Color Speaks: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Initial Perceptions.

William Blake wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and chose a specific cover, but four years later he changed it. The overall look and feel from the two covers definitely effect your initial perceptions of the book. If you were to look at the 1790’s version, you would assume that the book had a calmer tone and didn’t include such vulgar things. But looking at the 1794 edition, you would anticipate vulgarity.

In the 1790’s version, the original, the colors are much cooler and relaxed. Also, the pictures on the pages contrast with the text. It almost balances out the page because of the subject matter. Also the pictures look very tranquil and safe which could be a side of marriage. Getting into the 1794’s version, while it is the same general layout of the 1790’s pictures, the colors are different. Everything looks much harsher and congealed. There are no rigid edges, just obscurity. This could be a reference to how marriage might start out all beautiful, safe, and cool, but then turns into a hellish dream where you aren’t connected to reality. I think that recoloring the pictures was either a marketing stunt or a way to express a theme outside of the text. Marriage can be heaven at one point in time, but if one minute detail changes, it is hell in the next.

1. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/comparison.xq?selection=compare&copies=mhh.e&bentleynum=B3&copyid=mhh.c&java=

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The Marriage of Heaven and Hell comparisons

In William Blake’s two editions of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, I believe he was trying to portray the typical stigma of each destination. In the Fitzwilliam 1794 edition, Blake chose a much warmer and light color scheme which translates to happiness; however, in the Morgan 1790 edition, Blake chose a cooler and more subdued color scheme. I think Blake was trying to display that perception is a readers reality. Blake had the power to portray the illustrations any way he wanted and because of that advantage, he can guide the readers opinions and feelings towards the poem just by the color palette he used. Additionally, by changing the color scheme, you can see that Blake wants to viewer to realize the beauty of the marriage between heaven and hell for themselves by seeing the opposing illustrations. “The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest,” says Blake in plate 9. I think here he is again drawing on the theme of opposing forces. Like heaven and hell, the oldest and newest are associated with two vastly different beverages but still deemed the best in their own respect. 

Color Is Everything: Comparing Editions of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

Try to picture the stereotypical scene where the bad kids try to get the goody two-shoes to do something wrong because it’s the ”cool” thing to do, and then when ol’ goody refuses they get badly teased for being lame. In William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” he portrays Heaven as the boring goody two-shoes, and Hell as the interesting “cool kids”. This portrayal is starkly different from the normal views of society in that day and age. Blake says, “Good is the passive that obeys Reason / Evil is the active springing from Energy” (plate 3 line 11-12) here Heaven is now the outcast, and Hell is the fun interesting place everyone should want to be. He is still saying the normal views that “Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.” (plate 3 line 13). The difference is the paradoxical shift in which good is considered bad and evil is considered positive.

In the two separate editions Blake uses different artistic styles to help convey different messages. In the 1790 Morgan edition1 there is a more attention to detail and line. Also, the text is a simple black color set against a normal background. In the 1794 edition1 held at the Fitzwilliam Museum the lines are blurred and all of the images flow together, and the text changes color to match the pictures on the page. For instance, in Plate 3 (which is shown in the link) the text at the top of the page starts out orange then by the bottom turn to black in congruence with the pictures at the top and bottom of the plate. When looking at what helps convey a different message between the two versions the most important aspect is the way in which color is used. The color choice of the 1794 edition gives the poem a much darker feel. The 1790 edition on the other hand uses more light against dark, as well as shadows which helps show the struggle of Heaven vs. Hell.

  1. The comparison of Plate 3 from the two editions, 1790 Morgan and 1794 at the Fitzwilliam Museum(http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/comparison.xq?selection=compare&copies=mhh.e&bentleynum=B3&copyid=mhh.c&java=)

Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Changing Perspectives

Upon comparison of two visual representations of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, a prominent difference in the meaning of the text can be ascertained due to the polar opposite tones that each assumes based off of the colors used; the Morgan 1790 edition representing a bleak, but somewhat pleasant scene, while the 1794 Fitzwilliam Museum version is grim and severely intense.  This antithesis mirrors the typical connotations of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ and epitomizes Blake’s primary purpose in composing the piece which is to satirize commonly held misconceptions regarding good and evil.  Instead he proposes that one needs to live without inhibitions in order to obtain his or her highest self and be a person of great vitality.

Among Blake’s colored plates with images, nearly every one has an altered interpretation due to the stark differences in color choice and painting style.  A distinct difference appears on plate 4 of each edition, where an individual appears to be coming out of flames and is reaching out to someone else.  The Morgan edition’s depiction of this scene borders on cheerfulness due to the bright and pastel colors, while the Fitzwilliam edition, with it’s harsh reds and oranges, shows a Satanic character reaching out the flames causing a mood shift to wickedness (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.04&java=n,http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.04&java=n).  Although, Blake describes energy as the work of the Devil, it is also “delight” (191), but upon pictorial analysis one can see that the plate from the Fitzwilliam edition does not emulate this quality.  A statement is being made here in regards to what Hell truly represents, as opposed to the perception surrounding it.  The Morgan version promotes a more welcoming version of Hell, where mankind need not fear that obeying one’s desires will result in “God…torment[ing] Man in Eternity” (190).  Another example is given by panel 14, which portrays two bodies, one hovering over the other, while they are both engulfed in flames (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.14&java=no,http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.14&java=no).  It is representative of the notion that people cannot have a full understanding of the world when we narrow our perspectives “thro’ narrow chinks of [our] cavern” (196).  This proverb symbolizes how the reasons behind why Hell is seen as evil has lead to a misunderstanding of how to live life.  The Morgan image shows this through a somber, somewhat beautiful use of yellow and pink flames, while the Fitzwilliam edition depicts the hovering individual as a cloaked, demented, deep red and black figure.  Again, the Morgan depiction is more open-minded than the latter one, once again changing the meaning of Hell in the Fitzwilliam edition to a place where one will be punished for seeing the world through a different light.

