The Eighth Eye: Prophetic Vision in Blake’s Poetry and Design, by Rachel V. Billigheimer

Apocalypse and Perception: Moving beyond Natural Perception

‘The Man Who Taught Blake Painting in his Dreams’ (c. 1825). This is a replica of one of Blake’s drawings of figures that appeared to him in visions. It has also been proposed that Blake’s image might be a ‘visionary self-portrait’, showing the artist himself at the moment of the inspiration. The strange form on the forehead may represent flames.

“Through the eighth Eye man is able to cast off the error of tradition and dogma and achieve individual inspiration”. Picture: ‘The Sun At His Eastern Gate’. Many people see the sun as a natural object in the sky, i.e., see it in terms of the dogmas of natural science, literality, and tradition, without the reality-based eight eye.

 

Prophetic Vision in Blake’s Poetry

In a previous study, Blake’s Eyes of God Cycles to Apocalypse and Redemption, the seven Eyes of God in Blake’s prophetic books were correlated with biblical and historical periods. Directed by the spirit of imagination, these cycles were seen as intrinsic to apocalypse. Here we examine the poetic inspiration of Blake’s eighth Eye and relate it to the prophetic vision in some of Blake’s designs.

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William Blake and the Apocalypse, by Christopher Rowland

Political Revelation and Working Class Prophecy

 

William Blake (1757–1827) was a British artist, engraver, poet, and writer on theological themes. His illuminated books were the product of his technological inventiveness, and are characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images in which a dialectic between two different media is a means of stimulating the imagination of the viewer and reader.

“his technological inventiveness, characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images”: Blake’s very method was dialectical, engraving the text in reverse and then using acid to burn away the surface image – he links this method to the process of revelation itself; “the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expunged; this I shall do by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid”

Influences on Blake are often hard to trace, though he explicitly cites and criticizes Milton and Swedenborg, as well as the contemporary artist Joshua Reynolds. Such influences, which might help explain Blake’s ideas, seem less important than the extraordinary inventiveness which one finds in his words and images and their production, which have analogies to earlier themes, but without offering the evidence that demonstrates direct dependence. Blake’s emphasis is on the importance of “inspiration” rather than “memory,” and as such he set great store on the creativity of the poetic genius and its reception by the engaged reader or viewer.

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