The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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Nov 29, 2013 (4 years and 1 month ago)

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1


Tiffani Douglas

ENGL
312

Romantic Literature

Dr.
Potter

28 April 2010

The Spirituality of Blake:

Co
-
Dependent

Conflict in

The
Marriage

of Heaven and Hell


Despite the religious connotations associated with its title, William Blake’s epic poem
The
Marriage

of Heaven and Hell

is primarily
concerned with the dialectic nature of human
existence
.
Throughout
The Marriage
, Blake presents a plethora of contradictory ideas that
nevertheless by their very nature seem compelled to interact. These ideas culminate in B
lake’s
rejection of
R
eligion

because it
advocates one set of complementary ideals while rejecting
another equally valuable set of ideals
.

His
primary argument in
The Marriage

is that
sp
iritual
empowerment
is the result of rejection of conventional Religion

and awareness of the co
-
dependence between two opposing ideals that characterize the dual nature of reality.


Blake introduces the idea of contraries in the beginning of the poem. One of the most
famous lines in
The Marriage

asserts

that “without contrari
es is no progression. Attraction and
Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence” (Blake 104)
.
These opposites represent the two dimensions of reality: the physical and the spiritual. Blake’s
rejection of Religion is roote
d in the belief that Religion devalues physical reality and
overemphasizes
divinity
.

In his essay on the dialectical vision of Blake, David Gross expounds on
the importance
of acknowledging the natural world. He claims
that
“a sense of the interconnectedne
ss and
mutual influence and determination of all aspects of human reality is the dialectical wisdom
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embodied by Blake in
The Marriage
” (177)
.
By essentially “marrying” these two contradictions,
Blake demonstrates the t
ension

that

saturates all of creation
.

A
n awareness of that tension is the
foundation

of

the ability to
sense the true nature of reality.


Throughout the poem,
Blake

presents Heaven and Hell not as literal spiritual locations
but rather as symbols of the contradictory nature of human existence.
In the beginning of
The
Marriage
, Blake states that “Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body and a Soul. That
Energy
. called Evil, is alone from the Body. And that Reason. Called Good. is alone from the
Soul” (Bla
ke 104). Tension between

“energy


the vitality of
physical creation

and
the more
famil
iar and concrete idea of reason saturate both creation in general and ind
ividuals specifically.


To launch this strange and abstract idea, Blake
deconstructs

conventional perspectives of
Christianity in the very beginning of the poem.
He
baffles

the reader by invoking
Biblical

imagery:
“now the sneaking serpent walks / In mild

humility / And the just man rages in the
wilds / Where lions roam”

(Blake 103).
Conventional religious views are abruptly reversed in
these lines, and the serpent
seems to be a

model of Christianity, while the violent e
motion of the
just man repulses

the
reader.

Peter Schock describes this confusing reversal of roles
.

He states that the “intellectual
argument in
The
Marriage

is a defamiliarized version of the mythology surrounding Satan, a
reshaping of this tradition
al

characteristic of Romantic art

transformed myth becomes the
channel for ideological transactions” (Schock 441). Although in traditional theology the serpent
is a symbol of
Satan
, here the snake comprises traditionally Christian qualities and those who the

reader would normally consider pious are full of rage.



Harold Bloom made an attempt to understand this reversal of traditional roles in an article
entitled, “Dialectic in
The Marriage

of Heaven and Hell
.” Bloom
claims that
The Marriage

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mocks the catego
rical techniques that seek to make the contra
ries appear as
‘negations.’

The
unity of the
Marriage

is in itself dialectical”

(501)
.

Blake does not presen
t

either heaven or hell
as wholly evil or good
. Instead,

the poem’s primary concern is to argue that
the characteristics
that each location represent
s

in the poem

are necessary to achieve the Blakean standard of
spiritual awareness

within the natural world
.


Blake rejects conventional religion because it smothers the interaction of these two
contraries.

He makes the controversial statement that
“prisons are built with stones of law,
brothels with br
icks of Religion” (Blake 105).
In
The Marriage
, true evil is not epitomized by
hell but by unwavering adhere
nce to the rigidity of
R
eligion, which f
or Blake

pr
events man from
accepting

the dialectic conflict of the body and the soul, or passion and reason.
Religion is a
paradox that inadvertently disrupts the harmony of true reality.

Blake warns that “
t
hose who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak
enough to be
restrained; and the restrainer or

reason usurps its place and

governs the unwilling.

And being
restrained it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire” (104)
.

Reason
suppresses the natural human tendency to embrace the Ro
mantic ideal of striving

beyond the
chains of
Religion
. C
onventional religion emphasizes structure so much that it suppresses the
passionate desires that characterize humankind.


