William Blake (Marriage of Heaven and Hell – intro)

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake continues

AG: Well, first of all, the thing he attributes all the trouble to is authority to begin with.  Urizen trying to impose itself on nature, or Urizen trying to take over all other faculties.  So (we’re) at the beginning of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, if you could possibly follow it with your illustrated Blake.  If you’ve got the illustrated Blake, the Illuminated Blake, (it’s) on page ninety-eight

Then, for those who are into it, there is the very beautiful text.  Has anybody seen this?  The colored facsimile of Blake’sMarriage of Heaven and Hell is available. It may or may not be in the bookstores but you can get it relatively cheap.  This one is more expensive.  Sixteen bucks.

Student: This is $7.95. [editorial note – this is 1978]

AG: Yeah, $7.95 for (the) paperback. A real bargain, because I don’t think they’re going to manufacture these forever.  It’s just at this point in history when Blake’s nine copies.. Blake only made nine copies, or maybe thirteen fragmentary, but nine complete copies are known, and two incomplete.  So Blake only made nine and this, as of the year 1975, three years ago, was the first time that anybody could have a complete facsimile of his nine copies. Before that you had to run around to all the libraries in the world to get them, except there was one very expensive facsimile edition. But this is the mass facsimile edition, just three years old.  “I am but three years old”.  And so it’s not likely that these will be in print forever.  It’s just from now on it’s all downhill, so to speak.  Historically. Less and less paper, more and more inflation.  It’s probably Blake just hit it at the acme.  Just at the balance point before everything began falling apart.  So if you want to get all these prophetic books now while you still can get them when they’re just freshly issued, freshly minted.  I would say it’s worth doing because they’ll probably become more and more expensive and more and more rare.  Like the Blake Dictionary at this point is almost impossible to get.  I have a call out in New York through all the rare hermetic bookshops and I could only turn up one paperback copy of the dictionary, which is being sent and (is) on the way for the library.  So those dictionaries are hard to find now. So it might be worth getting this “Marriage of Heaven and Hell, while you can get it.  So, if you got a copy, lay it out with the text. And let’s see what we can make out of it.

“Rintrah – wrath – “Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burdend air..” – (So this is directly addressed to your question about revolution.) – Rintrah” is what?  Well, in the Dictionary, it says that Rintrah is the just wrath of the prophets.  It might be (the) rejected artist – the just wrath of the rejected artist.  I mean.. Because at this point he has to go into double-talk in order to…  He’s scared of printing The French Revolution and this is his next big book. And scared, partially before because of the repression, just like nowadays, because of the repression, but also because he might be wrong. [tape breaks here – and then resumes] –

…(fears that they) will take up the..  (that it) will be the big reactionary, Stalin. You know,  the revolution led to… well, Robespierre and everybody cutting each other’s heads off. (They killed) the king and they put Lafayette in jail and the next thing  it’s Robespierre and the next thing the revolution turns into mush, (just like Cambodia/Vietnam right now, or Cuba, or whatever, if you want).So.  But it’s Rintrah.

This is before the revolution, however. This is the idea. There is the idea of revolution come, the idea of an ideal society come. There is the recognition of the suffering of the old order.  I don’t know what you could call this actually. Anyway, we know the clouds of revolution here.  “Hungry clouds… (Remember the clouds as the fog of unreason).  “(Hungry clouds) swag on the deep”  ” (Rintrah roars, and) shakes his fires on the burdend air.”  So, Rintrah with fire would then be revolutionary wrath. “Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burdend air.”  “The Hungry clouds swag on the deep” – (That might be the counter-revolution against the French revolutionary fury.  But Rintrah roaring may be presaging the accomplished revolution.

Then, the first stage of revolution –  “Once meek, and in a perilous path…” – Because this is “The Argument” that he’s giving.  The Argument, as, you remember (in) Miltonthe argument – the plot of each book.  So he’s now going to announce what it’s all about, or the background of it – “Once meek, and in a perilous path,/ The just man kept his course along/ The vale of death” – (“A perilous path”,  the revolution.  “A perilous path”, the growth of the soul.  It’s perilous.  You’ve got to take a chance. Danger. Open.  It isn’t open and comfortable and safe like the old society.  And it includes being willing to die – “The just man kept his course along/The vale of death./ Roses are planted where thorns grow – (In the mind. That is, mental roses. Bread and roses.  Roses are planted.  Joys, lusts, love) – “And on the barren heath/ Sing the honey bees” – (So where there was a desert, the revolutionary wrath is now beginning to plant — though perilous,  it’s a perilous trip you’re on – “honey bees”.

Then, however, the once perilous path was planted – “Then the perilous path was planted”- (Cultured. It’s like the woman growing old) – “And a river, and a spring/ On every cliff and tomb/ And on the bleached bones..” – (There’s development here.  A river and a spring on every cliff and tomb, so that the desert is giving way to some kind of culture(or) civilization.) – “And on the bleached bones/Red clay brought forth” – (Adam is reborn, according to Foster Damon.  “Red clay brought forth” on the bleached bones.  “Red clay brought forth”. – “Till the villain left the paths of ease,/ To walk in perilous paths, and drive/ The just man into barren climes” – (Keynes interprets that as morality coming in.  The villain left the paths of ease – counter-revolution) – “Now the sneaking serpent walks/ In mild humility” – (“The priest promotes war”,  Blake says in his notebook.  “Now the sneaking serpents walks/ In mild humility.” -“The priest promotes war.” – “And the just man rages in the wilds/ Where lions roam.”

The ”Sixties inspiration for a revolutionary society is thwarted by the F.B.I. and Nixon and the counter-revolutionary forces, and so the just man is forced to take up arms and become a warrior –  “And the just man rages in the wilds/ Where lions roam.”  The just man is Abbie Hoffman underground, if you want to make it that black and white, (which I wouldn’t, but nonetheless, just for an image).  In other words, the spirit is driven, the innocent Flower Power spirit is driven into the wilds where the lions roam among the cops and all the insurance executives.  Would that be “the just man rages in the wilds/ Where lions roam” –  Is that Rennie Davis in the John Hancock building?  Maybe.  Well, I don’t know if he’s “rag(ing) in the wilds” there.  But that might be one interpretation.  But I would take it somewhat that way.  The revolutionary spirit thwarted by the villanous sneaking serpent, which would be Urizen, or the priests, or the monarchy, or the state, or authoritarianism, or authority, (and) repression of the counter-revolution, creates a “wild” where the “just man”‘s spirit is “raging”. – “Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burdend air/ Hungry clouds swag on the deep.”

So that’s just the situation. Eighteen … when was this done? I forgot.  The title page, incidentally, as you notice, has no name on it.  It’s anonymous. It isn’t signed “William Blake, Maker” – it’s just “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”.  I think Erdman notices that and says that must mean… no place or date, either.  So it’s sort of like an eternal document for Blake, without his name on it, completely impersonal.

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-seven-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-eight minutes in]

 

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