The University of Toronto at Scarborough

ENGB02Y: English Literature: Historical Survey (SpringTerm)

Instructor: Melba Cuddy-Keane

William Blake 1757-1827

Blake's Paintings

Painting #1 Ancient of Days (God Creating the Universe) c. 1794

The fall, in Blake's myth, is "a fall into Division," the break-up of what he imagines in a primal world as an integrated whole (e.g. the fragmentation of society into isolated and alienated individuals, the splitting of the individual into the disconnected elements of body and mind, of reason and imagination.) "The breakup of the all-inclusive Universal Man in Eden into exiled parts . . . identifies the Fall with the creation--the creation not only of man and nature . . . but also of a sky god who is alien from humanity." Norton Anthology II, pp. 20-21.

Note the similarity of the lightning bolts to a mathematical compass and compare Blake's painting of Newton.

Painting #2 Newton 1795-1805

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), mathematician and philosopher (noted for his principle of universal gravitation, laws of motion, development of Calculus, analysis of white light as composed of all the colours of the spectrum, etc.; cf. the Newtonian universe) "To Blake, Newton was the archrepresentative of material philosophy." Norton Anthology II, p. 79 (n. 6)

Painting #3 Nebuchadnezzar 1795

King of Babylonia (c. 605-562 B.C.) Nebuchadnezzar built Babylon into a magnificent city with miraculous hanging gardens. The book of Daniel represents him as proud and domineering, and eventually descending into madness. "Blake in his works used Nebuchadnezzar to symbolize the bestial condition of a man who believes only in the reality of material things." Norton Anthology II, p. 78 (n. 2).

Painting #4 The Dance of Albion (or Albion Rose or Glad Day) 1795

"Blake's mythical premise, or starting point, is not a transcendent God but the 'Universal Man' who is himself God and who incorporates the cosmos as well. (Blake elsewhere describes this founding image as 'the Human Form Divine' and names him 'Albion.')" Norton Anthology II, p. 20. Blake modelled the form of Albion on an early classical (Roman) design, showing the ideal human form as the measure of a mathematically proportioned universe. Blake, however, fills out the design with flesh, colour, and beauty. "Albion" (derived from the Latin for "white") is an ancient name for England, probably based on the white cliffs of Dover.

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