Finding Blake – Our First Year

We start the New Year with a timely update from Finding Blake creator and filmmaker James Murray-White. As well as looking back at our first year, a highly eventful journey and the successes for Finding Blake, James also shares a couple of sneak previews of what’s coming up next. 


Blimey, as Blake might have said. It’s January 2019 already — a year on from having raised the funding through our crowdfunding campaign and cracking into the Finding Blake Project.

Albion Rose by William Blake (1793-6)
Albion Rose
William Blake (1793-6)
Source: the William Blake Archive
http://www.blakearchive.org

And what a year it’s been on the Blakean trail! From that first interview with poet David Whyte in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford — where Blake was right there with us — all the way through to the ceremony to set Blake’s new ledger stone in Bunhill Fields, London, on the 12th August. And, in-between: journeys down into the underground quarry where that piece of Portland stone came from; coming face to face with Blake’s paintings and words, and with Blakean scholars and creatives of all hues; and a deep encounter with the stone itself, which now bears his name, dates, a quote, and the words ‘Poet – Artist – Prophet’.

The ledger stone is a huge focus of the film I am making: Blake, his stone and its creation by a master-craftsperson of this age and, I hope, the themes of his vision — infinity, eternity, time, and hope.

No simple answers

Have I found Blake? That’s the question that is spinning around me now, and has been for the last few weeks as I’ve been focusing intensely on editing the material. Well, thinking hard on that, I don’t think I have — not in a rounded shape that I can put in my pocket and say, yes, here’s Blake. But of course poetry, mysticism, articulating a vision — these aren’t and shouldn’t ever be that simple or clear-cut.

Life itself isn’t clear-cut (if it is, you’re doing it wrong), and the journey is never about the destination. For me definitely, it’s about the meanderings on the road and the twists and turns. So alongside the cutting and splicing, and the giant jigsaw of the filmed story of the last year that I have in front of me, I’m reflecting upon a year in search of William Blake: his extraordinary words, images and overall vision; the physical life he lived over 70 years; what the impact of all this is, what folk say and feel about him and that vision now; and ultimately, the impact of Blake for today’s world, for today’s Britain.

Folk have asked me recently, ‘Tell me about Blake’, and I can’t articulate his life and work into a sentence or paragraph. Maybe I can with poets like Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, WB Yeats, or John Clare — all of whom I’ve had a longer engagement with over many years and a physical affinity to the places they inhabited: Hull, Yorkshire, Ireland, and the Northamptonshire / North Cambridge territory that John Clare tramped around. Maybe my antipathy towards the city of London has hampered me on the Blake trail (sorry Londoners! I always will be a village lad).

A simple resonance

Walking on concrete constantly creates that physical disconnection. I deeply resonate with Blake’s three nearly harmonious years in Felpham, where he was surrounded by the elements, able to see and sense the sea, and grow things in his garden. I’ve never been interested in trying to ‘explain’ Blake. But filming Carol Leader’s rich lecture on how she uses Blake’s work in psychoanalysis, and the presentations by Reverend Malcolm Guite and Reverend Christopher Rowland on Blake as a Christian icon, have both been wonderful experiences for me, a witness to inspiring efforts to explain or understand him in specific, focused ways.

I would recommend Will Franken’s deep and visceral film Red, White & Blake for his efforts to engage with some of the specifics. And, on the subject of connection to land, friend of Finding Blake Matt Wilmshurst is in the thick of producing Blake in Sussex, a feature drama about William and Catherine’s three years in Felpham. We’re greatly looking forward to seeing that and wish Matt and the team great success.

My film and this project are not about ‘me’ finding Blake. It’s about a shared journey, for all of us: exploring. I’m steering and mediating it, and my voice is there asking questions, commenting and reflecting. I ask a lot of questions of everyone I’ve met along this road; I’m good at asking questions, though in interviews we’ve stuck rigidly to three simple ones:

  • How has William Blake influenced you, personally and professionally?
  • What examples of his work — poems, engravings, images — or his life resonate with and inspire you?
  • How do you feel William Blake is most relevant to the current day: as artist, spiritual visionary, political inspiration?

