The Book of Urizen

The Book of Urizen

The Book of Urizen

The Book of Urizen

Excerpt

The Book of Urizen has long had the reputation of being one of the most difficult of Blake's works to understand. We shall not, however, let this unduly depress us if we remember that only within the last few years have his books begun to be republished as he himself first published them, engraved in his own handwriting and with his own colouring and decoration, each page a work of art, and each group of pages lively and expressive of meanings impossible to the printed page. Blake himself would probably find it hard to understand his own work if he saw it in that guise which is the only one most of us have ever known it in, namely, as pages of printed text.

Another reason for the legend of "difficulty" that has grown up round this book is the page order. There are six known copies of Urizen; two of them contain twenty-eight pages, the others less, in varying numbers, and the arrangement of the pages themselves varies from copy to copy. Which is the "right" number of pages, and what is their "proper" order?

Accustomed as we are to the printed word and the numbered page, our acceptance of the unvarying order of a book's contents is as implicit as our acceptance of order to the days of the week. Hence we suffer something like dismay at the prospect of books, apparently similar, with contents that vary from copy to copy.

Yet the dismay will quickly melt when we remember The Book of Urizen as Blake made it. That making was no mere act of repetition--bare sheets of paper fed into a machine, a roller inking a plate, paper and plate brought together, compressed and released --the whole process under the control of a mechanic whose chief concern is to turn out a constant quantity in a given time. Uniformity of production is, or should be, such a man's ideal. It was not so with Blake. Every copy of every book he made was as much a new act of creation as the bringing to birth of each successive child is to a mother. The process gone through each time is, generally speaking, the same: yet no two times are alike, and every child born is different from every other child. And a very small experience in the comparison of Blake's originals will show that he certainly intended them be different.

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