The Difference between Mental Fight and Corporeal War
“War is Energy Enslaved” Blake once remarked – an observation that powerfully captures one of war’s most characteristic and toxic aspects: its ability to harness the astonishing productions of human society – our vast collective energies, intelligence, industries, and labour – and put them to profoundly destructive and degrading ends, to set humanity against itself. Blake’s observation equates war with slavery, with both mental and physical obedience and servitude – or “service” as it’s more frequently called today.
Blake witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of warfare: he lived for sixty-nine years (1757-1827) and for each one of those years, Britain was at war or in military conflict with one country or another – with India, with Portugal, with Hanover, Prussia, the Netherlands, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Austria, Germany, Ireland, America, France, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma …
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.
The Divided Brain and Religion
Which is Yours?
Harvard neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, commenting on the subtle but significant differences between how each hemisphere of our brain understands and engages with the world, observed that “the two halves of my brain don’t just perceive and think in different ways at a neurological level, but they demonstrate very different values based upon the types of information they perceive, and thus exhibit very different personalities” (My Stroke of Insight).
Babylon, Nature-worship, and the Sleep of Albion
‘Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!’
As Kathleen Raine has noted, “the sleep of Albion is in a word the materialist mentality of the modern West.” However, this “materialist mentality”, for Blake, denotes not only the belief in the Newtonian universe of orthodox Science, which many are now questioning, but also the belief in “Nature” itself. For Blake, the “Creation” – the emergence of an apparently objective, natural, and material world – and Albion’s fall into “Sleep” were one and the same event.