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Portrait of William Blake

Imagination as the Pillar of the Spirit


Blake was the most visionary and indelible of the English poets, he was able to invent a specific magic that is conjured by his poems and engravings.

In the summer of 1827 he died singing. To suggest that he was inspired by invisible angels, he would stop at times and explain: “This is not mine, it is not mine!

J. L. Borges

William Blake always warned his readers that he did not write or draw for the many men who spend their days arduously laboring, but for children and angels. He believed that his texts could be understood by most men, and he considered himself a divine child whose toys where the sun, the moon and the stars, the heavens and the Earth. Thus, the best way to approach his work is by reading it as if we were children, perceiving the primal purity and evil within us and bringing them out in the presence of his writings and his engravings. “For Blake, beauty,” Borges wrote, “corresponds to that instant where the reader and the work meet, in a type of mystical union.”

The impulse to produce poems together with illustrations was partly due to his manner of thinking; he believed that the life of the imagination was more real than material life. This philosophy demanded the identification between ideas and symbols, which could be translated into images. In Blake’s work, every word and symbol mutually reinforce the other. This is how the emblematic worldview of this artist, book author and creator of “prophetic” engravings, began to take shape. Blake, like Swedenborg, always trusted visitors from other worlds, and together with their voices, he incorporated alchemical concepts envisioned by Paracelsus, Jacob Boehme and Cornelius Agrippa.

Perhaps Blake’s most indelible characteristic, aside from the perfect elegance with which he, as a messenger, introduced us to mystical and visionary latitudes, is the bridge he conjured by intertwining two worlds that convention has always made sure are kept apart: innocence and experience, heaven and hell. Although Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789) were written at different moments in his life, they share a common source. One can see signs from both states converging in his poems.

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face/ And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

(“The Divine Image”, Songs of Innocence and Experience)

In the same way, The Proverbs of Hell (1790-1793) are clearly designed to make the reader question what he perceives as good and evil in everyday life. Blake satirizes the oppressive authority of the Church and the State: “Prisons are built with stones of Law/ Brothels with bricks of Religion,” and by doing so, he is not making a call to anarchy but seeking a balance between imagination and its opposing force, reason. “Thus men forgot that/ All deities reside in the human breast.” In “All deities” Blake is including, of course, the demons.

At times it is easy to get lost in the complex mythology of Blake’s poetry, and forget that he is not describing external events but a “cosmic struggle” that takes place in the mind. Blake himself pointed out that he was not interested in “That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot. The wisest of the Ancients”, he said, “considered what is not too explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because it arouses the faculties to act.”

Among the other suggestions of eternity, visions, prophetic dreams and parables, William Blake formulated a type of redemption for mortals. A redemption that departs from aesthetics and rhythm (divine pulse), and manages to seep through a crack in the doors of perception, to show things as they really are: infinite.

The redemption Blake proposed is a reconnection with divinity without the need for mediators. And, while it is true that his complete oeuvre is an utterly intricate vault where worlds intertwine, one needs not exhaust it to know that in each of his poems are all of his poems (“the infinite in a grain of sand”), and that they provide a possibility for us to return to that primal lucidity that has inhabited us since we were children.

Perhaps Blake re-imagined imagination, and the West, including us, would not be what it is today if we had not imagined this visionary asserting that “the imagination is not a state, it is the human existence itself”.

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