In his unrelenting rage and impassioned commitment (though scarcely in most of his actual views), Blake recalls the biblical prophets. Looking ahead, he also bears a remarkable kinship to that equally intense, iconoclastic artist of “terrifying honesty”, D.H. Lawrence.
Blake and Lawrence, as Vivian de Sola Pinto has written, are “the two major prophets of the Other England,” the England “outside the pale of the governing class,” and consequently outside the pale of conventional truths. Sensuous, eccentrically intellectual, assertive, and religious, the art of both men infuses what Eugene Goodheart calls “already enacted life” with a vision of intuited possibility.
Both Blake and Lawrence are obsessed with revealing the “hidden heart” and naming truths not conventionally perceived. Like Blake, Lawrence argues against the repression of the “primal impulsive body” and sees as a consequence the mutilation of a sensual, imaginative apprehension of reality. “Man has closed himself up,” writes Blake, “till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”.
Lawrence speaks of man closing himself up, as in the dark of a cabbage: “we dare not even peep forth, but … we remain secure till our hearts go rotten, saying all the while how safe we are.” The “Children of Man” in Blake’s Four Zoas see “no Visions in the darksom air” because for them the mind is an unlit place. The light cast by the imagination, the belief in an active, living universe, and the awareness of both the transcendent and immanent sacred, have been lost. “What it will be Questioned,” writes Blake,
When the Sun rises do you not see a round Disc of fire somewhat like a Guinea? O no no I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look thro it & not with it.
Where, for us, is the great and royal sun of the Chaldeans? Where even, for us, is the sun of the Old Testament, coming forth like a strong man to run a race? We have lost the sun. We have lost the sun, and we have found a few miserable thought-forms. A ball of blazing gas!
The sun, I tell you, is alive, and more alive than I am, or a tree is. It may have blazing gas, as I have hair, and a tree has leaves. But I tell you, it is the Holy Ghost in full raiment, shaking and walking, and alive as a tiger is, only more so, in the sky.
As if glossing his own lines as well as those of Blake, Lawrence remarks:
The reality of substantial bodies can only be perceived by the imagination, and the imagination is a kindled state of consciousness in which intuitive awareness predominates. In the flow of true imagination we know in full, mentally and physically at once, in a greater, enkindled awareness. At the maximum of our imagination we are religious. And if we deny our imagination, and have no imaginative life, we are poor worms who have never lived.
Both Blake and Lawrence thus embark on rescue missions: their aim is to reawaken humanity by reasserting imaginative consciousness, and redeeming that “religious state” in which “we know in full, mentally and physically at once, in a greater, enkindled awareness.” For both men, the enemy to begin with is what Lawrence calls “mental consciousness,” Blake’s fallen Urizen, the “Reasoning Power” or “Spectre” of man.
Man’s tendency to intellectualise all reality leads eventually to the atrophying and chaotic perversion of all his other faculties. Instead of a vivid, fructifying awareness of one’s sexuality, intuition, and imagination, one falls under the dominion of an “Abstract objecting power, that Negatives everything”. To live from one side of one’s self only is to forget that “Without Contraries is no progression”, as Blake writes, or as Lawrence insists, “in the tension of opposites all things have their being”. One becomes trapped in one’s own partiality. And the first victim of what Lawrence called “the partial soul”, the soul poisoned by the mentalised psyche, is sexuality.
The Suppression of the Real
In Blake’s myth, when Urizen seizes control of the psyche, Los loses his home in the generative loins and thus his identity as Urthona, the “Earth-owner” able to shape reality to accord with imaginative perception. Similarly, Lawrence writes that as “mental consciousness” came to dominate man, he “began to suppress with all his might his instinctive intuitive consciousness, which is so radical, so physical, so sexual”. To cripple imagination by allowing mental consciousness to dominate means one dams up passion and sexuality. The partial soul loses touch with his body.
Blake and Lawrence both believe in the liberation of the body. But both artists also see sexuality as a “vehicle for exploring wider relationships”, in the words of Mark Kinkead-Weekes, including relationships “within people, between them, throughout society” and involving, too, “the connection of man to the universe.” Each in his own way, Blake and Lawrence both participate in the ancient tradition of regarding male and female as a “primary means of conceptualising all forms of human reality.”
For both, the primordial unalienated psyche is androgynous – “two-in-one” as Lawrence writes – and the sexes are what Erich Neumann has called “symbolic magnitudes”, sources of archetypal, universal principles. Blake embodies these symbolic magnitudes directly in his male Zoas and female emanations; the imaginative goal of his prophetic books is the reconciliation of Albion – container of all Zoas – and Jerusalem, container of all emanations.
