An Analysis of William Blake´s "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

Thesis (M.A.), 2006

118 Pages, Grade: 1,0




1. The Argument
1.1 Outline
1.2 The Just Man and the Perilous Path
1.3 The Function of Rintrah
1.4 As a New Heaven is Begun
1.5 Contraries and their Necessity for Progression

2. The Voice of the Devil
2. 1 Outline
2. 2 The Relationship of Body and Soul
2. 3 Milton and Job

3. Memorable Fancies
3. 1 A Memorable Fancy
3. 1. 1 Outline
3. 1. 2 The Five Senses: An Obstacle or a Tool?
3. 2 A Memorable Fancy
3. 2. 1 Outline
3. 2. 2 Blake´s Theory of the Deity
3. 2. 3 The Fulfilment of a Prophecy
3. 3 A Memorable Fancy
3. 3. 1 Outline
3. 3. 2 The Creative Process and Symbolism
3. 3. 3 Producers and Devourers
3. 4 A Memorable Fancy
3. 4. 1 Outline
3. 4. 2 An Argument on Religion with an Angel
3. 4. 3 Swedenborg´s Theology and Contrary Ideas
3. 5 A Memorable Fancy
3. 5. 1 Outline
3. 5. 2 Antinomianism
3. 5. 3 One Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression

4. Proverbs of Hell
4. 1 Outline
4. 2 The Book of Proverbs and the Proverbs of Hell
4. 3 The Proverbs of Hell and Swedenborg
4. 4 Poetry and Priestly Corruption

5. A Song of Liberty
5.1 Outline
5.2 Necessary Revolution for Regeneration


Works Cited


The present thesis deals with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, one of William Blake’s prophetic books. These are a series of texts, which were written in imitation of biblical books of prophecy, but expressing the poet’s own personal romantic and revolutionary beliefs.

It is not exactly known when the work was written. One assumes it was composed in London between 1790 and 1793[1], a period of political conflict arising immediately after the French Revolution. S. Foster Damon argues that the American and French Revolution had an immense influence on Blake writing the Marriage:

The American and French Revolutions promised a better world; and stirred Blake to a new enthusiasm, from which he deduced the theory that apparent Evil, such as War, is only Energy working against established order. This was a new perception of Truth; all his problems seemed solved by it; and he hailed the light triumphantly in another book, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)[2]

Apart from the opening Argument and the Song of Liberty, the entire book is written in prose.

The book is about the first person narrator’s visit to Hell, a concept taken by Blake from Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Like many other of Blake’s works, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was influenced by the mysticism of Swedish theosophist Emanuel Swedenborg. Moreover, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is also in part a satire on Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings, especially on Heaven and Hell from which Blake adapted the title, and on the New Jerusalem Church which was set up by Swedenborg’s British followers.[3] Furthermore, Damon explains that Blake wanted to provide an ultimative approach, namely his conception of prophecy, with which later generations should read biblical texts. Moreover, Blake saw himself and his writings as a continuation of writers, such as Jacob Boehme or Emanuel Swedenborg, with similar writings:

His books were not intended for his unworthy contemporaries; he avowed his purpose ‘to speak to future generations by a sublime allegory’. He believed (with Swedenborg) that just so the inspired books of the Bible were to be read, besides all such works as the Bhagvat-Geeta and the Timaeus. He saw a sequence of similar writings throughout the ages, written with precisely this purpose of speaking to the select and keeping silence before the uninitiate: such as the works of St. John, of Trismegistus, Dante, Paracelsus, Jakob Böhme, Milton and Swedenborg. He intended to continue this series, and he seems to have been its last exemplar.[4]

Blake’s conception of hell strongly differs from the one of Milton and Dante: Hell is not seen as a place of punishment, which is obviously the common association to it, but as a source of unrepressed feelings, creative energy, personal spiritual progression. Therefore, hell stands in opposition to the more or less regulated and authoritarian perception of heaven.

Blake is regarded as one of those serious dissenters, who are permanently searching for spiritual truth. Since the conventional writings of the Holy Bible were not enough for Blake, he was also reading works of the philosophical alchemists, such as Jacob Boehme, Paracelsus, and Cornelius Agrippa. Apart from searching the truth in these books, his friend John Flexman introduced him to a reading group which studied the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg had declared that the Last Judgment took place in 1757 (the year of Blake’s birth), and that angels gave him the truths, which “made it possible for the first time to understand the spiritual nature of creation.”[5] Being so fascinated of these ideas, around 1788 Blake acquired copies of Swedenborg’s A Treatise Concerning Heaven and Hell and of The Wonderful Things therein, As Heard and Seen, by the Honourable and Learned Emanuel Swedenborg. On 7 December 1788, a general invitation was sent out to all Readers of the Theological Works of Emanuel Swedenborg, who were rejecting the Old Church, and embracing the New Jerusalem or Swedenborgian Chuch. Blake was one of the readers of Swedenborg who accepted the invitation.[6] Mona Wilson, a biographer of William Blake, writes that Blake was following the family tradition concerning Swedenborgianism – Blake’s father James Blake had been a Swedenborgian as well. Moreover, she explains that the names of William and Catherine Blake appeared in the minute book of the Great Eastcheap Swedenborgian Society.[7] Blake seemed very enthusiastic about Swedenborg’s philosophy at first hand. He wrote about his former Swedish master:

