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The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
William Blake

Pages: 63
Price: $4-$8
Publisher: University of Miami Press
Pub Date: 1961
ISBN: 0870240196

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Table of Contents >

1. The Argument
2.  As a New Heaven is Begun
3.  The Voice of the Devil
4.  Those who Restrain Desire
5.  First Memorable Fancy
6. The Ancient Poets
7.  Second Memorable Fancy
8.  The Ancient Tradition
9.  Third Memorable Fancy
10.  The Giants Who Formed
11.  Fourth Memorable Fancy
12.  I Have Always Found
13.  Fifth Memorable Fancy
14.  A Song of Liberty
Original Text w/illustrations

Description >
In "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", Blake provides the necessity of evil for good to exist under the notion that, "Without Contraries is no progression". He further says that, "Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence". The poem is an exploration of different truths in an attempt to answer the question, "How do humans become aware?" and more importantly, it is a tool to open up the "doors of perception" that exist in all of our minds.
In A Memorable Fancy, Blake reveals the two different truths, "As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius, which to Angels look like torment and insanity". The first truth, on one side involves a form of genius, something that is different to everyone. The truth of the "other" side, here represented by Angels represents torment and insanity. Which side should you believe? For Blake, it is a matter of perception. Already, Blake has turned the perception of good and evil upside down, in a sense combining the two. He does so by correlating Angels with torment and Devils with genius.

According to Blake, we cannot rely on our senses to find the truth (whatever the truth may be) because our senses are limiting, "on the abyss of the five senses, where a flat sided steep frowns over the present world". While saying that knowledge is not sense-based, Blake is also targeting John Locke, who believed that knowledge is based on the association of impressions from the five senses. Blake, adamantly against this idea, is standing on the abyss of the five senses, for him, a bad place to be. Blake, drawing a parallel between himself and the devil, poses the question in opposition to Locke's idea; "How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?". Blake (represented here as the Devil) is defeating logic. Usually, the devil is interpreted as being wrong, but within this Memorable Fancy, he is the key to awareness, therefore he is right. The "marriage" of heaven and hell is this defeated logic; it is the representation of the "other" that occurs when good is necessary for evil, evil necessary for good. The "marriage" is the result of the progression of the contraries. It is the Devil speaking truths, the Angels seeing torment in these truths.
The latter ideas are further emphasized in the Proverbs of Hell. The proverbs, wise statements of truths, are being spoken by the Devil. Can proverbs from hell be true? Again, it is a matter of perception, and again, it exists in a place where contraries are united.
Within the proverbs exist many of Blake's truths; "He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence". Blake is providing the awareness that if a person desires something without acting upon it, it is an empty desire. Desire without action is not being true to oneself, and if one is not true, Blake is saying that it is harmful. The pestilence in this proverb directly relates to the pestilence found in "London" and "America: A Prophecy". In previous cases, the pestilence revolved around the loss of freedom. Similarly, if one is not true to one's desires, one is not truly free.
Blake believes the latter so strongly, that he continues to say, "If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise". The contraries continue to merge in this proverb of hell. The status quo would think that a fool is a fool (not a good thing to be) and could never be wise as long as he persists in his follies. On the contrary Blake is saying that a fool is considered wise, not because of what "others" perceive him to be, but because he is being true to himself. Blake has flipped the idea of being a fool upside down. A fool who is true to his character is wise, whereas a supposed-wise man who does not pursue his beliefs is really the fool.  - Amanda Ballis


Reviews/Excerpts >


  The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the
end of six thousand years is true. as I have heard from Hell.
  For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to
leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation
will be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy whereas it now
appears finite & corrupt.
  This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
  But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to 
be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by 
corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent 
surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
  If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear 
to man as it is: infinite.
  For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow 
chinks of his cavern.

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