And I have been delighted when interviewees go wildly off with their answers: there is no right Blakean answer!

Finding Blake  — the film

But back to the product: the intangible tangible thing that this project has been created around is and is nudging toward in this chunk of Blakean time. I have a file full of sections and rough cuts, and an overall structure that I’m slotting sections into. I’m thinking about where interview clips go, and which sections resonate with others and with which words, and how much to mess around with linear time.

I’ve done a big chunk of this initial editing and structuring up in a quiet cottage in Cumbria, thanks to a great friend of and contributor to the project, Clare Crossman. While there, I discovered that Kathleen Raine — probably the single person who did the most to promote Blake into our era — had a house nearby. So in seeking the quiet places for inspiration and focus, Blake comes with me and crops up again, not just in written word and image (I had a big box of books to keep me going), but in the most wonderful ways.

The plan is that I’ll do some test screenings here in Cambridge in a week or so, mainly to invited critical eyes and those closely involved in the project, and then there will be the first public screening with the Blake Society in London on Wednesday 16th January. Anyone is welcome to this event, but please check with the Blake Society, of course.

Following this, we’ll take in some of the comments and feedback, think about further ideas we have in mind to film, and then take it forward. Any ideas you have for screening opportunities, please shout!

Blake's new gravestone unveiled - a key moment in our first year
Blake’s new gravestone unveiled
Photograph: Lida Cardozo Kindersley © 2018
www.kindersleyworkshop.co.uk/

So a huge shout to all who chipped in a year ago: your sterling efforts have helped get the project to this point! Thank you! Your funds have been spent on travel, paying for filming and a tiny bit of my editing time, hard drives, memory cards, the odd Blake book or four, and hosting the website.

Without your support, ‘Finding Blake’ could never have started out on this Blakean journey …

We made that start without attracting all the funds we needed, because it was important to begin the journey and to share the benefits of our exploration through our film and website. We are actively seeking further funds to complete all the activities we set out to do. If you would like to make a donation, please use the button on the site or get in touch. And if you have suggestions for other funding ideas, we’d love to have them!

Our first year — and beyond

I just want to end this post with some further thank yous for Finding Blake’s first year: two specifics and a general one. To Mark, for astonishing perseverance and clarity in progressing with this website, dealing with words, images, layout, and fielding questions and responding. To Linda, who has been a marvel: digesting, processing Blake, driving us, interviewing, providing emergency sausage rolls, liaising, and more. And to so many in my technical and feedback crew, who respond to my questions and calls for help, and give the critical feedback that keeps me semi-sane and on the creative meander in this crazy world. And finally, to Mr William Blake: poet — artist — prophet …

A happy New Year to all. May it bring us clarity, deep visioning, and the energy to live richly.

The Sun at His Eastern Gate
William Blake
Watercolor, over traces of black chalk
Source: The Morgan Library & Museum www.themorgan.org

A few extra things to look out for soon:

  • In a few weeks, we’ll start posting a regular series of extra footage and material that is additional to the film, a kind of ‘DVD extras’ bundle if you like.
  • I’ve really resonated with one or two of Blake’s images when I’ve met them in the flesh this year (see The Unfolding and Unveiling, about the exhibition at Petworth and in particular Blake’s image, The sea of time and space), and of course there have been some I haven’t connected to. This year, Finding Blake wants to start a mini-series of posts from you telling us about the images you love, or hate, and why.
  • The wonderful Tyger painting by Linda, from her residency at a Cambridgeshire school, will shortly go on sale online by auction to raise further funds for this project. More details will be announced here soon.

 


Notes

You can find a 2018 review by Jason Whittaker of Will Franken’s film Red, White and Blake at Zoamorphosis | The Blake Blog 2.0

There is more information about Blake in Sussex, the forthcoming film from Matt Wilmshurst at the Blake in Sussex site.

