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

By Stanley Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
DISINTEGRATION

AFTER The Book of Urizen and the Songs of Experience, Blake had little of poetic relevance left to say, and the occasions on which he said that little may be easily counted. The famous verses, And did those feet in ancient time, which stand in the Preface to Milton, are qualitatively unique in Blake's last books, and are the only lines meriting any detailed criticism. For the rest it seems adequate to suggest the lines of disintegration; and it is possible to make a point concerning a single passage and apply it to the later books in general, since the faults repeat themselves. These books--I refer to The Song of Los, The Book of Los, The Book of Ahania, and especially The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem--these books may interest the philosopher and the psychologist, but their seemingly endless involutions are barren of poetry, and their gyrations towards nonentity--we see Blake becoming significantly enamoured of the word and, equally significantly, breaking it into Non-Entity--their gyrations towards Non-Entity take them beyond my understanding.

No special pleading can make poetry out of this sort of thing:

By Satan's Watch-fiends, tho' they search numbering every grain
Of sand on Earth every night, they never find this Gate.
It is the Gate of Los. Withoutside is the Mill, intricate, dreadful
And fill'd with cruel tortures; but no mortal man can find the Mill
Of Satan in his mortal pilgrimage of seventy years,
For Human beauty knows it not, nor can Mercy find it! But
In the Fourth region of Humanity, Urthona nam'd,
Mortality begins to roll the billows of Eternal Death
Before the Gate of Los. Urthona here is named Los,
And here begins the System of Moral Virtue named Rahab.
Albion fled thro' the Gate of Los and he stood in the Gate.

Los was the friend of Albion who most lov'd him. In Cambridgeshire
His eternal station, he is the twenty-eighth & is four-fold.

( Jerusalem, ii, 39.)

That is a representative passage. In it the dramatic has become static, the symbolism is thin and subordinate to the mythology. Blake is here concerned with explanation--'Urthona is here named

-132-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction on the Nature of Poetic Symbolism 1
  • Chapter I The Beginnings in Innocence 15
  • Chapter II The Edge of Experience 31
  • Chapter III The Conflict in Experience 46
  • Chapter IV Infinity on the Anvil 77
  • Chapter V Songs of Experience 100
  • Chapter VI Disintegration 132
  • Notes 153
  • A Short Reading List 156
  • Index 157
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