Arachne. No. 3
Blake on War and Hunting
Blake on War and Hunting
At the Last Judgment Noah stands with Shem at his right hand, Japhet at his left, ' . . . the three Powers in Man of Conversing with Paradise, which the flood did not Sweep away . . '1 and the names of the Powers are Poetry, Painting and Music. But in eternity there had been a fourth and the name of this fourth art or Power was Architecture. When it was swept away and all its buildings gone, in its place there remained a void filled with the raging seas and rocks of the flood, which is the sea or chaos of memories of the former state.
The three powers that remained now lacked a dwelling-place. Formerly they had lived by the activity of the fourth, the Architect, and his activity was the skill or Science by which the three gave bodies and homes to their creations. But after the flood they could only live in the homes and the bodies, not of activity but of reactivity, seeking to compensate for the power that was swept away. Ham,2 the son whom Noah cursed, is the father of all those who are cut off or barred out from a power or energy of their own, becoming instead a reaction to the remaining powers. Their own power gone they are left, like Ham, imbued with the alternate reactions of mockery and flattery. Only when they are in doubt do they cease from flattering the two, such as Shem and Japhet, by mocking the one, such as Noah; and therefore doubt is their greatest virtue.
The powers that remain are able to remain only if they dwell in the universe and take on the bodies built by the now-reactive fourth. Blake calls this universe Canaan and the Bible says that Ham was the father of Canaan. It is entirely composed—as we know today—of the two forms of reaction and the one of doubt which are spread out and objectified in time and space as positive and negative and neutral. In this world live the fallen forms or representatives of the three powers, and the bodies in which they live are composed of the same positive, negative, and neutral. All men become the inhabitants of the universe descended from Ham its father, and the descendants of Ham are their servants—this was Noah's curse on them—to teach men how to make use of sufficient of life for themselves to remain alive. 'Science remains thro' Mercy', Blake says,3 and the three powers 'Become apparent in Time and Space', by means of Science, in all the occupations of men.
In the time of Peleg,4 the seventh from Noah, we find the first of these reactive representatives in the form that we know them best. The name Peleg means Division, for Peleg became divided from his brother Joktan. And the state of Peleg is like the state which Blake calls' the poor infected',5 for Joktan became just like a negative of the infection—like an antidote with which 'to beat it unmercifully which is roughly what the word Joktan6 means in English. And along with these developments in people, the lost buildings of the arts of eternity began to be rebuilt in the time of Peleg by the embodiment of their forms in a reactive energy, for want of a better, an energy which would conserve them until the Last Judgment. The Bible, speaking of the actions of men in this time, has the following words:
'. . . and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do . . .7
Lacking active forms for the arts of eternity, the arts to fly, to explore the deeps, to move mountains, to see a thing when another is between it and the eye, the new science began page 23 to supply the reactive forms for these lost ones. In our day, although they have become increasingly complex and powerful (as aeroplanes, diving-bells, bull-dozers, and television), they are still the same as in Peleg's day in their genesis, their purposes, and their fate.
From Peleg's day onwards, then, the whole imagination of Man began to be turned inside-out in a sort of unrestrainable exhibitionism of all that men had ever 'imagined to do'. The wonders that are now exhibited are still, Blake would say, as useless as was the original one built in Peleg's time, which was Babel, a tower meant to 'reach unto heaven'.8 With the aeroplane, for example, men pretend to fly but, by comparison with this activity as seen in the imagination, men flatter themselves with a mere pretence of flying and therefore feel mocked or ill-used by some mythical Fate or Mischance when they fall. The aeroplane has no power to care whether it should fly or crash or never leave the ground. If it is a Mischance that it falls, then by Chance it stays up. In itself it is no more fit for one use than another, for it is nothing but positive and negative and neutral, and these do not fly and nor can men fly by their means. By believing that wonders are useful the day is put off for a little when wonders shall fail in their uses, which is Judgment Day.
This making a use out of things and, when things try to use us as we would use them, this calling for a cudgel 'to beat them unmercifully'—these alliances and counter-alliances, the War of positive and negative over the body of the victim is all that is left to men if they forsake imagination. It is all that is left of the three arts of eternity in the occupations of men, and the Hunting for ways which may increase the efficiency of the occupations is left to the fourth. But Art in eternity was a War to create the forms which would bring life to the victim, not death. Science, since science was an art, was the Hunting-part of War, the part that goes out and searches around to make contact with the enemy. The enemy is the opponent of the imaginative form; it is the spoiler, the botheration, the indefiniteness which hides the form. The function of the Hunter was to bring it into the tent, into the intellectual focus, and there the other three powers would carefully strive with this form-resisting enemy till the form was revealed as a friend, and everyone would then love him, and he would take his place in the tent.
This was the 'Primeval State of Man' called 'Wisdom' comprising 'Art and Science'9page 24
which are War and Hunting—the wisdom to cope with trouble by putting-off the indefinite form which seeks to conceal it and keep it an enemy, and by creating the imaginative form,
Creating form and beauty around the dark regions of sorrow,
Giving to airy nothing a name and a habitation
Delightful, with bounds to the Infinite putting off the Indefinite
Into most holy forms of Thought; such is the power of inspiration . . .
Creating the beautiful House for the piteous sufferer.10
These were the occupations of men as artists and scientists in eternity. In time and space the artist is everywhere divided from his occupation, and the scientist must seek to compensate men for the power they have lost, and the poet no longer 'converses with Paradise' but with himself, and preaches in every direction.
This brings us to the character of Blake. Was he too only conversing with himself when he arrived at the ideas described above? Certainly he preached them on every occasion that occurred to him—even to the extent of a Public Address, which no Public would ever bother to hear. In his old age they say that to walk with him down the street was like walking with the prophet Isaiah. And this would have been all right if the kings of Blake's England had been like the kings of Isaiah's Judah and Jerusalem. But 'our poor George'11 as Blake called him, meaning George the third, was out of his mind by the end, and most men said that Blake was so too. 'Our poor Blake' was the way that his friends usually thought of him.
However, unlike George the third, who probably went mad from drink rather than from intellect, Blake was mad from his very earliest years, in fact, right from the word go :
The Angel that presided o'er my birth
Said: 'Little creature, form'd of Joy and Mirth,
Go love without the help of any Thing on Earth.'12
By the time help arrived, Blake had found helps of his own—a symbolic life and labour, a symbolic reward, and the symbols were much the same ones that have haunted and distracted men since the day when they first grew 'wearied with joy'13 and turned aside in their sleep.
1 'Blake's Poetry and Prose', ed. Keynes (Nonesuch Press, reprinted 1948), p. 643.
2 Genesis ix.
3 'Poetry and Prose', p. 411.
4 Genesis x & xi.
5 'Poetry and Prose p. 384.
6 c.f., Arabic 'wakata'.
7 Genesis xi : 6.
8 Genesis xi : 4.
9 'Poetry and Prose', p. 434.
10 p. 411.
11 p. 892.
12 p. 124.
13 p. 365.