James will be discussing the Finding Blake project and film, and presenting material from his film at a screening after the AGM of the Blake Society at Waterstones Bookshop (82 Gower Street, London WC1E 6EQ) on 16th January (6.30pm). See the Blake Society events page for info (scroll down to January and mention of ‘Finding Blake’).

Imagination, Experience and the Limitations of Reason

Finding Blake is a project that explores the relevance of the work and life of William Blake to us, here and now. And what could be of greater relevance than the question of the balance between reason, experience and imagination in how we see ourselves, our world and its problems and promises? In this post, Kevin Fischer -- author of the book Converse in the Spirit: William Blake, Jacob Boehme & the Creative Spirit -- takes us to the heart of the matter.

Blake saw how reason can be limiting when it is too prominent, and too disconnected from our other vital faculties and capacities. As he wrote in Jerusalem, when “the Reasoning Power in Man [is] separated / From Imagination,” it encloses “itself as in steel, in a Ratio / Of the Things of Memory.”

In his recent and very important book on the workings of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist casts light on this. Imagination is primarily at work in the right hemisphere, while rationalism has a tendency to dominate in the left. McGilchrist writes, “in almost every case, what is new must first be present in the right hemisphere, before it can come into focus to the left.” It “is only … the right hemisphere that is in direct contact with the embodied living world: the left hemisphere is by comparison a virtual, bloodless affair.”

The left hemisphere, McGilchrist goes on, “deals with what it [already] knows … This process eventually becomes so automatic that we do not so much experience the world as experience our representation of the world … a virtual world, a copy.” Ultimately, the mind can become “disconnected from everything that is outside it.”

Breaking out of the already known

As Blake saw, the ‘Reasoning Power’ is an “Abstract objecting power, that Negatives every thing”. He wrote of those who are isolated and alienated by it: “Beyond the bounds of their own self their senses cannot penetrate” and “He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only, sees himself only.” For all its claims to be our primary means of gaining access to reality, this ‘Reasoning Power’ can therefore distance us from full, living knowledge and understanding; and the more it functions in isolation, in an enclosed ‘virtual’ world, the more it can slip into solipsism and fantasy.

Blake saw imagination as something profoundly different from fantasy. Contrary to common conception, this imagination is not about make-believe, the creation of the fantastical, nor is it wish-fulfilment. Blake regarded it as an essential part of life, a means of breaking out of the ‘dull round’ of the ‘ratio’ of abstract reason, of the already known, and through to that which is other than and beyond ourselves. It is a means of putting us more in touch with — and more into — the world, acting as a bridge between the experiencing individual and that which is experienced. It helps root us in living experience.

While imagination helps place us more fully in the world as it is, its relationship with that world is at the same time creative. Blake understood that true Art is a spiritual activity, a creative life that every individual should pursue: “The whole Business of Man Is The Arts & All Things Common” and “Christianity is Art.”

His vision is dynamic and imaginative, because reality is not fixed, finished, and unchanging, and thus capable of being fully and finally understood and explained. Rather, it is ongoing, evolving, ever-expanding. Blake thus stresses the need for each individual to encounter and interpret anew the truths that ‘reside in the human breast’. From the liberating possibilities of this understanding, Blake’s character Los asserts:

I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create

Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion, Plate 100
William Blake
Source: The Blake Archive

Accordingly, his work is created with a view to opening … 

the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.

The eye of imagination not only looks outward, as it were, and so places us more firmly in the world around us, but also within. In many respects, Blake’s writings provide a profound insight into the workings of the human mind. That which is other than ourselves, beyond the ‘ratio’ of our reason, is also within us, and imagination is an important means of putting us in touch with it.

Reason and the exile

Vitally, Blake understood that there are profound capacities latent in each individual that for the most part remain unexplored and unrealised: immense possibilities that are naturally inherent within us, our birthright. He wrote that “Man is Born like a Garden ready Planted & Sown”, and “I always thought that the Human Mind was the most Prolific of All Things & Inexhaustible.”

The sublime riches of the inner life are

Shadowy to those who dwell not in them, meer possibilities:
But to those who enter into them they seem the only substances.

A great deal of Blake’s work is addressed to the ways in which human beings are shut off from awareness of all the potential that lies within them: “man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

In The Book of Urizen, he writes of those who cannot “rise at will / In the infinite void,” but are “bound down / To earth by their narrowing perceptions.” In Europe, the faculties of such persons are “Turn’d outward, barr’d and petrify’d against the infinite.” Blake equates this exile with the Fall of Man. Disembodied rationalism is a major source of this loss: “the Reasoning Spectre / Stands between the Vegetable Man & his Immortal Imagination.” The Spectre is “a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal/Spirit; a Selfhood.”

The Book of Urizen, copy G
William Blake
Source: The William Blake Archive

Ultimate authority resides in the infinite potential within the individual, for 

in your own Bosom you bear your Heaven And Earth, & all you behold, tho it appears Without it is Within In your Imagination of which this World of Mortality is but a Shadow.

Blake sought to awaken the mind from its usual, often habitual modes of understanding and perception, to a real and living awareness of the limited terms in which life can too often be lived. One such limitation is the assumption that we simply see things as they are, that our eye faithfully and fully sees what is there in the world, when in fact reality as we understand it is filtered through us. Again, Blake believed that life is not given and fixed. Man is not merely a tabula rasa on which reality writes itself. As he stated, “As a man is So he Sees.” When cut off too much from our imagination and the profound possibilities within us, the world that is seen and experienced shrinks:

If Perceptive Organs vary: Objects of Perception seem to vary:
If the Perceptive Organs close: their Objects seems to close also.

With this, reductionism is born, “comprehending great, as very small.” Exiled from the best part of his inner nature, man shrinks accordingly. Blake repeatedly writes of his characters, “they became what they beheld.”

Cleansing the imagination

Conversely, when the imagination is properly at work in the outer and inner worlds, both come more to life. To put this in another way, through imagination we experience more; and what we experience — and so understand — grows, expands. This true, imaginative life looks out at the end of A Vision of the Last Judgment:

I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight … I look thro it & not with it.

The inner, spiritual self looks out and sees through the outer. When this imaginative eye is engaged with the world, that which has been drained of life by habit and over-familiarity, by the ‘ratio’, the ‘dull round’ of what we already know, is seen and experienced anew, as if for the very first time:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear as it is: infinite.

Through imagination we experience a far greater sense of the full reality of existence — that is, we truly see, feel and know how astonishing, how utterly extraordinary it is to be alive in the world. And as the outward world is not shut off from the imaginative and creative life of the inward, the reality of the world comes more to life. As “every thing that lives is Holy”, the outward world reflects back the life of the spirit.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Copy H, Plate 14
William Blake

In Blake’s poem Europe, a Fairy evokes this living interplay. The narrator asks, “What is the material world, and is it dead?” Having sung of “the eternal world that ever groweth”, the Fairy promises “I’ll … shew you all alive / The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.”

The same vision is expressed in Auguries of Innocence:

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.

Imagination creates the bridge between — and makes possible awareness of the inter-relationship between — the human and the divine. Blake wrote that “God only Acts & Is, in existing beings or Men.” As the figure of the Saviour says at the beginning of Jerusalem:

I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine … I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend; Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me: Lo! We are One.

In particular, imagination is vital because it helps put us in touch with that which is other than ourselves, in the outside world, not least other people. Empathic, it connects us with other human beings. It is that in which, as Blake perceived, ‘All/Human Forms’ are ‘identified’:

He who would see the Divinity must see him in his Children One first, in friendship & love; then a Divine Family, & in the midst Jesus will appear.

When reason is too shut off from all of the other human faculties and capacities, it can abstract us from our humanity. As Blake puts it, in “Attempting to be more than Man We become less.” Compassion, for instance, has to be experienced, felt, lived, with an imaginative connection with others. Without it, morality becomes theoretical, legalistic, oppressive and, too often, hypocritical. Embodied imagination humanises us, and places us very much in the world as human beings. And when this happens, true Reason can function.

