Whether the result of his visions or of his innate personality, Blake despised the moral oppression of the Church and religion, calling such rules “enslavement.” In Blake’s mind, the gospel of Jesus liberated mankind to joy and creativity. Jesus did not come to choke mankind with ridiculous moral pronouncements and a system of religious one-up-manship.
To Blake, life was not simply being alive in a human body. It was so much more. Life was the human spirit – the spiritual reality, which lived inside his physical body. And it was this that Blake injected into his art. He put it best when he wrote:
“We ever must believe a lie
When we see with, not through, the eye.”
Blake, then, was eccentric and outlandish, even a little crazy like the Jewish National Prophet Ezekiel, who also had peculiar visions. Which means he was a true Christian, someone who lived as a stranger in a strange land. And while here as a stranger, Blake worked as an engraver and an illustrator of books. Yet his creations were not just pictures to accompany the text of the book. Rather, they functioned as commentaries, that is, as pictorial annotations which expanded upon the story and imbued it with vitality.
He taught his wife the art of engraving, along with drawing and how to read and write. For she was illiterate when he married her. One of his most fantastic illustrations is one entitled The Soul of a Flea. It depicts the flea as a man-like being, a drooling, depraved predator, which could easily represent the soul of many human beings. The flea clutches a chalice of blood between its claws. On the flea’s face there is a spasm of lust, its desire to drink of the blood. The picture displays the spirit of the flea.
With an eerie foreknowledge Blake saw, perhaps in one of his visions, the sticky horrors of the coming industrial revolution and its progeny, the technological revolution of the contemporary world. He saw imagination and creativity bowing down before the goddess of Consumerism, where having more and more material goods is perceived as progress and virtue, as satisfying the human soul. Blake foresaw a society in which money would become God, and the real God would be cast aside like an old rag.
Blake’s talents, although recognized, went unrewarded because they were too oddball, too original. People wanted slightly altered recipes, something they felt comfortable with, and such originality was upsetting. He and Catherine grew poorer and poorer, living in squalor at the end. But the couple never lacked for friends or admirers. In the realm of love, they were rich.
After he died, of course, eventually Blake’s madness became a kind of famous sanity, the sanity of true imagination. For who could read such lines as those that follow, and not believe in Something, not hold their breath?
“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.”
Like the Blue Men, there was something different about William Blake. The Blue Men had tails instead of legs. William Blake had visions instead of just seeing like everyone else. Supposedly, the Blue Men were fallen angels. Blake saw and spoke with angels, who encouraged his artistic endeavors. The Blue Men enjoyed rhymes. Blake composed some of the world’s greatest poetry.
And for a fact, the Blue Men were crazy in the sense of being different than humans. Even though they resembled humans, their ways were not human ways, and their thoughts were not human thoughts. Blake, too, was viewed as ‘other.’ Most people considered him insane. Of course these same people merely lived life, while in comparison Blake plundered life with a ‘mad pleasure.’
In the end, William Blake is as much a myth as the Blue Men. He had glamour when he was alive and more glamour now that he is dead. There’s something special about him, something that makes me wish I were like him. That I could be bigger than Life too.