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”.
The City as Psyche
The geography of William Blake’s illuminated epic poem Jerusalem is organized around four principal cities: London, Babylon, Golgonooza, and Jerusalem. Three of the four are familiar enough, but the arcane city of Golgonooza is likely to seem, to an unsuspecting reader, as unapproachable as some legendary Forbidden City.
Hearing the mind-forged manacles
Take a trip around the place that you live. What do you see? What do you feel?
Over 200 years ago, that’s exactly what William Blake did. What happened on that trip – what did he see? what did he feel? – but most importantly, what did it inspire him to write?
He described these “chartered” streets, and even the river Thames as being chartered – he was expressing the sense of ownership, the fact that the streets are owned by someone. Or a river – when you think of a river, you imagine something that flows freely – but he’s pointing to the fact that the river is also owned by someone.
London at that time was starting to assert itself, it was starting to beat its chest. But Blake just peals the veneer behind that image, and speaks about “Weakness” and “Woe”. These are not adjectives that London would use to describe itself to the world.