Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poem of the Week 1/30/2007: from Jerusalem. Plate 97.

from Jerusalem, a Poem.
Plate 97

Awake! Awake Jerusalem! O lovely Emanation of Albion
Awake and overspread all Nations as in Ancient Time
For lo! the Night of Death is past and the Eternal Day
Appears upon our Hills: Awake Jerusalem, and come away
So spake the Vision of Albion & in him so spake in my hearing,
The Universal Father Then Albion stretched his hand into Infinitude.
And took his Bow. Fourfold the Vision for bright beaming Urizen
Layed his hand on the South & took a breathing Bow of carved Gold
Luvah his hadn stretched to the East & bore a Silver Bow bright shining
Tharmas Westward a Bow of Brass pure flaming richly wrought
Urthona. Northward in thick storms a Bow of Iron terrible thundering

And the Bow is a Male & Female & the Quiver of the Arrows of Love.
Are the children of this Bow: a Bow of Mercy & Loving-kindness: laying
Open the hidden Heart in Wars of mutual Benevolence Wars of Love
And the Hand of Man grasps firm between the Male & Female Loves
And he Clothed himself in Bow & Arrows in awful state Fourfold
In the midst of his Twenty-eight Cities each with his Bow breathing-----

William Blake

What I am interested in for this poem is the tension in the third stanza between male and female, and the tension arising between opposites, or from struggle. Let us meditate on the image of an arrow and a bow. The tighter a bow is, the more tension there is within it, but the farther it can shoot an arrow. Tension leads to strength. Therefore, when the man chooses to clad himself in bow and arrows in the final stanza, he is not merely arming himself for war, but covering himself with strength. The "awful" state is also not one of horror, but of awe, of some kind of deep and abiding power within him. As for the fourfold nature of his state, he may be the symbol of the unity of the four Gods listed above (and many other things I am sure. Four is a key number for Blake, and the mode of thought in which he worked. There is little I know about this, but there are some things that I may say even in this small and limited space). He brings together the power of metals, gathering to him the power of metallurgy, which Blake equated with riotous transformation.

Yes! The melting of metals is "breathing bows," is the living fluid of struggle and overcoming.

This perhaps settles the initially offputting line, "Wars of mutual Benevolence Wars of Love"-- how can war and love go together? We don't tend to think that war is good for anybody. Surely Blake isn't merely talking about nationalism here. Maybe historicity is a part of it (I am not familiar with any historical references here; see Erdman for more on this), but it seems that the emphasis cannot just be a man loving his country like a man loves a woman. Romantic love (passioned?) involves reciprocated love. But here Blake seems to say that it also involves war, some kind of destructive tension. Men and women... that's reproduction, the sustained creation of a third through two who are different...

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