Lawrence’s characters, on the other hand, all possess attributes Lawrence considered archetypal male and archetypal female. The dramatic struggle of his fiction, as H.M. Dales has shown, is the restoration to each sex of those symbolic magnitudes Lawrence believe properly belong to it.
Perhaps because both artists are men, however, and men who reject so many of the predicates of patriarchal culture, it is their encounter with the feminine – as the unknown portion of the psyche, as anima, and as woman herself – that is a particular locus of their creative struggle. As Lawrence himself wrote, sexual conflict “makes the man struggle into articulation”. It is the nature of that sexual struggle, and its relationship to their vision of the psyche, that we will be exploring here.
As Above So Below
Like Carl Jung, both Blake and Lawrence conceive of the psyche in its health as fourfold: “Four Mighty Ones,” Blake announces in his introduction to The Four Zoas, “are in every Man.” For Lawrence, there are “four powerful vital poles which, flashing darkly, in polarised interaction with one another, form the four-fold issue of our individual life.” Blake names his mighty ones – there is Tharmas, Zoa of sensation and the body; Luvah, Zoa of the passional life; Urizen, Zoa of intellection; and Los/Urthona, Zoa of the intuitive and imaginative – and then dramatises their awesome, intricate, intrapsychic conflict.
Like the “integral soul” Lawrence conceives of as “for ever indescribable and unstateable”, and the totality of the psyche Jungians believe cannot be known or defined, Blake believes his Zoas to be ultimately unknowable by any individual. “What are the Nature of those Living Creatures,” he added to the introduction after he was well into the work, “the heavenly father only [Knoweth] no individual [Knoweth nor] Can know in all Eternity”. In fact, that the Zoas exist at all is an intuition of what Lawrence calls “primal consciousness”, the form of knowledge he believes issues from the “four cornerstones of the psyche”: “radical knowledge, knowledge non-ideal, non-mental, yet still knowledge, primary cognition, individual and potent”.
But primary cognition, which is holistic awareness, is precisely what Lawrence believes we have lost, and Blake portrays his Zoas as losing. According to Lawrence:
In ourselves … the primary experience, the vital consciousness grows weaker and weaker, the mind fixes the control and limits the life-activity … instead of our life issuing spontaneously at the great affective centres, the mind, the mental consciousness grown unwieldy, proceeds to evoke our primal motions and emotions didactically. The mind subtly, without knowing, provokes and dictates our feelings and impulses … We insist over and over again from one mere centre of ourselves, the mental centre.
That is the process Blake so minutely and obsessively maps in his prophetic books. Mental consciosuness, of which Urizen is a vehicle, abstracts itself from the psyche, assumes the mantle of dominion and autonomy, and throws out of joint all the other functions. Urizen becomes as machine-haunted as Gerald Crich, as assiduously possessive as Clifford Chatterley, and, in his repressiveness, fear of the vital and presumed omnipotence, a Prussian officer. “Make any human being a really rational being,” writes Lawrence, “and you have made him”, not wise or angelic, but rather like tyrannical Urizen, a “parasitic and destructive force”.
For Blake, to perceive the world through the eyes of one’s rationality alone is to have merely “single vision” – to see the sun only as a “round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea”, for example – and not to realise that “The Suns Light when he folds it/Depends on the Organ that beholds it”. In other words, one eliminates one’s own subjectivity and in so doing reifies the world. Single vision is inevitably narrow-minded and egoistic; that is what Lawrence thunders against it:
How gibbering man becomes, when he is really clever, and thinks he is giving the ultimate and final description of the universe! Can’t he see that he is merely describing himself, and that the self he is describing is merely one of the more dead and dreary states that man can exist in? When man changes his state of being, he needs an entirely different description of the universe, and so the universe changes its nature to him entirely.
Blake makes the same point more gently: when man moves “his dwelling-place,” he writes in Milton, “his heavens also move.” Portraying that “dead and dreary state” in its religious, emotional, and sexual aspects, Blake and Lawrence dedicate themselves to transfiguring it into life. Lawrence sees the importance of the novel as leading ”our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead.” Blake arms himself with his spiritual sword. And both men, fighting for an authentic life for the human spirit, decide to take on God.
