William Blake continues – 2

Allen’s  1979 Naropa class on Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion continues from here

AG: Meanwhile, Theotormon “severely smiles”.  But “the Daughters of Albion hear her woes and eccho back her sighs” – ” Why does (my) Theotormon sit weeping upon the threshold;/And Oothoon hovers by his side, perswading him in vain..” – (Revolution and freedom is hovering by the side of this conscience-stricken liberal) – ” I cry arise O Theotormon for the village dog/Barks at the breaking day, the nightingale has done lamenting/The lark does rustle in the ripe corn.. – (Beautiful line, there.  And real perceptive. That’s William Carlos Williams‘s Objectivism (or) Imagism –  “The lark does rustle in the ripe corn.”  I guess London, 1793, you could actually hear a lark “rustling in the ripe corn” outside of Lambeth, where this book was written. Lambeth, on the other side of the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.

These are called “the Lambeth books”, or the Lambeth period. Lambeth.  Real nice name.  (And) T.S. Eliot wrote essays, “Thoughts After Lambeth”. It’s a name that recurs in English literature.

“The lark does rustle in the ripe corn, and the Eagle returns/From nightly prey, and lifts his golden beak to the pure east;/Shaking the dust from his immortal pinions to awake/The sun that sleeps too long. Arise my Theotormon I am pure./Because the night is gon that clos’d me in its deadly black./They told me that the night & day were all that I could see;/They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up./And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle./And sunk my heart into the Abyss, a red round globe hot burning/Till all from life I was obliterated and erased./Instead of morn arises a bright shadow, like an eye/In the eastern cloud…” – (The eye of judgement.  Actually the eye you saw in Plate I. Or the bloody “eye” of the French Revolution, actually, it could be also).

And  “Instead of morn arises a bright shadow, like an eye/In the eastern cloud” –  Remember, in “(The) French Revolution” he had the image of the law, the keys of the church and the book of the law imprinted, like spectres, on the sun and moon. So here, again, hallucinating over nature, hallucinating in this image of nature.  Her projection of hallucination of theologic fear, moral guilt, or rationalistic constriction.

The “eye/In the eastern cloud” is a really beautiful image. I had carried that in my head and used it in Kaddish” –  caw caw”.  [“caw caw my eye be buried in the same Ground where I stand in Angel”] From the last section of “Kaddish”, there is a great eye that looks on all and moves in a black cloud.  In other words, there’s some similar image, that I think I picked up from Blake originally.

“… instead of night a sickly charnel house;/That Theotormon hears me not! to him the night and morn/Are both alike: a night of sighs, a morning of fresh tears..” – (The language is Shakespearean:  “a night of sighs, a morning of fresh tears.”) – ” And none but Bromion can hear my lamentations.”

“With what sense is it that the chicken shuns the ravenous hawk? – (“With what sense..” -He’s calling on his common sense.  How does know he know how to rise out of his gloom and despond and indecision?) – “With what sense does the tame pigeon measure out the expanse?/ With what sense does the bee form cells? have not the mouse & frog/ Eyes and ears and sense of touch? yet are their habitations./And their pursuits, as different as their forms and as their joys:/ Ask the wild ass why he refuses burdens: and the meek camel/ Why he loves man: is it because of eye ear mouth or skin/Or breathing nostrils? No. for these the wolf and tyger have/.Ask the blind worm the secrets of the grave, and why her spires/ Love to curl round the bones and death; and ask the rav’nous snake/Where she gets poison: & the wing’d eagle why he loves the sun/ And then tell me the thoughts of man, that have been hid of old./Silent I hover all the night, and all day could be silent./If Theotormon once would turn his loved eyes upon me;/ How can I be defild when I reflect thy image pure?/ Sweetest the fruit that the worm feeds on.” – (This is actually the opposite of Thel, finally.  Remember little Thel was scared of being fed on by the worm?  Oothoon is willing to sacrifice herself. She’s willing to be raped in order to be experienced, she’s willing to forgive the rapist, she’s willing to forgive her desire, who is still rejecting her and still reflecting his own self-hood, she’s got a bodhisattva call out trying to wake up her lover.

“Sweetest the fruit that the worm feeds on. & the soul prey’d on by woe/ The new wash’d lamb ting’d with the village smoke..” – (So she has been “ting’d” with the Industrial Revolution, the new-washed lamb) – “..& the bright swan/By the red earth of our immortal river”- (“In order to trample on the Great Void, the iron cow must sweat.” She’s willing to sweat.  She’s willing to be “ting’d by the smoke”, she’s willing to be the bright swan washed by the mud, she’s willing to live in the mud, in the smoke, she’s willing to be raped, she’s willing to experience, she’s willing to experience , and she’s calling the masculine principle, (the mind actually, the reason, in a sense), to be willing to experience also.) –  “… I bathe my wings./ And I am white and pure to hover round Theotormons breast.”

