma can lead to a constant surging forward, always

hoping, never accomplishing, every structure being undercut. 

That kind of movement is apparent in Blake; never does he allow

the reader to rest content with any oversimplified structural

formula.  And yet the conclusion of Jerusalem is an undeniable

triumph, an absolute end.  These two contradictory aspects of

Blake's poetry create a problem for the reader: if we emphasize

the constant revolution too strongly, a vicious cycle results; if

we emphasize the construction of systems too strongly, dogma

threatens.  We have seen the vicious cycle in "The Mental

Traveller"; we have seen dogma in An Essay on Man.  We have seen

the near impossibility of escape in Coleridge, Mary Shelley, and

Percy Shelley.  We have seen the promise of a solution in

Nicholas of Cusa.  And we see the triumphant solution in Blake.

    The eschatology of the early Church, as explained by Rudolf

Bultmann in Theology of the New Testament, provides a very

Blakean perspective on the problem.  In Bultmann, an absolute end

is paradoxically combined with a hope for the future.  Because

the Christian feels the urgency of the meaning of Jesus so

strongly, time is effectively ended:


    The consciousness that man's relation toward God decides his

    fate and that the hour of decision is of limited duration

    clothes itself in the consciousness that the hour of decision

    is here for the world, too.<16>



    The paradox of the kingdom of God is that it is "future and

yet already present."  The individual believer is torn out of

ordinary historical time by a de-historicized and de-sacralized

God and forced to confront his true history, his de-

secularization, in concrete encounter with his neighbor.  I think

that it is important not to sacrifice either the individual or

the universal aspect of Blake's eschatology.  Ronald Grimes

attempts to distinguish Bultmann's view from Blake's:


    Blake's eschatology is a matter of renewed vision, but the

    consummation is not complete until the new personal

    consciousness has become a new social and cosmic

    consciousness. . . . Bultmann's existentialist eschatology

    remains on a personal and subjective level.<17>


Similarly, Thomas Altizer attempts to separate the individual and

the universal:


    Orthodox Christianity . . . has proclaimed an individual

    redemption that takes place without affecting the reality of

    the world; but radical Christianity refuses a redemption

    which is confined to individual selfhood, and seeks an

    apocalyptic transformation of the world.<18> 


Whether or not Bultmann makes that distinction, Blake does not. 

In Blake there is no separation of the individual's personal

transfiguration and the transfiguration of the cosmos. 

    In Bultmann, the paradox in time extends to include an

ethical one: God's reign is not a demand for good.  "It aims

neither at the formation of `character' nor at the molding of

human society."  The fulfillment of God's will is "nothing else

but true readiness for it, genuine and earnest desire for


    A similar affront to ordinary understanding is proposed by

Stanley Fish, in Self-Consuming Artifacts, as the distinguishing


characteristic of a dialectical, rather than a rhetorical,

literary method.  Rhetorical literature satisfies the reader,

telling him what he already knows (as in Pope's "What oft was

thought but ne'er so well express'd"), whereas dialectical

literature disturbs, often humiliates, acting as a "good

physician" who urges a conversion.  The dialectic demands a

radical new life from the reader: to remain unchanged is to fail

to understand.

    In his discussion of the Phaedrus Fish sees a method in which

each part of the work invalidates the part before it.  The

contradictions and non-sequiturs force a larger perspective of

understanding.  The technique is not based on logic and reason:

"what is being processed in the Phaedrus is not an argument or a

proposition, but a vision".<20>  The reader of Blake must enter

into that same spirit of loving confrontation to create his own

reconstruction of Jerusalem, which is Blake's reconstruction of

the Bible.

    Most writing, whatever the intention of its author, can be

read, if the reader insists, as a moral lesson, a rhetorical

confirmation of principles which we already know, and which, if

we apply them gradually to our lives, will improve us.<21>  The

oral teachings of a master dialectician, such as Jesus or

Socrates, however, engage the students and disciples in a direct

and surprising way, shattering complacencies, preventing that

easy and self-satisfied kind of learning.  Even though all that

we know of Jesus and Socrates has come down to us through

writing, it is significant that neither of them was a writer.  In

fact writing itself necessarily distorts their teachings.<22>  As

soon as the teachings of a master, especially a master

dialectician, are written, they begin to be codified and to lose

some of their power.  This process occurs not only because the

writers may intentionally alter the teachings, but because of the

very nature of writing itself.  Whatever advantages the medium of

writing may have over a spoken dialectic--longevity, logical

progression, linear sequentiality--it also has disadvantages.  It

does not allow for genuine dialogue; it does not allow for

certain modes of simultaneity.  Blake created a form of art which

attempts to transcend and revolutionize methods of writing, even

while it employs them.  Logic and sequence are blasted by

paratactical strategies; contradictions and paradoxes halt the

reader; illustrations violate or ignore the text.  Such a poet is

quite simply incomprehensible to anyone who sits down to read

complacently.  In effect Blake found a way to confront his reader

in his text as Jesus and Socrates confronted their listeners in


    The reader does not so much have to go away and contemplate

the text in tranquility, as he has to confront the Eternity of

Blake's minute particulars with every sweep of the eyes across

the words and illuminations.  And such a confrontation is

contained right at the beginning of Jerusalem in the phrase

"Monos o Iesous."  (See further discussion in following chapter.) 

The coincidence of opposites--the forgiving immanence of the

woman taken in adultery and the judging transcendence of the

transfiguration--teaches us by embodying, not by merely urging

and preaching, the expanded consciousness of contradictions. 

    The dialectic is not only the cause of the method and the

object of the method; it is the method itself.  The simultaneous

imitation and rejection, the simultaneous immanence and

transcendence, of all experience and of the Bible in particular,

teach us a new way to read and a new way to live, a way that

demands awareness of how our ordinary understanding distorts

everything from religion to sex, from perception to philosophy. 

In plate 3 Blake follows the example of St. Paul in declaring

himself the greatest of sinners; if we deny our own sin, or any

undesirable quality that we can abstractly conceive, then we deny

ourselves dialogue with Jesus.

    Exploring Blake from philosophical perspectives, Leopold

Damrosch, in Symbol and Truth in Blake's Myth, finds four

categories of irreconcilable differences: epistemological

(sense/intuition); psychological (solipsism/universal humanity);


ontological (divine immanence/transcendence); and aesthetic

(imaginative/fallen art).  He claims that Blake cannot come to

terms with oppositions because of his refusal to compromise:

"Rather than accepting one or another of the compromises that

have been developed over the centuries, he aspired to put the

entire structure of Western thought together again"<23>.  But

always Damrosch refuses to accept the contradictions which Blake

presents; when he finds logical inconsistencies, he stops short:

for example, the meanings in "The Blossom" are "mutually

contradictory: if the body is a prison, then it is not a source

of joy." (112)  In a related issue very important in Jerusalem,

he relegates Blake to the realm of mystical vision which is

unintelligible to all non-mystics:


    . . . the body is at once a merciful `limit of contraction'

    and a trap from which we must escape.  But it is easier to

    say that it is both at once than to understand how it can be.

    . . . I do not deny that analogues to Blake's position may be

    found in Boehme and elsewhere; I deny that they make



    Damrosch's book provides an invaluable service by continually

confronting the paradoxes in Blake, and many times, despite his

refusal to enter fully into Blake's Vision, he formulates

concepts in a precise and revelatory way: writing of Emanations,

he thinks that they, like many other parts of Blake, "must

similarly be understood as a mystical attempt to keep what we

have and yet transform it utterly."  He realizes that Los's work

is important, but that it is not Eden.  He concludes that Blake's

symbols must point beyond themselves to the truth and that

Blake's myth believes in man's spiritual power "while fully

recognizing the self-deluding tendencies of the imagination and

its symbols"<25>.  But finally Damrosch stands forlornly outside:


    . . . if we inhabit a world that no longer believes in its

    symbols--if we can neither trust the products of our symbol-

    making imagination nor bear to live with them--then Blake

    speaks to us with a special poignancy.  His Eden is forever

    closed to us by the Cherub with the flaming sword.<26> 


Damrosch's thought is an extreme consequence of approaching Blake

with too much of a commitment to logic.  Despite his genuine

insights into Blake and his obvious affection for Blake,

Damrosch's Covering Cherub, which forbids his entrance into

Blake's Eden, is his insistence on reasonable, logical, coherent,

philosophical systematizing as a way in.  Instead, the

recognition of the coincidence of opposites can provide the tool

for entering Blake's vision.

