Page:William Blake, painter and poet.djvu/45

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WILLIAM BLAKE

transcendent knowledge which comes of immediate perception reappears in him with singular intensity. "Men are admitted into heaven," he says, "not because they have curbed and governed their passions, or have no passions, but because they have cultivated their understandings. The fool shall not enter into heaven, let him be ever so holy." Nothing in Blake, perhaps, is so Gnostic as the strange poem, The Everlasting Gospel, first published by Mr. Rossetti, though many things in it would have shocked the Gnostics.

The strictly literary criticism of Blake's mystical books may be almost confined to the Book of Thel, for this alone possesses sufficient symmetry to allow a judgment to be formed upon it as a whole. The others are like quagmires occasionally gay with brilliant flowers; but Thel, though its purpose may be obscure, is at all events coherent, with a beginning and an end. Thel, "youngest daughter of the Seraphim," roves through the lower world lamenting the mortality of beautiful things, including her own. All things with which she discourses offer her consolation, but to no purpose. At last she enters the realm of Death himself.


The eternal gates' terrific porter lifted the northern bar;
Thel entered in and saw the secrets of the land unknown.
She saw the couches of the dead, and where the fibrous root
Of every heart on earth infixes deep its restless twists:
A land of sorrows and of tears, where never a smile was seen.

She wandered in the land of clouds, through valleys dark listening
Dolours and lamentations; waiting oft beside a dewy grave
She stood in silence, listening to the voices of the ground,
Till to her own grave-plot she came, and there she sat down,
And heard this voice of sorrow breathed from the hollow pit.


The effect of the voice of sorrow upon Thel is answerable to that of the spider upon little Miss Muffet. This abrupt conclusion injures the effect of a piece which otherwise may be compared to a strain of soothing music, suggestive of many things, but giving definite expression to none. Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, however, have no difficulty in assigning a meaning. Thel, according to them, is "the pure spiritual essence," her grief is the dread of incarnation, and her ultimate flight is a return "to the land of pure unembodied innocence from whence she came." Yet her forsaking this land is represented as her own act, and it is difficult to see