Taking On God
Rejecting the “heavens” depicted by the man of single vision, and a psyche dominated by a single function, inevitably brings Blake and Lawrence in conflict with the concept of a single authoritarian God. God the Father is for both men a bossy moralist “who says Thou shalt, thou shan’t“. Blake parodies the God who creates a “Book/Of eternal brass” unfolding
One command, one joy, one desire
One curse, one weight, one measure
One King, one God, one Law
That God, says Lawrence, almost as if he is writing a commentary on Blake’s prophetic books, “is the way of egotism, and the One God is the reflection, inevitably, of the worshipper’s ego.”
Ahania, the feminine portion of Urizen’s intellect, offers him her comprehension of man’s fall. In “dreams of soft deluding slumber,” Man, Ahania tells Urizen,
… ascended mourning into the splendors of his palace
Above him rose a Shadow from his wearied intellect
Of living gold, pure, perfect, holy; in white linen pure he hover’d
A sweet entrancing self delusion, a watry vision of Man
Soft exulting in existence all the Man absorbing.
Man fell upon his face prostrate before the watry shadow
Saying O Lord whence is this change thou knowest I am nothing
I heard the voice of the Slumberous Man & thus he spoke
Idolatrous to his own Shadow words of Eternity uttering.
O I am nothing when I enter into judgment with thee
Ahania imagines man withdrawing from life into “the splendours of his palace”, an ivory tower of pseudo-rationality where he can enclose himself in his own narrow domain. The weary, isolated intellect of man catapults him between feelings of omnipotence and a conviction of his own worthlessness. Both stances though, says Ahania, are reflections of a “sweet entrancing self delusion”, an intellectualised adult version of primary narcissism. The pure, perfect, holy Lord is an image of man’s narcissistic self-love whose source is not a liberated, receptive, and assertive imagination, but rather self-pity and self-delusion.
Urizen, predictably, is enraged by her words. His wrath bursts forth like a “black hail storm”:
“Am I not God? he cries, “Who is Equal to me?”;
Shall the feminine indolent bliss. the indulgent self of weariness
The passive idle sleep the enormous night & darkness of Death
Set herself up to give her laws to the active masculine virtue
Thou little diminutive portion that darst be a counterpart
Thy passivity thy laws of obedience & insincerity
Are my abhorrence. Wherefore hast thou taken that fair form
Whence is this power given to thee! once thou wast in my breast
A sluggish current of dim waters …
And thou hast risen with thy moist locks into a watry image
Reflecting all my indolence …
… thus I cast thee out.
The reaction of Urizen to Ahania’s words shows not only the mind perversely twisting back upon itself, but also Blake’s brilliant intuition of the sexual fears that underlie mental absolutism. Ahania described to Urizen the dangers of man’s withdrawal into pure intellect. Urizen’s violent response is to attribute all that she criticised to the feminine in the male. She is inertia, indolence, and self-indulgence; she is trying to take control and destroy “the active masculine virtue”. Furious and frightened by her criticism, he casts her out.
The Woman in the Man
Blake portrays sexual differentiation as the female, Eve-like, dividing from the male, and not the male from the female. Enion separates from Tharmas, Emnitharmon from Los, Jerusalem from Albion; or the emanations are expelled, like Ahania from Urizen. Blake is concerned with how the male psyche divides and with the assumption of autonomy on the part of the anima. He does not offer us a conception of the animus. In other words, Blake’s psychic ground is the bisexual male psyche and not, as is too often assumed, an androgynous human psyche.
The primal division of the male, for Blake, entails dissociation from his “female” side:
One dread morn of gory blood
The manhood was divided, for the gentle passions, making way
Thro the infinite labyrinths of the heart & thro the nostrils issuing
In odorous stupefaction stood before the Eyes of Man
A female bright.
The male has rejected his emotional life, his “gentle passions,” what Lawrence calls “affective consciousness”. His anima, for Blake, consequently assumes a psychic independence. The split between “subjective” and “objective” reality widens; the male portion of the psyche becomes dominated by an abstracted rationality, and the female portion by pure will.
A demonic parody of the original bisexual state, this conjunction of male rationality and female will is in Blake’s terms “hermaphroditic”, sterile, negative, incapable of imaginative life or of artistic production. One is reminded of Gudrun and Gerald Crich, as well as the destructive relationship of Romero and “The Princess”, though for Lawrence, there as elsewhere, the female, not the male, embodies rationality twisted by emotional repression. Both these relationships, it should be noted, end with the death of the male.
What Blake portrays as an intrapsychic process, Lawrence portrays as a social phenomenon. “Tortured and cynical and unbelieving,” he writes, man “has let all his feelings go out of him, and remains a shell of a man … nothing really moves him.”