The Marriage

employs another effective tactic in his assault on traditional
b
elief
s
. After
the beginning of
the poem
introduces a succession of contradictory images, Blake asserts that
“f
rom these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that
obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell” (104).
This reversal of traditional perceptions presents

evil as something des
irable
and good as inert
complacent
. This
enables Blake to
position humankind in the center of a battle between reason
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and energy in which energy is not necessarily a bad thing, although it associated with hell in the
poem.


The amount of contradictions re
ferenced in the poem is abundant
, and each one is placed
w
ithin the categories of

good and evil
. The introduction of
reason
as the epitome of

good

and
energy
as the manifestation of
evil
raises another captivating issue.
The poem asserts that the
body and
soul of an individual are contradictory in nature and yet inextricably interdependent.
Because these two aspects of the human being reflect the contradictions of good and evil, life
itself is in conflict, and to deny either the soul or the body is to deny
that aspect of the self that
allows progression.


This conflict is the catalyst of
The Marriage
, and it also holds the key to understanding
the poem’s title. Bloom describes the conflict of ideas in the poem by stating that “t
his is a
dialectic without transcendence, in which heaven and hell are to be married but without
becoming altogether one flesh or one family. By the ‘marriage’ of contraries Blake means only
that we are to cease valuing one contrary above the other in any
way” (502). In this sense,
Blake’s use of heaven and hell in the poem to represent two conflicting ideas is merely
an
expression of his desire to reiterate that reason and passion are as fully contradictory as heaven
and hell.

Later in
The

Marriage
, Blake
introduces yet another set of contradictory ideas. He terms
the
m the Prolific and the Devourer, and t
he poem seems
to suggest that these terms reference
God and Satan respectively. Blake reiterate
s

the interdependent nature of God and Satan:

The Prolific w
ould cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer as a sea received the excess
of his delights. Some will say, Is not God alone the Pro
lific? I answer, God only Acts and

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Is, in existing beings or Men. These two classes of men are always upon ear
th, and they
sh
ould be enemies.

(107)

In this loose allusion to Blake’s belief in
the deity of humankind
, the Prolific and the Devourer
are in conflict, yet each is necessary for the existence of the other.

T
he Devourer could not
devour without the production

of the Prolific
, and the Prolific would cease to produce without
the
Devourer. The relationship between the two is an eternal cycle.


The passage in
The Marriage

goes on warn against the dangers of attempting to resolve
this conflict. Blake is emphatic in his certainty that “
whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to
destroy existence. Religion is an endeavor to reconcile the two. Note. Jesus Christ did not wish
to
unite but to separate them, as in the Parable of the sheep and goats” (107).
In addition to
introducing another set of contradictions, this Biblical reference serves to reiterate that the
Prolific and the Devourer should not be reconciled, and the conflict

between them should remain
eternal.

According to Bloom,

Blake believed that “t
o destroy enmity between Prolific and
Devourer would destroy existence, such destruction being religion's attempt to inflict upon us the
greatest poverty of not living in a phys
ical world” (504).

Although these two deities are
irreconcilable, their conflict is necessary and serves as a macrocosm of the individual’s conflict
between body and soul.

Blake seeks transcendence within the natural world because if heaven is
beyond the
material, then no conflict

can exist

between heaven and hell.

Bloom
goes on in his essay to point
out

that


Religion seeks to end the warfare of
contraries because it claims to know a reality beyond existence; Blake w
ants the warfare to
continue be
cause he

seeks a reality within existence” (504).
Blake
presents the view
that
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dialectical tension
is
between the natural and the supernatural
within the
material

world
is
vital to
comprehending

human existence.

Elsewhere in his poem, Blake demonstrates how these

contradictions propel
development. A considerable amount of
The Marriage

consists of the “proverbs of hell,” in
which Blake presents several maxims that reflect his views
concerning

progression.
O
ne of these
maxims states,
“You never know what is enough
unless you know what is more than enough”
(
Blake
106). This awareness is not enough, however, for another maxim further develops
the

need for
indulging in desire
:
“Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires”

(
Blake
106). The presence
of desire

which religion seems determined to suffocate

is the
source of action
, and action is the vehicle for

progress. Because desire precipitates action, it
should be indulged.

Activity and passivity are only two of many contradictions introduced in
The
Marriage
.

Consistent with rest of the poem, rules and impulse also have an interdependent

yet conflicting

relationship
. As with the sheep and goats allusion, Blake ties the idea of rules and impulse with
Biblical teachings
. He asserts controversially,
“I
tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking
these ten commandments; Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules”

(
Blake
109).

