On a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight…

The artist and poet William Blake, who lived i...

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Happy birthday, William Blake.

An Angel came to me and said: ‘O pitiable foolish young man! O horrible! O dreadful state! consider the hot burning dungeon thou art preparing for thyself to all eternity, to which thou art going in such career.’
I said: ‘perhaps you will be willing to shew me my eternal lot & we will contemplate together upon it and see whether your lot or mine is most desirable.’
So he took me thro’ a stable & thro’ a church & down into the church vault at the end of which was a mill: thro’ the mill we went, and came to a cave: down the winding cavern we groped our tedious way till a void boundless as a nether sky appear’d beneath us & we held by the roots of trees and hung over this immensity; but I said, ‘if you please we will commit ourselves to this void, and see whether providence is here also, if you will not, I will?’ but he answer’d: ‘do not presume, O young-man, but as we here remain, behold thy lot which will soon appear when the darkness passes away.’
So I remain’d with him, sitting in the twisted root of an oak; he was suspended in a fungus, which hung with the head downward into the deep.
By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders, crawling after their prey; which flew, or rather swum, in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; & the air was full of them, & seem’d composed of them: these are Devils, and are called Powers of the air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? he said, ‘between the black & white spiders.’
But now, from between the black & white spiders, a cloud and fire burst and rolled thro’ the deep black’ning all beneath, so that the nether deep grew black as a sea, & rolled with a terrible noise; beneath us was nothing now to be seen but a black tempest, till looking east between the clouds & the waves, we saw a cataract of blood mixed with fire, and not many stones’ throw from us appear’d and sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent; at last, to the east, distant about three degrees appear’d a fiery crest above the waves; slowly it reared like a ridge of golden rocks, till we discover’d two globes of crimson fire, from which the sea fled away in clouds of smoke; and now we saw, it was the head of Leviathan; his forehead was divided into streaks of green & purple like those on a tyger’s forehead: soon we saw his mouth & red gills hang just above the raging foam tinging the black deep with beams of blood, advancing toward us with all the fury of a spiritual existence.
My friend the Angel climb’d up from his station into the mill; I remain’d alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight, hearing a harper who sung to the harp; & his theme was: ‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.’

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

  • http://antiphonsgarden.wordpress.com/ antiphonsgarden

    …and a thought how some of his texts have been destroyed by some bigot zealot after his death. What a lost!

  • I-Don’t-Know-What

    Is he in Hell? I don’t get it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Maybe you need to read the entire poem.

  • pauld444

    Thanks, Carl, for this wonderful reading and website. My first time here and very happy to find it!

  • David

    Once at a dinner party Blake spoke to a young girl sitting beside him and said, “May God make this world as beautiful to you as it has been to me.” She remembered this remark for the rest of her life.

    (And to I Don’t Know What: the poem is called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”)

  • Suze

    Affirming reading…as I come to a rising that haunts with my inner extremes of person, hearing whispers that they are actually one, ‘divided’ by notion. Thankyou William Blake and thankyou Carl McColman.


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