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Notes for Marriage of Heaven and Hell

I) Blake’s persona—the bard or the prophet


A) Voice of prophecy
i) knowledge of the Bible (i.e. sounds like the Bible, esp. OT)
ii) Why prophecy?
(a) failure of the present society
(b) warning to change their ways
(c) what we must do to save ourselves
II) Key historical moment
A) “Now is the dominion of Edom & the return of Adam into Paradise” (plate 3, 185)
B) French Revolution
i) Reasons for it
(a) conjunction of new ideas about natural rights and the worst kind of abuses of
power
(1) natural rights—man is born free but everywhere he is in chains
(2) abuses—old economic system collapsing under emerging capitalism
C) Industrial Revolution
i) economic displacement (whole handcraft industries disappear overnight)
ii) mechanization of rural economy
iii) flight from country into the city
iv) giant disparities of wealth
III) Blake’s Revolution—Do Away with the Old Order
A) Restraint in All Forms
i) Religion a key mechanism of restraint
ii) “Religion”—God and his Priest and King
(a) Institutional religion distant from its original
(b) Plate 11 (189)
(1) Poets animated the world with spirits
(2) These spirits or gods and goddesses eventually made into a system of beliefs
(3) This system of beliefs becomes an institution (the Church) (i.e. enslav’d by
rules)—“Priesthood” as Blake calls it
(4) The “Priesthood” tells us that “the Gods had ordered such things”—i.e. we are
enslav’d by the gods that we in fact created
(5) “Thus man forgot that All deities reside in the human breast” (189)
(c) 4th Memorable Fancy (plate 17, 192)
(1) “Angel” (they are all bad—conformists) shows “future”
(i) stable (Jesus) -> Church (institution) -> Vault (burial of Jesus and true
religion) -> Mill (grinding machine = Reason = systematic philosophy) ->
Winding Caverns (maze of rationalism) -> Abyss (emptiness of
spirituality)
(ii) This journey leads to a cliché of Christian Hell (193-194)
(iii)Angel returns to his mill and the “vision” vanishes
1. “Hell” becomes heaven (194)
2. “Sitting on a pleasant bank . . . harper sings”:
“The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water & breeds

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reptiles of the mind”
3. Universal Man (the speaker) realizes that “Hell” was entirely the work
of the Angel’s “metaphysics”
(iv)Speaker takes Angel on a journey to show him his future
1. Church filled with monkeys eating each other
B) Reason (and the Systems it produces) as a form of Restraint (i.e. Mechanism)
i) The Voice of the Devil (plate 4, 185)
(a) Cartesian duality is the error (185)
(1) body/material/fallen/evil vs. soul/spiritual/divine/good
(2) everything associated with body is bad; everything associated with soul is
good
(b) Blake says NO
(1) body/material/pleasure is power and energy; soul/spiritual side is turned into
something passive and obedient
(2) Energy (i.e. passion, desire, imagination) does not lead us astray—rather
energy is everything
ii) How God and Satan switched places (plate 3, 185)
(a) “Without Contraries is no progression”—but contraries are too much for small
minds; therefore
(b) from these contraries “spring what the religious call Good & Evil”
(1) “Good is the passive that obeys Reason”
(2) “Evil is the active springing from Energy”
(3) “Good is Heaven”
(4) “Evil is Hell” (plate 3, 185)
(c) “Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained;
and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling” (plate 5,
185 (top))
(d) Even Milton makes this error and calls the active principle of energy Satan and
the principle of passivity and obedience God
(1) but he was “a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it”—that’s
why Satan is almost a positive character (186)
C) Obedience and Restraint—The Greatest Enemies
i) “The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl that every thing was white” (plate
10, 189)—conformity
ii) “The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow” (plate
8, 188)
iii) “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence” (plate 7, 187)
iv) “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his own
cavern” (plate 14, 191 (end of plate))
D) Solution? a Marriage of Heaven and Hell
i) Restore the Energy of Hell (which is really the Energy of Heaven)
(a) The Proverbs of Hell (plate 7ff, 187ff)
(1) “The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.” (plate 8, 187), etc.
(b) How do we restore the energy?
(1) Admit the power of the lions and eagles: “When thou seest an Eagle, thou
seest a portion of Genius” (plate 9, 188): eagles, lions, tigers, etc. fierce,

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independent, powerful, sublime, non-conforming, ambitious, uncontrollable
(2) Do not restrain them: “One Law for the Lion & Ox is oppression” (plate 24,
196)
ii) When restraints are lifted . . . we achieve a seeing that goes beyond perception and
becomes visionary
(a) “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is,
infinite” (plate 14, 191)
(b) Isaiah the prophet on true prophecy: “I saw no God, nor heard any, in a finite
organical perception; but my senses discover’d the infinite in everything” (plate
12, 189)
(c) The true greatness of the world:
How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five? (plate 7, 187)

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