AG (reading from “The Book of Urizen” continues): “Cold he wandered on high, over their cities” – (See) Plate 27B to see Urizen “wandering..over their cities”, maybe. Page 209. In a great night darkness sky, pushing the ball of Reason, that ball of fire, in front of him. In the colored illustrations (page 209 of the Illustrated book), I think that’s Urizen “wandering over the(ir) cities”.. – “In weeping and pain and woe/And wherever he wandered in sorrow/ Upon the aged heavens/ A cold shadow followed behind him/Like a spider’s web, moist, cold and dim,/Drawing out from his sorrowing soul,/The dungeon-like heaven dividing/Wherever the footsteps of Urizen/Walked over the cities in sorrow” – On Page 209 you have that. What’s interesting is “A cold shadow followed behind him/Like a spider’s web, moist, cold and dim,/Drawing out from his sorrowing soul” – That may be that trailing, sort of web-like embryo web drawn out from the sorrowing soul which follows Urizen wherever his footsteps take him over the cities, in this illumination, in this picture (that’s Erdman‘s interpretation of the pink webbing in the colored illuminated version of this). You get it in black and white here
– “Till a web dark and cold throughout all/The tormented element stretched/From the sorrows of Urizen’s soul/ (And the web is a female in embryo.)/ None could break the web – no wings of fire” – Consciousness here is consciousness of the eternal universe again. (And) the webbing here – “the web is a female in embryo.)/ None could break the web – no wings of fire” – “So twisted the cords, and so knotted/The meshes twisted like to the human brain./ And all called it The Net of Religion” – Now the “Net of Religion” you get on page 207 (at least that part which is embryonic, twisted – his vision of interlinear foliage, worm-like). There’s an unusual admixture of flying insects and humans also. A gowned human figure descends beside the human brain.
Those little notes that Erdman has there – “Urizon’s daughters are disobedient to his “iron laws” and seem, from his “darkness”, the brood of monsters and worms…(A) winged creature at the top has a human head close to a face with a human hans which clutches a horn-like worm…and may belong to some of the large scaly coils that loop toward and around the daughter reclining at the lower left, her body extends like an almost human thigh across the page, not scaly but ringed” (that’s Erdman’s description of that picture) – “And all called it The Net of Religion“.
A parallel to this would be in Songs of Innocence and Experience – it’ll give you another statement by Blake of pretty much the same view of how “the Net of Religion” rises – “Pity would be no more/ If we did not make somebody Poor” (from “The Human Abstract) – “Pity would be no more/ If we did not make somebody Poor”. “Pity would be no more/ If we did not make somebody Poor/ And Mercy no more could be/If all were as happy as we/ And mutual fear brings peace/ Till the selfish loves increase:/ Then Cruelty knits a snare,/ And spreads his baits with care./ He sits down with holy fears/And waters the ground with tears/ Then Humility takes its root/ Underneath his foot..” I think we read this the other day.
Student: What book is that in?
AG: That’s (page) 227 of the Erdman
Student: What’s the name of that?
AG: It’s “The Human Abstract”.
Student: That line, “And the web is a female in embryo” (in “..Urizen“) – What exactly, do you think did Blake mean by that?
AG: I don’t know. He must’ve been a sexist! No, actually, it’s more complicated – I think by the time we get to “..Ahania“ and the whole thing, he’ll have some explanation, I think. But I think you’ll have to finish it off all the way to Jerusalem before you’ll (fully) understand it. Okay, what it is, is, to put it (in a) short form, I think I know the answer to that, as a question, for Blake. He’s saying that the material universe, though it may be passed through by the traveler through Eternity, nonetheless, the material universe, the vegetable universe, is not real, or is not the eternal place, only the Imagination is eternal. And that Urizonic Imagination has created this thing – with ganglia, nerves, webbings – that it’s the projection of the eternal (or an eternal), it’s a projection, or emanation of Urizen, and of Reason, and of Imagination. He’s putting them as the men, and the projections as the women (which is the traditional thing). Shiva, and Shakti, the creative principle – and then the projection – Maya – that you dance with Maya, the female, Mother Maya – that you dance with the Illusion. So that’s sort of classical actually, that’s tradition…No, no, wait a minute, I’m just wondering..is Blake unique in his eccentricity on this point? or is he (just) falling in with some traditional form?..But he didn’t know that tradition. I don’t think (he knew it) too well. He wouldn’t have known the… well, maybe he knew a little of the Hindu Shiva-Shakti-Maya tradition. He was probably getting it more from the Gnostic versions, in which, maybe, Sophia, would be the emanation of the Abyss of Light (the word would be “emanation”). But Wisdom again. Wisdom or Knowledge – Awareness of an outer world (if you could make that equivalent). Awareness of an outer world is also, in the Western tradition, considered feminine. “The Word” – “In the beginning was the Word“ – Sophia – And that’s feminine in a way. There is that tradition. He resolves it by saying that Eternity has both male and female in it, together, at once. And it’s only when the male and female get separated that there’s a split. And the resolution, ultimately, is when Albion rises, in the Book (of) Jerusalem. When Albion rises, I believe, the emanations of the Four Zoas are joined with (those energies), and then does Jerusalem become one with Albion, Jerusalem, (that) emanation, becomes one with Albion, (one with) the whole being. And Albion himself is neither male nor female, finally, but both (or, at least, there is one alibi like that, there’s one Blakean alibi that goes in that direction).
