The Poetics of Prophecy and the Minute Particular: Finding Justice in William Blake

February 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

In “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” (1793), Blake writes with a strong prophetic voice, bringing forth a new set of proverbs, a new poetics, twisting and flipping traditional wisdom. Blake challenges the status quo, questioning stagnant, conventional thought. As if standing before a gathering crowd, he cries out “All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors…” (MHH 4). It is a searing, powerful, poetic production, a collection of proverbs that very easily soars over those still enchained in those forsaken “mind-forg’d manacles” ( London 27). The words of Blake, like those of a prophet, at first, throw us into confusion. He wants to lead the reader off the taken path, through the dark forest, making us feel as if we were lost, with hopes of us entering into a new a clearing; a new understanding of our being, throwing open the “doors of perception” (MHH 39). (We can only imagine how confused the Disciples were when Christ declared, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” taking the commandment against coveting, marginalized within the set of ten, and making it central to his teaching, completely rearranging the social landscape around the question of desire.) Blake desires to inverse the relationship between Energy and Reason, between Imagination/Vision and Materialism, otherwise known as the “Vegetable Ratio” (Mil 5.35). Such a dramatic shift in paradigms calls for a dramatic approach, which Blake finds in the hyperbolic poetics of the prophets. Why though is hyperbole necessary? Blake condemns the “Ratio of the five senses” (MHH 35), that abyss, seen as the foundation of not only Lockean thought, but also the Age of Reason, leading Man astray; the prophet must call him back. Under the section “A Memorable Fancy,” Blake puts words into the mouth of Isaiah and Ezekiel to fit his new Vision. He has Isaiah profess, “I saw no God nor heard any, in a finite organical perception,” and Ezekiel claim, “we of Israel taught that the Poetic Genius…was the first principle and all the others derivative” (35). The Poetic Genius, the prophet, goes beyond the correspondence theory of truth, of rectitudo, adaequatio, assimilatio, convenientia, into the poetics of prophecy, a hyperbolic theory of truth. We do not seize and size up their revelations, but rather they seize us. Blake’s writing style is not a testament of what we can sit before us and measure, of what we can stand over and against. It reaches beyond what we can perceive with our physical organs; “Mans perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception. He perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover” (NNR 2). Blake’s writing style is a testament to what we can “perceive” with our Vision and Imagination, as he so poetically puts it: Now I a fourfold vision see And a fourfold vision is given to me Tis fourfold in my supreme delight And three fold in soft Beulahs night And twofold Always. May God us keep From Single vision & Newton’s sleep (TB, 722.83-8).Blake personifies the banality of single vision, the limitations of reason, the “Vegetable Ratio,” manifested through the limited creation of closed, overarching systems, and generalizing concepts, in the god Urizen (a play on “your reason” and the Greek horizo, meaning “to limit”). Urizen’s mechanical creation is sterile; it is capable only of the predictable repetition of the Same, not of something purely different in and of itself, which requires Imagination and inspiration. He is Nobodaddy, “nobody’s daddy,” the jealous god of the Old Testament and the Decalogue, stifling Imagination through the Net of Religion, shackling Man to limited vision. For Blake, “Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy” (Blake, MHH 4.8). Urizen is guilty of circumscribing and placing form upon boundless, infinite Energy: “Times on times he divided, & measur’d / Space by space” (BU 3.8-9). Blake describes Urizen as having form’d a dividing rule: He formed scales to weigh; He formed a brzen quadrant; He formed golden compasses (35-39).A closed system, Energy circumscribed, encompassed by the Mundane Shell (Mil 37.19-43), denies the possibility of the multiple, the particular, of otherness, of a productive repetition; it is the reign of the Same. Blake believes “Every Minute Particular is Holy” (Jer 69.42), every multiple embodying difference, thus Urizen’s law, his absolute morality, is an injustice, placing the One over the Many: “one command, one joy, one desire, one curse, one weight, one measure, one King, one God, one Law” (BU 4. 34-40). Protesting the logic of Urizen’s law, Blake will decree, “One law for the ox and the lion is oppression” (MHH 25). The affirmation of the poetics of prophecy, demanding an “elevation” in our vision beyond the correspondence of what conventionally lies present before us, beyond adaequatio to the realm of hyperbole, attempts to deconstruct the Law; it is a call for justice, opening a space for the multiplicity of the Minute Particular within the barren rule of the One. Works CitedBlake, William, David V. Erdman, and Harold Bloom. Jerusalem. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. New York: Anchor, 1988. 144-259.—.”London.” 26-7.—.”The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” 33-44.—. Milton. 95-144.—.“There is No Natural Religion.” 2.—. “To Thomas Butts, 22 November 1802.” 720-22.

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