“And did those Feet?” Radical incarnation and the Spirituality of Physiology in Blake’s Milton
Introduction: The Mental Traveller
In a work with the spiritual aspirations of Blake’s Milton, the pedestrian topic of feet may seem less than deserving of critical attention, but because Blake himself repeatedly focuses on the foot in his brief epic, surely the reader should attend to this lowest part of human anatomy.
As an anatomical feature, the foot automatically assumes importance given Blake’s declaration in Milton that “more extensive / Than any other earthly things, are Mans earthly lineaments.” In verses noted for their narrative convolutions and complex imagery, Blake’s poetic feet figure among Milton‘s most memorable fancies: “covered with Human gore,” Zelophehad’s Daughters’ feet treadle the loom (29.58); a “Vegetable World” appears on Blake’s left foot (21.12); and Albion’s enormous feet cover a good portion of southern England (39.36-40).
The Evolution of Vision
BLAKE is only known to have attended a religious service three times in his life: he was baptized, in the year 1757, at the beautiful font of St. James’s, Piccadilly. He was married in Battersea Old Church; and at his own wish, his burial service (he died in 1827) was according to the rites of the Church of England. His admiration for such dissenters as John Wesley and William Law notwithstanding, he preferred the national Church to non-conformity; perhaps in part because of his love for those Gothic churches—and especially Westminster Abbey—in whose architecture he saw the true expression of the spirit, in contrast with Wren’s St. Paul’s, which he saw as a monument to Deism and human reason. His last great work was the splendid but incomplete series of illustrations to Dante; he admired St. Teresa of Avila, and the French Quietists, Fénélon and Mme Guyon, no less than the Protestant mystics, of whom two in particular—Jakob Boehme and Emmanuel Swedenborg—were his acknowledged masters.
Blake contrasted the “Living Form” of Gothic (infinite, organic) with the cold rationalism of Wren’s “monument to Deism”: round, rational, and religious
He declared himself a Christian without reservation: “I still and shall to Eternity Embrace Christianity and Adore him who is the Express image of God” he declared. He never had any period of doubt, early or late. But what kind of Christian was our great visionary and national prophet?
Awakening from the Material Body
The central idea of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, to put it crudely, is that the unrest which has produced the French and American revolutions indicates that the end of the world might come at any time. The end of the world, the apocalypse, is the objective counterpart of the resurrection of man, his return to the titanic bodily form he originally possessed. When we say that man has fallen, we mean that his soul has collapsed into the form of the body in which he now exists.