Thoughts on Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven & Hell”

“evil is the active springing from energy”

William Blake (28 Nov 1757 – 12 Aug 1827) English poet, painter, and printmaker

For those who have not dived into the 27 pages of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a composition of brief texts and accompanying engravings (done by Blake himself). I would highly recommend that you embark on this very interesting journey as Blake takes the reader on a guided tour of Hell, in which he sets out to correct some of our incorrect notions. Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic and at times iconoclastic views on religion and politics, in as much he drew inspiration from the French and American revolutions. A more recent (and very short) study, William Blake: Visionary Anarchist by Peter Marshall (1988), classified Blake and his contemporary William Godwin as forerunners of modern anarchism. In later years after his death he was/is held in high regard for his expressiveness and creativity.

Heaven is good, and Hell is bad. We have had this trite observation told to us since we were old enough to comprehend “right and wrong” – or were told we had an angel on our one shoulder and the devil on the other, each trying to pull us towards right and wrong, good and evil. We have, and still are exposed to countless stories, books, movies and fables equating Heaven with all that is good and Hell with all that is evil. Which one are we always supposed to listen to?

 ‘Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.’

Life isn’t such cut and dried, neatly separated into such clear polarities. Does it actually make sense to see everything in terms of clear distinct opposites: good and bad, right and wrong, true and false? “What if life is more like a giant pulsing mass of energy, which not only includes but actually needs the darker impulses we normally try to avoid?”

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.

Each person reflects the contrary (opposite) nature of God, and that progression in life is impossible without contraries, almost as if in the extremes one finds balance. The push and pull of good and evil, this dynamic relationship is what makes us complete. We need them both to exist. Furthermore Blake explores the opposing nature of reason and of energy, believing that two types of people existed: the “energetic creators” and the “rational organizers”, or, as he calls them in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the “devils” and “angels”. It is this vision of the dynamic relationship between a stable “Heaven” and an energized (chaotic) “Hell” that has fascinated readers of this polemic (poem) since it was composed between 1790 and 1793.

In the most famous part of the book, Blake reveals the Proverbs of Hell. These display a very different kind of wisdom from the Book of Proverbs found in the Bible. Biblical. The diabolical proverbs are provocative and paradoxical. Several of Blake’s proverbs have become famous:

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”

 

These are the questions Blake grapples with in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, as he feels that both good and bad are necessary, interwoven parts of (our) existence. If we shut ourselves off from the bad, we’re also denying ourselves the good.

The book ends with the Song of Liberty, a prose poem where Blake uses apocalyptic imagery to incite his readers to embrace change.

Let the Priests of the Raven of Dawn, no longer in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the Sons of Joy. Nor his accepted brethren whom, tyrant, he calls free, lay the bound or build the roof. Nor pale religious lechery call that virginity that wishes, but acts not !

For everything that lives is holy

Closing Notes:

 

220px-Nebuchadnezzar_in_MoHaH

Plate from Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Creative Playlists

This post rises from the ashes of an article I penned sometime back; On the Celebration of Creativity, at that time, one of my avid followers Juandre Hayton requested that I share my (creative) playlists, the music I listen to when I want to be inspired. Sorry its taken so long Juandre and thanks for the reminder – mate 🙂

I have at least 5 playlists that I plug into, and they are mainly dominated by Bob, Bruce and David. The lyrics of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen always come to the fore – my Bob&Bruce playlist, which is collectively all their music that I have, over a 1,000 songs, even keeps me company on long runs, MTB rides and gym workouts (lexiebrookeblog) Within the playlist, Bruce’s 3 raw acoustic albums Nebraska, Devils and Dust and The Ghost of Tom Joad dominate, at times I just let an album play out, in its entirety  …..  in my trusty headphones.

These, the are the music playlists, that keep me flitting on the edges of deep dark thoughtful emotions.

“A great deal of poetic work has arisen from various despairs.”

Lou Andreas-Salomé, the First Woman Psychoanalyst, on Depression and Creativity in Letters to Rilke

Play List Titles

Each list serves a different inspirational purpose – and it really just depends on my mood on the day, at times I start with one playlist and then switch to another.