Exploring our potential through imagination, Blake both encourages and urges us to make new discoveries and to create new forms for the life of the spirit. Reality is inexhaustible, and, when imaginatively engaged with, continually reveals new possibilities: there is “no Limit of Expansion … no Limit of Translucence.”


Notes

Kevin Fischer is the author of Converse in the Spirit: William Blake, Jacob Boehme, and the Creative Spirit (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004). He is working on a novel about a visionary artist, which takes as its theme spiritual exile and homecoming. This post is based on the lecture William Blake & Jacob Boehme: Imagination, Experience & the Limitations of Reason, which was given at the Temenos Academy, and is published in the Temenos Academy Review 20 (2017). The full paper can be found here.

Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary was published by Yale University Press in 2009. You can download the introduction to the book, and discover much more, at Iain McGilchrist’s website. And you can read a 2015 interview Iain McGilchrist gave at Interalia Magazine. 

Iain McGilchrist gave the 2016 Blake Society Lecture, The Infinite Brain and the Narrow Circle.

 

If the Fool Would Persist in His Folly …

Finding Blake gratefully received an enquiry from Eric Nicholson via our Contact page, offering us a glimpse of his draft book on William Blake and Personal Awakening. Eric is a practising Zen Buddhist and a retired art teacher. We wanted to share some of his insights and reflections with our readers; the book should appeal to anyone interested in Blake and to readers interested in personal growth. Here is an extract from the introduction and the first chapter. 

No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.

– Carl Jung, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (1951)

My approach in this book is to look at Blake’s twenty-two illustrations of the Book of Job as a narrative describing the despair and subsequent rebirth and redemption of Job, and to apply the ideas to our own spiritual journeys.

William Blake and Personal Awakening

We will, therefore, be travelling into some very dark places and using ‘self-inquiry’ in the manner of Socrates’ imperative ‘know thyself’. If, like me, you have sometimes felt that your life has consisted of one mistake after another, this might be the book for you. If you have ever suffered from depression or acute anxiety and sensed that the experience was existential and spiritual, rather than simply a medical or pathological problem, you may find some pointers in my analysis. Needless to say, to get the most out of the ideas here we will have to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and be prepared to dig under the surface of our personas. That is the only requirement; you do not need to accept any system, any religion, or anyone’s ideas about God. Our journey will be a shared journey where I hope you will engage with the arguments. Starting at the title page engraving, Blake will be our guide.

I am not a sage. I am just an ordinary human being who struggles with depression and to whom the question of ‘peace of mind’ is the most important question in the world. Perhaps you too are interested in this question. If so you may find Blake’s Job speaks to you as it does to me.

There are many illuminating books and commentaries about Blake’s system and about the Job engravings. However, this book is not a straightforward commentary on Blake’s Illustrations of The Book of Job – his actual title for the series. Instead, I interpret Blake’s series of illustrations in spiritual terms relevant to life today. I relate his ideas to Buddhist thought as Soto Zen Buddhism is the practice I have first hand experience of. The correspondences between the two are remarkable.

Suffering and the end of suffering

The historical Buddha said, I teach only one thing; suffering and the end of suffering. Dukkha’ was the Sanskrit word traditionally used and ‘suffering’ is a rather crude translation of its meaning; ‘an unavoidable, universal, unsatisfactory element to corporeal life’ is a better way of thinking about it. Mick Jagger’s lyrics in Satisfaction also describe dukkha in a popular context. 

William Blake’s twenty-two engravings of the Book of Job are the culmination of a forty-year preoccupation with the subject. In the mid-1780s he completed a drawing showing Job’s wife and his friends. This was followed by nineteen stunning watercolours illustrating the whole narrative of the biblical Job filtered through Blake’s unique vision.

