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Opposite Attraction: What the World Needs Now William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"
Irony serves as the proper technique for William Blake in his notorious story, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell." offers a unique solution to the complex problem of reconciling good and evil. This story is unique in that Blake attempts to reconcile good and evil in a way that is comical while still proving its point. Blake begins his tale by reversing elements and values with which we are all familiar. He adds his own spin to the characteristics of good and evil, which will become significant to the meaning of his story.
It is with the devil's voice that Blake utilizes to express his opinion. Michael Schmidt asserts that Blake's "imaginative process is vividly demonstrated" in "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" and evidence of this can be seen in The Argument.
Once meek, and in a perilous path,
The just man kept his course along The vale of death.
Roses are planted where thorns grow,
And on the barren heath
Sing the honey bees. (Blake The Argument 3-8)
He observes that the first three lines are written in a "figurative, moral language: the three that follow are images" (Schmidt 353). Blake "segregates two registers of language," according to Schmidt, which allows him to mingle and "resegregate registers in pursuit of the theme" (Schmidt 353). This is an astute observation that can be seen in the rest of the story. This idea of segregation is essential to the concept of marriage as well.
For instance, David Stewart attempts to explain lake's choice of marriage for the reconciliation of good and evil. He mentions that Blake seems to attack Swedenborg when he proclaims that "he has written all the old falsehoods" (XXI.16). He says that Blake's interpretation of reconciliation is different. Stewart says, "He took action and reaction to mean good and evil, respectively, and instead of seeing them as two contraries in a state of equilibrium, he saw them as entering a marriage bond with evil being totally subjugated by good" (Stewart). Stewart maintains that this statement is "significant in terms of The Marriage because it shows that Blake refused to accept the idea that good and evil should be seen as separate, independent contraries, and instead seems to suggest a dynamic in which one contrary (evil) is transformed into or absorbed by its opposite" (Stewart). In addition, according to Stewart, Blake's title The Marriage of Heaven and Hell can be perceived as a "direct criticism of Swedenborg's concept that Heaven and Hell exist in a state of equilibrium, in that it argues that these two contraries need to be married and so become one flesh" (Stewart). When we consider this point-of-view, we can understand the significance of Blake's meaning.
Stanley Gardner agrees with this notion. He states, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" "proclaims the possibility of redemption from oppression in a release of energy, desire and will. It denies the supremacy of reason" (Gardner 84). In other words, one cannot exist without the other. Desire is an essential aspect of life. Blake tells us that those who restrain desire do so "because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer, or reason, usurps its place and governs the unwilling, "And being restrained it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire" (V.12-3). To help us understand the significance of desire, Blake has presented us with the character of the devil himself.
The character of the devil is essential to the story because his point-of-view allows us to see things in a completely different manner G.E. Bentley notes that the majority of "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" is "the Devil's man-centered wisdom" (Bentley 135). In fact, he says that Blake "defied the orthodoxies of Church and State with the flippant wisdom of the Devil" (136). However, it is this concept of the devil that adds to the meaning of the story. Blake also employs the technique of satire and irony when writing from the devil's point-of-view. For example, he tells us, "Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity./He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence" (Proverbs of Hell 4-5). He also states that "Eternity is in love with the productions of time" (110). These illustrations helps us gain an insight into how Blake was hoping to accomplish understanding through his characterization of the devil.
To further prove his points, evil is characterized by the human body and desires. Evil is also associated with energy, abundance, and freedom. On the other hand, Good is associated with things pertaining to the soul, along with other characteristics, such as reason and passivity. He writes that "Man has two existing principles, Viz: a Body and a Soul" (IV.36) and "That Energy, calld Evil, is alone from the body, and that Reason, calld Good, is alone from the Soul" (IV.37-8).
These characteristics provide an interesting aspect as to why these two entities must be reconciled rather than separated.
This marriage is unique indeed, as Blake envisions two opposites that remain so in that they never submit to each other. Their marriage springs from the very energy that they both express. While most religious traditions support the belief that progress and success result in a reconciliation in which good destroys evil, Blake offers us a more complex view of a different kind of reconciliation. Blake seems to be saying that if we seek such a union or reconciliation, we will ultimately destroy our own existence because we need both good and evil to survive. In fact, we can know Blake's opinion from his statement that "Without Contraries there is no progression. Attraction, and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence" (III.28-9).
Blake states that from the writes that from the opposition of energy and reason "spring what the religious call good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy" (III.31). The traditional view of energy is that energy and desire are evil and they must be overcome by logic and restraint. Blake holds more liberal view toward indulging desire. Freedom is attained from desire and the release of energy. As a way of presenting this notion, he challenges the traditional definitions that we believe about good and evil. This is achieved when Blake creates a universe of moral relativism where there is no absolute good or absolute evil and the two cannot be joined under one law. An example of this can be seen when he says, "dip him in the river who loves water" (Proverbs of Hell 7). This is the case for a marriage between the two.
The marriage that results from such a union between energy and logic is Blake's aim. Near the end of the story, Blake says, "One Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression" (XXIV.20). This statement reinforces Blake's opinion. It seems to justify the dipping into the river. It also helps us understand that we cannot have two opposites existing under one absolute law. The lion and the ox do not operate under the same law and desire and logic should be able to do so as well. This depiction helps us understand how restricting energy by any law of logic would destroy energy and likewise, restraining logic to the rules of desire would destroy logic.
As a result of this, there can be no single governing law and no moral absolute that governs mankind. Instead, Blake supports the notion that the two opposites work together to create a harmonious existence for us. It is also important to note that because Blake's interpretation of desire and reason correlate with the body and soul, he can further illustrate how the two need each other two survive. Without a soul a human is certainly less than human, if human at all. Without a body, the soul exists in a state of limbo. Therefore, the two need to co-exist together in order to live a productively.
What Blake hopes to achieve with his reversal of these two entities is to help us understand that there are virtuous qualities in logic and energy. Essentially, neither is absolute. In fact, most of "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" defends the virtues of desire and energy.
It should be noted that he does not support desire and energy without bounds. He writes in the Proverbs of Hell, "Sooner murder and infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires" (IX.68). This statement indicates that there should be some restraint involved. We can assume that desire and energy are to be tempered with responsibility. This can be seen when he writes, "Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps" (VIII.26). From such statements, we can assume that Blake understands that with everything, we consider moderation. Extremes have a tendency to produce the opposite of its intended cause. From this perspective, we can see how logic…[continue]
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