Blake denies the traditional beliefs attributed to the Ten Commandments in his
interpretation of scripture. Th
e restriction of the Ten Commandments is yet another boundary
Blake believes should be broken by impulsive actions.

The Marriage

goes on to specify Biblical examples of Jesus’ impulsive actions. Blake
makes it clear that he does not reject Biblical teachin
gs.
Rather, B
lake argues that
even Jesus
understood that reality consists of two opposites, and acknowledgement of both is necessary to
follow His example. Blake asks:


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Did he [Jesus] not mock at the S
abbath, and so mock

the S
abbath

s Go
d? murder those
who

were murder’
d because of him? turn away the law from the woman taken in
adultery? steal the labor of others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted
making a defence before Pilate?

(109)

Using these examples, Blake makes the very valid point tha
t rules such as the Ten
Commandments leave no room for mercy, as in the instance of the adulteress.
This passage
stresses the
truth that even Biblical rules are not universal and that there are occasions in life
when one should act on impulsive feelings in
stead of rules that advocate a contrary action.


In addition to
hindering virtuous impulse
, Blake warns of a deeper consequence for strict
adherence to Biblical rules. In his rendition of ancient history

that faintly echoes the creation
story, ambiguous “
ancient Poets” imbued every object in the physical world with “Gods or
Geniuses,” naming them just as Adam did in the Garden of Eden (
Blake 106)
. Just as in the
Bible, however, perfection went awry:

T
hey s
tudied the genius of each city and

country, placing it under its mental deity.

Till a
system was formed, which some took advantage of and enslaved the vulgar by attempting
to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood…at
length they pronounced that God

had order’d such things
. (
Blake

106
)

Corruption entered the world when Religion

represented here by Priesthood

attempted to
compartmentalize creation. The
imposition

of order and rules within creation
masks the true
nature of humankind, and “thus men forg
ot that all deities reside within the human breast”
(Blake

106
).

Instead of viewing spirituality as immanent, Religion compels men to acknowledge
the transcendence of the divine, which for Blake is a rejection of the true nature of reali
ty
.

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Blake devotes the majority of
The Marriage

to forming the argument that action,
impulse, and energy are as necessary to an awareness of the spiritual within creation as passivity,
rules, and reason. In one section of the poem, however, Blake concedes that
the ideals
represented by Heaven carry significance as well. He claims that
“Energy is the only life and is
from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy”

(
104)
. While
energy is the core of human existence, reason retains its rol
e as the boundary. Without these
values, the emotional power of passion would be uncontainable.

Ideally

when the views of Religion are rejected

energy and reason encompass each
other even as they are in conflict with each other.
Bloom demonstrates
this

pr
inciple using the
spokesmen for Heaven and Hell. He observes,

“t
he Angel teaches light without heat, the
vitalist

or Devil

heat without light; Blake wants both, hence the marriage of contraries”
(Bloom 503)
.
This marriage is not a conventional one, however
, because there is no harmony
between the two ideals. Rather,
their very opposing nature is central to Blake’s doctrine of
spirituality.


The ideas in
The Marriage

do not discard the tenets of religion, only its unyielding
structure.

Blake adheres to the basic tenets of the Bible while introducing an interpretation of the
scripture that defends his own belief in the dual nature of physical creation. Instead of
acknowledging the traditional theological view that divinity exists in the c
osmos, Blake
advocates immanence, claiming that humans can perceive spirituality within the world by
accepting the contradictions presented in
The Marriage
. Gross sums up Blake’s intentions
succinctly, claiming that

t
o force into our consciousness awarene
ss of connections among
realms or practices we had not seen as related is Blake's primary purpose” (
Gross
180)
.
Throughout
The Marriage
, Blake deconstructs the conventionality of heaven and hell, rejects
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Religio
n as a model for Biblical truth
, and
provides

readers with insight into the complex
dialectic nature of reality.






















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W
o
rks Cited

Bloom, Harold. “
Dialectic in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell
.”
PMLA
. 73.5 (1958): 501
-
504.

JSTOR
.


Modern Language Association.

2
2

April 2010.
<
http://www.jstor.org>.

Gross, David. “ Infinite Indignation: Teaching, Dialectical Vision, and Blake's Marriage of

Heaven and Hell.”

48.2
College English

(1986):
175
-
186.
JSTOR.

National Council of
Teachers of English Stable. 22 April 2010.
<
http://www.jstor.org>.

Perkins, David.
English Romantic Writers. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace College

Publishers, 1995.

Schock, Peter. “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Blake's Myth of Satan and Its Cultural

Matrix.” 60.2.
ELH

(1993): 441
-
470.
JSTOR.

Johns Hopkins University Press. 22 April

2010.
<http://www.jstor.org>.