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 (, 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.

Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

I know this isn’t exactly the assignment, but I couldn’t figure out which image I wanted to use and thus can’t focus on that aspect of it, so I thought I’d just give my own opinion/understanding and general interpretation of the text, if that’s okay as a possible alternative.

The first striking role which is cast in Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven of Hell” is the role that Blake casts of Swedenborg, which is that of an Angel who is guarding his empty linens. Since we know that Blake is disagreeing with the writings of Swedenborg, the role Swedenborg occupies is at first perplexing. Angels are supposed to be good, right, and truthful in all things, since they are the sacred messengers of god. However, we are immediately given the reason for it, because Blake introduces the notion of this role-reversal, where he is illustrating the idea that just as logic and passion both exist in the same world, so does his unique definitions of good and evil. This idea is profound—we, as humans, realize that there are opposites in the world, things that are contradictory in nature yet exist simultaneously. We, perhaps foolishly, do not often think of religion in this context. Instead, we try to categorize acceptable human behavior and beliefs, when in fact it is an affront to culture and humanity to do so. We, again as humans, inevitably fail in this separation—we have both good and evil behaviors. The idea is put forth that not only do these things, good and evil, exist together, but that it is indeed impossible to separate them. The world needs both. Human existence itself demands both. Blake’s reversal of the traditional ideas of angels and devils is astonishing and effective. The Proverbs of Hell ring true (to me at least) and remind us that it is not sinful to have passion, it is not sinful to question the teachings of authority. Religion has an ugly tendency to attempt to take our (admittedly lesser) human qualities away from us. We shouldn’t lie, have sex, question god. Blake, as the devil, is telling us that it is no sin to be human. It is a sad thing to crush these follies that make us human (by blindly subscribing to the unnecessary rules of religion), and as Blake himself says, “Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained . . . . And being restrained it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.”

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

In comparing the Morgan 1790 edition with the 1794 edition held at the Fitzwilliam Museum, the visual differences are prominent between the two. Right off the bat the first plate for each have very different color palettes. In the 1790 edition, it is dark on the left with fire depicted while the right side of the plate has a very light color palette with clouds, and two figures from each side coming together. In this illustration, I feel like I can actually see the marriage of heaven and hell being depicted, but not so much in the 1794 edition. Yes there are still two figures coming together in that edition but the color palette is pretty dark for each side. One side does look like hell but the other side does not look like a heaven to me.

Some other images I’ve chosen to compare are these.

I think these images depict this particular line from the plate: “The Giants who formed this world into sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains.” I wouldn’t say one has a substantial difference in meaning, but one of them shows more pain and emotion. In the 1790 plate, the man in the middle just looks plain unhappy or angry, while the main in the 1794 edition actually has this sense of emotion I might expect to see in someone who has been kept in chains. His face is just filled with sadness, grief and loss of hope. I think that the 1794 edition plate embodies the lines of that particular plate more than the 1790 plate.


Blake and “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

The image in the link complicates the poem as a whole. Since the title of it is “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, we are led to believe that the poem will end with the joining of Heaven with Hell. However, this particular page describes the coming of the “cherub with his flaming sword”, and, “when he does, the whole creation will be consumed”. This does not strike me as a happy resolution between Heaven and Hell.

The plate shows two male figures, one hovering above the other, who seems to be dead. To me, it is showing the cherub floating above a man who represents the death of Creation. However, the plate complicates the poem, because this is not clearly the interpretation that Blake wants us to have. The poem mentions fire, and so there is fire in the background of the plate. But if this cherub used to reside in the Garden of Eden, God’s Paradise, then why has it descended to Earth to destroy it with fire? The cause for this is an “improvement of sensual enjoyment”, which I interpret as sin. The complication for me, then, is why the guardian of the Tree of Life is also the one who will destroy the world in 6,000 years. The way this can be resolved, though, is if the cherub is the guardian of all things good, and by destroying a sinful Earth which has indulged in an “improvement of sensual enjoyment”, he is merely keeping preventing the spread of sin in his God’s creation.