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From satire to apocalypse in William Blake’s the four Zoas Gibb, Peter Lloyd

Abstract

In this thesis, the will characterizes the power of the imaginative man to break out of closed systems of thought, and the power of the unimaginative man to become controlled by them. Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience dramatize the will in opposing forms, each form giving rise to the other. In a state of innocence will radiates primal energy, organizing and sanctifying. In the state of experience, having clouded his imagination, man turns this radiating power inward to conserve it and to protect himself. The contrary states of innocence and experience thus dramatize active and passive states of the will, which in turn project visions of apocalypse and satire. "The Chimney Sweeper" of Songs of Innocence, for instance, can be read apocalyptically or satirically, depending upon the reader's will. The contrasting visions of satire and apocalypse become formal principles of Blake's methodology, the means by which Blake "rouzes the faculties to act." In order to understand Blake's remarks on Paradise Lost in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, for instance, the reader must, through an act of will, re-enact Milton's myth of 'the fall. Furthermore, in his illustrations to Paradise Lost, Blake demonstrates that the hero of that work is the reader/poet who purges himself of that aspect of his will that is modelled after Satan, and adopts the image of the will epitomized by the Messiah. If one can believe that Blake had as much control of the structure of The Four Zoos as he did over these other works, one can assume that its structure is intentionally designed so that the satiric will can see the poem only in its parts, but the apocalyptic will can create a unified vision of the poem's structure, in which all its members display the organic unity of the whole. One means of achieving this unity is to assume that the poem's structure is not derived from its narration of some external reality such as creation, history, or faculty psychology, but by imagining its members as depicting images of the poem's creation. The Four Zoas, thus conceived, is a commentary on the process of discovering and creating a new poetic form in opposition to the debilitating conventions that had controlled eighteenth century poetic thought and expression.

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