John McIntyre is a scholar and a Blake enthusiast, and he's been offering invaluable support, advice and huge amounts of encouragement as we put this exhibition together. We asked John if he could give us some insight into Blake's thinking and the vision that inspired the words of 'Jerusalem', and are delighted to be able to share his reply with you here...
WILLIAM BLAKE: "AND DID THOSE FEET IN ANCIENT TIME" (1804)
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green,
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire:
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green and pleasant Land.
This untitled poem is the climax of the Preface to William Blake's epic poem, "Milton". It is a clarion call to us all to use the creative powers of our Imagination and transform the world we live in by taking up the fight for spiritual renewal against the dark forces of Rationalism and Materialism.
William wrote most of "Milton" during the years 1800-1803, when he was staying in a cottage in Felpham, Sussex, set in beautiful countryside near the sea. Hayley, his patron and friend, provided William with this much needed respite from the oppressiveness of London, where William had struggled against debilitating poverty for over twenty years. He wrote the epic in a spirit of renewed confidence in his creative vision and finished it by 1804. William spent the next years making the engravings: the complete work was ready for publication in 1808.
Unlike the epics of Ancient Greece and Rome, such as the "Iliad", which deal with "corporeal war" and glorify militarism, his epic "Milton" deals with "mental war" (spiritual conflict, growth and fulfilment), which he calls "mental fight" in the untitled poem. It draws its inspiration, not from the Nine Muses of the Classical World, but from "the Sublime of the Bible": the Divine Vision.
"One power alone makes a poet: Imagination, The Divine Vision."
Within William's sacred vision, God is Imagination:
The destructive weapons and the so called "heroic" acts of military warfare will be replaced by the creative powers and works of the Imagination, which will triumph over "these dark Satanic Mills" and build the perfect world of spiritual enlightenment, Jerusalem.
On the literal level, the "dark Satanic Mills" are the huge factories of the Industrial Revolution: on the symbolical level, they signify the systems of thought, which have not only gone into building them, but also have gone into attempting to build the architecture of a mechanical and materialistic universe in negation of the Divine Vision.
Within Blake's visionary world, the mill is a symbol of Reason, which acts solely on empirical evidence and drives everything to its ultimate, logical conclusion. And destruction! It grinds and reduces Imagination (God), Infinity and Eternity into measurable, labelled quantities, like bags of flour. It is the logic that creates Abstract Philosophy, Dogmatic Religion, and Materialism, which inflict grievous suffering upon humanity.
For Blake, 'The Age of Enlightenment' ('The Age of Reason'), spurred on by Newton's ideas, is 'The Age of Darkness' which comes between humanity and the Divine Vision, like clouds obscuring the sun. Reason should be used, not to repress the power and energy of the Imagination, but to work with the Imagination in the creative act.
The poem is permeated with Biblical imagery (and, in particular, St John's Book of Revelation), which William uses to create the symbols of his sacred vision. He depicts himself as a warrior artist, riding in his 'chariot of fire', like the prophet Elijah, and leading us all in the "Mental Fight" to transform the dark forces of Rationalism and Materialism. The spiritual struggle is fought both within ourselves as individuals (William included!), and outside of ourselves in the materialistic world, which denies the spiritual.
There is a symbolical link between "the Countenance Divine" and "my Bow of burning gold". The golden sun is a symbol of God: Imagination, Energy and Vision. Gold is a symbol of Divinity. By transference, the "Bow of burning gold" is a symbol of the body of William's art, which is burning with the inspiration and energy of the Divine Vision, the Imagination. It is the contrary of "these dark Satanic Mills", that burn and belch out obfuscating clouds of the Materialist Revolution.
"Arrows", "Spear" and "Sword" are symbols of the penetrating powers of William's work.Their spiritual insights and truths will pierce the thickest armour and the deepest layers of Rationalism and Materialism: they will open up the darkened minds of humanity with the light and inspiration of the Divine Vision. Our consciousness will be spiritually transformed:
"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite."
William is not an elitist: hierarchy is anathema to him. He wants us all to be prophets and visionary artists. When the whole of humanity is spiritually enlightened and creatively active, Jerusalem will be once more. This is William's burning desire, which he expresses very clearly at the end of the poem, when he quotes the Bible:
" Would to God that all the Lord's people were Prophets." (Numbers xi, ch. 29 v, xix)
Let us always remember his call to be "just and true to our own imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live for ever, in Jesus Our Lord."
William leaves us in no doubt that Jerusalem will be built, and it will be built ''through the radical regeneration of each person's own power to imagine" and the liberation of our Creative Energy. Freed from "the mind-forged manacles" of Rationalism and `Materialism, we will all bring about the New Age of True Enlightenment, Jerusalem, that will last forever.
"Imagination is Eternity."
We will fulfil the Infinite Potential of Creativity within us and experience true happiness in "those Worlds of Eternity" of the Imagination.
"Energy is Eternal Delight.
And,Yes! Jesus, our Divine Humanity, will walk upon England's mountains green! He will come again through our creativity, and he will be re-united with his bride, Jerusalem, the manifestation of the Divine Vision in us all.
"The Eternal Body of Man is the Imagination, that is, God himself .. "
The Real Revolution starts now! It starts with us! Here! In England's green and pleasant Land! It will change the world forever and it will transform the Universe! It is inspired by a Vision that transcends the mere here and now of a corporeal Utopia. It opens up for us those Worlds of Eternity, to which we really belong and for which we long so much.
Will you join in the fight to regain our Divine Humanity and build Jerusalem once more?
The Divine Image
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.