Bob&Bruce: collectively all their music that I have, about 1,000 plus songs. These two articles discuss my Fav Bob albums and songs, the songs/albums that inspire me: My Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs and My Top 10 Bob Dylan Love Songs

Prog Rock Rules: I love the melodic, synth, orchestral sounds of (Classic) Progressive Rock; here you will find Wendy Carlos, Rick Wakeman, Iron Butterfly, ELP, Tonoto’s Expanding Headband, King Crimson, Tangerine Dream, Alan Parsons and Strawbs.

Obscured at the Rainbow: includes my favourite Pink Floyd Albums (Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, Momentary Lapse, Endless River, Division Bell, Zabriskie Point) and the 4 solo albums of David Gilmour. read about my love of Gilmour here: The Solace in the Silence

The Boss: Just Bruce, but then I do play some albums on their own, the three I mentioned above, plus Magic, The Rising, We Shall Overcome … and others 🙂  Check out this article to read my perspective on the songs of Bruce: The Bard of New Jersey

Ulver: I have a preference for their more recent experimental albums; THEMES FROM WILLIAM BLAKE’S THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL , The Assassination of Julius Caesar, Wars of the Roses, Blood Inside and Shadows of the Sun. Check them out at: Ulver

These songs/music help me step back and detach, or at times just drag me right into their maw. I hope you enjoy the journey when you dive into them, and I would love to hear about your inspirational music.

FYI: I was listening to Bruce’s Devils and Dust album while penning this post 🙂

“It’s by writing… by stepping back a bit from the real thing to look at it, that we are most present.”

Alison Bechdel on Writing, Therapy, Self-Doubt, and How the Messiness of Life Feeds the Creative Conscience

That Well Of Creativity

A mix of thoughts, questions and ideas; analysing what and how we troll the depths of our creative wells. What inspires me (or you dear reader, for that matter) to be drawn to pen what I pen. Of late, these thoughts have been spinning through the dark passages of my mind. Then I had an epiphany…. which has lead me to pen this article on where and how I draw from my well of inspiration.

The one thing I do know, that for me to tap my inspiration I need to be on an emotional high or low. I cannot just be bumbling along, on an even keel. I get ideas and thoughts regardless of my emotional state, but I can only act on them when my emotions are out of alignment. Hence I at times have to drag myself into a thoughtful, dark place to take the ideas in my head or notebooks, and then translate them into words on paper. The easiest way for to do this is via music, I have a few artists whose lyrics have the best effect on me, they drag me into a thoughtful emotive state to best translate my thoughts to paper. There are some songs on depressing subjects out of which I have written emotive, and even positive or romantic poems. That will keep some “shrinks”happy for hours or even the subject of an interesting article for “Psychology Today” 🙂 My wife is relieved to hear that I do not have to be physically depressed to draw my thoughts out 🙂

I do know that reading and music are very useful triggers for me to draw deep from the well; both of need to be on the dark side, for me to accurately tap my creative well. Reading the First World War Poets; notably Owen and Sasson, and some of the classical Poets; Milton, Blake, Elliot and Chaucer (although he is more humorous than dark). Musically the lyrics of Dylan and Springsteen are best or the harmonious sounds of Pink Floyd ELP and Ulver – http://www.jester-records.com/ulver/ulver.html (especially there their album: THEMES FROM WILLIAM BLAKE’S THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL). These are my main sources of flitting on the edges of deep dark thoughtful emotions. My wife has an interesting take on my mindset, she feels I thrive on or need angst in my life… not entirely convinced on that front yet … 🙂 but she does have a point ….

The whole subject of creativity and depression is well documented over the years, with many interesting articles written on the great painters, composers and writers. So far be it from me to expound to much further or bore you with details of the great ones. I do want to share a few very interesting articles I found on one of my favourite websites; if you have not visited Maria’s site please pop over to: https://www.brainpickings.org/ and follow her on twitter:

Lou Andreas-Salomé, the First Woman Psychoanalyst, on Depression and Creativity in Letters to Rilke
“A great deal of poetic work has arisen from various despairs.”
https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/12/lou-andreas-salome-creative-block-rilke/

Alison Bechdel on Writing, Therapy, Self-Doubt, and How the Messiness of Life Feeds the Creative Conscience
“It’s by writing… by stepping back a bit from the real thing to look at it, that we are most present.”
https://www.brainpickings.org/?s=alison+bechdel

Probability Theory Pioneer Mark Kac on the Duality of the Creative Life, the Singular Enchantment of Mathematics, and the Two Types of Geniuses
“Creative people live in two worlds. One is the ordinary world which they share with others and in which they are not in any special way set apart from their fellow men. The other is private and it is in this world that the creative acts take place.”
https://www.brainpickings.org/?s=Mark+Kac

Things to Live For

“Poetry, Beauty, Romance, Love – these are what we stay alive for.”

