UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Biomedical imagery in William Blake's "The Four Zoas" Mahon, Elizabeth F.


William Blake, in The Four Zoas, uses the human body as a metaphor to describe stages in the fall, transformation, and approach toward Apocalypse of the "Universal Man" later called the giant Albion. Biomedical imagery depicting distortion and displacement of body parts or functions is an important aspect of this metaphor. Of particular interest to this thesis are images of division, augmentation, encasement, eruption, and reunion in the poem, The Four Zoas, with some emphasis on the Spectre of Urthona as a divisive form of Los. This Spectre's role is of fundamental importance in Blake's myth for the achievement of reintegration of fallen Albion. Blake's use of the words, "Eternity," "vision," "Imagination," "emanation," "Spectre," "shadow," are examined in some of his other works as an aid for explication of his myth as is the way in which Blake uses metaphor and modulating symbol to give us a richer and hence a clearer vision of the events relating to the Fall and Apocalypse. Morphological imagery illustrating the Fall and sparagmos of the God-Man Albion is described as a distortion of both bodily organs and faculties, i.e. psychic states. The manner in which Blake uses this imagery suggests a movement from a healthy state of expanded vision to a diseased state in which man's powers of perception are dulled or extinguished. This change in Albion from a state of intense creativity in Eden to a state of chaotic passivity in the fallen world is a change from wakefulness to sleep. This sleep produced the dream-nightmare state described in The Four Zoas. Blake's dramatis personae emerge as symbolic counters and in their symbolic method of narration they reveal how error must be given form in order to eliminate it. An analogy is drawn between the symbolic Fall, movement toward Apocalypse, and a pseudo cancerous growth that originates by cellular division, spreads by augmentation, coalesces into encasement but finally erupts with explosive force thus reordering the elements into a healthy holistic gestalt. Similarities between Blake's elimination of mind-body dichotomy in his mythic vision of man and F. S. Perls' concept of an organismic whole which creates reintegration of diseased faculties are explored at some length. The Phoenix-like quality of the contradictory affiliation between blood and water predominant in The Four Zoas is compared to the physiological response in living cells to these potentially destructive and restorative elements. The imagery Blake uses illustrates his doctrine of contraries. The Urizen - Ore cycles are touched upon, as is the providential Luvah - Jesus principle which aids Los in his mission of reversing the effects of the Fall. The importance of Los's Spectre, the Spectre of Urthona, in this movement toward Apocalypse is elaborated upon. The outcome of the struggle between the contrary states of Los and the Spectre of Urthona will be the determinant in this movement.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.