Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)

Author: William Blake | Page Count: approx 48

"As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible."

Marriage… is William Blake’s romantic (in the poetic sense) and satiric attack on orthodox religious beliefs presented as a kind of biblical passage, with a socio-political and historical binding holding it together. It describes the poet’s visit to hell and the knowledge and assumptions he receives whilst there. It's a short book but one of the most complex pieces of literature I've ever read. I've read it three or four times a year for about five years now and I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface of its esoteric, complex and iconoclastic mysteries.

Blake reverses the traditional standings of good and evil and the beauty and hideousness of heaven and hell, blurring the line between what is perceived good and proper and what is believed to be controlling and bad for the individual. It’s the poet-prophet ideal in its most scathing and reverential form, told from a number of perspectives and in more than one voice. He references Dante and even playfully(?) mocks Milton.

The Proverbs of Hell passage is perhaps the most visceral and misunderstood element of the work and is the part that vexes and intrigues me the most.

A number of beautifully crafted full colour illustrations complement the prose; they were etched in relief directly onto plates by Blake himself and initially printed at his own expense.

The work is freely available online to read for free, both from the William Blake Archive and other places if you prefer not to install the required plug-in, but I would urge you to seek out a site that also reproduces the illustrations, because not all of them do.

5 apple trees and tarot totems out of 5

EDIT: The University of Adelaide has an attractive ebook edition that contains the original illustrations followed by an easier to read text. You can see it HERE.

No comments: