William Blake

In Blake's Marriage of Heaven & Hell what does it all mean, I have found it very hard to decipher.

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The ideas of contradictions are predominant throughout Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In fact contradictions are the core of human life: ‘Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.196)

In the "Voice of the Devil," Blake tells us that the Bible has caused several errors: ‘That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.196) This follows because the ‘religious’ call good ‘passive’, and ‘Good is Heaven.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.196)

The reason energy has been considered to be ‘evil’ is because energy leads to activity and rebellion, which in turn, is dangerous. However, Blake argues that energy is given to us by God and so ‘Energy is Eternal Delight.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.196)

Already we have been placed in conflict: heaven is to be passive, but energy is truly heaven.

The theme of energy runs through the Proverbs of Hell. ‘Expect poison from the standing water.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.198)

Another proverb is: ‘The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.199) Those who follow their instincts and more importantly, desires, will always be wiser than those who follow the orders of others.

Desire is another key theme of Blake’s. Blake said of desire: ‘Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.’(Carabine, 1994, p.196)

Clearly, Blake is contemptuous of people who do not act on their desires as reflected in another proverb: ‘Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.’ (Carbine, 1994, p.200) Blake’s proverbs emphasise the importance of desire: desire should not be restricted; it should be embraced and followed. It is Blake’s belief in desire that causes him to be anti-clerical, as rules and regulations limit the individuals’ capacity to follow his or her desire.

This is reiterated with another proverb: ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.198)

Another proverb tells us: ‘The cistern contains, the fountain overflows.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.199)

This proverb, like so many others, discusses the importance of possessing energy: clearly, the most important message here concerns the church. The church is just one example of an institution and for Blake, institutions contain us.

Blake himself was deeply religious, but anti-clerical. He resented institutions of any kind because of the rules and regulations associated with them. In his poem the ‘Garden of Love’, Blake says: ‘And the gates of this Chapel were shut, and ‘’Thou Shalt Not’’ writ over the door.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.86) This is written with heavy irony as Blake believed ‘Thou Shalt.’

Blake’s anti-clerical attitude is easily observed throughout his work. He says: ‘Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.’ (Carabine, 1994, p.198)

As well as reiterating his contempt for the church and government; regulating institutions, it demonstrates a wider contradiction visible in society.

Blake’s aim is not to force us to choose, innocence or experience, reason or desire, but to ask us to accept that there is within us both of these states of mind. Within us is both the tiger: passion and energy and the lamb: passivity and obedience. Neither state is good or evil, as we have been told, but as the title a Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a marriage of freedom and rules, desires and restriction.

Hope this helps :)