Life of William Blake (1880), Volume 2/Prose writings/The Ghost of Abel

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Appended to Sibylline Leaves in this edition.

508460Life of William Blake (1880), Volume 2: Prose writings — The Ghost of AbelWilliam Blake



Seen by William Blake.

To Lord Byron in the Wilderness.—What dost thou here, Elijah?
Can a Poet doubt the Visions of Jehovah? Nature has no Outline;
But Imagination has. Nature has no Time; but Imagination has.
Nature has no Supernatural, and dissolves; Imagination is Eternity.

Scene.—A rocky Country. Eve fainted over the dead body of Abel which lies near a grave. Adam kneels by her. Jehovah stands above.

Adam.—It is in vain: I will not hear thee more, thou Spiritual Voice.
Is this Death?
Adam.—It is in vain; I will not hear thee
Henceforth. Is this thy Promise that the Woman's Seed
Should bruise the Serpent's Head? Is this the Serpent? Ah!
Seven times, O Eve, thou hast fainted over the Dead. Ah! Ah!

(Eve revives.)

Eve.—Is this the promise of Jehovah? Oh it is all a vain delusion,
This Death and this Life and this Jehovah.
Jehovah.—Woman, lift thine eyes.

(A Voice is heard coming on.)

Voice.—O Earth, cover not thou my blood!

(Enter the Ghost of Abel.)

Eve.—Thou visionary Phantasm, thou art not the real Abel.
Abel.—Among the Elohim a Human Victim I wander. I am their House,
Prince of the Air, and our dimensions compass Zenith and Nadir.
Vain is thy Covenant, O Jehovah: I am the Accuser and Avenger
Of Blood; O Earth, cover not thou the blood of Abel.
Jehovah.—What vengeance dost thou require?
Abel.—Life for Life! Life for Life!
Jehovah.—He who shall take Cain's life must also die, O Abel;
And who is he? Adam, wilt thou, or Eve, thou, do this?
Adam.—It is all a vain delusion of the all-creative Imagination.
Eve, come away, and let us not believe these vain delusions.
Abel is dead, and Cain slew him; We shall also die a death,
And then—what then? be as poor Abel, a Thought; or as
This? Oh what shall I call thee. Form Divine, Father of Mercies,
That appearest to my Spiritual Vision? Eve, seest thou also?
Eve.—I see him plainly with my mind's eye: I see also Abel living!
Tho' terribly afflicted, as we also are: yet Jehovah sees him
Alive and not dead; were it not better to believe Vision
With all our might and strength, tho' we are fallen and lost?
Adam,—Eve, thou hast spoken truly; let us kneel before his feet.

(They kneel before Jehovah.)

Abel.—Are these the sacrifices of Eternity, O Jehovah? a broken spirit
And a contrite heart? O, I cannot forgive; the Accuser hath
Entered into me as into his house, and I loathe thy Tabernacles.
As thou hast said so is it come to pass: My desire is unto Cain
And he doth rule over me: therefore my soul in fumes of blood
Cries for vengeance: Sacrifice on Sacrifice, Blood on Blood.
Jehovah.—Lo, I have given you a Lamb for an atonement instead
Of the transgressor, or no Flesh or Spirit could ever live.
Abel.—Compelled I cry, O Earth, cover not the blood of Abel.

(Abel sinks down into the grave, from which arises Satan, armed in glittering scales, with a crown and a spear.)

Satan.—I will have human blood, and not the blood of bulls or goats,
And no Atonement, O Jehovah; the Elohim live on sacrifice
Of men: hence I am god of men; thou human, O Jehovah.
By the rock and oak of the Druid, creeping mistletoe and thorn,
Cain's city built with human blood, not blood of bulls and goats.
Thou shalt thyself be sacrificed to me thy God on Calvary.
Jehovah.—Such is my will {thunders) that thou thyself go to Eternal Death.
In self-annihilation, even till Satan self-subdued put off Satan
Into the bottomless abyss whose torment arises for ever and ever.

(On each side a Chorus of Angels entering sing the following.)

The Elohim of the Heathen swore vengeance for Sin! Then thou stood'st
Forth, O Elohim Jehovah, in the midst of the darkness of the oath all clothed
In thy covenant of the forgiveness of sins. Death, O Holy! is this Brotherhood?
The Elohim saw their oath eternal fire; they rolled apart trembling over the
Mercy-Seat, each in his station fixed in the Firmament, by Peace, Brotherhood, and Love.

(The curtain falls.)
(1822. W. Blake's original stereotype was 1788.)

'On the skirt of a figure, rapid and "vehemently sweeping," engraved underneath (recalling that vision of Dion, made memorable by one of Wordsworth's noble poems) are inscribed these words:—"The voice of Abel's Blood." The fierce and strenuous flight of this figure is as the motion of one whose feet are swift to shed blood, and the dim face is full of hunger and sorrowful lust after revenge. The decorations are slight, but not ineffective; wrought merely in black and white. This small prose lyric has a value beyond the value of its occasional beauty and force of form; it is a brief, comprehensible expression of Blake's faith seen from its two leading sides; belief in vision and belief in mercy.'

(From A Critical Essay on William Blake, by Algernon Charles Swinburne, pp. 295-296, where The Ghost of Abel was first printed.)