O Swedenborg! Strongest of men, the Samson shorn by the


Shewing the Transgressors in Hell, the proud Warriors in Heaven,

Heaven as a punisher, & Hell as one under Punishment.[8]

What is important to say about the Swedenborgian Society: it was not like a conventional Christian church. Swedenborg is considered a theosophist – thus, it is not a coincidence that his society or New Church resembles more a masonic lodge than a common Christian church. Theosophy belongs to higher and more occult Masonry. Critic Marsha Keith Schuchard explains that Blake’s father James Blake was said to be a Swedenborgian or Moravian, “and it is significant that both groups were considered special forms of Freemasonry in the 1750’s and 1760’s.”[9] Moreover, she claims that the name William Blake occurred frequently on lodge lists, but there was no further identification given. However, Schuchard argues that Blake had attended “the Swedenborg society […] in 1788-90 [which] was founded in 1776 by foreign Freemasons who maintained a secret interior order (the Masonic Universal Society) for the more radical and theosophical devotees of Swedenborg.”[10]

In 1790 Blake bought a copy of Swedenborg’s Wisdom of Angels concerning the Divine Providence, the time when he probably started writing The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In his annotations to Swedenborg’s The Wisdom of Angels concerning Divine Providence, Blake writes: “Lies & Priestcraft”; “Swedenborg is […] a Spiritual Predestinarian”; “Cursed Folly” and so on.[11] He was not longer satisfied with the philosophy of Swedenborg and therefore satirized him later on in the Marriage. In Blake’s eyes, Swedenborg did not differ much from other clergy-men and theologists and was hence criticized by Blake to be just like another priest. Swedenborg believed like other churches to separate contraries such as good and evil and to assign reward and punishment. According to Blake, Swedenborg was unable to write a new truth, because he “conversed with Angels who are all religious, & conversed not with Devils who all hate religion.”[12] Mona Wilson puts it that way:

Swedenborg, the man of science, had not been fully emancipated by his visionary enlightenment late in life; he was still ensnared by logic and reason; as Blake put it, he had only conversed with angels, reasonable men, never with Devils, those inspired by Imagination. Moreover, his writings were not only conventional in spirit but ridiculous in form. So Blake began to scribble The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in a notebook; he had found his way through the dark, tangled wood of experience, and with a chuckle he entered upon the third stage on the Mystic Way.[13]

Blake disagrees with his former Swedish master and the conventional belief of established churches that good and evil must be separated and that good comes from the action of God, whereas evil is created only by the reaction of man. The poet states in his annotations to Swedenborg’s Divine Love: “Good & Evil are here both Good & the two contraries Married.”[14]

Blake’s purpose seems to be the resolution of arbitrary classifications made by institutions such as church and state. For him, contraries are too important for human life to arbitrarily categorize or classify them by giving them moral values.

Another intention of Blake writing the Marriage[15] is to attack conventional morality, institutions such as the Anglican Church and the state, which repress human beings and restrict their desire, not allowing people to live out their desire and fantasies. Mona Wilson nicely summarizes the reasons why Blake wrote the Marriage:

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is fragmentary in form, but the Infernal Wisdom of the ‘Proverbs of Hell’, the dinner party (a satire on Swedenborg’s visions) at which Isaiah and Ezekiel uphold the righteousness of honest indignation and the force of an imaginative faith, the excursions with the angel whose dogmatic beliefs and metaphysical arguments reveal nothing but the rottenness of education, religion, and social life among those who can only perceive and inhabit the material world of space and time, all attack conventional religion and ethics.[16]

In the course of this thesis, the Marriage is discussed in five chapters, each corresponding to a part of Blake’s work. Each chapter begins with an outline and gives a deeper insight to the points which are of crucial importance.

1. The Argument

1.1 Outline

The opening Argument is similar to the 35th chapter of Isaiah and might be inspired by it. Man’s salvation is described in a joyful way using examples from nature. The “perilous path” in the Argument resembles the “highway of holiness” in Isaiah 35:8 NKJV. Furthermore, many more descriptions of this chapter of the Bible do correspond to the “perilous path”, such as “the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose”(1); “for waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (6), “the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water” (7); “no lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast go up and on it, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there” (9).

In the first and the last stanza of the Argument one finds the figure of Rintrah which will be discussed later on. It must be an important figure and of great significance, since it can be found in other works of Blake as well. For instance, in Jerusalem the reader is told that Rintrah belongs to the four sons of Liberty (Jerusalem):

But the Four Sons of Jerusalem that never were Generated

Are Rintrah and Palamabron and Theotormonand Bromion.They

Dwell over the Four Provincesof Ireland in heavenly light,

The Four Universities of Scotland, & in Oxford & Cambridge &


In line 10, Blake writes “And a river and a spring”. This suggests Exodus 17:1-8 as well.[18] The term “red clay” in line 13 is another name for Adam the protoplast. The “sneaking serpent” in lines 17-18 can also be found in Tiriel. The same story is told there, but from the serpent’s point of view:

Till I am subtil as a serpent in a paradise,

Consuming all, both flowers & fruits, insects & warbling birds […][19]