    A rational approach to the Bible sees it as a code of

morality, but Blake's Bible is not a code of morality; instead,

as declared in his most famous pronouncement on the Bible, in The



    The Old and New Testaments are the great Code of Art.  (E273)


Peter Fisher, in The Valley of Vision, presents a good

formulation of the accepted interpretation of this statement:


    Blake called the biblical record "the Great Code of Art" not

    because it outlined the rules of composition, but because it

    presented a collection of literary forms inspired by the

    Hebrew genius who was Jehovah in the Old Testament and Jesus

    in the New.  It had an inevitable pattern undistorted and

    unrestricted by the accidental events of the narrative.<27>



However, Blake's word "code" contains a contrary tension, like

that in the word "system."<28>  In every one of the six other

times that Blake uses the word "code" or "codes"<29> it is a

pejorative term, always referring to a divinely inspired law given for the

purpose of restriction or war.  The most vehement use occurs in the

annotations to Watson:


    The laws of the Jews were (both ceremonial & real) the basest

    & most oppressive of human codes, & being like all other

    codes given under pretence of divine command were what Christ

    pronounced them The Abomination that maketh desolate, i.e.

    State Religion which is the Source of all Cruelty. (E618)


Any code which pretends to divine inspiration is liable to usurp

the place of God.  Of course the phrase has the positive meaning

that Fisher assigns to it, but at the same time, any code,

because it exists in the fallen world, must partake of the nature

of that world.

    One of Blake's earliest works (generally assumed to be his

first attempt at illuminated printing) the tractate "All

Religions Are One," helps to clarify what is at stake here:


    The Jewish and Christian Testaments are an original

    derivation from the Poetic Genius.  This is necessary from

    the confined nature of bodily sensation.  (E1)


Of course the common interpretation of this statement, as

exemplified by Fisher above, is correct, but working at the same

time is the restrictive nature of the Bible and the body.  As

usual in Blake, if the interpreter too much emphasizes one

extreme in Blake, that interpreter is probably missing the

equally strong contrary movement.  In the same tractate, Blake

states: "As all men are alike in outward form, so (and with the

same infinite variety) all are alike in the Poetic Genius."  Just

as each man's body is a particular expression of the human form,

so each religion is a particular culture's expression of the

Poetic Genius: "The Religions of all Nations are derived from

each Nations different reception of the Poetic Genius."  Any

particular body, or any particular Bible, is an expression of

"the Poetic Genius," which "is the true Man" (E1).

    But the limited shape of the human body, just like the

limited shape of the Bible, just like any code or any system, can

be seen in its exclusive sense rather than its universal one.

Imaginative acts must take definite shape; if they remain

undefined, then man is forever lost in the void.  But whatever

shape they take is determined by both their eternal and fallen

nature.  The eternal exhibits itself in the temporal, fallen

world; the distinctions in the fallen world derive from eternal

unity.  The Christian artist must honor the gifts of God in other

men and in other bibles, not because each one is a Platonic

shadow of something more real, but because each one is eternal if

perceived with expanded Vision. 

    Fallen vision does not perceive the eternal, and so tries to

create its own substitute for eternity by concealment and

mystery.  Eternal Vision perceives the essential coincidence of

opposites which fallen vision falsely divides, and so fully

enters into the definite shapes, the minute particulars where the

center and the circumference of Eternity meet.  But once such a

particular shape is entered into, the Fall happens again.  Jesus

is born in Jerusalem and gives himself a definite shape, in order 

to break through the false categories that fallen vision tries to


maintain.  Jesus submits to the fallen world in order to reveal

it for what it is: the eternal perversely reflected.

    When Blake describes the process by which Jerusalem was

composed, he unexpectedly incorporates the Old Testament God who

gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai:


     Reader!  lover of books!  lover of heaven.

     And of that God from whom all books are given,

     Who in mysterious Sinais awful cave

     To Man the wond'rous art of writing gave,

     Again he speaks in thunder and in fire!

     Thunder of Thought, & flames of fierce desire:

     Even from the depths of Hell his voice I hear,

     Within the unfathomd caverns of my Ear.

     Therefore I print; nor vain my types shall be:

     Heaven, Earth & Hell, henceforth shall live in harmony.

                            (Jerusalem, 3)


Blake includes here the tradition that God gave man the gift of

writing on Sinai.<30>  That art can be used to record a

restrictive code like the Ten Commandments or it can be used to

unite Heaven, Earth, and Hell.  Blake insists on both modes of

writing: the restrictive writing which comes from a terrifying

God in a secret place is also a means of regeneration.  The code

of prohibitions arises from a shrunken perception of the nature

of writing; as a list of negatives ("Thou shalt not"), it negates

the visionary power which is visible to expanded perception.  But

expanded perception does not negate the cave or the fearful God

or the limitations of writing.  It sees them anew, assimilating

while overturning.  That which had been denied, the prohibitive

Law from Sinai, is now included in a new totality of Vision. 

Total Vision does not simply exorcise the old punitive God; it

assimilates Him.<31>  Similarly Vision must use the tools and

work with the limits of the fallen world.  A Heaven which

excludes Hell, a Hell which excludes Heaven, or an Earth which

excludes either one will not enter the Savior's kingdom.  All

that exists must be revealed, because refusal to acknowledge any

part of existence in itself negates the transforming power of


    But this inclusiveness necessarily entails redefinitions, of

both the new covenant and the old.  The exterior, corporeal

thunders and fire have been interiorized.  In one sense, this

makes them less fierce: they are contained.  In another sense, it

makes them all the more terrible.  Now instead of an unfathomable

distant heaven, the poet feels the terrors of the unfathomable

inside his own mind and body, in an exhilarating and terrifying

coincidence of opposites. 

    Blake strongly insists on both aspects of his God, the

transcendent and the immanent:


    We who dwell on Earth can do nothing of ourselves, everything

    is conducted by Spirits, no less than Digestion or Sleep. . .

    . When this Verse was first dictated to me I consider'd a

    Monotonous Cadence like that used by Milton & Shakespeare . .

    . . But I soon found that in the mouth of a true Orator such

    monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme

    itself.  I therefore have produced a variety in every line,

    both of cadences & number of syllables.  (E145-46)<32>


These statements contain a clear and uncompromising paradox: on

the one hand, the poet has no power of his own; on the other

hand, the poet decides how to write his poetry.  The assertions

about the process of composition contradict the theory of all-

powerful spirits; the word "consider'd" contradicts the word

"dictated" just a few spaces before it.  Some critics find Blake

simply confused here; most ignore the transcendence and make

Blake's God completely immanent.  But surely Blake wants it both

ways: not only does he use the terminology of a transcendent,

all-powerful God, but he carefully sets up the tone of awe which

such a God induces.  The very art of writing which Blake is using

to escape from mystery and caves is given from a "mysterious"

cave.  Just as any code or system necessarily participates in the

fallen world, so language itself cannot, and should not try to,

totally escape its fallen nature.


    For Blake, the claim of individual expressive authority and

    the disclaimer of authority . . . involves no contradiction,

    for the universal poetic genius that is God acts only through

    individuals.  That is why Blake can seem to be both the

    author of original writings and merely a conduit through

    which innumerable writings . . . transmit themselves.<33>


    Imitating his God even while he rebels against Him, fearing

His transcendent power while internalizing Him, the poet performs

his paradoxical task. 


