The Sleep of Six Thousand Years: The Fall of Man and the Rise of Agriculture, Cities, and Civilisation
Introduction: Six Thousand Years
Give Us Today Our Daily … “A state can be defined as a territory over which an elite exercised coercive power maintaining itself by taxing the population either through its produce or its labour. Scott provides a fascinating insight into just how they worked. He argues that for a state to exist it needed to be reliant on a staple that could easily be taxed – and grain was the ideal. Another advantage of grain to the state was that it had a higher value per unit volume than most other foodstuffs and was easy to store in the protection of the city, from where it could be doled out to slaves and soldiers or used to feed the population when under siege. Through taxation the state became the quartermaster and producers became subjects” (Guardian review of Scott’s book, by Barry Cunliffe).
Recent anthropological research suggests that a significant and dramatic shift occurred in human cultures around six thousand years ago, resulting in the relatively sudden and massive advances in technological and linguistic innovations which were such a prominent characteristic of the extraordinary new civilisations of Sumer and Babylon, as well as in equally sudden and massive advances in social inequality, war, hierarchy, and accountancy.
The emergence of these developments around six thousand years ago is of particular relevance in a discussion of Blake as he repeatedly alludes to the cultures of Babylon, Tyre, and Egypt (Mesopotamia) as being of significance in the “fall into Division” that he recounts in his long prophetic poems (“the Works/Of Egypt and Babylon Whose Gods are the Powers of this World”; Laocoon). This psychological or dissociative “fall”, he remarks, originates in or is coeval with these centres, considered both as historical locations and metaphorical states, and even more interestingly in this context, Blake notes that this fall has lasted for a period of “Six Thousand Years”, a phrase that recurs in his longer poems almost like a heart-beat.
Awake Albion awake! reclaim thy Reasoning Spectre …
Let the Four Zoa’s awake from Slumbers of Six Thousand Years
– Milton 39:10–13
Blake suggests that these giant sleeping energies within man are beginning to awaken, and with them the awareness of history and of man’s real state. “Six Thousand years are passd away the end approaches fast”, sings Los (Mil 23:55), and with it the end of the unconscious Urizenic processes currently nailing down man’s intuitive awareness.
I behold the Visions of my deadly Sleep of Six Thousand Years
Dazling around thy skirts like a Serpent of precious stones & gold
I know it is my Self
– Jerusalem 96:11–13
Howl: The War of this World against Vision and Imagination
Introduction: Blake & the Beats
Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997) in front of the opening lines of Howl, referencing Blake in its opening section
William Blake’s influence on the Beat Generation is arguably more significant than that of any other writer or artist. Most notably he was Ginsberg’s “guru” and the “catalyst” for his poetry, and even warranted a mention in “Howl”. Blake supposedly appeared to Ginsberg in 1945 and read “Ah Sun-flower”, and again in 1948 when Ginsberg was reading “The Sick Rose”. He explained,
I was never able to figure out whether I was having a religious vision, a hallucinatory experience, or what, but it was the deepest ‘spiritual’ experience I had in my life, and determined my karma as poet. That’s the-key pivotal turnabout of my own existence. That’s why I was hung up on setting Blake to music.
Visions were important to Blake, who claimed that his poetry was not necessarily a work that he created, but something channeled through him. He referred to himself as a “true Orator” and claimed that poetry came from a voice that he simply wrote down.