Student: Isn’t the Kabalistic Adam Kadmon, like Blake’s image of Albion, hermaphroditic?
AG: Adam Kadmon is hermaphroditic?..I see.. Well, yes, then – Except that, remember, he (Blake) is making fun of the Adamic myth. He’s saying that Albion, the whole man, is composed of Urizen, Urthona, Los, Tharmas (the body), and Luvah (the heart), in proper balance. And when they’re in proper balance, they’re no longer separated from their emanations, they’re at one with their emanations. So it’s all one being, but it’s a non-material being, I guess. It’s a being, purely in some imaginary (form), it’s in the realm of the Imagination, or, it’s not in the vegetable, perishing, world. But when you create a vegetable, perishing, world, you’ve got a whole bunch of webs – spider-webs, ganglion, nerves – trailing…like this cloak. That’s why it’s so appropriate – this cloak of Urizen, as he’s pushing through, exploring all his dens and caves, trailing this great network robe of eyeballs and ventricles and spider-webs and nervous systems, and, later, in.. I don’t know what book it is, but, probably “Milton” or “Jerusalem”, there is a description of the great polypus – P-O-L-Y-P-U-S – the polypus of Eternity, which is the ultimate of that, the ultimate of the vegetable (universe), the unreal, vegetable, transient, suffering, universe, which is this enormous polypus. How do you pronounce “polypus” in English? – Polly-pus? Poe-lip-us?
AG: Well, let me read you about the polypus, because that’s relating to this whole symbol of webbing and horrible webbing. It’s quite a monstrous notion [Allen begins reading from Damon] – “The Polypus is an aquatic animal with tentacles” – actually, originally – “There are various kinds; some are “colonial” organisms of individuals. Blake’s first reference seems to be to a jellyfish, when he describes Los’ lungs as “dim and glutinous as the white Polypus driv’n by waves & englob’d on the tide”” – (in the Book of Los – and it goes on – We’ll get to that later) – [Allen continues reading] – “Next it could be a sea-anemone…In the color print “Newton” and on Jerusalem 28, it is depicted as a squid. However when Blake progressed from simile to symbol, he chose the “colonial” organism to symbolize human society in this world and its religion” – the “Net” – he grows one in the human brain – “It’s source is the “dead” Albion. “As a Polypus that vegetates beneath the Sea, the limbs of Man vegetated in monstrous forms of Death” (from The Four Zoas. iv: 266) – “The Twelve Sons of Albion enrooted into every Nation, a mighty Polypus from Albion over the whole Earth” – I guess that would be the English empire (from Jerusalem) – “This worldly society is the antithesis of the Brotherhood of Man. “By Invisible Hatreds adjoin’d, they seem remote and separate from each other, and yet are a Mighty Polypus in the Deep” (Jerusalem 66:53) – Let me see if I can get a description of it, well.. – “Orc being the hatred men bear each other” – resentful hatred – “Then all the Males conjoined into one Male, and everyone became a ravening eating Cancer growing in the Female, a Polypus of Roots, of Reasoning, Doubt, Despair & Death, going forth and returning from Albion’s Rocks to Canann, Devouring Jerusalem from every Nation of the Earth” (Jerusalem 69:1) – Anyway, you can check out the Polypus, it’s a fantastic notion (and he’s got paintings that include it) – “In Milton, the Polypus springs from Milton’s Shadow of suppressed desires” – Milton’s suppressed sex – “When the immortal poet slips into mortal slumber, his Shadow vegetates beneath his Couch of Death, “Like a Polypus that vegetates beneath the deep” (Milton 15:8). His error expands into the entire universe…”..the Heads of the Great Polypus. Four-fold twelve enormity, in mighty and mysterious comingling, enemy with enemy, woven by Urizen into Sexes from his mantle of years” (Milton 37: 60-38:4) – So it’s like a grand conception. That webbing grows. And there’s a lot of different paintings of it, of that conception, in Blake. And it’s interesting to compare them, one to another, and, actually, another form of it is this one on (page) 207, with the humans and the worms intertwined.