         Again he [God] speaks in thunder and in fire!

         Thunder of Thought, & flames of fierce desire:

         Even from the depths of Hell his voice I hear,

         Within the unfathomd caverns of my Ear.

         Therefore I print; nor vain my types shall be:

         Heaven, Earth & Hell, henceforth shall live in harmony.

                                  (Jerusalem 3:4-10, E145)


With his only use of the word "types"<34> Blake includes not only

a direct reference to his techniques of printmaking, but also a

hint of his method of typology and the kinds of reversal and

fulfillment contained within it.  Blake used very laborious and

exact engraving and etching methods to produce his illuminated

books, as well as his commissioned works to earn his

livelihood.<35>  He first wrote and drew on copper plates with a

wax ground.  A corrosive acid then burned away the exposed

surfaces, leaving only the design to be printed.  The copper

plate was inked and pressed onto paper.  The raised surfaces on

copper are literally the type of the finished product on paper. 

But the entire physical process of printing is figuratively a

type of the spiritual process of regeneration. Although it has

its own identity as a physical process, it fulfills itself only

in its spiritual or mental final product.

     The printmaker can complete his task only in an action of

physical reversal.  That is, when he prints on paper, his design

is reversed. Throughout Jerusalem Blake indicates that the

attainment of eternal Vision can come only through a reversal of

the fallen world.<37>

     In a profound sense, to find the eternal world is to reverse

the fallen world, just as the printmaker must reverse his design

in order to print it onto paper.  But he cannot reverse the plate

until he has fully shaped it, in all its minute particularity. 

Furthermore, the design on paper is identical in every detail to

the design on copper, except that it has been completely

reversed, transformed in its perspective as well as in its

medium.  It is entirely different, even while it is the same, and

both the sameness and the difference have been radically

redefined from their original connotations.  The physical

importance of the simultaneous identity and difference strikes us

immediately when we encounter the mirror writing in Jerusalem on

plates 37 and 8l, and yet that process of transferring mirror

images is embodied in every single plate of Blake's illuminated

works.  Its spiritual importance, similar to its physical

importance and yet quite different, also strikes us when we

encounter on almost every plate the stunning redefinitions and

rewritings that are the soul and method of Jerusalem.

    Just as the printmaker's work must be fulfilled by a process

of reversal, so the Christian artist's task must also be

fulfilled by a process of reversal, a reversal which completely

accepts the fallen world and at the same time utterly transforms

it.  The dialectic is like that of the story of the woman taken

in adultery.  Jesus forgives the sin by simultaneously accepting

it (refusing to punish, implicating the accusers) and rejecting

it (not condoning it, telling the woman to "go and sin no more"). 

This paradoxical behavior cuts across old categories and, if not

ignored or avoided or explained away, re-creates the world in a

new way.  Likewise, the Bible, most clearly in the relationship

of the New Testament to the Old (especially in the entrance of

Jesus into the world) contains a paradoxical conjunction of

fulfillment and reversal.  Although Jesus does come to fulfill

the old law, he also comes to destroy it and replace it with a

new law.  And Blake's dialectical relationship to the Bible

performs a similar work on it.  Accepting the Bible as his model,

both explicitly by declaration and implicitly by quotation and

imitation, he nevertheless burns away its falsehoods as the acid

burns away apparent surfaces, and reverses its perspectives by

re-writing it, remaining totally faithful to it while utterly

transfiguring it.

    Christine Gallant points out that in the early Lambeth books

(Book of Urizen, Book of Ahania, Book of Los) Blake finds himself

in a paradox when he tries to fight the rigidities of myth by

constructing his own myth, which is in danger of becoming too

rigid itself.  There is a necessity for clear outlines, according

to Blake's aesthetic, political, and religious beliefs, but

clarity can become a Urizenic mistake.<39>  To put it in its

bluntest form, Urizen's earliest impulses toward fixed form are

Blake's own.<40>  Gallant traces Blake's grappling with this

problem, especially through The Four Zoas, and shows that by the


end of that poem a "new imaginative unified vision" includes in

Golgonooza that which it had originally tried to transcend. 

Using Jungian terminology, she writes that the incomplete mandala

has been completed from the centers of energy in the psyche:


    Christ has thus truly acted as an archetype of the Self for

    Los . . . showing him by example how to construct a `city of

    art,' which, paradoxically, will have as its essential

    ingredients all that it originally had been built to



Michael Cooke takes an even more extreme view of Blake's

inclusiveness: the movement is not towards action but rather

towards a "complex condition of spirit."  According to him there

is no final resolution: "The crucial factor is a matter of mode

or mood of vision, or what one makes ontologically of oneself and

one's situation."<42>  Karl Kroeber redefines the conflict in

Jerusalem by writing that there is no division of the sacred and

the profane in the poem.  Every atom is equally sacred, and the

conflict is between those who incorrectly make the division

between sacred and profane on the one hand and the power of Jesus

on the other, which unveils the intrinsic divinity of every

minute particular.<43>

    All these critics are working toward a vision of Jerusalem

which acknowledges the frightful conflicts that dominate much of

the poem but which also acknowledges the final harmony that is

established.  Those critics who emphasize the irreconcilability

of conflict imply, if they do not state it directly, that in the

final resolution the forces of right (Blake's side) conquer the

forces of wrong (the opponents of Blake).  Those critics who

emphasize inclusiveness imply that concepts of right and wrong

must be redefined.  Both critical positions find support in the

text because both positions are there.  Blake's apocalypse is

obviously a triumph that wins over enemies, but it does not

exclude the supposed losers.  "The Glory of Christianity is, To

Conquer by Forgiveness" (Jerusalem 52).  The principle of

opposition, which according to Frye structures each chapter,<44>

is indeed there, but is itself opposed by a principle of

inclusiveness.  The two principles appear to be mutually

exclusive, and yet both are clearly there.  Our reason is

confounded by the coincidence of opposites and forced to seek a

larger vision.

    On the way to this larger vision, Los insists that it is

important not to make the wrong distinctions and absolutely

essential to make the right ones.  On plate 7 he contrasts the

regeneration of the eternal resurrection to the temporal

generation of a vegetated Christ:


    In anguish of regeneration! in terrors of self annihilation:

    Pity must join together those whom wrath has torn in sunder,

    And the Religion of Generation which was meant for the


    Of Jerusalem, become her covering, till the time of the End.

    O holy Generation! Image of regeneration!

    O point of mutual forgiveness between Enemies!

    Birthplace of the Lamb of God incomprehensible!



But most important is the dispute over categories commonly

accepted by Christianity:


     And this is the manner of the Sons of Albion in their


     They take the Two Contraries which are called Qualities,

       with which

     Every Substance is clothed, they name them Good & Evil

     From them they make an Abstract, which is a Negation

     Not only of the Substance from which it is derived

     A murderer of its own Body: but also a murderer


     Of every Divine Member: it is the Reasoning Power

     An Abstract objecting power, that Negatives everything

     This is the Spectre of Man: the Holy Reasoning Power

     And in its Holiness is closed the Abomination of Desolation

     Therefore Los stands in London building Golgonooza.



The two contraries, which are inextricably part of every

substance, are abstracted and separated.  Without the false

separations (the lies which abstract reason promulgates) good and

evil could never be taken apart in the first place.  In fact such

a separation negates the very essence of life itself. 

Traditional Christianity (not to mention many a Blake critic)

makes a distinction between good and evil and assigns the former

to the sheep and the latter to the goats at the Last Judgment. 

So the traditional Last Judgment is a form of mass murder, whose

purpose is to reassure those who abstract and separate in their

exclusive self-righteousness.  The self-righteous false holiness

that underlies such a system objects to every definite act as a

sin (Jerusalem 80:53) and in its incarnation as the Spectre,

discourages the poet from acts of clarification and forgiveness.

