Monday, October 30, 2000

William Blake in Cyberspace:
From 'The Book of Urizen'

Lo, a shadow of horror is risen
In Eternity! Unknown, unprolific,
Self-clos'd, all-repelling: what demon
Hath form'd this abominable void,
This soul-shudd'ring vacuum? Some said
"It is Urizen." But unknown, abstracted,
Brooding, secret, the dark power hid.

Times on times he divided and measur'd
Space by space in his ninefold darkness,
Unseen, unknown; changes appear'd
Like desolate mountains, rifted furious
By the black winds of perturbation.

For he strove in battles dire,
In unseen conflictions with shapes
Bred from his forsaken wilderness
Of beast, bird, fish, serpent and element,
Combustion, blast, vapour and cloud.

Dark, revolving in silent activity:
Unseen in tormenting passions:
An activity unknown and horrible,
A self-contemplating shadow,
In enormous labours occupied.

But Eternals beheld his vast forests;
Age on ages he lay, clos'd, unknown,
Brooding shut in the deep; all avoid
The petrific, abominable chaos.

His cold horrors silent, dark Urizen
Prepar'd; his ten thousands of thunders,
Rang'd in gloom'd array, stretch out across
The dread world; and the rolling of wheels,
As of swelling seas, sound in his clouds,
In his hills of stor'd snows, in his mountains
Of hail and ice; voices of terror
Are heard, like thunders of autumn
When the cloud blazes over the harvests.
First engraved in 1794, in twenty-eight plates. Originally called "The First Book of Urizen," and apparently intended to be the first part of an epic poem following the biblical narrative from Genesis onwards, as Blake interpreted it. Urizen (from the Greek horizein) is the spirit of human intelligence, originally divine, but in the fallen world becoming the kind of reason that separates man from nature by developing abstract ideas, and leading to the worship of mechanical order in Nature. This in turn rationalizes cruelty and suffering by some kind of fatalism or belief in a necessary tyrannical order. In Blake's thought the fall of man and the creation of the present world are the same event.