Infinity on the Anvil: A Critical Study of Blake's Poetry

By Stanley Gardner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IV
INFINITY ON THE ANVIL

THE Book of Urizen is the climax of the Prophetic Books. Up to this point Blake has taken the many aspects of the conflict between liberty and tyranny, and set them in a series of poems through which the symbolism runs in a controlled sequence of associations. Now he takes the conflict back to genesis, to the creation itself.

In Blake's writing the symbolism, whether consciously or subconsciously controlled, is so completely under his command that the references it carries never waver. Its symmetry is unimpaired from the earliest poems onwards, and the symbolic truth with which Blake writes is so unchallengeable that the meaning of each book is completely comprehensible from references already established, and fortified, in the poems as they are written. It is not necessary to read the final books--where Blake turns to explicatory comment--in order to understand the earlier, and the main reason for criticizing the poetry here in chronological sequence is to demonstrate this. Even A Song of Liberty is understandable without turning to subsequent works, although it has been recognized as a summary of the Prophetic Books as a whole. For instance, in A Song of Liberty we were able to adduce the genesis of the 'new-born fire'--only later personified as Orc--without reference to the later books, and solely by relating it to the symbolism. That we have found, as we went on, confirmation of assumptions already made in reliance upon the symbolism, seems to me to make any charge that Blake's work is chaotic extremely difficult to argue.

The effect of this chronological approach is, I hope, to demonstrate the assurance that may be had in the reading of Blake; and to pull together the detailed analysis of his poetry into the final critical synthesis which is the end of analysis, and without which analysis is pointless.

There could be no fiercer paradox than that with which Blake engages in The Book of Urizen--the act of Creation linked with the petrifying tyranny of Urizen. The conflict inherent in the very nature of poetry could not be more immense. This conflict of meaning is evident in each separate symbol as it is used, and Blake's

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