    Los specifically counters that system in building Golgonooza:

"Therefore Los stands in London Building Golgonooza" (10:17).  If

Los does not build, then he becomes a victim of the system of

abstract religion with its mystifications.  He does not construct

his new system in order to define a new tyranny, a rock-built

refuge from which he is unassailable, but in order to prevent

something worse from happening.  He seems to believe that if he

can just take actions exactly opposite to those of the Sons of

Albion, then he can combat them and solve the problem:


    I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans

    I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.



In this much-quoted line from Blake, too many critics simply read

Blake's desire to create his own system.  However, Blake is not

only opposing a specific system, but all methods of systematizing

which deny creativity.  As is the case with the word "code," the

word "system" is double-edged.  In the few other places where

Blake uses the word "system," it is clearly pejorative.<45>  The

important impulse here is creation, not system building.  To

build a coherent and consistent system, the poet would have to

reason and compare constantly, but that is exactly what he will

not do.  He creates in order to clarify, but not in order to

systematize.  It is crucial that Los does not get trapped in the

same kind of abstractions of good and evil, deriving from

abstract reasoning, that he is combatting in the Sons of Albion. 

In fact, in chapter 2 he will discover that even the admirable

distinctions which he wishes to make are not easily made against

his own systems.  That is, Los's system creating has as its

purpose the deliverance of all individuals, including himself,

from all systems, including his own.  His aim is to destroy

slavery, not impose a new tyranny.

    One critic who tries to capture Blake's refusal to construct

a coherent system is Michael Cooke:


    Blake . . . seeks but to escape some other person's

    prediction; his `system' is to be formulated, as a sort of

    perpetually indefinite defensive maneuver.<46>


Blake's system making does have the dynamic quality suggested

here, but Blake does not remain indefinite.  As in Bultmann's


eschatology (see above), Blake's apocalyptic end is both present

now and still to come.  It is in fact this unique and complex

vision incorporating both a refusal to be bound by any system and

at the same time a refusal to remain indefinite which is the

essence of Blake and of his use of the Bible.  The activity of

reasoning and comparing may be the work of the philosopher, the

theologian, and the critic, but not of the poet of the

imagination.  Instead of serving life-denying abstractions, what

Blake calls "Negations," the words of the poet must use language

in the service of some higher and deeper reality which denies and

at the same time affirms the power of the words.

    The major difference between Los's work and that of the Sons

of Albion is in revelation and definition, not as abstractions

but as complete and carefully outlined actions.  The Sons make

false distinctions; good and evil cannot be separated, as Los

knows.  Los's, and Blake's, work gives shape to truth and error,

good and evil, pleasure and pain, and does not try to deny or

conceal either apparent side of an opposition.  The fight is

against denial, concealment, and doubt.  All that exists must be

revealed (the basic meaning of the word "apocalypse") so that

error can take on its clearest and most powerful shape, in

particulars and in the aggregate, and finally fall away under its

own dead weight, snared and taken by its own lying power,

reversed and incorporated by the presence of Jesus.  Even more

than in Shelley's myth, total revelation brings reversal of


    The work of the Sons of Albion tries to consolidate the

reasoning power, not to reveal it, but to hide it and maintain

its negating force.  However, the splendid irony of Jerusalem is

that even this work which sets itself against revelation, even

this work which attempts to solidify and enshrine an abominable

holiness in its center must eventually be converted into part of

the greater unity.  As long as the holy secretiveness at the

center--whether that of the original tabernacle and Temple or

that of the usurping Abomination of Desolation which is the same

force to a higher power--tries to maintain itself, it is caught

in the tomb of death-in-life.  But even this tomb reveals itself

to be also the site of the resurrection, life-out-of-death.  Its

force consolidates itself until it must reveal the self-

destructive negation which reverses it.  Once all is revealed in

the resurrection/apocalypse/transfiguration, then doubt must

disappear in its present form and all contraries be incorporated

into the whole.

    The difficulty in reading Blake is not only that his

definitions do not always seem clear; it is also that they often

appear self-contradictory.  Both of these confusions occur

because Blake affronts our common sense with his uncommon Vision.

The theology of the Sons of Albion is surely consistent,

coherent, and rational, because it is formulated from

abstractions around a holy center.  Blake's theology, however, is

inconsistent and anti-rational because he is pursuing the details

of the world, full of life and therefore of oppositions.  He

creates instead of comparing, and finds his holiness in the

circumference, which is identical to the center, where humans

meet each other and meet Eternity:


    What is Above is Within, for every-thing in Eternity is


    The Circumference is Within: Without, is formed the Selfish


    And the Circumference still expands going forward to


    And the Center has Eternal States!  (71:6-9)


    If truth and error, or good and evil, were easily

distinguishable, then Los could abstract his principles as the

Sons of Albion do, make a few general rules of morality, and

build his system in relative ease and certainty. And indeed, many

critics of Blake see him doing just that.  But the agony of Los,

and of Blake, in Milton, The Four Zoas, and Jerusalem, is the


need to confront complexity.  The certainty of faith is in

revelation, not in any abstract formula, in concrete encounters,

not in general rules.  Because this process of revelation takes

place in every word in Jerusalem, in effect the apocalypse is

taking place in every word.  If the truth were easy, then Los

would not need to suffer all the tears of building Golgonooza. 

But it is painful to destroy what one is working for as part of

the process, especially to undergo the annihilation of Self.

    The prophet-poet must rebel against any secretive

establishment that imposes abstract morality, even if it means

making his own mistakes, not to set up a rival regime, but to

force error into revelation of itself.  Los does not build

Golgonooza to establish a permanent monument, but to define the

problems more clearly.  The problem can never be defined, and

therefore never solved, if so-called good and evil are separated

by fiat, good locked safely away untouchable, and evil banished

from acknowledgement.  Such a scheme denies the inextricability

of the qualities with which every substance is clothed, and

thereby murders its own body and lays it in the tomb like Lazarus

or the crucified Christ.  Such a system must be broken by the

power of creativity which allows the birth of Jesus through

forgiveness of sin and sees the transfiguration in all its minute


    The Sons of Albion are so afraid that they will lose their

identities that they cannot allow their Selfhoods to be broken

down.  The irony is of course that if they are not broken down

voluntarily, they will break under their own self-destructive

impetus.  Error will be reversed against its will, unless it is

willing to annihilate itself in the furnaces, as Albion does on

plate 96.  The Sons fear error and evil and take strenuous

measures to protect against them; at bottom they do not trust any

scheme which is not abstractly, coherently moral; they need to

protect themselves from the encroachment of the rich details of

life.  Blake sees most of religion and philosophy enslaving

themselves to this system of abstraction, and thereby assuring

the entombment of the very life they seek and love while

enshrining the Abomination which desolates humanity's hope.  The

work of Los accepts the necessity of living in error and evil,

but is based on the fundamental optimism that ultimate revelation

will lead to the salvation of us all.  Trying to be abstractly

consistent works against the very goals which a religion desires:

the finding of the eternal in the temporal.  Only by losing the

self can one find it: "whosoever will lose his life for my sake

shall find it" (Matthew 16:25).

    While waiting for Jesus to rend the veil, Los, in order to

prevent Albion from turning his back against the Divine Vision,

descends into "the interiors of Albions/Bosom, in all the terrors

of friendship" to "search the tempters out" (43:3-5).  Erdman

calls this "a Diogenes-like search . . . which is the central

action of the whole poem . . . and [which] is shown beginning in

the frontispiece."<47> But Los finds the task of destroying the

punishers and sparing the victims completely impossible:


     [Los] saw every Minute Particular of Albion degraded

                                         & murdered

     But saw not by whom; they were hidden within in the minute


     Of which they had possessed themselves;

     What shall I do!  what could I do, if I could find these


     I could not dare to take vengeance; for all things are so


     And builded by the Divine hand, that the sinner shall

                                         always escape,

     And he who takes vengeance alone is the criminal of


     If I should dare to lay my finger on a grain of sand


     In way of vengeance; I punish the already punished.

