Tag Archives: BLAKE

William Blake – Hell’s Printing Press

17 Jun


William Blake

    There is a dichotomy associated with the “Printing Press of Hell” that suggests both cause and effect with regards to the acceptance of proscribed religious belief. In the first reading we’re offered an image of the minds of men being formed and filed into libraries; iterations of humanity molded by generations past, who’ve simple accepted that which they’ve been told with unquestioning obeisance. This concept of universal subservience and the image of “mind forged manacles” is extremely potent, and Blake appears to deride the insidious nature of accepted doctrine. Therefore one could understand the Press as a generic branding of the human species in order to insure conformity, the suppression of personal energy, and the prevention of discovery of the true self.

           It is this idea upon which he expounds in a “Marriage between Heaven and Hell”: the restrained desires of the supplicant, as oppose to the boundless energy of the free self. The Church of Blake’s day required passive subservience and so, by submitting to the will of God there was a repression of the internal self. Blake’s caverns are reminiscent of Plato’s analogy, that those shackled within the cave were only aware of shadows, and did not understand the true nature of the world outside of their limited experience. One can recognize this in Blake’s description of hierarchical, diabolical creation, an allusion perhaps to another Eden? To understand his simile one has to look no further than the reintroduction of the Catholic Church by Napoleon after the French revolution, to perceive the controlling nature of public worship – “the opiate of the masses” – and the benefits of organized faith in maintaining the status quo.

               The printing press may also be a personal reference to himself and to those like him. He parodies himself as a devil sweating over a flat rock, an allusion to him, sweating over his copper etchings. Blake is the Satan, the adversary or obstructer of the message. His writings conflict with those of the Church. He understands that as enlightened beings, we fail to recognize our true gifts due to the coercive nature of endemic religion. Blake was a committed opponent to the Church’s dogmatic approach to religion – “the enslavement of the vulgar” – and wrote in order that we might free ourselves, by thinking for ourselves. His writings are clearly radical in their anti-disestablishment prose style and – no doubt – had he truly been recognized in his own lifetime, would have ruffled more feathers than he did. It is only in retrospect that we come to understand Blake’s enlightened view, which may be seen as synonymous with many of the ancient Eastern religions, and even in the pantheistic poetry of the Romantics who followed him.

               Consequently “The Printing Press of Hell” can be regarded from two different aspects. The first, as an allegory for ignorance and an example of unenlightened acceptance, the second, as a forge of dynamic reason and human energy, where one is able free the spirit and escape dogmatic oppression. Although Blake sees himself as a Satan, his books aren’t to be found in Hell, but rather stacked on the shelves on the other side of the “doors of perception.”









3 Nov


To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour. 

Blake within the lines of Auguries of Innocence insinuates the macro in the micro and offers a point of attention. Deconstruction suggests that we have to escape our own selves in order to understand and see the larger aspect, to tune our senses and to recognize the immediate so that we can appreciate life in a different manner from that which most of us experience on a quotidian rote. Creation, no matter its origin, is apparent in the smallest of objects and therefore instead of searching for whatever it is we seek, must understand and recognize, that which we desire most is inevitably right in front of us. We simply have to awaken from our comatose states and open our eyes as well as our minds. Time is ephemeral and the experience of existence subjective. When he talks about recognizing something other than the sand or the flower he’s alluding to the universe in all of its inconceivable vastness. If only we as a species could achieve full consciousness and comprehend that the only obstacle inhibiting us from breaking the bonds of mental incarceration is the application of the imagination of ourselves. The wonderment that we possessed as children is still within us, it’s simply a matter of reigniting it, sensing the field and once again treading the path less traveled

 From the socio-political point we have to understand that Blake was never recognized in his own life time and lived his life in London as a poet, painter and engraver where the whole world would have swept passed his shop front in a single afternoon. By symbolizing the London population as grains of sand then the sea of anonymous faces that he witnessed must have eventually bled into one, lending the crowds a distinct and proletarian look; anonymous passersby, individuals in their own right with dreams, goals, ambitions and troubles of their own. His allusions to restricted life, animal consciousness and down trodden entities are allegorical to eighteenth century society. Given that the whiff of gun smoke of 1789 was still pungent on the wind of change and wafting through Europe as Blake wrote, it’s not surprising he encompassed within his verse the truth that the world is other than it appears. Blake experienced a monumental period in history when the workers of the world dared to unite, cast of their chains and vanquished oppression.

Time, as we well know, is subjective. An hour with a beautiful woman can last mere moments whilst waiting five minutes for a bus can endure an eternity. Einstein said it best, “Reality is an illusion, all be it a persistent one.” I think Blake understood and expressed this innate truth within the verses of his poem. Life’s a journey and all troubles, no matter how great, can be regarded as objective issues or simply experience. Perhaps the poem is an allusion to his creative frustration and the lack of appreciation for his own writing. A failure perhaps of society to appreciate the quality and profundity of its obvious importance.

 An all pervasive mood of something greater than self, haunts the lines of the poem and given Blake’s affinity with religion, there’s undoubtedly a theological element. We may not perceive all we see, in fact there’s much “more between heaven and earth than exists in our philosophy” that we don’t understand. By illuminating the implicit, Blake holds up a mirror and insists that we look closer and try to recognise what’s important and what isn’t.

The vox populi speaks of awareness and consciousness as though they’re dimensions of ourselves and that if we follow the path to enlightenment we’ll discover that everything that ever was, has been and ever shall be, lies within us. We’re the masters of our own destiny, manifest gods in our own right. By comprehending that we shape our own lives, as Blake seems to be implying, then what we believe generally comes to pass. This being the case we’re awesome beings of amazing power and yet we don’t see ourselves thus, instead we think of ourselves as little-me, or mere extensions of our professions. How often do we ask people what they do rather than ask who they are? We’re names not numbers, personalities constricted by society and social doctrine. Is it money and career we should be pursuing or is it happiness and the experience of life? An economist might argue that one isn’t possible without the other, but if one believes that money is power and desirous of a money based society then one will never understand what Blake was trying to tell us. Be all you can be, but be it now, conscious of each and every moment.

Heaven as Blake so rightly maintains is here on earth and obvious in every piece of crafted nature hidden within the Fibonacci sequence of life and yet we’re so blinded by our own misguided ideal of self-worth and human arrogance that we fail to note the explicit.

 Blake by lifting stones and splitting wood reveals the complexity of conscious being.