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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Yeats on Blake: William Blake and the Human Imagination

Ideas of Good and Evil, by W. B. Yeats

 

Introduction: Future Tense

“Hear the voice of the Bard! Who Present, Past, & Future sees”. This sense of the poet as participating in a non-temporal or multi-temporal domain was also recognised by Shelley, who notes in A Defence of Poetry that “A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates to his conceptions, time and place and number are not.” It is for this reason, he adds, that poets are also prophets: those who can see into the present.

There have been men who loved the future like a mistress, and the future mixed her breath into their breath and shook her hair about them, and hid them from the understanding of their times. William Blake was one of these men, and if he spoke confusedly and obscurely it was because he spoke things for whose speaking he could find no models in the world about him.

He announced the religion of art, of which no man dreamed in the world about him; and he understood it more perfectly than the thousands of subtle spirits who have received its baptism in the world about us, because, in the beginning of important things – in the beginning of love, in the beginning of the day, in the beginning of any work, there is a moment when we understand more perfectly than we understand again until all is finished.

In his time educated people believed that they amused themselves with books of imagination but that they “made their souls” by listening to sermons and by doing or by not doing certain things. When they had to explain why serious people like themselves honoured the great poets greatly they were hard put to it for lack of good reasons.

In our time we are agreed that we “make our souls” out of some one of the great poets of ancient times, or out of Shelley or Wordsworth, or Goethe or Balzac, or Flaubert, or Count Tolstoy, in the books he wrote before he became a prophet and fell into a lesser order, or out of Mr. Whistler’s pictures, while we amuse ourselves, or, at best, make a poorer sort of soul, by listening to sermons or by doing or by not doing certain things.

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