Plate 3 starts off with a satire on Swedenborg’s pronouncement that the Last Judgment had taken place thirty-three years ago. Swedenborg had claimed the Last Judgment would have begun in 1757 and finished the end of that year. This leads to the assumption that Blake started the Marriage in 1790, since “it is now thirty-three years since its advent, the Eternal Hell revives.”[20] Interestingly, the number thirty-three can also be related to Jesus Christ, since he was thirty-three years old when he died, crucified by the Romans. Moreover, Blake was born in 1757 and probably thirty-three years old when he started writing the Marriage. S. Foster Damon argues that Blake referred to the fulfillment of three prophecies, of which the first was Swedenborg’s:

It has been granted me to see with my oen eyes, that the Last Judgment is now accomplished; that the evil are cast into the hells, and the good elevated into heaven, and thus that all things are reduced into order, the spiritual equilibrium between good and evil, or between heaven and hell, being thence restored…. It was granted me to see all these things with my own eyes, in order that I might be able to testify of them. The Last Judgment was commenced in the beginning of the year 1757, and was fully accomplished at the end of that year.[21] (Last Judgment, 45.)

Blake “punishes” Swedenborg by explaining that Swedenborg is the only one remaining in his own eschatology. His writings were helpful and “preserved the truths in time of darkness, now being cast off, as the ascended Christ rejected the linen cloths which had protected him in death.”[22]

The second prophecy, according to Damon, refers to the Bible, namely Genesis 27:40. Jacob, the younger brother of Esau, stole the blessing of their dying father Isaac. Isaac explains to Esau that he and his other brethren shall be servants of Jacob, since Isaac made Jacob their master. As Esau protested, his father answers by prophesying the following:

By your sword you shall live,

And you shall serve your brother;

And it shall come to pass, when you become


That you shall break his yoke from your neck . NKJV

These lines might be interpreted symbolically by Blake – one day, the repressed shall be rewarded or at least be relieved from their burden.

The third prophecy refers to the return of Adam into Paradise, which is not really the fulfilment of a prophecy. The only comfort Adam receives, is the prophecy that the woman’s seed would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Here, Blake takes the figure of Adam as the symbol of fallen man and suggests that men, though fallen, will find back and return to Eden.

Blake’s allusions to the 34th and 35th chapter of Isaiah refer to a judgment when the wicked shall be punished, whereas the just will get back to their Paradise.

Furthermore, Blake explains that contraries were necessary for human existence. Besides, he criticizes clergy or religions in general who arbitrarily gave connotations to contraries, such as good and evil. The poet demonstratres this in particular by giving this powerful definition which reads:

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,

Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human


From 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.[23]

1.2 The Just Man and the Perilous Path

The Argument mainly deals with the just man who in meekness follows the perilous path, the way of true holiness which is mentioned above. This path leads obviously to this world, which Blake calls ‘the vale of death’. Everything seems to be harmonious and the beauty of nature is described:

Roses are planted where thorns grow,

And on the barren heath

Sing the honey bees .[24]

In the following one recognizes that every hard and unfortunate aspect of life gets improved. Even the cliff and the tomb become now “sources of the Waters of Life”[25], since a river and a spring run above them. The “bleached bones” which stand for the skeleton which man had become after his fall, is now again in his normal form, namely bones and living flesh.

And on the bleached bones

Red clay brought forth;[26]

In other words, the earthly paradise, the Garden of Eden is shown here.

Then the “villain” left his “path of ease” and took away the perilous path from the just man, who is now driven into “barren climes“. The villain is the hypocrite who tries to imitate the just man’s ways. The just man is oppressed and thus driven from his former rightful path. The “sneaking serpent” is only another name for the hypocrite who now “walks in mild humility”, whereas the just man has to protect himself “in the wilds where lions roam“.

Martin D. L. Lansverk identifies the evil figures – the villain and the sneaking serpent – with the clergy. He argues quite rightly that

the evil figures are those associated in other places with the priesthood who here institutionalize and enforce the new Edenic myth of the villain as one law, as the single explanation of the origin of life, ignoring other possibilities including the myth of the just man ‘The Argument’ opens with. The result is that the just man (and his myth) is forced outside the biblical canon, where he is left to rage in isolation.[27]

What Lansverk suggests here is the rejection of former meaning and intention of the Bible, namely the description of nature and the beauty of poetry. As described in the latter plates of the Marriage, Blake attacks the system of corruption – which is priesthood obviously – and the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church, since it did not bring many improvements, thus criticized by Blake as well.

Apart from the Proverbs of Hell, we interestingly find the usage of proverbial phrases in The Argument or elsewhere, too. Blake writes:

Roses are planted where thorns grow,

And on the barren heath

Sing the honey bees.[28]

The effect of the proverb is an interruption of the narration and the description, since proverbs stand for definitions, commands and performatives. Moreover, they are to be found in a generaliszing present tense that interrupts the narrative and descriptive technique, as used here in The Argument for instance. Lansverk argues that the proverbial phrase, “Roses are planted where thorns grow”, functions as an index for the following description of the Garden of Eden. He explains:

Its effect is to bring about the creation of an Edenic garden, presumably filled with the roses from the proverb, and an Adam figure (whose name, it will be remembered, means red earth) to inhabit it.[29]

Another interesting account on the opening Argument is given by D. G. Gillham who suggests the following:

The poem may be interpreted as stating that unproductive and passive men have established themselves as respectable, taking control of the civilization built up by creative and daring men; and passive men, because they know that the creative spirit is a threat to their security, have forced men of imagination and energy into the position of protest as outsiders.[30]

This argumentation may also be quite useful, since Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, whom Blake calls Urizen, the God of repression and his corrupt apparatus priesthood as well as the bourgeoisie, can here be considered the jealous beings (villain, sneaking serpent) who want to repress those with creative energy, to have them spiritually underneath themselves. Gillham goes on describing The Argument in a quite similar way to what is presented above, but slightly different, as far as the function of the just man is concerned. He not only sees the just man walking through the perilous path, but also as the one who changes the path and barren heath into a garden. He states:

In ‘The Argument’ the ‘just man’ is described turning the ‘barren heath’ and ‘perilous path’ into a garden, and then being driven out into the wilds by the villain – the hypocrite who walks in ‘mild humility’. In the remainder of the poem, Blake, who takes the side of the just man, is obliged to be an advocate of the devil because passive man (the ‘villain’), being in charge, has made conformity, restraint, inert reason, into virtues, giving them the sanction of his debased religion. He has cast out energy, desire, creative reason and imagination into helland disrepute; the villain has perverted things so that through the Bible, like other ‘sacred codes’, may originally have been a fine product of genius and imaginative thought, it has been distorted to permit the worship of a false God.[31]

As Blake explains himself, Bibles were actually sacred codes which arbitrarily were interpreted as commands to oppress people and to form a corrupt system out of them.

1.3 The Function of Rintrah

While reading The Argument one surely notices that it starts off and ends with the same two lines which are:

Rintrah roars & shakes his fires in the burden’d air;

Hungry clouds swag on the deep.[32]

The figure called Rintrah is a significant one, since it can be found in other works of Blake as well. There are certainly several questions which come to mind when facing this figure, for example: What role does the figure of Rintrah play and where does the name come from?

Critics provide different origins for the name Rintrah which then also leads to various functions of this particular figure. Robert N. Essick suggests that Blake was influenced by eighteenth-century natural sign theory to form names:

In a few instances, Blake follows eighteenth-century natural sign theory on how articulated names were first formed. ‘Rintrah roars’ in the first line of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (E 33, K 148), and from that roaring issue the sounds initiating his naming. The process accords to Herder’s scene of naming sheep: Rintrah is that which roars.[33]

Other critics as S. Foster Damon claim that Rintrah stands for “the wrath of honest man.”[34] Another interesting account on the figure is given by Indian lecturer Charu Sheel Singh who explains that Blake borrowed figures and other aspects of his works from Hindu mythology. He explains that

Rintrah, i.e. Indra, is the Indian god of thunder and lightening who liberates water by striking at the clouds. In Blake, too, Rintrah is the just man, who shakes the clouds at the beginning of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.[35]

Blake was certainly familiar with eastern philosophies such as Hinduism or Buddhism, since some of his thoughts and approaches are similar to those – to these aspects we shall come back later. Besides, one finds Brama in the Song of Los. Brahma is the god of creation in Hindu mythology and only second to God.[36] Furthermore, Singh argues that Blake wants to show how philosophies and religions of the world have distorted God’ s word:

Blake’s use of Rintrah and Brahma, and all the religions and philosopies of the world, is to show perversions; abstract philosophies obscured the word of God.[37]

The roaring of Rintrah may also be interpreted as the voice of the Devil who protests against the establishment of institutional religion. From these statements we may assume that the official views on figures like the Devil or Rintrah may perhaps be mistaken. Further investigation on the Marriage shall prove that the Devil is more of a reactionary force who fights against social injustices – which are created by state and church – than an evil figure which is the common association to it. Singh gives a definition concerning the figure of Rintrah which seems quite likely:

Rintrah is the prophet, the revoulutionary regenerator of human souls, the devil of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, an iconolast, denouncer of established religions and repressive moral codes.[38]

Helen P. Bruder offers a different approach concerning the interpretation of The Argument and the figure of Rintrah. Firstly, she explains that the Marriage is exclusively a masculinist manifesto in which neither a female pronoun is to be found nor a woman mentioned or encountered in the narrator’s travels. Secondly, she accuses Rintrah for not helping the just man in keeping his right path, for not protecting him from the villain who steals the just man’s perilous path. Rintrah then obviously stands here for a god-like figure which is not willing to intervene in this case of injustice. Bruder states the following:

In fact, in some ways The Marriage is not just a masculinist text, it is a text about the development of a correct model of masculinity – indeed this is one of the dominat meanings of ‘The Argument’ (MHH, 2; E.33). This appropriate masculinity finds its emblem in the archetypal angry (young?) man Rintrah, whose roaring opens and closes this prefatory pointer. The initial problem Rintrah oversees is the just man’s meekness; it has led to a perilous keeping of a conformist path that leads only to death. This prohibits fruitfulness, as living things - ‘Roses’and singing ‘honey bees’ - are doomed to exist amongst thorns, and labour to eke out a subsistence on the barren heath.[39]

John Beer obviously agrees with Charu Sheel Singh by saying that “in the ‘Árgument’ of the Marriage Rintrah is shown as an angry thunder-god, louring in heavy clouds.”[40] Again, Rintrah is presented as a figure who protests against the hypocrisy and injustices that take place, but is not willing or rather unable to help the just man, to fight the villain. Beer agrees with this point of view as far as Rintrah is concerned. He explains very accurately that Palamabron and Rintrah are both limited in their practical sense of function:

Between them Rintrah and Palamabron represent, respectively, the prophetic and priestly character. Owing to the loss of vision in the age, their field of activity is restricted, so that is limited to the expression of indignation, while Palamabron may appear, not as the minister of pity but as the hypocritical priest, accusing of sin. Nevertheless, for all their shortcomings, the lineaments of the sublime prophet and the merciful priest persist somewhere within these two figures.[41]

Sabri-Tabrizi is of the opinion that Rintrah might be a Urizenic figure and a reactionary force.[42] Rintrah, of course, roars and shakes his fires which can be counted as reactions, and certainly indicate his discontentment to the present state, but they do not lead to a concrete, and on the whole, satisfactionary result for the just man.

Apart from the different theories concerning the origin of the figure’s name and its concrete function, one aspect becomes quite clear: the inability of Rintrah to bring the just man back to his perilous path which was stolen by the villain, the hypocritical imitator – at least in the present state.

1.4 As a New Heaven is Begun

Apart from the quite detailed description of Plate 3 provided in the outline, there are still many aspects which have to be considered.

Plate 3 commences with an ironical account of Blake concerning the New Jerusalem, that is to say, the Last Judgment Swedenborg had announced in 1757. Since Blake intends to satirize Swedenborg, he tries to imitate Swedenborg’s style of writing as good as possible. So, the beginning of Plate 3 is actually a parody of Swedenborg’s announcement of the last judgment, of course adding an ironical undertone to it.

As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years since its

Adent, the Eternal Hell revives. And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel

sitting at the tomb : his writings are the linen clothes folded up. Now

is the dominion of Edom, & the return of Adam into Paradise ; see

Isaiah XXXIV & XXXV Chap.[43]

James King mentions that

in about 1790, the tomb of Swedenborg, who had died in London in 1772, was opened. Although the corpse was well preserved, it quickly turned to dust. The attack on Swedenborg in Marriage might be by way of an ironical commentary on that event.[44]

Besides, King explains that, by the time of 1790 to 1791, the New Jerusalem Church had become institutionalized. Catechisms, hymn books and minister’s garments were introduced. Another important aspect which Blake was annoyed of, is the official belief that heaven is superior to hell. King explains

that the New Jerusalem Church held that heaven had dominion over hell. In 1788, Blake had become convinced that heaven and hell were connected. By 1790, he had come to believe that the world of hell was the only alternative open to him. In fact, it was superior to the world of heaven and paradoxically, it was the source of revolutionary fervour.[45]

Also the occult aspect which is typical for Freemasonry, as mentioned Swedenborgianism is a part of, became rejected. Concerning this matter, Peter Ackroyd writes:

The influence of the occultists, mesmerists and magicians was replaced by that of conservative Church leaders who pledged their faith to ‘the Constitution and Government of their country’ as opposed to the ‘principles of infidelity and democracy’.[46]

From that time on, Blake must have been totally disillusioned with his former Swedish master as well as the New Church. In his Marriage, Blakes actually states that Swedenborg and his followers are no better than other religious institutions.

Moreover, the terms “new heaven” and “Eternal Hell” could stand for social classes which stand in opposition to each other. Interestingly, one finds “new heaven” in small letters, whereas “Eternal Hell” is written with capital letters. This might be an indication, obviously symbolically intended, to show the differences of social classes and the repression of the many by the few[47]. Hence, the “new heaven” may be used as a symbol for the repressed standing in opposition to the “Eternal Hell”, which possibly stands for bourgeoisie, Anglican Clergy, that is to say, all the ones who consist of the power to rule and hence to oppress people who are underneath them in terms of society. Lucas interprets these terms similarly to our own hypothesis, claiming that

the ‘above’ and ‘below’ of ‘burdened air’ and ‘deep’, ‘new heaven’ and ‘Eternal Hell’ indicate relationships of dominance, but the unity of opposites is not only political, the dominance of rulers overruled: it is based on the appropriation by the ruling few of what the governed many create.[48]

Lucas here goes even further, arguing that the ruling few not only have taken over the dominance of the former rulers, but also have usurped what their predecessors, now the dominated part of society, have created. This approach, although slightly different from what has been figured out so far, does not present any extraordinary new facts, but shows us again the villains, if you will, who appropriate or better steal what the just men once created, something which is described in plate 2 already.

Apart from the interpretation presented in the outline, that is, Swedenborg’s writings which are cast off, as the ascended Messiah rejected the linen clothes which protected him in death, one can analyze Blake’s ironical account on Swedenborg a little further. The linen clothes could be seen as a sort of barrier which now is taken away and the real visionary person is revealed. This can not be Swedenborg, since he did not write a new truth and hence is accused by Blake to be a “spiritual predestinarian”[49] like Calvin.[50] One can assume that Blake sees himself as the person who rises from the tomb and is now willing to present the real truth to the world, or at least to the Christian Church and his former brethren[51] the Swedenborgians. John Beer argues similarly and interprets Blake’s attack on Swedenborg as follows:

If Swedenborg’s writings lie like the linen clothes by the tomb, the fact that they are there indicates that the visionary figure whom they enshrined has risen from his verbal-dogmatic prison and is walking abroad. Blake regards himself as this Risen Man, but his use of the term ‘Eternal Hell’ also indicates a controlling irony. If he has arisen from the dead it is because he represents the Poetic Genius, the Prophetic Character which must forever arise against any tyranny of Reason.[52]

Blake is obviously doing what Swedenborg failed to do: he regards himself as the real visionary who intends to fight against the hypocrisy of the present time with his writings.

