The Sleep of Imagination: William Blake and Edward Young’s ‘Night Thoughts’, by Michael Farrell

How the Sleep of Imagination produces Nature

 

 

Introduction: The Apocalypse of Reason 

Edward Young (1683–1765)

Blake worked on illustrations for an edition of Edward Young’s Night Thoughts between 1795 and 1797, though he engraved only forty three of the five hundred and thirty seven water-colour designs he made for the poem. The first part of Young’s illustrated text, containing forty three of Blake’s engravings, was published in 1797. The enterprise was a commercial failure and the subsequent ‘Nights’ were never published.

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Burning Bright: Meteoric imagery in the works of William Blake, by A. McBeath

The alignment of meteoric imagery and political and spiritual events in Blake’s work

 

 

Introduction: Blake’s meteoric imagination

According to old Chinese belief, William Blake (1757– 1827) was cursed, since there is no question he lived in ‘interesting times’. Blake was a visionary English poet and artist. He was fascinated by apocalyptic biblical beliefs and prophecies, and worked elements of these even into artworks commissioned of him to illustrate the texts of other poets.

Raphael, ‘Astronomy’, from the Stanza della Segnatura (1509)

He studied widely in the literature and art of the past. His lifelong artistic heroes were Milton, Raphael and Michelangelo. As a result, his works are suffused with flowing forms and astronomical imagery, including meteors and comets.

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Blake’s Chariots of Fire, by David Sten Herrstrom

Blake’s Transformations of Ezekiel’s Wheels in Jerusalem

 

Introduction: Ezekiel in Felpham

During the only period he lived away from London, Blake underwent what he describes in a letter-poem to his friend Thomas Butts as nothing less than a personal Last Judgment, a harrowing experience which involved a crisis of faith in himself and his friends, as well as an accusation by the spectres of “Poverty, Envy, old age & Fear.” These demons hounded him until he found the strength to resist and defeat them in what he calls a “fourfold vision”.

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‘To Defend the Bible in This Year 1798 Would Cost a Man His Life’, by Morton D. Paley

‘The Harlot and the Giant’ from William Blake’s illustrations to Dante’s Purgatorio. It’s basically a depiction of modern Britain in a form that would get past the censors

 

Censorship, Surveillance and the Power of the State: The Whore and the Beast

1798: one of the spiritual low points of modern British history, and the year of Malthus’s Essay on Population. Shelley called Malthus “the apostle of the rich” and Engels later described Malthus’s vision as “the crudest, most barbarous theory that ever existed, a system of despair.” Malthus’s influence on modern eugenic and environmental thinking, as well as Darwinism, has been massive.

For many of us, 1798 was the year of the Lyrical Ballads. But it was also the year of Napoleon in Egypt, the uprising of the United Irishmen and its bloody aftermath, of Malthus’s first Essay on Population, and the year of “the most draconian, anti-radical crackdown of the entire Pittite ‘Terror’” (Ian McCalmon, New Jerusalems).

For William Blake, it was a seemingly unexceptional year, a year for which there are no known letters and no known published works other than some commerical engravings. But it was also the year in which he wrote on the verso of the title page of Bishop Richard Watson’s An Apology for the Bible: “To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life” and then “The Beast and the Whore rule without controls.” The Bishop’s Apology was an attack upon The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, and Blake’s notes were a vehement counter-attack upon Bishop Watson. Why should Blake want to defend Thomas Paine, with whom he had some important points of disagreement, so unequivocally?

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Blake and Rumi, by Sardar Muhammad

A Comparative Study of Jalal-Ud-Din Rumi and William Blake as Mystical Poets

Detail from Rumi’s epic poem Mathnavi-e-Ma’navi or ‘Poem of Inner Meanings’

This article examines the concept of Mystical Union, one of the major themes of Islamic and Christian mystical poetry through juxtaposing the views of Jalal-ud-din Rumi and William Blake on it (Mystical Union).

The work is primarily focused on confirming the philosophical assertion that, “at the highest level of spiritual elevation (state of mystical union), dogmatic differences either cease to exist or become insignificant.” As a central theme of Islamic and Christian mystical poetry, the study of Mystical Union may help to understand both types of mysticism. The analysis of this theme may also encompass the interpretation of most of the constituting elements of mysticism (the stages of mystical path in Islamic and Christian mysticism).

The affinities between the views of Rumi and Blake on mystical union show that there has been an overwhelming agreement between Islamic and Christian mysticism, and that “at the highest level of spiritual elevation (state of mystical union), the differences based on dogmatism cease to exist or become insignificant”. The validity of this assertion has been confirmed through comparative study of Rumi and Blake on Mystical Union.

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Blake as Shaman: The Neuroscience of Hallucinations and Milton’s Lark, by David Worrall

The Mind in the Cave and the Cave in the Mind

‘A nude male, almost certainly Milton or a compound of Blake and Milton, strides away from us and into his book, perhaps leading us forward into its depths. Milton may be entering his ‘Own Vortex’. His right arm and hand also cut his name in two, an action suggesting that the route to apocalypse is blocked by a ‘selfhood’ that must be self-annihilated’ – Essick & Viscomi

This essay argues that Blake’s illuminated poem, Milton a Poem in 2 Books (1804-1811), exhibits characteristics of the hallucinations also encountered in the archaeology of rock paintings made during shamanic trances in the prehistoric period. The essay will particularly focus on the trance-like episode referred to at the end of Milton and will link it to similar shamanic trances known to have occurred to southern African /Xam (San) bushmen in their practices of rock painting.

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Marx and the Fourfold Vision of William Blake, by Cyril Smith

Revelation as Revolution

 

Introduction:  Politics and Vision

In the book by EO Abbott called Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions, ‘A Square’ tries to persuade his fellow two-dimensional beings – triangles, hexagons, and so on – that other dimensions are possible. William Blake lived in a four-dimensional moral world, and for that reason he was considered quite mad by ordinary citizens. He did not agree with them and is reported to have told a friend: ‘There are probably men shut up as mad in bedlam who are not so; that possibly the madmen outside have shut up the sane people.’

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A Visual Commentary on Blake’s America: a Prophecy, by Jacob Rabinowitz

The Fall of Eternity into Materialism

America: An Essay in Art History, by Jacob Rabinowitz: please click on the video above

The following is a written transcript of the visual commentary above on Blake’s great poem America a Prophecy. The text is offered merely for the convenience of those who are interested in the video, or who would like to cite quotations directly from Rabinowitz’s illuminating take on this remarkable work, which as the video notes is one of “the most visually appealing of all his illuminated books”.

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William Blake and the Sexual Basis of Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard

How to Enter the Kingdom of Heaven: William Blake and the Erotic Imagination

When I first Married you, I gave you all my whole Soul

I thought that you would love my loves & joy in my delights

Seeking for pleasures in my pleasures, O Daughter of Babylon

Then thou wast lovely, mild & gentle, now thou art terrible

In jealousy & unlovely in my sight, because thou hast cruelly

Cut off my loves in fury till I have no love left for thee.

Thy love depends on him thou lovest & on his dear loves

Depend thy pleasures which thou hast cut off by jealousy.

— Milton (1804-10), plate 33

In 1863 Alexander Gilchrist corrected the claim made by J.T. Smith, a friend of Blake, that the artist and “his beloved Kate” lived in “uninterrupted harmony”. Such harmony there really was; but it had not always been unruffled. There had been stormy times in years long past, when both were young; discord by no means trifling while it lasted. But with the cause (jealousy on her side, not wholly unprovoked), the strife had ceased also. Read More