                                         (45:7-9, 29-34)


William Butler Yeats emphasizes the passivity which is necessary

at this point: "the tomb of Christ could be no other than a

shelter, where imagination might sleep in peace until the hour of

God should awaken it."  <48>  Although David Wagenknecht slides

around the issue, he hints at the double nature of the couch:


    The period of the clarification of error, while a place is

    being prepared for Satan and while man has simply in his

    divided being to wait, is given in chapter 2 an ironic

    identification and structure: it is the Scriptures . . .,

    organized around the sixteen books of the Old and New

    Testaments most important to Blake. <49>


    In their concentration on the constructive activity of Los,

too many critics overlook the wise passivity perceived by Yeats

and Wagenknecht; both the passivity and the activity must be

acknowledged.  It is necessary to wait for the coming of Jesus,

and it is just as necessary to continue to work while waiting, as

Los does. 

    It is absolutely essential that Blake's Jerusalem itself, as

a re-creation of the Bible, be seen in this double way.  On the

one hand Blake the poet is hammering out his own destiny,

refusing any compromise.  On the other hand, he is completely

dependent on the divine power which is gracefully vouchsafed to

him.  This paradox is expressed right from the beginning of the

poem when the poet apparently contradicts himself about his

method of composition (see comments on plate 3, above).  The

apparent paradox arises because ordinary language is inadequate

to describe the Vision necessary to perceive the relationship

between the fallen and the eternal. Similarly, the couch of

Albion is both terror and mercy, both fallen and eternal.  In the

effaced words on plate 1, Albion's Couch, England, is both a

globe in the void and a pleasant shadow of repose.  Thus, in the

various connections which Blake draws, the Bible is analogous to

or identical to a series of sculptures and to a couch which in

turn is equated with a void, a womb, a tomb, and with England,

which has been identified with Canaan.  All of these symbols have

a double meaning, but the doubleness does not consist merely in

seeing the same thing in two different ways.  They must be seen

as simultaneously fallen and eternal, as sinful and at the same

time necessary for redemption, accepted and rejected together. 

    In a simple optical illusion, for example the famous one

where the observer can see either two profiles or a vase, it is

possible to see both things at the same time with the proper

mixture of concentration and relaxation.  Stephen Prickett

disqualifies this kind of vision when he reproduces this

illustration in his Words and the Word.  He cites E.H. Gombrich,



    reminds us in connection with figures like this that an

    ambiguity, as such, cannot be perceived.'  'To perceive,'

    means, in this context, to form a complete and reasonable

    plausible image--even at the risk of excluding other

    plausibe, but contradictory images.  We can never 'see'

    directly something as ambiguous; we can only infer that it is

    so by a process of making first one reading and then another

    until all possible configurations are satisfied.  In this


    case we can see either a vase, or two faces in silhouette; we

    cannot, however hard we try by switching rapidly from one

    interpretation to the other, 'see' both at the same time. 



This stand recalls Barfield's emphasis on Coleridge's polarity, a

dynamic back-and-forth between irreconcilable oppositions. 

However, I insist that an observer can see both the vase and the

faces at the same time; I know, because I can do it.  Although I

have not seen the face of God, nor communicated daily with my

dead brother Robert, nor written Jerusalem, I can enter Blake's

vision to the extent of living in the coincidence of opposites in

that particular optical illusion.  This Blakean vision is not

simply "ambiguity" or "polarity."  It is rather a dynamic coming

together of irreconcilable elements, which we can achieve if we

persist in our folly.  If the reader can bring to Jerusalem's

paradoxes the same inextricable mixture of activity and passivity

which the poet brings, then she can perceive things which she

thought were mutually exclusive, and she will be seeing no

illusion, but Vision. 

    The distinction between Negation and Contrary is crucial in

Blake.  Damrosch, for example, obscures the difference by

claiming that Blake defines out of existence the parts of life

which he does not like <51>. But Negations are not just the

aspects which Blake does not like; they are the refusal to allow

life to exist at all.  A useful analogy can be made with the

physical process of etching and printing that Blake employed. 

Negations are analogous to the surfaces which must be burnt away

by the corrosive acid, the doubts and despairs of the Selfhood

which must be burnt away by the fires of the Last Judgment, the

veil which blocks Vision.<52>  Contraries are analogous to the

surfaces which are protected by the wax ground (the merciful

protection of the limits, the couch of Albion, the Mundane

Shell), and then reversed onto paper to be fulfilled.  If the

Negations are not burnt away, then the printed design will be

blurred and indefinite.  The more sharply the designed surfaces

are engraved and etched, the more exact will be the minute

particulars finally printed.

    The Spectre in Jerusalem does not understand the difference;

he thinks that he is a Contrary:


     . . .       the Almighty hath made me his Contrary

     To be all evil, all reversed & forever dead: knowing

     And seeing life, yet living not.



Los, however, who is busy building systems to deliver from

systems, insists on the distinction:


   Negations are not Contraries: Contraries mutually Exist:

   But Negations Exist Not: Exceptions & Objections & Unbeliefs

   Exist not: nor shall they ever be Organized for ever & ever:

   If thou separate from me, thou are a Negation: a meer

   Reasoning & Derogation from me, an Objecting & cruel Spite

   And Malice & Envy: but my Emanation, Alas! will become My

   Contrary:. . .

   . . .     never! never! shalt thou be Organized

   But as a distorted & reversed Reflexion in the Darkness

   And in the Non Entity . . .

   . . .

   And if any enter into thee, thou shalt be an Unquenchable


   And he shall be a never dying Worm, mutually tormented by

   Those that thou tormentest, a Hell & Despair for ever & ever.




To make it clear that the Spectre is the recalcitrant part of Los

himself, Blake immediately explains, "So Los in secret with

himself communed" (17:48).  Thus the denial of the Spectre and

the refusal to organize him is not a contradiction of Los's

method of revelation, but is a denial of denial itself.  Not only

are the doubt and despair of the Spectre a Negation of all life

and action, his very power of abstract reasoning is a Negation. 

It is that power of abstract reasoning which led the Sons of

Albion to construct the Abomination of Desolation, and which

leads the Deists to accept a reasonable and rational view of

human life which denies the need for Jesus, which in fact

perceives Jesus as an illusion.  Accepting nature, and human

nature, as they are apparently given, the Deists fail to burn

away the apparent surfaces to achieve the finished design, and

thereby plunge themselves into a hell of their own making.

    Blake's simultaneous fulfillment and rejection of the Bible

is epitomized in his rewriting of the birth of Jesus.  His

version is based on that of the gospel of Matthew:


       Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as

    his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came

    together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  Then

    Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make

    her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But

    while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the

    Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son

    of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary they wife: for that

    which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she

    shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus,

    for he shall save his people from their sins.  Now all this

    was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the

    Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with

    child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his

    name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.  Then

    Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord

    had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not

    till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called

    his name Jesus.  (Matthew l:18-25)


    Blake's version picks up the story in medias res, while

Joseph is thinking on Mary's pregnancy.  Although Matthew's

account does not tell us that Joseph spoke to Mary about his

pending decision, Blake thrusts his reader into the heat of the

imagined dispute.  In effect he externalizes the internal

thoughts of Joseph and has Mary participate:


     [Jerusalem] looked & saw Joseph the Carpenter in Nazareth &


     His espoused Wife.  And Mary said, If thou put me away from


     Dost thou not murder me?            (61:3-5)


This Mary immediately puts the lie to Joseph's attempt to be a

"just man."  In the self-righteousness of his private counsel, he

thinks that it is better to have a quiet divorce than to subject

Mary to public ignominy.  In fact the Old Testament law allowed

for a simple end of a marriage:


    When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to

    pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath

    found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill

    of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of

    his house.  (Deuteronomy 24:1)



Mary, however, appears to be remembering an even harsher



    And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife,

    even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife,

    the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to

    death.  (Leviticus 20:10)


From Blake's point of view, the self-righteous putting away of

the sexually active woman is just as bad as murder.  In the story

of the woman taken in adultery, death by stoning is exactly what

the accusers desire for her.  By denying the life-giving force of

sexuality, Joseph, trapped in the punishments of the old law,

would in effect kill his wife-to-be.  His attitude is caused by

and would cause the absence of Jesus, death without resurrection. 

