William Blake’s Jerusalem Explained

Cover of William Blake”s Jerusalem Explained

Dr Whitmarsh-Knight’s massive study (612 pages) of Jerusalem presents the first full-scale, virtually line-by-line analysis of Blake’s great epic.  Each of Jerusalem’s four chapters is seen as a unique chiamus, contracting in all directions from circumference to centre, and after Divine intervention, reversing the vortex and flowing back to the circumference.  In Plates 94-100 of Jerusalem, the great four-fold chiasmus of all four chapters visualized simultaneously is completed.  So clear is the geometry of this architecture it can be graphically illustrated [see Appendix 1 Shakespeare’s Heir].  Blake’s multi-linear narrative is comprehensively detailed, and the elements of his superb mythology explained, line-by-line, such that every line and event is seen and understood in terms of every other line and all events.  The “golden string” of his chiastic spiritual adventure is clearly followed so that the reader understands each part of the poem in terms of its crafted aesthetic unity as a whole.  Each of the great prophesies The Four Zoas, Milton and Jerusalem have very different mythologies though with many like components that cannot be transported and made to fit any other.  To understand Blake’s great prophecies it is essential to reveal the different set of mythic events that Blake writes and envisions in art and in printed manuscript, and this is the first study to successfully trace the multi-linear narrative of Jerusalem.  

Blake creates a cosmology of human consciousness in Jerusalem.  It takes us into Albion’s inner worlds of trauma and withdrawal into madness, and the processes of intervention ‘without’ and ‘within’ that lead to his healing into unity and sanity.  Brilliantly traced by Blake, we read of Albion’s divided mental and physical energies ‘within’ as his masculine and feminine disconnect, collapse and disintegrate in the four chiastic vortices of each of the four chapters.  To the collapsing and compacting component energies that travel the vortical spirals within each vortex, it seems they travel a ‘line’.  To Blake, the corresponding perceptual limitations are two-fold vision.  By contrast, to Blake’s prophetic three-fold vision the entities collapse into four unique vortices of concentration and expansion, until Albion’s final awakening to four-fold unity in Plates 94-100.

Albion’s divided masculine and feminine energies separate into phallo-centrism and nature worship respectively and mutually predate the other’s energies for power, nourishment and sexual survival.  Thus, Albion contracts into madness and self-annihilation as his divided inner energies seek to enslave and sacrifice each other.  These hubristic expressions in Albion’s perceptual strategies ‘within’ are symbolized by Blake’s zoas and emanations.  David Whitmarsh’s understanding of these figures and their psycho-physical interactions, demonstrates for the first time, Blake’s mythology in Jerusalem is shown to be profoundly reasonable. 

In modern terms, Blake’s myth and geometry should be seen as symbolizing a quantum, multi-linear mythic exploration of human experience in pursuit of reconciliation.  In each dimension of Blake’s four vortices of human psycho-physicality, Albion’s divided masculine and feminine energies are reconciled through four-fold intervention into unity and sanity in love.  Albion’s catatonic self-separation from four-fold energy, and the concomitant hubristic self-deception, chaotic sexuality, loss of faith and suicidal pursuit of component power over the self as a whole, is given imaginative dramatic form in Blake’s epic.

Blake’s visionary landscapes are explored by David Whitmarsh in terms of Trinitarian theology and the theology of Divine self-communication, and Blake is shown to be no confused religious anarchist.  To these theological perspectives is added the necessary explanations of Blake’s prophetic understandings of time and space, or his mystical perception of the holy in all living energy forms; this is placed in the context of clear multi-dimensional perceptual strategies, and modern quantum philosophies of science, Black Hole cosmologies and apocalyptic global and personal psychological issues.  To the secular reader, David Whitmarsh points to Blake’s depth psychology and analysis of catatonic withdrawal and the journey within into madness and self-destruction, and, a return to sanity through external intervention.   

This book is also a creative experiment, for here is the first critical work on Blake that is written in an analogy to hyper/text/novel form.  Thus, a reader may start anywhere in the poem and navigate from any textual unit, to any other, in any order and yet still have the poem explained in terms of its whole.  Shelley Jackson’s The Patchwork Girl, a virtual classic, offers the analogy.  The heroine is Mary Shelley who finds a body unfinished by Frankenstein and she finishes it.  It is female and they become lovers.  The novel is the stories of the past owners of the body’s bits and pieces, like mouth, eyes, hands and feet etc, and the reader reads the virtual text, anywhere, in any order and follows any route not confined to a single linear literary experience. 

This modern hyper-text form has analogies to the work of Blake two centuries earlier.  We see Albion’s collapse into catatonic trauma ‘within’, and sexual division and self-harming madness, and Blake symbolizes the story of Albion’s interior processes with physical components like skull, blood, ears, eyes, tongue, nose, heart and bowels.  Many complaints made by the current popular received wisdom of Ault et al. and his post-modern/post-structuralist school, and equally by Frye et al. and the thematic/mythic school are answered by David Whitmarsh; especially those of transition, structure and consistency.  Definitively presented by him for the first time as key stable structural issues are: first, the poem’s stages of development and chiastic structure of circumference/centre/circumference, and the consequent stable beginning; second, it’s chiastic, causal multi-linear narrative myth that is like a spiral of narrative events within a vortex, concentrating into a compact density at its core, and exploding into a counter vortex; and third, the gathering of the poem’s major sequences of events into a coherent apocalyptic closure in Plates 94-100. 

David Whitmarsh’s study should mean it cannot reasonably be claimed that Jerusalem opens arbitrarily, that the myth is fractal and erratic, incoherent and impenetrable, and the poem is self-subverted into failure and thus founders on its apocalypse.  His original critical methodology in defense of Blake’s creative integrity allows a reader to directly encounter the genius of Blake’s dramatic characters without any ‘wall of words’ between his poetry, its meanings, and a reader.  Uniquely this study offers a fresh way to see the ‘golden string’ of his narrative causality through Blake’s four very different levels of perceptual strategy and their poetry of transitions between each of the levels: namely Blake’s four-fold, three-fold, two-fold and one-fold vision.  David Whitmarsh’s work is unique for it is thought impossible to complete such an analysis.

Thus, for the first time, gone is Blake the impenetrable, plotless, incoherent writer of a failed poetic in Jerusalem.  In its place is Blake, a genius of crafted plot construction, and a writer and artist whose multi-linear narrative vision is not only profoundly embedded in traditional themes, symbolic and dramatic structures, and prophetic rhetorical syntax; but also profoundly modern in experimental form, multiple viewpoints and linear and multi-linear structures of poetry and art.