The Looking Glass of One Another: William Blake’s Symmetrical Continuum
This project will attempt to explore the treatments and purposes of William Blake’s romantic imagery, with the primary text being Songs of Innocence(1789) and Songs of Experience(1794). Regarding Blake’s meticulous build-up of the mythology full of contraries, different schools hold different interpretations. The argument of this project would mainly speak against the surface phenomenon of binaries and suggest a continuum that exists between the symmetrical images. Not only is the complicated subject in his poetry begging a more holistic and reflective answer, but his form of creative expression also shows a unity of the “symbolic” and the “imaginative,” a classic pair of discrete binaries. By examining part of his text along with the engravings, this project attempts to give the audience a peek into the rich, complex, and “deceitfully” crafted space in between the apparent contradictions.
My immediate thoughts upon receiving this project was heavily inclined to the exploration of sublimity, which appeared to me as a major concept in romantic poetry. As I read more from Blake, I found that instead of expressing sublime, Blake’s poetry in Innocence and Experience speaks more of the despicable sorrow and joy. Thus I shifted the focus to the carefully crafted oppositions that exist within or between poems, and even within or between volumes; these contradictions make me wonder if there is more that he is trying to say. After consulting the secondary sources below, I developed a better picture to understand his imagery.
Frye, Northrop. “Blake’s Treatment of the Archetypes.” English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by M. H. Abrams, Oxford University Press, 1975, pp. 55-72.
“Blake’s Treatment of the Archetypes” is a very holistic introduction to the structuralist understanding of Blake’s imagery, and it has been immensely helpful in my first stage of research. Even though Frye details his understanding of Blake’s world built upon binaries with solid ground, I still see another side to this argument. In this essay, Frye mainly discusses how the archetypes he collected from various Blake’s poems apply to the longer, harder piece Jerusalem. As much as I want to contemplate on that, unfortunately the focus is slightly different.
This piece is important in many ways, with one of them being it inspired me to think differently from his interpretation. Even though my argument would challenge this piece in some sense, I still agree with many things addressed in this essay, such as the fact that Blake had to adopt biblical language because he was still searching for his own, etc.
Goode, Mike. “The Joy of Looking: What Blake’s Pictures Want.” Representations. Vol. 119, No. 1, Summer 2012, pp. 1-36. JSTOR.
“The Joy of Looking” primarily discussed Blake’s artistic achievements in a contemporary setting, suggesting that he is famous but not well understood by the public. While in this age his words are somewhat valued over his art, the combination of the two — which is his original intention — should be explored more. By exposing the creative process of Blake’s work, Goode shows that Blake’s creative intention is always more complicated than the explicit, literal meaning of his words.
This piece inspired me to think about the poet Blake and the artistic Blake in different realms, only to find out that these two identities are essentially united. The unity of identities are also a starting point to consider a reconciling existence between other sets of binaries.
McQuail, Josephine A. “Passion and Mysticism in William Blake.” Modern Language Studies. Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring 2000, pp. 121-134. JSTOR.
“Passion and Mysticism in William Blake” addresses the subject matter of Songs of Experience, and details the evidence of certain themes represented in the text that are important components to Blake’s mythology. Interestingly, this article focuses heavily on the female representation in Blake’s work, and reaches a conclusion of Blake’s support of free love in his times, while his mysticism never leaves the element of physiology behind.
This piece triggered my thoughts on whether the artistic representations of some poems in Experience are the way they are, since there is an evident allusion to female figures and female body. While I never considered it quite the same as the author, but I did attempt to find masculine traces in Innocence to see if they also balance out. Unfortunately, all I noticed were the sets of poems “Little Boy Lost/Found” and “Little Girl Lost/Found.”
Phillips, Michael. William Blake: The Creation of the Songs from Manuscript to Illuminated Printing. Princeton University Press, 2000, pp.16. Amazon.
I was not able to see the whole book, but only pieces and bits of it from the preview section on Amazon. This book appeared to me as a complex unity of studies in many different fields, from literary speculation of Blake’s creative intention to the actual, artistic engraving process. It would be a very informative experience reading the full book.
This source is important to me for one reason that it affirms my point, with the quote of Blake “[unifying] the relationship of a poet and a painter with that of the book producer”(16). The author’s intent to revive Blake’s form of art is also impressive to me for that it shows how Blake’s creation is still relatable in many ways till this day.
Yeats, W. B. “William Blake and the Imagination. & William Blake and His Illustration to The Divine Comedy.” Ideas of Good and Evil. A. H. Bullen, 1903, pp. 168-226. Archive.org.
I was surprised to come across this while researching for Blake’s collection “Ideas of Good and Evil,” and was please to see how Blake as a poet reflected in another poet. The two essays mainly praises the imagery of Blake’s poetry and affirms that he is a man advance of his times, thus Blake had to create symbols for his own disposal. In comparison to actual analysis, Yeats’s piece regarding Blake is mostly a poetic response to what he thinks of the latter.
This piece was hugely helpful because my idea, once again, got affirmed (Blake’s creation as“indissoluble marriage of all great art with symbol”(177)). In addition to this, he also raises many interesting, aesthetical questions to the wider audience of romantic poetry, regarding what should be considered beautiful, and whether taste of vulgarity is the “punishment” of missing the beauty, which is described as a “flame burning on the Divine hand”(170).
For the presentation visual aid, please refer to this link.