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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Text and design in Blake’s developing myth Ward, Marney Jean McLaughlin


The uniqueness of Blake's engraved or illuminated books derives from their effective union of poetry and painting, calligraphy and drawing. Blake created his composite art form because, consisting as it does of the contraries of text and design, it enabled him to present two perspectives simultaneously. Depending upon the divergence of the perspectives, the interaction of poem and picture ranges from embellishment to satire. This dissertation examines the interrelationships of text and design in Songs of Innocence and of Experience, The Book of Urizen, and Jerusalem, representing the early, middle, and late stages of Blake's myth, respectively. In Songs of Innocence, text and design tend to be synergetic, reinforcing one another to establish the harmony and integrity typical of Innocence. In Songs of Experience, there is a tension between the two art forms, reflecting the uncertainties of the fragmented state of Experience. Because of the logical structure of language and the spontaneous appeal of design, the text usually presents the experienced vision and the illustration an innocent overview. The Book of Urizen and Jerusalem, being narrative in nature, demand a continuous, linear movement of the text. The designs of these works counteract this progression, acting as epiphanic moments, or eternal spots of time. The designs also function structurally, suggesting the mirror symmetry of Urizen, and presenting, in the chapter frontispieces of Jerusalem, the characters that will act as blocking forces for each chapter. In the prophecies, the interactions of text and design may extend to widely separated plates, and thus help unify the work. As Blake's myth develops, the motifs presented in both art forms evolve from the pastoral and anti-pastoral imagery of the Songs, to the elemental environments and the giant human forms of Urizen, to the complete mythological universe of Jerusalem. This dissertation follows a number of crucial motifs (such as trees, vines, serpents, "tygers," lions, sheep, the four elements, the circle, wings, clothing, veils, the city, the ark, the priest [Urizen] and the prophet [Los]) as they occur in the three works. Finally, it gives a broad interpretation of each work, based on a study of the composite art form, plus a detailed analysis of several Songs, and of selected designs and passages of text from the later works.

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