William Blake approached the world with the honesty of a child, the imagination of an artist, and with the vision of a true prophet; he saw light where others could only see darkness, and he could only see emptiness where many others had founded their entire worldview. Having considered a significant portion of his art and corresponding philosophy, and how it contrasts sharply with the ‘ideals’ of his modern world, of our modern world, we can only come to agree with Kathleen Raine when she states that ‘Blake was a traditionalist in a society that had lapsed from tradition’.
Within the many chambers of wisdom that the Vedic legacy has to offer us, there is a particular process by which the initiate may come to know God (or His work), a search of negation that arrives at the treasure it seeks by confirming what is not gold or silver: ‘neti, neti’, he says, stripping away the chaff surrounding a single gemstone. William Blake tore through the excess with a caustic perception until he could bring the principles he sought into a clear and definite form; even physically, in the way that he engraved, he literally works until something perfect emerges from the base and worthless material. The prophet of London continually shaped, melded, gilded his perception to the point where it fully accorded with a vast and surprisingly comprehensive ‘system’ that adulates internalized beauty, and that scorns the ugly exterior of a fallen, materialized world.
If we were to define ‘humanism’ as the belief that man and his own reason, both empirical and rational, is self-sufficient without the existential need for a higher Intellect beyond immediate comprehension, it would be quite foolish indeed to assert that Blake is infact a humanist. We would be similarly mistaken, however, if we were to ignore the particularly ‘anthropocentric’ aspect of his vision. Humanity is the greatest of all creation; all nature is subject to our intellect, our sense of order, for humanity is the only created thing gifted with a spirit that transcends mere animal instinct. Jesus Christ is the normative and quintessential man: he is the self-actualized mediator, the immortal bridge between humanity and divinity. So Blake reminds us of our position in the scholastic ‘chain of being’, and yet he undoubtedly entrenches himself in the firmly human point of view, organizing all reality from the perception of a fixed personal psyche.
Situated on the climactic battlefield of ‘mental warfare’, Blake’s ‘Devils’ are arrayed against the ‘Angels’ of the modern world, an irreconcilable duality that persists throughout all time and space. Like countless other men of his virtue, Blake understood himself to be physically alone in a titanic war against the very architects of modernity; and this feeling of utmost solitude (not loneliness) drove his vision to ever greater heights, far beyond the sterile reasoning of Locke, Bacon, and Newton, or ‘Satans Watchfiends’. Blake’s fiery imagination sprung new life with every glimpse of Golgonooza, with every artistic definition of a ‘Minute Particular’. William Blake belongs to the select few minds of genius who have mastered the ‘art of mythology’, or the act of bringing an abstract divinity into a tangible, symbolic, and meaningful representation that is not only comprehensible to the wise man of his age, but is utterly profound and wonderfully resonant to the alert and listening spirit, the wise man of every age.
‘Blake was, in spirit, a denizen of other and earlier ages of the world then the present material one to which chance had so rudely transplanted him. It is within the last century or so, that the heavens have gone further off. The supernatural world has during that period removed itself from civilized, cultivated humanity than it ever has before – in all time, heathen, or Christian. There is, at this moment, infinitely less belief in an invisible world, or even an apprehension of it, than at any previous historical era… It is only within the last century and a half, the faculty of seeing visions could have been one to bring a man’s sanity into question. Ever before, by simple-believing Romanist, by reverent awestruck pagan, or in the fervent East, the exceptional power had been accepted as a matter of course in gifted men, and had been turned to serious account in the cause of religion.’ William Hazlitt
Final biographical quotation:
‘(William) died on Sunday night at 6 Oclock in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ – Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten’d and He burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven.’ George Richmond, a friend