Up to this point in Jerusalem the birth of Jesus has been looked

forward to as a reversal of disaster and a deliverance from

mental slavery.  The process of Generation which is evidence of

fallen sexuality must be allowed to continue so that Jesus can be


    If Generation is denied, either by the abstractions of the

Sons of Albion or by the self-righteousness of Joseph, then its

transformation into Regeneration is also denied.  If the man

rejects and attempts to punish the sexual activity of the woman

as sin, then he must at the same time reject his own sexuality as

sin.  (It is, in effect, this confrontation of the implications

of accusing others of sin that Jesus uses to turn away the crowd

of potential rock-throwers from the woman taken in adultery; see

following chapter for further discussion.)  Joseph's denial, if

allowed to prevent sexuality, birth, and Generation, would in

effect deny the embrace of the fallen world which is necessary

for its redemption.

    Mary's drawing out of the implications of Joseph's position

at first has no salutary effect on him.  He is still caught in

the language of accusation:


    . . .   Joseph spoke in anger & fury.  Should I marry a

    Harlot & an Adulteress?       (61:5-6)


The answer to this rhetorical question, which obviously should be

no, turns out to be yes, because, as Jesus clearly expresses, and

as Joseph learns to see in this episode, and as Jerusalem gropes

toward seeing, so-called sexual sin can be perceived in a

completely different way.  Joseph is trying to follow rigid

definitions which fix human beings into the states through which

they can pass, just as the male and female in "The Mental

Traveller" do to each other.  As is pointed out later in the

plate, "Every Harlot was once a Virgin" (61:52).  In Blake's

theology, it is not necessary that the holiness of Jesus be based

on the virginity of his mother.  In fact holiness cannot be based

on virginity, for such an orthodox theology creates a Jesus out

of self-righteousness and prohibition, that is, abstraction and

denial, a Jesus who could never be the Savior of and the friend

of sinners. Such a Jesus would be the punitive God of Vengeance. 

In fact holiness is not the issue. 

     The birth of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of falling into

sin, but it is also paradoxically the triumph of human



    By his Maternal Birth he is that Evil-One

    And his Maternal Humanity must be put off Eternally

    Lest the Sexual Generation swallow up Regeneration

    Come Lord Jesus take on thee the Satanic Body of Holiness.



Jesus is born into the state of sin so that He can deliver man

from accusations of sin.  If He is born sinless, of a virgin,


then He is not human, is not even God, and cannot deliver anyone. 

Those who believe in such a sinless Jesus self-righteously

project their own sinful feelings onto others, as do the accusers

of the woman taken in adultery, and thereby kill the possibility

of new life, of Regeneration out of Generation, trapping

themselves and others into an unending round of accusation,

punishment, and death, as do the characters in "The Mental

Traveller."  Because they can see only the horrifying aspect of

birth, they choose death over life.  Therefore, when Jesus wants

to comfort Jerusalem, who is being accused of sexual sin and

being threatened with punishment, He shows her a scene of Mary in

a similar situation.  But miraculously Jesus Himself is born from

that situation; that is, where the powers of accusation and

sacrifice are strongest, there Jesus can appear.  By using

language from the resurrection of Lazarus just before he shows

her the scene, he equates his birth with resurrection.

    In the Bible the excuse for redefining the supposed sin of

Mary is that it is not really a sin at all.  It did not happen. 

The apparent harlot is a virgin all along.  The giant abstract

penis of God's Holy Ghost has passed secretly into her and

deposited its abstract sperm without violating her holy

virginity.  The supposed sin has not taken place, and so there is

nothing to understand and forgive, simply a mastery and a mystery

to accept and submit to.  But in Blake the sin is not wished

away; instead the event is accepted and redefined in a different

way.  It is understood instead of being mystified.  The apparent

harlot is passing through a state of sin, as all humans must do. 

Blake's method simultaneously deepens the sense of sin and

lessens it.  The sin in Jerusalem is more serious than that in

the Bible: it cannot be explained away by recourse to a higher

power's authority.  But it can be accepted as a fact and then

forgiven by the power of a higher impulse in man than the impulse

to separate and accuse and punish.  Without the forgiveness of

this higher spirit, which is Jesus in man, man would be condemned

either to repeat the same dull round over and over again or to

fall into amorphous oblivion.

    Blake's whole Christian theology is founded on the

forgiveness of sins.  Margaret Bottrall points out that

Christianity does not have to be based on forgiveness:


     Blake's exaltation of Forgiveness as the essential quality

     of the religion of Jesus may seem arbitrary, even to those

     who are reasonably familiar with their New Testament; for

     neither in the gospels nor the epistles is there an explicit

     reiteration of the theme, such as we find in all the later

     writings of Blake himself.  <53>


And Altizer remarks<54> that the New Testament contains no

statement of forgiveness as Blakean as that in Jeremiah 3l:34:


     . . . they shall all know me, from the least of them unto

     the greatest of them saith the Lord: for I will forgive

     their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.


     The birth of Jesus arises on plate 61 from an act of

forgiveness, and the existence of Jesus is one act of forgiveness

after another.  The "perpetual re-enactment of the mystery of the

Incarnation"<55> can occur with every birth, with every act of

creation, with every act of art, because all those events are

acts of forgiveness in which the divine takes shape in the fallen

world.  According to Altizer, the Incarnation, the Fall, and the

Creation are particular moments of a single kenotic process, in

which God empties Himself into the world.<56>  As an extension of

Altizer's insight, in the eternal world of Blakean Vision,


Creation equals Fall equals Incarnation equals Crucifixion equals

Resurrection equals Redemption, because a descent of the eternal

into the fallen necessarily includes an ascent of the fallen into

the eternal. 

    Ironically, and blessedly, the farthest that fallen vision

can separate itself from divine Vision, the limit of contraction,

is the apparent beginning of fallen history, Adam.  And just as

inevitably as Adam must appear, so must the separation of sexes

occur, and so must Jesus eventually be born out of that

separation.  Not until man is completely blind to his own human

divinity is any divine Incarnation necessary.  In effect, man's

deathly sleep far from the Divine Vision necessitates the

appearance of Jesus.  Contained in the very notion of a Fall is

the movement of God into the world.  Having separated from divine

unity, man creates for himself a universe in which he cannot see

God.  He has in effect completely secularized existence.  But

when the universe is completely non-divine, then God Himself must

be a man, and that is indeed what happens when Jesus is born. 

Fallen vision necessitates Creation which necessitates the


     But the event of Incarnation, which is the ultimate extent

of falling away, is also the beginning of re-unification.  Just

as the stars of the created universe are both evidence of the

Fall and a merciful holding structure, just as the Bible as a

work of art reveals the disastrous extent of the Fall and at the

same time urges Regeneration, so the birth of Jesus occurs only

because man has fallen so far, but at the same time it assures

his re-unification with God.  God becomes as we are so that we

may become as He is.  Once Jesus is born, then the Crucifixion is

inevitable, for spirit which becomes completely flesh must die. 

