The Portable Blake contains the hermetic genius's most important works: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience in their entirety; selections from his "prophetic books"—including The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Visions of the Daughters of Abion, America, The Book of Urizen, and The Four Zoas—and from other works of poetry and prose, as well as the complete drawings for The Book of Job.
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Early on I thought Blake easily passed the test for a poet that is worth an entire book. That being, not only was I taken with the famous poems, but ones I'd never heard of before such as "Soft Snow." Blake really does have a unique voice with rich rewards for the reader at times and such a complicated world-view peeking even through such familiar poems as "The Lamb" in Songs of Innocence and "London," "A Poison Tree" and "Tyger! Tyger!" in Songs of Experience. In "Tyger" he asks how God could make the lamb and yet the tiger, I thought Blake was just as paradoxical in his own creations. The introduction by Alfred Kazin makes Blake sound like a paradox--even mad. Kazin described Blake as a "libertarian" who supported revolution and hated any restraints upon liberty and loathed dogma. Yet he was also deeply anti-reason, a man who'd rant against any who'd try to prove the Earth isn't flat, let alone the likes of Newton. His vision of the world is sui generis and that meant at times I felt disoriented reading his poetry, as if I was missing reference points only he recognized--even the very thorough introduction didn't always help. Some poems were just too deeply weird. See, for instance, "The Mental Travelled." I hit a wall with The Prophetic Books, including his purported masterpiece "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell." I find the later Blake the most impenetrable writer I've read save James Joyce. Even C.S. Lewis, in the preface to The Great Divorce inspired by the poem, said he wasn't sure what Blake meant. Reading this I think it was only because Blake was so anti-social that he didn't found his own religion. And really, a man that rants not just against Bacon, Newton and Locke but Homer, Virgil and Shakespeare? We can't be friends.more
From 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell''The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.'Isaiah answer'd: 'I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in everything, and as I was then perswaded, & remain confirm'd, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences, but wrote.''Then I asked: 'Does firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?''He replied: 'All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm perswasion of any thing.'' (Kindle ebook locations 2809-19)From 'There is No Natural Religion' [Religion as defined by Deism]'The bounded is loathed by its possessor. The same dull round, even of a universe, would soon become a mill with complicated wheels...'If any could desire what he is incapable of possessing, despair must be his eternal lot.'The desire of Man being Infinite, the possession is Infinite & himself Infinite.'He who sees the Infinite in all things, sees God. He who sees the Ratio [rationality and naturalism] only, sees himself only.'Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.' (Kindle ebook locations 978-987)From the 1946 Introduction by Alfred Kazin:'... Blake has perplexed his readers even more than he has delighted them. The reason lies in his refusal to concede a distance between what is real and what is ideal.... Blake is difficult not because he invented symbols of his own; he created his symbols to show that the existence of any natural object and the value man's mind places on it were one and the same. He was fighting the acceptance of reality in the light of science as much as he was fighting the suppression of human nature by ethical dogmas. He fought on two fronts, and shifted his arms from one to the other without letting us know - more exactly, he did not let himself know. He created for himself a personality, in life and in art, that was the image of the thing he sought.'Like all the great enlighteners of the eighteenth century, Blake is againt the ancien regime, in all its manifestations - autocracy, feudalism, superstition. Though he loathed the destructive reason of the Deists, he sometimes praised it in the fight against 'holy mystery.' He was fighting for free thought.' (Kindle ereader locations 395-404)more