William Blake Class – 2 (Urizen)

So Urizen (The first Book of Urizen) was printed 1794, it’s on page 69 of the Erdman. So who’s got my (copy)? As you remember, Urizen was the principle (that) would be the correlation in Buddhism to the vajra principle of intellect,intelligence. In Buddhism, vajra quality can also have its corrupted or perverted opposite, where you have an excess of vajra, where everything is complete intellect and cutting through (perhaps cynical or destructive intellect, or negative intellect, or intellect that’s so solidified and impacted that it doesn’t allow for any feeling, or any richness, or any generosity, or any work even). Just like the creators of the atom bomb, for instance, or the present, say, creators of nuclear energy, who (consider it as a) purely mental construction, with no regard to the actual waste that comes through, or the vast stockpiles of unused plutonium. So, actually, with Urizen, we’re dealing with a contemporary mentality in a way. I would say (that) the triumph of Urizonic mentality would probably be the neutron bomb, in the sense that it destroys person(s) and leaves intact constructions, leaves architectural constructions intact, but destroys only organic matter.

There are some pages here for late-comers [Allen has made and distributed a hand-out]. Do we have enough? There are some pages up front to be picked up. Do you have them? I guess we’ll have to make another set. We’re at the end of it. There’s no more left. [to Student] – How many did you make?
Student: We made thirty.
AG: No fair. Does somebody have extras? They’re gone. Well, can you make another set?…Can you make (more)? – See Bob Meyers (Allen’s student and teaching assistant) for more sets of these if you need the extra pages.
So he Urizonic mentality that he’s dealing with is actually our own contemporary problem too. Blake is dealing with titanic forms, like the atom bomb, or neutron bombs, so, actually, Blake’s analyses and psychology are useful now as studies in the titanic poetry of the late 20th century, as well as his own titanic revolutions.
A little outline on Urizon so you know who he is. If you look at Plate II of Erdman (on page) 184, I think – let’s see, where is (it)? – (on page) 184, you’ll have the book spread out before you. Plate 1 is a picture of Urizen, reading his books, reading his tablets. Writing his own book, actually, with his left hand. And illustrating it with the other, with his eyes shut. He copies what he can read with his toes from nature’s book. You got the picture there? Anybody got the picture That’s page 183. (The) Book of Urizon. According to Erdman, he’s writing secrets and commandments, but his copy book is.. The closed books on which he’s transcribing may be seen as a coffin lid. He’s got the Mosaic tablets at his back. A barren trunk and a barren branch from a Tree of Mystery form a barrel arch above the solitary solipsist. And he’s pointing out (Erdman points out) that there some serpentine quality in the lettering.
Student: Where was it done?
AG: Pardon me? Lambeth is where Blake did it, Lambeth in London, in Lambeth Vale in London. I think that’s on the other side, if I’m not mistaken, of the river from the Tower, from Parliament and Big Ben. He lived there, (on the) south side of the Thames for a long while, and took sun baths naked with his wife and got into a little trouble in his garden in Lambeth. Some of the poems we read.. I think Blake was giving his body ease in Lambeth…
So, Damon, for “Urizen”, says: “Urizen is the southern Zoa, who symbolizes Reason”…a “limiter of Energy” (rather than an expander of Energy), “the law-maker, and the avenging conscience”..”His art is architecture..”..”His name has been translated as “Your Reason”, a derivation quite characteristic of Blake, who continually used semi-conscious puns”. Your Reason. Kathleen Raine and others” (Damon points out) differ as to the root – the Greek root of the word – they have a Greek root which means “to limit” – to put a limit (as reason puts a limit on sense-perception, or abstracts from sense perceptions to make generalizations, so actually limits the amount of data in a verbal formula). Nobody knows whether Blake knew Greek then.
Urizen in the lower world is the son of Albion, the complete man, and Vala, who is nature. So he’s an aspect of the complete Albionic creature, th complete unified man. In other words, intellect has a place in the unified man. When he got confused with nature, when the whole man got entrapped, and fucked nature, the result was this thin abstraction, (this) mental, Urizonic quality that involves judgemen, limitations, limitation to the senses, loss of imagination. The cause of Urizen’s downfall into the state of Satan (or Error) – Urizen later becomes – (or) can be exchanged with – Jehovah, the Jewish Jehovah – the judging, avenging God, the limiter, the reasoner and the judger, the avenging conscience. So the old Jehovaic heavy task-master is Urizen as well as Satan. The totally opaque Satan, that is – a Satan that’s so opaque and thick and solidified, in Buddhist terms, a Satan whose faculties of reasoning are so solidified,(whose) conceptual faculties are so solidified and dominant that his mind is opaque. Or you could put it as a maxim – “your eye’s in your head and you don’t actually see what’s in front of you” (as distinct from the translucent worm, the worm you can see through – the man as a worm of sixty winters who’s translucent, who you can see through).