And paradoxically, the Crucifixion, which is the most horrible

moment in Christianity, is also the most celebrated and joyful,

because it shows the final triumph of Eternity over fallen vision

through apparent defeat.  And all these events exist, not in

historical time, once and for all, but in every moment of life.

     Blake does not make the crucifixion the central event of his

Christianity, but the forgiveness of Jesus on the cross for those

who have killed Him is central.  The Incarnation of Jesus is an

act of forgiveness in the deepest sense because it accepts

completely the fallen world while at the same time transforming

it through the resurrection which follows the crucifixion.  The

death of Jesus in the fallen world allows him to pass through the

apparent limit of death into a resurrection that absolutely

reverses the power of death and the Fall even while appearing to

succumb to it.  In Blake's theology there is no possibility of

falling away irretrievably, for the merciful limits hold man in

safety.  The only thing that keeps him blind to the Divine Vision

is Negation: doubt, despair, and abstract reason.  Simply by

expanding his perception he can achieve the unity which has been


     But the simplicity of the act does not lessen the agony of

fallen vision or the difficulty of re-attaining total Vision. 

The change in perception is not simply a different way of seeing

what is already seen, but is a totally different way of existing. 

It is not simply epistemology, but ontology.  That is why any

generalization is inadequate to explain the conversion which

Blake urges.  It does not come about except through total

engagement with the fallen world to achieve the Eternity which

exists within it.  Once that Vision is achieved, all of existence

is transfigured, and what were formerly perceived as separate

parts of a difficult process can now be seen as joyous mental and

spiritual warfare.

    When Jerusalem misunderstands the process, she laments the

hopelessness of her condition:


    My tents are fall'n! my pillars are in ruins! my children


    Upon Egypts iron floors, & the marble pavements of Assyria;

    I melt my soul in reasonings among the towers of Heshbon;

    Mount Zion is become a cruel rock & no more dew


    Nor rain: no more the spring of the rock appears: but cold

    Hard & obdurate are the furrows of the mountain of wine &


    The mountain of blessing is itself a curse & an astonishment:

    The hills of Judea are fallen with me into the deepest hell

    Away from the Nations of the Earth, & from the Cities of the


    I walk to Ephraim.  I seek for Shiloh: I walk like a lost


    Among precipices of despair: in Goshen I seek for light

    In vain: and in Gilead for a physician and a comforter.

                                ( 79:1-12, E234)


But Jerusalem's despair contains within it a hopeful irony: if

all merciful places have become identical with the enemy, then

the enemy has become identical with mercy.  And indeed that is

the movement of chapter 4 of Jerusalem.  Fulfilling the movement

of the eternal Jesus into the fallen world by reversing it,

chapter 4 traces the return of the fallen into the eternal.  The

agony and the despair are no less present and no less real, but

they are inextricably bound with the powers of redemption. 

Jesus's descent into the fallen world, hinted at in chapters 1

and 2 and made explicit in chapter 3, brings the power of

forgiveness which will transfigure the fallen into the eternal. 

In chapter 4 the primary vehicle of that transfiguration is the

reversal of Albion's turning away from Jesus on plate 4 in

chapter 1.  The agonies of the Fall will become peripheral

visions, and all human forms will be identified through their

Emanation Jerusalem.

     The illustration on plate 81 which accompanies this

Gwendolen episode presents this basic truth in another way. 

Concealed behind her loins in mirror writing is the motto to

which Gwendolen points:


     In Heaven the only Art of Living

     Is Forgetting & Forgiving

                 Especially to the Female

     But if you on Earth forgive

     You shall not find where to Live.


This motto must be physically reversed to be read, and it must be

conceptually reversed to be understood.  As Erdman explains:


     The point of course is that the falsehood, as we come to

     expect of worldly wisdom, is only the truth turned inside

     out.  It consists of the second half of Gwendolen's quatrain

     in mirror writing, `But if you on Earth Forgive, You shall

     not find where to Live.'  The true message?  If you want to

     live in heaven, then start `Forgetting and Forgiving,' which

     `In Heaven is the only Art of Living'--the first half of the

     quatrain.  (The Second half is almost completely painted out

     in E: Blake hiding the falsehood so that we are safe with

     the remainder read ironically or straight.)  Her line of

     comment, `Especially to the Female,' marks her false



When Gwendolen sees that the infant she has nursed is a winding

worm, she has no choice but to join Los in trying to shape it

into something human.  As does Vala, she shares Los's desires to

form humanity, but she thought that the process needed war,

sacrifice, and secrecy.  Now, with Los, she begins "to form the

Worm into a form of love by tears & pain"  (E944).

     Los is comforted in his pain, and states the knowledge which

has often kept him going during his troubles:


     I know that I am Urthona keeper of the Gates of Heaven,


     And that I can at will expatiate in the Gardens of bliss.



However, even with this knowledge, Los fears that if he immerses

himself too much in the fallen world, he will lose eternity:


     But pangs of love draw me down to my loins which are

     Become a fountain of veiny pipes: O Albion! my brother!

     Corruptibility appears upon thy limbs, and never more

     Can I arise and leave thy side, but labour here incessant

     Till thy awaking! yet alas I shall forget Eternity! 

     Against the Patriarchal pomp and cruely, labouring incessant

     I shall become an infant horror.            

                      (82:83-84, 83:1-5, E241)


Not realizing how close he is to seeing Albion awaken, Los here

doubts the very principle of action which will help bring about

the desired result: immersion in the fallen world.  He knows that

he cannot leave Albion in the tomb, subject to the concealments

of Vala, but he forgets that complete descent into the horror of

infancy is precisely what Jesus accomplished in chapter 3.  He

fears that the constant work which is absolutely necessary may

lead to the opposite of what he intends.

    By His very birth Jesus becomes Satan; He does not simply

enter the state, as some individuals do, but He actually becomes

the state of Satan so that He can reverse Himself and put it off,

thus freeing individuals.  In a move similar to the one I

described at the end of Pope's Essay on Man, individuals can

participate in this power of the universal Jesus, not by

appropriating to themselves the characteristics of Jesus, but by

continually giving up any notions of universality.  That is, any

individual who thinks that he is a universal is denying his own

individuality, the only place where universality resides:


    Los cries: No Individual ought to appropriate to Himself

    Or to his Emanation, any of the Universal Characteristics

    Of David or of Eve, of the Woman, or of the Lord.

    Of Reuben or of Benjamin, of Joseph or Judah or Levi

    Those who dare appropriate to themselves Universal Attributes

    Are the Blasphemous Selfhoods & must be broken asunder.

                            (90: 28-33)


Just as Eternity can be found only in the minute particulars of

existence, so universality can be found only in particular

individuals who continually break into pieces the blasphemous

Selfhoods who try to appropriate universality to themselves.

    The most pernicious appropriation of universality which Blake

wishes to combat here is the narrowly orthodox notion of Jesus,

which he has already severely undercut in chapter 3, especially

plate 61.  The orthodox Jesus removes Himself from humanity by

being born of a virgin, thus quitting the field and allowing the

cycle of Generation to crucify, enshrine, and neutralize Him, as

in "The Mental Traveller."  Such a Jesus must take on the Satanic

nature of Generation and transform it into Regeneration.  The

question is, if all notions of universality, generalization,

abstraction, and holiness are to be put off, then what is to take

their place?  Without a new mode of being, continual putting off

would become an infinite regress.

    Los's answer imitates the embrace of the details of the world

which was the birth of Jesus:  


     . . .the Worship of God, is honoring his gifts


     In other men: & loving the greatest men best, each according

     To his Genius: which is the Holy Ghost in Man; there is no


     God, than that God who is the intellectual fountain of


     He who envies or calumniates: which is murder & cruelty,

     Murders the Holy-one.       (91:7-12)


And on an even simpler level, the individual can actually see

Blake's Jesus, who will soon appear to Albion, immanently alive

in others:


    He who would see the Divinity must see him in his Children

    One first, in friendship & love; then a Divine Family, & in

      the midst

    Jesus will appear; so he who wishes to see a Vision; a

      perfect Whole

    Must see it in its Minute Particulars; Organized & not as


    O Fiend of Righteousness pretendest; thine is a Disorganized

    And snowy cloud: brooder of tempest & destructive War.