We now shall come to a technique Blake often makes use of, namely the employment of different levels of vision. That is, Blake takes an abstract concept, for instance, Satan and hell, which he describes as levels of vision or perception. There are totally four levels of vision which can be found likewise in Plato’s Myth of the Cave.[53] Thereby, the higher level of vision contains the qualities of the lower states. Common associations of, for example, Hell and Paradise as places of punishment or happiness become rejected by Blake. He rather sees these concepts as psychological states, not as physical ones. Beer gives a very useful explanation on that quite complicated matter:

Despite a tendency to objectify these states, Blake thought of them as psychologically in nature. He described them on most occasions not as physical states but as levels of vision. Ulro is single vision, Hell is twofold vision, Paradise is threefold vision and the true Vision is fourfold. (‘The use of the suffix ‘-fold’ emphasizes the fact that each level contains the ones below it.)[54]

Jean H. Hagstrum is of similar opinion towards Blake’s levels of vision. He argues that “Blake’s highest, the fourfold, vision is essentially prophetic, a vision of the future and of redeemed nature and society.”[55] In contrast to that, Hagstrum explains that “single vision was characteristic of the eighteenth-century rationalists for whom a grain of sand was only ever a grain of sand.”[56] Obviously, this means that men, who have high levels of vision, are more able to perceive and to understand better certain aspects of life and poetry than those with lower levels. Blake himself makes reference to the four levels of vision which occur in a verse letter he has written to his friend Thomas Butts in November 22nd 1802. There he describes himself as a fourfold man. This perhaps concedes that we are right in assuming that Blake considers himself the man who rises from the dead to provide his truth. In the letter to Butts he writes:

Now I a fourfold vision see,

And a fourfold vision is given to me;

‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight

And threefold in soft Beulah’s night

And twofold Always. May God us keep

From Single vision & Newton’s sleep![57]

The last two lines of that stanza certainly indicate that single vision is too weak in order to see things clearly. Molly A. Daniels gives a useful account on the difference between single and twofold vision:

In Blake’s poetry, single vision is the way one ordinarily sees things through the five senses as in real life. In “double vision,” there is the ordinary commonsensical view and another which doubts the truth of this reality. On the one hand, there is a sense in which one experiences things as if the world is everything, but in the double vision, there exists simultaneously a profound doubt which suggests that the real is illusory.[58]

Daniels again explains that the upper level contains the lower level, but adds that things seen in the lower level become distorted or even untrue in the higher level. Some lines later she rounds out this statement by saying: “In the Blakean double vision, things appear to be both ordinary and extraordinary.”[59]

Blake as the absolute visionary, having fourfold vison, is now presenting the real truth, something that Swedenborg failed to do because of his too ordinary and rationalist view.

1.5 Contraries and their Necessity for Progression

The second part of plate 3 deals with Blake’s explanation that contraries are necessary for any sort of progression. The intention is to equalize both states, that is, contraries are to be seen as necessary parts to form a unity or perfection. Also, the one without the other would lack definition. Beside the effect of contraries in daily life, they are essential for literary art as well. Without contraries there is surely no fluidity achieved in the narration which logically leads to stagnation. Daniels explains the effect which contraries and oppositions have on the narrative, again by making use of the term vision which we have discussed above. She states that in the “Blakean notion of “double vision”, […] opposites and contraries coexist in one and the same thing. These contraries give energy to the narrative, for as Blake wrote, ‘Without contraries is no progression’.”[60]

Moreover, contraries are not to be interpreted as negations, but rather as necessary entities which form a whole unit. Norman Nathan makes a slightly different suggestion on the synthesis of contraries. He claims that “it takes two things to make a third thing; contraries are necessary if there is to be any progress, any life.”[61]

Conventional morality, to which Blake mainly counts state and church confuse people by giving moral values to contraries. Blake says it quite clear:

From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.

Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing

from energy.

Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.[62]

Furthermore, it makes sense to treat contraries and opposites not only as equal entities, but one should also try to avoid classifying them as good and evil or to put them in a relation of hostility to each other. Nathan has a very similar view on the relationship of contraries. He argues that

‘Contraries’, as Blake defines it, does not suggest hostile entities. Actually, the word refers to the relationship of a kind of energy and the limit of that energy. For example, the foremost set of contraries is God and man. God is the imaginative energy and man is the limit of that energy.[63]

Since God is considered a perfect unit, man as a part of that can thus be seen as a limit of it. Man contains for every sort of energy its counterpart, namely reason which is energy’s limit. Nathan gives a helpful and probably right explanation concerning the relationship of God and Man and the matter of reason and energy:

Man is the limit of God. But man contains the contraries of energy and reason, love and hate, attraction and repulsion, etc. Reason contains the contraries of thinking and thought itself. The thought itself contains the contraries of good and evil.[64]