The cause of Urizen’s downfall into the state of Satan, or Error, was that of the traditional Satan – the desire for dominion (in other words, desire for more territory, desire for more power). The egocentric desire to control nature, totally, by the mind (which, again, is applicable to the situation of the nuclear mentality). Desire for dominion, which he does not renounce until the Last Judgement, in Blake’s scheme. He’s motivated by foul ambition and incurs the Satanic self-deceit with its resultant hypocrisy which leads him constantly to weep over his own victims. He’s jealous, also, of Man. (So, the neutron bomb, which actually destroys the bodies and (but) leaves the architecture). The result of his scheming is the creation of the apparent world that we see. As in the old Jehovah story he created the world, so Urizen’s measuring and reasoning created this apparent world. In Buddhist terms, that would be the..I suppose..notion of the self creating its own territory, and then, with the senses, exfoliating a whole phenomenal universe, which, in appearance is there, but, is also subject, like water, to complete change and alteration and disappearance, flowing away. He’s drawing, for some of these notions, on classic Western sources too, because, in Heraclitus, we have, “everything we look upon when awake is death” (or, otherwise translated as, “everything we look upon when awake is dying”, i.e. changing). Everything we look upon when awake is death..everything we look upon when awake is dying, and when asleep, dream. That’s Heraclitus, I think, quoting Pythagoras. These are things that Kathleen Raine, in her studies of Blake, has pointed out as slogans that Blake would have known and would have drawn from, for Western back-up for these notions which here, in this context, may seem somewhat Buddhist or Oriental. In other words, these are Western Gnostic notions. And in relation to that, well, the result of Urizonic consciousness is the creation of the world (in an earlier prophetic book, America): “the moon shot forth,/ in that dread night when Urizen call’d the stars round his feet;/ then burst the center from its orb and found a place beneath;/ and Earth, conglob’d in narrow room, roll’d round its sulphur Sun.” That’s in America.
Student: Does Urizen equate with Old Testament?
AG: Yes. Urizen also, when he sets himself up as God and starts ordering everybody around, when he starts ordering Tharmas (the Body) and he starts ordering Luvah (Emotions), when he starts ordering Urthona – he can’t really order Urthona (Imagination). He can’t really get to Urthona. He can get the others under his control, but he can’t get Imagination under his control. Poetic Imagination, particularly, always escapes Urizen, in Blake’s scheme. And, in fact, the unrolling of these prophetic books is the struggle between Urizen and these other qualities, and how, occasionally, Los, the embodiment of Imagination, I think, gets a little tangled up occasionally, but he never gets completely subjugated by Urizen. There’s always that escape clause in Blake’s contract with eternity, that the poetic imagination can get beyond appearances, and that’s why he always insists that poetic imagination is primary, and above material senses, and that if we had to depend just on the material senses for our poetry, they’d be endlessly repeating the same round of already-known experiences. You’ll find some statement about that in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, and the little illuminated fragment, “There is No Natural Religion” – statements about the poetic imagination surpassing the ratio of the senses, saying that if man knew everything just according to the ratio of the senses, he wouldn’t know anything except what he already knew, and it would be repeated endlessly, a boring round.
So Imagination would be, for Buddhists here again, bodhicitta perhaps, some gap in Urizonic rational conceptual solidification and some opening up of space and some entry of another mind that’s not totally dependent (upon experience). Consonant with experience, but isn’t totally dependent upon the two-plus-two-equals-four of the sensory ratio, the ratio of the five senses.
Anybody got a match? Anybody got any fire? Yeah. Thanks. [Allen pauses for a cigarette] – I’ll give you a little more of the.. Thank you..
Thus, simultaneously, because of Urizen’s jealousy of man, that is the non-limited, the Albionic man, wrath and justice began with the creation. This was also the creation of the Tyger – wrath and justice.