Finally, we’ve seen the genius eagle turn vulture in Plate III, on page one-thirty-one, and we’ve had her measure out her experience, or expound her experience, on page forty-six of Erdman, but it’s all unreal to him.  She’s talking to a London citizen about the French Revolution, actually, (or to, say, the American citizen about the Iranian Revolution).  It’s all unreal to them.  Or the German citizen about the concentration camps. He’s sitting there in torment, he’s got his hands over his head, he doesn’t want to hear.  Or if he hears but he doesn’t want to act. He’s afraid that acts are unlovely, maybe.

Erdman points (to) the London citizen of that age.  In this series of poems, Erdman points out, (for) Africa, she is urging the London citizen to ignore color differences.  As America she’s urging British lawmakers to rescue her from the muddy feet of the slaver, as the woman enslaved by the Marriage Act morality, she’s imploring her lover to rise above accusations of adultery.

Erdman has really interesting comments on that. This is on page forty-one of his Prophet (Against Empire)   “Oothoon insists that the revolutionary dawn is at hand and overdue and that the corn is ripe, but this ‘citizen of London’ does not look up. He’s not at all sure of what is the night or day, he is merely deaf to the cry of slaves, blind to the visions of a new day, he can’t arise.  The springs of rebellion are as obscure to him as those of moral purity. ‘Tell me, what is a thought?’ he pleads.”

So, we’ll get on to his speech now.  So now the riddle of his own consciousness.

“Then Theotormon broke his silence and he answered./Tell me what is the night or day to one o’erflowd with woe?/ Tell me what is a thought?..” – (That’s a really interesting:  “Tell me what is a thought?”) – ” ..& of what substance is it made? – (Because actually we’re getting into not merely politics and women’s liberation, we’re getting into what is the nature of consciousness here, and consciousness bound by rational mind. Because she touched on that before, actually, when she said, in line thirty – “They told me that the night & day were all that I could see;/They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up./And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle.”

So, beginning with protest, so to speak, of eternity, protest of unbounded space, protest of endless and spacious liberation on every side, and acknowledgement of the fact that she’s been bound up in a body to begin with and willingness, also, to be enclosed within the six senses, Theotormon is also reflecting the same basically metaphysical consciousness that underlies all the political rebellions and breakthroughs that are talked about in the poem.

Tell me what is the night or day to one o’erflowd with woe?/Tell me what is a thought? & of what substance is it made?/Tell me what is a joy? & in what gardens do joys grow?/And in what rivers swim the sorrows? – (That’s in a sense, in that sense, it’s all unreal to him – “in what rivers swim the sorrows?”) – “… and upon what mountains/Wave shadows of discontent? and in what houses dwell the wretched/ Drunken with woe forgotten. and shut up from cold despair./  Tell me where dwell the thoughts forgotten till thou call them forth/Tell me where dwell the joys of old! & where the ancient loves?/And when will they renew again & the night of the oblivion past?/That I might traverse times & spaces far remote and bring/Comforts into a present sorrow and a night of pain/Where goest thou O thought? to what remote land is thy flight?/ If thou returnest to the present moment of affliction/Wilt thou bring comforts on thy wings. and dews and honey and balm;/ Or poison from the desart wilds, from the eyes of the envier.”

He hesitates. He’s not sure at all.   But then who answers him?

“.. Bromion said: and shook the cavern with his lamentation/ Thou knowest that the ancient trees seen by thine eyes have fruit;/But knowest thou that trees and fruits flourish upon the earth/ To gratify senses unknown? – (He’s saying, “How do you know?,” or, “Do you know that?”) – “…trees beasts and birds unknown../Unknown, not unperciev’d, spread in the infinite microscope..” – (Actually, see, because Bromion is kind of reason gone mad, he is still Urizen, a representative of UrizenThere’s a new science abroad in those days, post-Voltaire, Priestley and all those folk, and so it’s kind of..that part of Bromion’s torment – a kind of self-doubt about the solidity of his own forceful universe.  There’s a point where there’s a picture of Bromion curled up, brooding there somewhere,I think, on that.  Yeah.  Well, we’ve had, on Plate IV of the “Visions…” actually it’s Theotormon there with his head on his lap, and Oothoon floating up over his head, appealing to him, chained down.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighteen minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in


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