The Body, the Soul, and the Triumph of Energy and the Imagination in Plate 4

The contrast between the 1790 Morgan edition and the 1794 Fitzwilliam edition is striking. The 1790 edition seems to stress accuracy of detail and clear delineation of the lines that separate the different elements of the background and the scenery. On the contrary, the 1794 edition haphazardly bleeds lines together, focusing on creating a vivid impression of color that it is not always easy to decipher. In fact, I sometimes had trouble determining what some of the 1794 images were supposed to depict until after I had looked at the 1790 ones. Despite this, the vivid, beautiful colors of the 1794 edition give a sense of an inward luminous depth to the figures portrayed not found in the rather bland and benign figures of the 1790 edition, which look almost like drawings in a children’s book by comparison. It is in the 1794 edition that Blake demonstrates his “commitment to imagination and the potency of visionary idealism;” the reader feels as if Blake’s spirit is leaping off the pages (introduction, pg. 163).

This use of more striking colors that bleed into each other, muddling clear outlines, may be an attempt to capture the greater emotion of the imagination, as opposed to the more reasonable and logical mind. Indeed, the desirability of the imagination and the body which it arises from over reason and the mind is stressed throughout the poem. In Plate 4 (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/comparison.xq?selection=compare&copies=all&bentleynum=B4&copyid=mhh.f&java=yes), Blake clearly outlines this philosophy, when the Devil claims that “Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy (Plate 4).” Furthermore, the devil claims that “Man has no body distinct from the Soul (Plate 4),” a proposition that is illustrated in the two figures on the left side of the page. Here, it appears as if the larger figure is the Body. It has one foot that is placed firmly on the ground and is grasping another figure, the smaller and airier Soul, which is futilely trying to escape its grasp.

The Body is leaning towards a figure who I take to be the Devil, as he is surrounded by flames. This image greatly affected my understanding of this passage because I had not pictured the Devil as actually present in the image; the title is simply “the voice of the Devil.” The Devil and the Body balance each other and lean towards each other, indicating, as Blake was trying to stress, a natural affinity between the healthy Body and the Devil, because Energy has been called Evil, and therefore been relegated to the Devil’s sphere. Yet if “Energy is the only life (Plate 4),” as Blake claims, the Body would naturally yearn towards the Devil, even as the Soul, looking towards the false sun of Reason in the upper left corner, spurns it. This affinity is heightened in the 1794 version, where one of the things surrounding the devil seems to flow into the foot of the smaller figure of the Soul, whereas the 1790 version has a clear delineation between the two.

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One thought on “The Body, the Soul, and the Triumph of Energy and the Imagination in Plate 4

  1. I also was surprised by the devil’s physical presence in what was titled “The Voice of the Devil.” I had not considered the health of the body in the picture, but your analysis makes perfect sense: the devil would reach for what was already his, as the person seems to be reaching for him as well. Since Energy is the only life, and health requires energy, I agree with you on that count as well (Energy leans naturally towards Evil). I also agree that the muddied lines capture stronger, vaster emotion than the clear, strong lines.

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