Martin Bidney claims that contraries are not only essential for progression in human life, but crucial for the whole cosmos as well. As far as this approach is concerned, Blake might have been influenced by Cartesian and Newtonian science, according to Bidney. He claims the following:

Contraries are crucial to human existence, and evidently to cosmic existence as well: the concepts of attraction and repulsion had been given prominence in the intellectual world of Blake’s day through the influence of Cartesian and Newtonian science.[65]

Beside the large variety of examples concerning the possibly wrong thinking of conventional morality, one has to add here that Blake contradicts himself in the Marriage: in about 1789, in his annotations to Swedenborg’s Wisdom of Angels concerning Divine Love and Divine Wisdom Blake wrote that

there can be no Good Will. Will is always Evil; it is pernicious to others or selfish. If God is anything he is Understanding. He is the Influx from that into the Will. Good to others or benevolent Understanding can & does [?] Work harm [?] ignorantly but never can the [?] Truth be evil because Man is only Evil … H. & Hell.[66]

Interestingly, it seems Blake resented himself as if he were a religious reasoner, saying that only God was good and man and his will were always evil. Of course, this is the total opposite of what is being presented in the Marriage, where moral values as good and evil are rejected, since they seem to hinder progression and make up a part of a finite and corrupt world, which we shall see later on. Besides, Blake’s statement can surely be interpreted differently from reading his words literally. Is he really agreeing with Swedenborg in the annotations? Blake perhaps simply utters these words in order to show readers Swedenborg’s lack of originality – he did not create a new truth, according to the poet. Therefore, he might have intended to satirize the founder of the New Church by parodying his formulaic style and simply repeating the old views of conventional religion.

Moreover, what many critics must have misunderstood is, that Blake is not to be seen as an anti-Christ or a satanic person in general who fights against God, as understood in the traditional sense. Blake believed that the terms God, Jehovah and angels stand metonymically for a hypocritical and corrupt system called state, the (Anglican) Church which is the state church or the New Church of Jerusalem as well as the bourgeoisie who perverted God’s word to oppress human beings and as a result betray the real God, in Blakean sense.

However, it hopefully became clear by now that arbitrary addition of moral values such as good and evil to contraries, set up by the church, Blake calls here “the religious” and by the bourgeoisie, are not necessarily true products of conventional moral thinking.

2. The Voice of the Devil

2.1 Outline

Plate 4 starts off with the explanation that writings, such as the Bible, were the main causes for false definitions concerning human existence. The Devil, often referred to as poet-devil by critics, lists the errors as follows:

1. That Man has two real existing principles: Viz: a Body & a


2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body; & that Reason,

call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.

3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his


After naming the errors of conventional morality, the Devil adds the contraries to those which seem more likely to be true:

1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a

portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul

in this age.

2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the

bound or outward circumference of Energy.

3. Energy is Eternal Delight.[68]

Blake’s idea concerning the synthesis, that is, the unity of body and soul, was not invented by him. He might have taken the idea from Xenophanes and Aristotle. Furthermore, he believed in pre-existence like the Platonists. S. Foster Damon gives further explanation of Blake’s thought. He says that “Blake believed that the material body was an illusion or error – a part of the soul, but not an essential part.”[69] What the Devil intends here is the abolishment of wrong doctrines and definitions concerning the body and soul relationship. Before he is able to attack dogma and its possibly invented falsities, he must firstly mention the conventionalized definitions which are non-sense in his eyes. Then it is time to present the contraries which are more likely to be true. The first error in this doctrine is that man consists of separate things, namely body and soul. The Devil explains that the Body is the outward portion of the Soul which can be discerned by the five senses. The second error to be destroyed is the belief that energy (evil) is only a product from the body, whereas good (reason) is a quality coming from the soul only. The Devil makes clear that there is no other life, spiritual as well as bodily, except from energy deriving from the body. Thus, reason must be understood as its restrainer that sets limits to it. The third error to be corrected is the punishment of God that every man has to expect because he follows his energies. Blake suggests completely the opposite, namely describes energy as “Eternal Delight” which therefore can be regarded as the true Paradise. Punishment and God seen as a tormentor is again a thought which is rejected by the Devil.

In Plates 5-6 Blake is obviously attacking reason or the restrainer for governing desire. Moreover, he mentions beings whose desire is weak, obviously those who are not able to desire properly and because of that want to limit the desire of others. Blake surely means philistine who have no problem to restrict desire, because they have not much of it:

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.[70]

In the following, Blake continues by saying that the restrained desire becomes more and more passive, “till it is only the shadow of desire.”[71] Shadow in this case obviously means nothing else but the final state of restrained desire. Blake continues by announcing that the history of desire – which is usurped by reason – can be found symbolically in John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Book of Job. Blake explains that Milton’s Messiah was the Devil, the archangel who is called Satan in the Book of Job. In the following, the Devil’s account is presented who says that the Messiah fell and stole from the abyss to form his heaven. Injustice is described here: the Devil is accused for disobeying to God’s law, something that Jesus Christ, according to the Devil, did also. Moreover, one gets to know that “after Christ’s death”, “he became Jehovah“. Damon argues that “after the crucifixion, the Church worshipped the old God of this world under Christ’s name.”[72] Blake perhaps sees Christ’s crucifixion rather as an act of love and thus a release from worship than a continuation of it. However, the poet surely wants to say with other words that the church still worshipped the old God. The only difference was that they used or probably misused Christ’s name from that time on. The section in where these moments are described reads:

The history of this is written in Paradise Lost, & the Governor or Reason is call’d Messiah.