Having lost his “instinctive hold on the life-flow and life-reality,” he has also lost his “instinctive hold” over women. Rather than submit to the male with an “instinctive, unconscious submission made in unconscious faith” – as Connie comes to submit to Mellors, as Birkin yearns for Ursula to submit to him – woman begins to fight man “at any cost”, till he is “burned and obliterated” by her power. The result is that the modern world, according to Lawrence, is becoming a “tyranny of women”, of mothers “who lust to have absolute power over their children”.
The male child is either arrested, like Paul Morel, “from finding his proper fulfilment on the sensual plane”, or he grows up to worship women, declaring, like Clifford Chatterley, his “idolatry”. Man, says Lawrence, becomes on the one hand “the fetcher, the carrier, the sacrifice, the crucified,” devoted, like the desperate lad in ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’ to “the great end of Women”, and on the other, overly rational, mechanical, with a mind “curious and cold” like that of Gerard Crich – and indeed like that of Urizen after he expels Ahania.
What overwhelmingly concerns both Blake and Lawrence is the paralysis of the creative male in such a hermaphroditic state [the subordination of active imaginative creativity to maternal, bourgeois comfort]. Blake portrays this paralysis and, with it, what he conceives of as dangers of a “tyranny of women”. In Chapter 1 of Jerusalem, for example, Albion’s hiding of his emanation in “Jealousy” leads Satan – Blake’s symbol of the “Great Selfhood” – to appear before Albion on the “frowning chaos” of his soul. Once he is controlled by his selfhood, Albion worships and idolises woman, experiencing her as the “Divine Wisdom” just as Gerald Crich worships Gudrun.
In Blake’s mythology, the idolised female is “Vala”. “Know me now Albion,” she declares. “Look upon me”:
I alone am Beauty
The Imaginative Human Form is but a breathing of Vala
I breathe forth into the Heaven from my secret Cave
Born of the Woman to obey the Woman
For Vala, the woman-on-a-pedestal is Mother, and it is she who has ultimate control of the imaginative creations of men. Vala conceives of the “Human Divine” as “Woman’s Shadow”; for her, the masculine is merely a “breeder of Seed: a Son & Husband”. Vala herself, says Blake, is “Mother from the Womb/Wife, Sister, Daughter to the Tomb”.
Los, the creative male, is horrified by the thought of this ultimate dependency of man upon woman and in words that in a poetic mood Birkin himself might have spoken, he retorts:
I hear the screech of Childbirth loud pealing, & the groans
Of Death, in Albion’s clouds dreadful utter’d over all the Earth
What may Man be? Who can tell! but what may Woman be?
To have power over Man from Cradle to corruptible Grave.
There is a Throne in every Man, it is the Throne of God
This Woman has claimd as her own & Man is no more!
Albion is the Tabernacle of Vala & her Temple
And not the Tabernacle & Temple of the Most High
O Albion why wilt thou Create a Female Will?
To hide the most evident God in a hidden covert, even
In the shadows of a Woman & a secluded Holy Place
That we may pry after him as after a stolen treasure
Recoiling from Vala’s words, Los hears the “screech of Childbirth” with the “groans of death”, for as Blake wrote in ‘To Tirzah’: “Whate’er is born of Mortal Birth/Must be consumed with the Earth”. To be born of Vala is to be enjoined to that dangerous “Maternal line” that gives both to the mortal body; it is to be what Blake calls “Adam”:
He repented that he had made Adam
(of the Female, the Adamah)
& it grieved him at his heart
What can be Created Can be Destroyed
Adam is only The Natural Man & not the Soul or Imagination
Both Blake and Lawrence agree that to accept the psychological priority of motherhood is to grant divine power to a matriarch presided over not by a benevolent Great Mother but rather by “the Goddess Nature/Mystery Babylon the Great”, the hidden Harlot, and therefore to be rendered incapable of imaginative action. For Blake, it is the religious rationalists, the Deists, who worship “the Material/Humanity; calling it Nature; & Natural Religion”, just as it is Lawrence’s super-rational men who conjoin with the female will.
Generation versus Regeneration
Whereas in ‘Beulah’, portrayed by Blake as a state of psychic relaxation, in the state of ‘Generation’ shaped by Vala and the “Spectre”, sexuality is dominated by “Female Space”. The male “Organs of Life” become “a little grovelling Root outside” of man, and the “most evident God” is hidden, as Los says, “in a secret covert, even/In the shadows of a Woman”.
