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.

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

  1. A spirited post, Lindsay, and well composed. But is the Marriage of Heaven and Hell truly a peaceful one, as you imply at the beginning? Given Blake’s personal views on marriage, might the contradiction you detect actually be expressed *directly* in this poem, rather than glossed over?

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