The words of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

My thoughts of late have wandered far and wide, but over the past few weeks they have shifted back to a few core questions; the above quote encapsulates some of the answers to the questions that have been spinning in my head. So please bear with me as I unpack this quote in a wider context of what goes in inside my head – be warned it can be a scary place at times, just ask my wife 🙂

Central to my thoughts of late has been inspiration, creativity, stability and harmony; as in how to achieve these aspirations and what path/s I will explore to best find my end goals. I do find inspiration and peace through reading and music, which then inspire me to explore areas of creativity. Strangely though the words (books and poetry) and music that I immerse myself in, do tend to be on the dark side, and through this darkness I find both solace and an opportunity to see light and a future.

I find myself gravitating back to reading the first world war British poets (Owen, Sassoon, Brooke and Rosenburg), why war poetry you might ask? I can relate to their fears, despair and bleakness from my own time in battle, but through this process one begins to understand that even in the depths of despair and the bleakness of the trenches, their is hope. In Wilfred Owen’s last letters to his mother from the front, in 1918, he said that there was no place he would rather be.

Of his work he said:

“My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”

My work has taken me to black and bleak places on the African continent, so I am always driven to find hope in despair, light in dark and compassion in pain and suffering. I think that is what keeps me sane and focussed on the bigger picture/s in life. It helps me to gain perspective and see the forest and not just the single tree, blocking my path.

Music and poetry form a part of the way I relax and reflect (plus cigars, scotch and bourbon – but that is a tale for another day), that is why I am a huge fan of Bob Dylan.

The poetry of Keats, Milton and Blake (not war poets, they pre-date the first world war some what), also inspire me, and help me to push the boundaries, notably William Blake. He was a revolutionary romantic, he was iconoclastic in his views, notably to the established orders of the day; church and politics. A critical reading of Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” in which the figure represented by the “Devil” is virtually a hero rebelling against an imposter authoritarian deity, clearly highlights Blake’s idiosyncratic views of his feelings towards the established order of his day. (views that I can sympathise with)

“Blake’s theory of contraries was not a belief in opposites but rather a belief that each person reflects the contrary nature of God, and that progression in life is impossible without contraries.”

It also certainly formed part of the revolutionary culture of the period. It was composed between 1790 and 1793, in the period of radical foment and political conflict immediately after the French Revolution. It to then deals with turmoil and man’s search for meaning:

Blake explains that,

“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,

Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.

From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.

Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing

from Energy.”

For an excellent blending of music (Electronica Folk Black Metal) listen to Ulver’s Themes From William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven And Hell

http://www.amazon.com/Themes-William-Blakes-Marriage-Heaven/dp/B0000278IT/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408094497&sr=8-1&keywords=ulver+-+Themes+from+William+Blake%27s+The+marriage+of+heaven+and+Hell

I am a huge fan of their music, and their most recent album: War of the Roses -(2011), is a mix of Pink Floyd and Radiohead, how is that for a neo progressive rock band with its roots in Norse Black Metal!

So where does all this lead; how does this bring me closer to Beauty, Romance and Love? and a means to finding my end goals?

I actually do not have an immediate quick answer to the above questions, but what I can say is that by exploring these paths, the mist often clears and I can get to the top of the ridge and see the forest that I thought had me surrounded was in fact just a small copse of 10 or 20 trees.

What is clear for me is where I want to be, the trick is how to get there :).

One of my end games is to actively pursue a path of being a more active writer, than I currently am, and to publish some of my works in the foreseeable future (I have placed time-lines for myself on 2 of my projects). These will bring more harmony to my life, which will in turn make me more balanced (only for awhile, I am a restless soul), this then will positively resonate in my life, bringing more love and peace to my soul and those that I love and hold dear.

Until next time my gentle readers, peace, love and hope to you all.