An Explication of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
William Blake’s trouble with orthodoxy within religion was never more apparent than in his poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It becomes clear that his problems with the Church run deeper than just their organization, but with their views on good and evil, and there is still debate today about what Blake’s true feelings were and how they were conveyed through the poem. This paper will simply explain the nature of the poem and the events that come together within it.
The beginning of Marriage sets up an image of a man walking through a “perilous path” that is described as “The vale of death” (Blake 1.4-5). Rintrah, a personification ...view middle of the document...
Blake immediately rebukes these claims by explaining that the soul cannot be separate from the body, Energy is the only thing that drives life, and that Energy, or Evil, is “Eternal Delight” (4).
He goes on to describe, in short sentences which are broken up like paragraphs, that the only people “who restrain desire, do so because there is weak enough to be restrained,” giving the impression that those who do not give in to temptation aren’t the strongest of their kind, but rather the weakest for allowing themselves to be restrained at all (Blake 5). He goes on to complain that Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost, calls the original Archangel Satan or the Devil, and that also in the Book of Job in the bible, the Messiah is called Satan as well, and that everyone must be aware of these historical similarities.
Blake’s note of Milton being “a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it” once again displays his sense of humor when criticizing those who claim to be so tightly knit with God, although he seems much less critical of Milton than he is of Swedenborg.
The speaker then moves through the fires of Hell, where he “delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity,” which reiterates Blake’s beliefs that Angels, or the “Good,” cannot see the true genius that takes place outside of the good, or in the Energy and “Evil” (Blake 6). He stumbles upon the Devil, who is writing “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, / Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?” (Blake 7). This question of how man can see when he’s limiting himself to his Good side only immediately leads into arguably the most controversial part of Marriage, which are the “Proverbs of Hell.”
These proverbs mimic the proverbs of the bible, but while some are a bit amusing in their simplicity, like “The busy bee has no time for sorrow,” (Blake 7.11) there are also maddeningly confusing proverbs as well, such as “The pride of the peacock is the glory of God. / The lust of the goat is the bounty of God. / The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God” (Blake 7.22-24).
Many of these proverbs are satirical and over exaggerated, and many critics have agreed that Blake was only modestly influenced by the biblical Proverbs. The most interesting parts of these Proverbs, however, is that none of them encourage poor behaviors; they instead inform the reader that being saintly and never doing anything that one desires will only prevent progress of that person. When he explains that “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough” (Blake 9.49), Blake sounds as if he is posing a challenge to never just accept restraints, but to discover one’s own limits through experience instead of stories told to one from another source. He never denounces God, rather he embraces Him, with Proverbs that explain that “As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers” (Blake 9.46). These Proverbs can...