In 1821, John Linnell borrowed the watercolours and traced the series, which Blake then coloured. Two years later Linnell commissioned the engravings, which Blake did on copper plates, using a conventional intaglio technique. (I have examined the set in the British Museum and they are in such a pristine condition that incised lines the width of a human hair are still unblemished.) Linnell gave an advanced payment of £100 and added £50, and other sums, some time later. They were dated 1825 but only printed as a set in 1826, one year before Blake’s death. Considering the small size of the black and white prints (8.4 x 6.5 inch) the richness of both the pictorial elements and the intellectual content is astonishing. It is no wonder that these final Job engravings, done near the end of Blake’s life, are so deeply felt and masterful in technique.

To our twenty-first century eyes Blake’s visual work can appear at first sight to be archaic and naively anthropomorphic. (His use of theatrical gestures in his work may have been partly derived from the theatre of his day, and his pastel colouring from other Georgian contemporaries.) However, once we get past the seeming barrier of anthropomorphism we can appreciate that, in fact, his work is deeply spiritual, and at the same time, humanistic and a much-needed counterbalance to scientific materialism. The fact that nearly all of his visual representations, done throughout his life, include human figures is deeply significant, given that today the stature of the individual has diminished so alarmingly: globally, with shopping malls full and places of worship emptying, ‘homo economicus’ seems to have totally replaced ‘homo spiritualis’.

Title page of the Illustrations of the Book of Job
William Blake, 1826
Source: Wikipedia / The Blake Archive www.blakearchive.org/

A Dragoning path under the sun

When I first went to a Buddhist monastery I was somewhat surprised, and fascinated, that after seated meditation we did walking meditation by walking slowly and silently in a circular fashion. During ceremonies we also walked in a ‘dragoning’ path as we circumambulated the meditation hall. The monks explained that these movements were always in a clockwise direction. On reflection I realised that this is the same direction as the sun’s path through the sky and therefore there is a feeling of ‘rightness’ and that the counter-clockwise movement would seem somehow unnatural.

Blake engraved his seven angels moving clockwise in this title page where he has both Hebrew and Gothic lettering. Foster Damon, in his Blake Dictionary, explains that the bottom-most angel is Shaddhi who is looking backwards as if mid-way in the pilgrimage of regeneration. The leading angel with his face averted is Jesus. Is his face averted to show a spiritual inwardness or is it because he has not yet been incarnated? He is, anyhow, unambiguously, the leading angel, and so is symbolic of that urge within each of us to find spiritual truth. (Blake did not believe in bodily resurrection or in the conventional doctrines espoused by institutional Christianity. However, his whole system describes in detail continuous spiritual rebirth which, incidentally, has many non-Christian antecedents.) In Buddhism this desire for truth, or spiritual aspiration, is called Bodhicitta.

Joseph Wicksteed, in his masterful book Blake’s Vision of the Book of Job, is percipient about the sun in relation to the title page:

We are, in this book … concerned not so much with the visible part of the current, which carries the sun … to his height in the south and down again into the west, but with the part below the horizon, by which the unseen sun is taken back through the underworld, to reappear again in the east.

The treadmill

There has always been this symbolic view of rebirth concerning the sun but the circular motion can also symbolise the repetitive nature of human existence. In today’s world, with its treadmill of consumerism, we may all too easily find ourselves repeating Macbeth’s despairing lines: ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in the petty pace from day to day / until the last syllable of recorded time.’ And remember, Shakespeare’s eponymous protagonist wonders at the end of the speech if, ‘life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.’ This is Blake’s Ulro or Eternal Death, a state in which some of us might live out our lives when we are content to be passive and unreflecting; content to go along with consensus thinking. It is the ‘unconscious’ life described by Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now. The whole of Blake’s system is really a roadmap on how to avoid this bleak state of affairs and approach circumstances from a receptive, compassionate position.

Job’s Evil Dreams – pen and black ink, grey wash, and watercolour, over traces of graphite
William Blake
Source: Wikipedia / Morgan Library & Museum www.themorgan.org/

The film Groundhog Day also brilliantly captures this repetitive aspect to our lives.

