Symbol and Image in William Blake

By George Wingfield Digby | Go to book overview

I
THE GATES OF PARADISE

THE GATES OF PARADISE is the name Blake gave to a picture- book of engraved plates. This sequence of pictures contains many of Blake's most fundamental ideas and is meant as a record of his experience, and as a guide and commentary for others. The first version of The Gates of Paradise was engraved in 1793 and contained sixteen plates and a frontispiece, but it had no text other than the inscriptions (or captions) to the pictures. To the second version, done about the year 1818, he added explanatory couplets entitled The Keys of the Gates, together with a prologue and an epilogue, which has an additional illustration (Fig. 19). It is this second version which is reproduced and discussed here.

Blake tended to express himself either in a very concise and epigrammatic form, in aphorisms or lyric poems, or else in a very diffuse manner, as in the Prophetic Books. This picture-book is of the former kind, and since it is very representative of his thought (as indicated by the widely separated dates of the two versions), it makes a useful structure in accordance with which to view the images and symbols of his art. For this reason I have used the sequence of illustrations of this picture-book as a thread on which to string a number of his other important pictures. By this means we can refer them to Blake's own terms of reference, which can be further amplified by quotations from his writings, especially the Prophetic Books and the lyrical poems.

Blake's picture-book is, of course, not the only one of its kind. This means of communication has often been used before. For instance, Francis Quarles 'Divine Emblems' was extremely popular in the seventeenth century, though the value of its contents is

-5-

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Symbol and Image in William Blake
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Illustrations (At End) xi
  • Introduction xv
  • The Gates of Paradise for the Sexes 1
  • I - The Gates of Paradise 5
  • Epilogue 52
  • II - The Arlington Court Picture: Regeneration 54
  • III - On the Understanding of Blake's Art 94
  • Notes 128
  • Select Bibliography 130
  • Addendum 133
  • Index of Quotations from Blake 135
  • General Index 137
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