Let’s see, what else (do) we want to know? Urizen, originally, in your thing here, is from the south, and in the “Preludium” to the first book it says: “Of the primeval Priests assum’d power,/ When eternals spurn’d back his religion;/ And gave him a place in the north,/ Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary/ Eternals I hear your call gladly,/ Dictate swift-winged words & fear not/ To unfold your dark visions of torment” – So Blake is going to introduce the horrific aspects of creation, and he says, : “Of the primeval Priests assum’d power,/ When eternals spurn’d back his religion” – The “Eternals” appear in and out of Blake as a council of Gods, or a council of Eternals. Albion is one of them. I think Jerusalem is probably in that. The Eternals, who are wise and don’t get tricked by Urizen, spurned his religion.
Blake is also talking about the organized religions here. Beginning with Jehovah (whom Blake has a totally different interpretation of, (different) than the regular Christian-Biblical one – and I’ll go into that in a minute). And they gave Urizen, at this time, a place in the north, which is the reverse of where Urizen’s right place should be. Urizen belongs in the south, and I think it’s Tharmas, (the Body), that’s supposed to be in the north, no, Urthona (Imagination), is supposed to be in the north. So, because he was making a lot of trouble, he got out of sync, out of kilter, he got off his true course. So they put him up in the north where he’s making a lot of trouble in the territory of Urthona, (Imagination). Reason is usurping Imagination, usurping the direction of Imagination, in the north. Reason has got to go back south before Blake’s drama is finished. He’s got to put Urizen back in the south where he belongs and get him out of Imagination’s territory. But, at the very beginning here, they say they “..gave him a place in the north, / Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary”. And in the “Preludium”, there’s a little picture. I guess the picture is, according to Erdman, “swift-winged words” of the coming visions. That’s the woman and child who float prophetically above the title.
“Dictate” (the word “dictate” )– “swift-winged words”. In the illustration, the “d” has a plumed quill, a pen, he’s got a little picture of a pen on the illustration. So there’s endless little adornments. Yeah?
Student: On the first plate, I was wondering, you talk about (the tablets there). Has anybody ever talked about those two…
AG: Yeah, those are the Mosaic tablets of the rules and regulations – “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not”, or whatever. And that’s his back-rest actually, that’s what’s behind him. Now, in the beginning of Chapter 1, it says: “ Lo, a shadow of horror is risen/ in Eternity. Unknown, unprolific” – That’s really great – “unprolific”, Urizen is unprolific. He can’t write poetry. Well, he can’t create anything, (The) meaning is he can’t create anything. All he can do is criticize. “ Self-closed, all-repelling. What demon/ Hath formed this abominable void,/ This soul-shuddering vacuum – Some said,/ “It is Urizen”, But unknown, abstracted/ Brooding secret, the dark power hid” – “Times on times he divided and measured/ Space by space in his ninefold darkness,/ Unseen, unknown. Changes appeared/ In his desolate mountains, rifted furious/ By the black winds of peturbation” – So he’s born with anxiety, secrecy, like our own rational conceptual insistences, like our own virginal sophomoric rationalizations when we’re all virginal sophomores. Yeah?
Student: Why does he say “ninefold” there?
AG: Well I was just wondering that. I just marked that out and I wonder if it’ll say something in the Dictionary about that. It might, so I’ll check that out. If not, we’ll have to ask an expert in the room. With things like that, if you can figure them out.. maybe you’ve got your own Dictionary there.. no, there’s no “ninefold” here. Probably explainable. [turns to Student] Do you know what “ninefold” would be there? – a “ninefold darkness”? – What would be a “ninefold darkness”? Well, okay, presumably, (one) in which the body, the imagination, and the emotions are darkened… I think somewhere within Blake’s own system we’ll find a “ninefold”. Remember in “The Crystal Cabinet” he’s got a “threefold”. “I strive to burst thee in most forms, threefold..”[in actual fact, the lines read “I strove to seize the inmost form/ With ardor fierce and hands of flame,/ but burst the Crystal Cabinet”] ..what is it? [Allen continues to misremember]– the maiden? – “threefold maidens thrice return my kiss” [actually, “..a threefold smile/ Fill’d me that like a flame I burn’d/ I bent to kiss the lovely Maid/ And found a threefold kiss return’d”] – Threre’s three folds. There’s a fourfold vision, which he’ll refer to, which is a vision seen through the eyes of all four Zoas, all four primary faculties. So we know what fourfold is. Threefold would probably be without the imagination. Ninefold, I don’t know what, but it’s probably in his cosmogony somewhere here so we’ll find it sooner or later.
to be continued

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