[1] See G. E. Bentley, Blake Records Supplement. Being New Materials Relating to the Life of William Blake (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) 14.

[2] S. Foster Damon, William Blake. His Philosophy and Symbols (London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1969) 5.

[3] See Morton D. Paley, William Blake (Oxford: Phaidon Press Limited, 1978) 21.

[4] Foster 62.

[5] G. E. Bentley, The Stranger from Paradise. A Biography of William Blake (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001) 126.

[6] See Bentley, The Stranger from Paradise 126-127.

[7] See Mona Wilson, The Life of William Blake. Editor Geoffrey Keynes. (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1971) 16.

[8] See Wilson 58.

[9] Marsha Keith Scuchard, “Blake and the Grand Masters “. Editors Steve Clark and David Worrall, Blake in the Nineties (New York: Palgrave, 2001) 174.

[10] Schuchard 175.

[11] William Blake, Complete Writings. Geoffrey Keynes (ed.) (Oxford: University Press, 1972) 131 – 133.

[12] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 157.

[13] Wilson 58.

[14] Blake, Annotations to Swedenborg’s Divine Love 91.

[15] For reasons of simplicity the title The Marriage of Heaven and Hell will from now on be referred to as Marriage

[16] Wilson 59.

[17] Blake, Jerusalem plate 71, 710.

[18] See Damon 316.

[19] Blake, Tiriel 110.

[20] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149

[21] see Damon 316.

[22] Damon 316.

[23] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149.

[24] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 148.

[25] Damon 90.

[26] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 148.

[27] Martin D. L. Lansverk, The Wisdof Many, the Vision of One: The Proverbs of William Blake (New York: Peter Lang, 1994) 112.

[28] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 148.

[29] Lansverk 112.

[30] D. G. Gillham, William Blake (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1973) 163.

[31] Gillham 163.

[32] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 148-149.

[33] Robert N. Essick, William Blake and the Language of Adam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989) 211.

[34] Damon, 316.

[35] Charu Sheel Singh, The Chariot of Fire. A Study of William Blake in the Light of Hindu Thought. Editor Dr. James Hogg. (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1981) 21.

[36] See also Singh 21.

[37] Singh 21.

[38] Singh 95.

[39] Helen P. Bruder, William Blake and the Daughters of Albion (London: Macmillan Press, 1997) 119.

[40] John Beer, Blake’s Humanism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968) 47.

[41] Beer 47.

[42] See John Lucas, William Blake (London and New York: Longman, 1998) 62.

[43] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149.

[44] James King, William Blake (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991) 82.

[45] King 82-83.

[46] Peter Ackroyd, Blake (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995) 147.

[47] This is of course a very general idea which corresponds to romantic thought. The bourgeoisie or the philistines belonging to the upper-class society whereas the poor and romantic artists are considered the underprivileged.

[48] Lucas 63.

[49] Blake calls Swedenborg a “Spiritual Predestinarian”, because the Swedish sage believed in predestination, that is to say, he thought that if man was evil in the world, he would remain evil in eternity. Blake explicitly refers to § 277 of Swedenborg’s Divine Providence which reads: “That Man is to be withdrawn from Evil, in Order that he may be reformed, is evident without explanation: for he who is in Evil in the World, the same is in Evil after he goes out of the World; wherefore if Evil be not removed in the World, it cannot be removed afterwards; where the Tree falls, there it lieth; so also it is with the Life of Man; as it was at his Death, such it remaineth” […]

[50] See Blake, Annotations to Swedenborg’s Divine Providence 133.

[51] The term “brethren” is commonly used in Freemasonry, the occult order of which Theosophy and Swedenborgianism are parts of. Freemasons are usually men only who see each other as brethren. After the union of Madame Helena Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, and General Albert Pike who was a Master of Freemasonry, having the 33rd and highest degree of the Scottish Rite, masonic lodges were built in which women were allowed to participate as well.

[52] Beer 48-49.

[53] See John Beer, Blake’s Visionary Universe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1969) 29.

[54] Beer, Blake’s Visionary Universe 29.

[55] Jean H. Hagstrum, William Blake: Poet and Painter (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1964) 19.

[56] Hagstrum 18.

[57] Blake, The Letters 818.

[58] Molly A. Daniels, The Prophetic Novel (New York: Peter Lang, 1991) 16-17.

[59] Daniels 17.

[60] Daniels 19.

[61] Norman Nathan, Prince William B.: The Philosophical Conceptions of William Blake (The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1975) 52.

[62] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149.

[63] Nathan 52.

[64] Nathan 53.

[65] Martin Bidney, Blake and Goethe: Psychology Ontology, Imagination (Columbia : University of Missouri Press, 1988) 3.

[66] Blake, Annotations to Swedenborg’s Wisdom of Angels concerning Divine Love and Divine Wisdom 89.

[67] Blake; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149.

[68] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149.

[69] Damon 318.

[70] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149.

[71] Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 149.

[72] Damon 318.

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An Analysis of William Blake´s "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"
University of Hannover  (Englisches Seminar)
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