William Blake – Looking at his philosophy

Looking at the philosophy of William Blake (1757 – 1827) Engraver/Artist/Poet

Main works include – Poetical Sketches 1783, Songs of Innocence and Experience 1794, Prophetic Poems Milton and Jerusalem 1804-20.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

From ‘Auguries of Innocence’

The following text is taken from the discussion of his work in Nortons Anthology –

Blake’s mythical starting point is not a transcendent God but the ‘Universal Man’ who is himself God and incorporates the cosmos – defined in his work as ‘The Human Form Divine’ – and this is given the name ‘Albion’. In his myth the fall of man is not a break from God but the falling apart of people into division – the breaking up of ‘Universal Man’.

One of four major divisions or powers (called Zoas) is the imaginative power (called Urthona) and is known as Los in the fallen world. In addition to Urthona there are 3 lower states –
Beulah (easy, relaxed innocence, without clash of ‘contraries’)
 Generation (human experience, suffering, conflicting contraries)
Ulro (Hell, bleak rationality, tyranny, static negation, isolated self-hood)

The World cycles towards redemption through these states … the redeemer is the human imagination … culminating in an apocalypse … the return to the ‘undivided condition’.

He did not know it but shared the view of a number of contemporary German philosophers – the malaise of modern culture is essentially a mode of physical disintegration and the resultant alienation from oneself, one’s world and one’s fellow human beings, and that recovery relies in the process or reintegration.

He does not cancel the fallen world but transforms it by imaginative vision. The reunion of ‘Albion’ recovers a lost vision of nature where all individuals are united as one and can feel at home.

In terms of the puritanical, threatening and joyless religion of his day he emphasised a contrary position based on – desires, energy, abundance, act and freedom – in stark contrast to reason, restraint, passivity and prohibition.

In his work ‘the marriage of Heaven and Hell’ he reversed the traditional values. This work is deliberately outrageous, and at times a comic onslaught against a timidly conventional and self-righteous society.

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