    You smile with pomp & rigor: you talk of benevolence &


    I act with benevolence & Virtue & get murdered time after


    You accumulate Particulars, & murder by analyzing, that you

    May take the aggregate; & you call the aggregate Moral Law:

    And you call that Swelld & bloated Form; a Minute Particular.

    But General Forms have their vitality in Particulars: & every

    Particular is a Man; a Divine Member of the Divine Jesus.



    In order to find the Jesus who will redeem us, we must see

other individuals as individuals, minute particulars, and not as

embodiments of any abstractions.  Minute particulars are not

atomistic parts which aggregate together into a whole, but each

one is "a Divine Member" in that it fully participates in the

divinity of Jesus.  To see that Jesus, Los counsels us to look at

others.  We begin with our children (or, for the childless Blake,

his artistic creations), and then extend that perception to all

of the visible universe.  This process is not based on a

sentimental analogy, but on a hard-edged paradox: the apparent

surface of our world is actually the center of the eternal world,

but perceiving that reversal requires continual re-creation of

the Self, in fact a continual annihilation of the Self, which is

a false center, so that eternal existence can be constantly





Notes to Chapter 7: Internal Eternity


1.  David Erdman, ed., A Concordance to the Writings of William

Blake, 2 vols. (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1967), 2:2181; 1:xii.


2.  Qtd. in Deborah Dorfman, "Knowledge and Estimation of Blake

during His Lifetime," in Adams, Critical Essays, p. 15.


3.  6 Feb 1818, Griggs, Letters 4:834, qtd. in Dorfman, p. 20.


4.  Holmes, Coleridge, p. 49.


5.  Coleman and Otto, Introduction, p. xi.


6.  Peter Otto, Constructive Vision and Visionary

Deconstruction (Oxford, 1991), p. 7.


7.  Stephen Behrendt, Reading William Blake (NY: St. Martin's,

1992), p. 18.


8.  Frye, Fearful, pp. 356-57.


9.  I discuss the complexities of this couch/tomb in more detail

in "Striving with Blake's Systems," in Blake and His Bibles, ed.

David Erman.


10. Blake's Night (Harvard UP, 1973), pp. 137-38.


11. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.


12.  Wagenknecht, pp. 4, 6.


13.  Wagenknecht, p. 290.


14.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1976, p. 2.


15.  Schneidau, p. 302.


16. 2 vols., trans. Kendrick Grobel (NY: Scribners, 1951, 1955),



17. The Divine Imagination (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1972),

p. 145.


18. Altizer, p. 194.


19. Bultman, Theology, 1:19-21.  As this paradoxical eschatology

permeates Jerusalem, it is worthwhile to note some other

formulations by Bultmann:


    According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the

    eschatological event, the action of God by which God has set

    an end to the old world. . . . It is the paradox of the

    Christian message that the eschatological event, according to

    Paul and John, is not to be understood as a dramatic cosmic

    catastrophe but as happening within history, beginning with

    the appearance of Jesus Christ and in continuity with this

    occurring again and again in history, but not as the kind of

    historical development which can be confirmed by any

    historian. . . . although the advent of Christ is an

    historical event which happened 'once' in the past, it is, at

    the same time an eternal event which occurs again and again

    in the soul of any Christian in whose soul Christ is born,

    suffers, dies and is raised up to eternal life. . . . every

    instant has the possibility of being an eschatological

    instant and in Christian faith this possibility is realised.

    . . . In every moment slumbers the possibility of being the

    eschatological moment.  You must awaken it.  (Bultmann,

    History, pp. 151-55)


From the beginning to the end of Jerusalem the call of the poet

is to the reader and to all of humanity to awaken to the

eschatological possibility which slumbers within each moment. 

And the triumphant conclusion is the realization of that moment,

the absolute end to history which paradoxically can not be

confirmed by the historian, the absolute entry into Eternity,

which can not be perceived by fallen vision.


20.  Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1972, pp. 10-12.


21.  Peter Fischer, The Valley ov Vision (Univ. of Toronto

Press, 1961), p. 47.


22. For Blake's accusation that Plato distorted Socrates's

teachings, see "A Vision of the Last Judgment," E554.


23. Damrosch, p. 114.


24. Damrosch, pp. 175, 238.


25. Damrosch, pp. 240, 380, 370.


26. Damrosch, p. 371.


27. Fischer, p. 188.


28. I discuss the question of "system" more fully in my "Striving

with Blake's Systems," in Blake and His Bibles.


29. Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plates 4, 12; Song of Los, plate

3; Laocoon; Europe, plate 12; and two examples in the annotations

to Watson.


30. Frye, Fearful, p. 416.


31. For an attempt at a more rational, less paradoxical

explanation of Blake's inconsistent God, see H. Summerfield,

"Blake and the Names Divine," Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 57

(Summer 1981): 14-22.


32. Blake is following the line of Milton, who refused bondage to


rhyme in his preface to Paradise Lost:


    Rime [is] no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or

    good Verse. . . . This neglect then of Rime . . . is . . . an

    example . . . of ancient liberty recover'd to Heroic Poem

    from the troublesome and modern bondage of Riming.  (Complete

    Poems, p. 210.


33. Mitchell, "Visible," p. 75.


34. This is the only plural use, "types"; the other four,

singular, which refer simply to printing, are found in a picture

title and in letters.


35. The best account of this labor is found in Robert Essick,

William Blake, Printmaker (Princeton UP, 1980), from which the

following simplified information is taken.


36.  For a discussion of writing backwards so that the reversed

design will read correctly, see Essick, Printmaker, pp. 89-92.


37. For one way to understand this reversal, see Frye, Fearful,

p. 383.


38. For a fuller discussion of this dynamic, see the following



39. Blake and the Assimilation of Chaos (Princeton UP, 1978), pp.



40.  W.J.T. Mitchell rescues Urizen even more firmly from the

derision of traditional Blake criticism:


    Urizen is no doubt sometimes employed as a figure of English

    reaction in the late 1790s, but it is also clear that in The

    Book of Urizen (1794) Blake represents him as a

    revolutionary, utopian reformer who brings new laws, new

    philosophies, and a new religion of reason.  (Mitchell,

    "Visible," p. 58.)


41. Gallant, pp. 76-77.


42. Acts of Inclusion, p. 139.


43. Karl Kroeber, "Delivering Jerusalem," Blake's Sublime

Allegory, ed. Curran and Wittreich (Madison: Univ. of

Wisconsin, 1973), p. 366.


44. Frye, Fearful, p. 357.


45. Except in a letter to Josiah Wedgwood, and even there it

refers to a series of identical engravings, E770.


46. Cooke, Acts of Inclusion, p. 219.


47. Erdman, Blake: Prophet Against Empire, 3rd ed. (Princeton UP,

1977), p. 469.


48. Poems of William Blake (1905; rpt. London: Routledge, 1969),

p. xviii.


49. Wagenknecht, p. 273.


50. Prickett, Words, pp. 163-64.


51. Damrosch, p. 168.


52.       Blake . . .intensified the process of defamiliarization

          by an ironic undermining of the accepted. . . .  For

          Blake, irony was a necessary precondition of vision as

          etching acid is necessary to produce ultimately the

          "illumination" of the print.  (John Howard, Infernal

          Poetics [Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson, 1984], pp.



53. The Divine Image (Rome: Edizioni Di Storia E Letteratura,

1950), p. 81.


54. Altizer, p. 201.


55. Bottrall, p. 14.


56. Altizer, p. 105.


57. Illuminated Blake, p. 360.