For readers unfamiliar with the film, cynical and egotistic TV weatherman Phil Connors gets stuck in an inexplicable time loop that makes him relive the same day over and over. First, it depresses him; then he thinks he can control it, perhaps even win the love of his field director, Rita. When that fails, he sinks further into depression until he discovers that goodness and kindness may be just the qualities to win her love, as well as break the loop. He delivers the line that so many of us relate to: ‘What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing really mattered?’ To which his drinking buddy responds, ‘That about sums it up for me.’ His liberation is dependent on his ‘change of heart’ and this is exactly what Job needs to do. We, also, may feel we need to do this if our lives feel somewhat jaded. (Thanks to Peter Garfinkel for this summary, which I’ve adapted from his article in Lion’s Roar, February 2018.)

… he would become wise

As we shall discover with Blake, everything has its obverse. As he wrote, ‘if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.’ (Proverbs of Hell). The piece of grit in the oyster enables the pearl to form; the scary feeling that we are on a treadmill may wake us up. Leonard Cohen also wrote perceptively about this idea when he wrote, ‘There is a crack, a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in’ (from his 1992 Album, Anthem). Clearly, although conditions may be challenging, or we experience despair, we can still win through to a more integrated vision, if we persevere and do not give in. This is what Job does; he doesn’t give in, and, this is what we can also do, even if our twenty-first century challenges are somewhat different, in their specifics, from Job’s.

When the Morning Stars Sang Together – Pen and black ink, grey wash, and watercolour, over traces of graphite
William Blake
Source: Wikipedia / Morgan Library & Museum www.themorgan.org/

In the final lines of the Heart Sutra, one translation has:

O Buddha, going, going, going on beyond
And always going on beyond
Always becoming Buddha.

– Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives for the Laity.

This underscores the ceaseless activity of spiritual training and I believe Blake would concur completely with the exhortation. To ‘always become Buddha,’ means, amongst other things, to acknowledge our spiritual essence, or ‘Buddha nature.’ In today’s world, when scientific materialism and the post-modern paradigm have convinced most of us that we live in a meaningless, indifferent universeit is a challenge to recognise what Blake calls our ‘divine nature.’

Andrew Solomon, in his wonderful book, Blake’s Job: A Message for Our Time, sums up Blake’s view of the divine nature of humankind eloquently:

Blake’s purpose is to show … for each individual … moral authority is seen to emanate wholly from the spiritual centre, which is at once the essence of his own being and his link with the universal … It will become apparent that the more fully he is identified with this inner reality, the more clearly he will see and value the same reality which is at the centre of all other beings, so that love becomes the mainspring of his will.

In Buddhism we often say ‘Buddha recognises Buddha’ concerning everyone we meet, however challenging a person might be. Can we see the Buddha nature even within that irritating person who always presses our buttons?

So, even in this title page, Blake succeeds in packing in so much with so little. Did you notice that three of the angels are holding scrolls and one a quill? Right at the start of his visual narrative he is declaring his absolute belief in the redemptive purpose of his art. Unlike some artists, he was not making art for art’s sake; he expected us to work hard at unravelling his deep message, which he thought would help each of us in our own spiritual development. 


Notes

Eric Nicholson is now retired and lives in Gateshead, UK. He worked as an art teacher and in other fields of education. He has followed the Soto Zen Buddhist practice for over thirty years and enjoys countryside conservation, visiting art galleries and fell walking. Eric has published articles and poetry, mainly online, and he blogs at www.erikleo.wordpress.com (including more Blake-related pieces). Eric says of his book, William Blake and Personal Awakening, “I am now at the stage of looking for a literary agent and hope to be published in 2019.”

William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell is from Geoffrey Keynes’s edited Blake Complete Writings, published by Oxford University Press, 1966. 

Foster Damon’s Blake Dictionary was published by Thames & Hudson, 1973.

The quotation from Jiyu-Kennett’s Zen is Eternal Life is from The Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives for the Laity, Rev P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, published by Shasta Abbey, 1987.

Andrew Solomon’s Blake’s Job: A Message for Our Time was published by Palamabron Press, 1993.

Joseph Wicksteed, Blake’s Vision of the Book of Job was published by JM Dent & Sons Ltd, 1924.