Genital sexuality, for Blake, is “a pompous High Priest entering by a Secret Place” to commune with a “Female God” who keeps man either ever searching and never satisfied, or else at once “satisfied and shattered, fulfilled and destroyed”, as Lawrence describes Birkin’s feelings after intercourse with Ursula. True embraces, for Blake, are “Cominglings: from the Head even to the Feet”, rather than an assertion of power.
Peace comes to the relationship between Birkin and Ursula only later, when Ursula discovers a numinous masculine power in her lover. She experiences him not as the “Tabernacle of Vala”, but rather as the ‘Temple of the Most High”, the embodiment of one of the sons of God about which she had fantasised in The Rainbow:
… where the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair. And he was one of these, one of these strange creatures from the beyond, looking down at her, and seeing she was fair.
Birkin’s divine maleness becomes manifest to Ursula when genital sexuality is put aside for the erotic pleasure of pure touch.
Unconsciously, with her sensitive fingertips, she was tracing the back of his thighs, following some mysterious life-flow there. She had discovered something, something more than wonderful, more wonderful than life itself. It was the strange mystery of his life-motion, there, at the back of the thighs, down the flanks. It was a strange reality of his being, the very stuff of being, there in the straight downflow of the thighs. It was here she discovered him one of the sons of God such as were in the beginning of the world, not a man, something other, something more …
She seemed to faint beneath, and he seemed to faint, stooping over her. It was a perfect passing away for both of them, and at the same time the most intolerable accession into being, the marvellous fullness of immediate gratification, overwhelming, out-flooding from the source of the deepest life-force, the darkest, deepest, strangest life-source of the human body, at the back and base of the loins.
Ursula’s willingness to abandon the assumed “female power” of genital sexuality and to explore Birkin’s body frees her from shame and guilt.
Whereas prior to this episode, she had condemned Birkin for the “foulness” of his “sex life” with Hermione, presumably its anality, after her experience of him as a “son of God” she feels only that she and Birkin might now “do as they liked”: “She was free, when she knew everything, and no dark shameful things were denied her.” That is, once the male is perceived as a “Temple of the Most High”, moral inhibition vanishes. That is a possibility for Ursula because she does not identify with the maternal in woman. In The Rainbow, she was alienated from Anna who’s life was lived in the “violent trance of motherhood”; in Women in Love, she constellates the ideal male-female polarity as a “son of God” descending unto the “daughter of man”, and thus tacitly rejecting “maternal humanity” altogether.
For Lawrence, females are liberated from the Mother-dominated moral laws when they intuit or experience the sacred, separate power of the male. The same is true for Blake. Bearing “the likeness & similitude of Los” Jesus rends the “Infernal Veil”. Like Birkin or Mellors, Christ liberates eros by removing the law from the “Inner Sanctuary” (the ark, the womb), allowing embraces to become “Cominglings from the Head even to the Feet”.
For both Blake and Lawrence, the personal ego, abstract reason, and “objectivity” are attributes of a crippled humanity. Both artists are drawn to the undercurrents of consciousness, the “carbon” of being in the words of Lawrence, in quest of a form of intuitive, sensous, and imaginative knowledge in which the psyche as a whole is free to participate. Lawrence was undoubtedly right when he suggested that the “supreme art”, in which male and female were “equal … complete,” remains to be fully done.
This is an edited version of Myra Glazer’s chapter ‘Why the Sons of God Want the Daughters of Men: On William Blake and D.H. Lawrence’, first published in William Blake and the Moderns.
I’m hoping the writer of this article happens to read this. I’m interested in one of the paintings – D.H.Lawrence, Rape of the Sabine Women. I have opened a Facebook Page on the topic of Lawrence’s paintings. My image of this painting is quite inferior to the one in the article – the colour is far less stark. I’m wonder if you have a high-resolution image of the picture that you would be happy to share? If so, please contact me.
Hi Ian – yes sure, I’ll send the image to your gmail on Monday, when I have access to it. It’s not super-high res (72 dpi) but it’s the same as the one in the post. The Facebook page on Lawrence sounds good! Best wishes, Rod
Thank you for that brilliant article!
Though Blake and Lawrence are right in saying that the prison of procreation binds souls into a never ending cycle of senseless death and destruction, their problem lies in equating motherhood with procreation and conception. in effect their thinking has not transcended the prison of nature. That equivalence is an illusion presented by nature. In actuality, motherhood is the very essence of the female. Her sexuality is seeded by her motherhood, as is the male given life and nurtured by it. Take away that motherhood and the sexual warmth of the “free woman” will die a slow death and plunge her into a mind numbing frigidity – and the man will be left again staring into his loneliness.