The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (Basically, Man’s “Get Out of Jail Free” Card in Verse)

How ironic that a man such as William Blake would pen a poem called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” A man who was outspoken in his disapproval of the institution of marriage (yet was himself married) and heartily favored the free love movement of the late 18th century, Blake’s lobbying for the peaceful union between Heaven and Hell, or of anything for that matter, could have one rolling with cynical laughter, or at least rolling ones eyes.

The beautifully crafted plates of Blake’s poem have been refashioned multiple times. Referring to two separate versions, one from 1790 and the other from 1794, the contrast in the color scheme and format of the accompanying artwork, in one way, can be interpreted as the change in what Blake found most important within his great work. For instance, Plate 2 of the 1790 version is a medley of beautiful water colors with the words scribed atop, making it a part of the artwork, as it were. In contrast, the 1794 version is significantly starker due to the color-blocking technique that places the script on a colorless background. This is obviously a very important piece of the poem–nevertheless because it is the beginning–but also because Plate 2 describes the start of man’s battle with temptation (“Roses are planted where thorns grow.”) that ultimately “drive the just man into barren climes,” or rather the futility of denying man his desires in order to please God.

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Plate 2, 1790

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Plate 2, 1794

The alteration of color in the 1794 version obviously makes the plates more eye-catching, and albeit pleasing due to the removal of the ghastly brown hues (e.g. Plate 1, 1790), but it may also show the progression of Blake’s fervent belief in the message of his work. An artist’s emotion clearly come out in his work. The use of deep reds, blacks, and dark blues imply the passionate fervor felt when revisiting the poem. The deep, wild colors mimic man’s deep and wild desires that are being suppressed by the organized religion Blake so despises. Desires that, when gone unsatiated, can lead a man to “murder an Infant in its cradle…” (PL 10, L2).

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In this way, the impulsive, uncontrollable Lothario Blake makes his case against organized Christianity and preaches (though he might prefer the word “innocently encourages”) the indulgence of man’s desires.

Comparing Two Plates of Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and How It Effects The Meaning

In the introduction it claims that Blake’s aim isn’t to scrutinize religion, and in fact that he is intensely spiritual, but his aim is “to challenge, even outrage, conventional ideologies of good and evil and the moral rewards of Heaven and Hell.” (p 188) With this in mind, I’ll try to take the writings by Blake at face value while I try to view what he’s writing. In order to narrow it down, I’ll focus on the plates as a whole, as well as a few individual plates. 

Overall, the plates of the 1790 edition tend to have cooler colors that give a sense calmness. The plates of the 1794 edition have more warm colors which causes a more intense, passionate, and in this case, almost more aggresive, “firey,” idea behind the words. For example, if you compare, first, the images on plate 14 in both version, you’ll notice that in the 1794 has a warmth in the colors, causing the figure that is hovering over the other figure seem almost creepy. It gives you the idea that the figure on top is going to harm the figure on the bottom, all before going to the words on the plate. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.14&java=no But, if we switch and look at plate 14 in the 1790 version, the colors are deeper, darker, richer, but cooler. The coolness of the colors gives a sense of calm, as if the figure above the other figure may be protecting the figure on the bottom, or taking it somewhere safe, but more than likely not harming the figure on the bottom. http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.14&java=no On each of these plates, the section begins by talking about when/how/if the world will be consumed, come judgement day. But to get to the words dealing with the image, I assume to be, “But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expundged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.” (p 196) Blake continues, implying that once “Heaven meets Hell” that all mankind’s perception must and will be changed, and that up until this day comes, man will not be able to see through “narrow chinks of his cavern.” (p 196) In this case, I believe the 1794, firey, warm, vision shown on Plate 14, almost, better supports Blake’s words when speaking of expunging the soul by using corrosives and melting away surfaces. I think Blake’s vision is expressed in both version, as they are the same images, but the color impacts the feeling behind the images and the words. Overall, I would say the 1794 edition instills fear more so than the 1790 edition, and would more appropriately entice his audience.

Portrayals of Religion in Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

In William Blake’s poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” the idea of religion is dissected and even protested in a manner that seems very appropriate for Romantic thought. It appears as if Blake is calling his readers to challenge their own beliefs—to question things for themselves—as opposed to simply accepting everything they hear or observe from religious officials as absolute truth. This sense of independence can be seen in his proverb that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Through this proverb, Blake asserts that wisdom is found through an individual’s own experiences and learning from one’s mistakes as opposed to passively listening to the lecturing of another.

The colorings of the plates in each edition help to support this idea, yet in two completely opposite methods. The darker colors of the 1794 edition provide a sense of dread and bleakness that is perfectly characteristic of Blake’s depiction of religion at the time. For example, in this edition, the figures all seem to be dully illuminated in a background of darkness. This darkness represents ignorance, and the dull illumination of each figure represents the individual’s tendency to simply fade into the darkness around them (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.16&java=no).  The 1790 edition, on the other hand, seems to portray the element of passivity that Blake attributes to many religious people. The use of colors such as pink, yellow, light blue, and lavender provide an overly-idealized view of the physical world, heaven, and hell. In other words, the figures seem so complacent in their surroundings, that the surroundings themselves lose all credibility.  For instance, a figure resting in a hell composed of yellow and pink demonstrates how people have no real idea what hell actually is, or heaven for that matter (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.21&java=no). Whether it is the idealized “fantasy” hell, or the bleak reality of ignorance, both printings help support Blake’s call to action.