Heaven and Hell: So Happy Together

William Blake takes a very interesting approach in describing and illustrating his “prophetic” views of both Heaven and Hell. The words themselves would be shocking and intriguing enough, but Blake takes it one step further and accompanies his work with vivid paintings that parallel the literary material. When reading the text and following along with the paintings, I had a hard time understanding Plate 5 and how it connected with the words of the page, so I decided it would probably be a good one to write about, as in my mind it definitely complicated the words beneath. For the picture, click on this handy link and you will be able to see which painting I’m talking about. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.05&java=yes

As you can initially see, there seems to be a man falling (quite to his dismay) along with a horse (possibly his?) that has some sort of blue material coming from his back, much as a whale blows water from its blowhole. On this plate, Blake has just shifted from the “voice of the Devil” as he speaks three mistruths and presents his version of the correct ones to a brief meditation on desire and its proper place in the world. According to this plate, it seems that desire is something positive and that restraining the desire is only a sign of weakness, as the owner of that desire merely has desire “weak enough to be restrained” (191). On the plate prior, the Devil gave his account of how “Energy is Eternal Delight,” meaning that those who become passive and give in to “Reason” (Jesus, or the Messiah) are simply missing out on the eternal joys that can be provided only when founded in evil and the Devil himself. This concept of boundless energy being a good thing is evidenced in the painting sitting atop the text: the man falling into the fires of Hell could be taken as Lucifer, for Blake talks about the “original Archangel” only a few short lines later, and the horse next to him could be evidence of his original position as “command of the heavenly host.” Most commanders nowadays tend to have horses to ride on to battle (okay, so maybe it’s more like a few hundred years ago), and the sword falling immediately beside the man provides further proof of his once-commanding position. While Blake doesn’t actually describe the fall that Lucifer takes from Heaven to Hell, he does reference Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” which had a quite detailed account of Lucifer’s fall. The Devil had too much “energy” and continually sought to become higher than God, so thus he was cast out and into Hell. However, the painting depicts Satan as an trimmed and relatively normal looking individual, quite contrary to the usual depictions of Satan as red and possessing abnormally large horns. This goes along with Blake’s theme of presenting the Devil’s side of things and trying to challenge the conventional notions of what Heaven and Hell are really like. In short: they don’t really get along.

The hardest part for me in determining what the picture had to do with anything was to realize which section of the text it was paralleling. Once determined, the image doesn’t serve so much as a complicating of the text, but rather a helpful visual representation of something that Blake didn’t spend much time on in explaining in the text.

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