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TRACK 1: BLAKE, ENERGY, AND REASON

side profile of William Blake
Image of William Blake by John Flaxman, ca. 1804 (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

William Blake's book, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, reads like Biblical prophecy. Blake wanted to reconcile the physical and spiritual parts of our nature. In it we read, "Energy is Eternal Delight." He finished the book in 1793 during huge upheavals. The American Revolution was just over. The French Revolution had segued into the Reign of Terror. The steam-powered British Industrial revolution was in full flower ...


Frontispiece of Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell

And, among Blake's cutting insights, we read this:

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.

From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.

Is he equating Evil and Energy? Well, read further. He also says,

But the following Contraries to these are True ...

Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.

Energy is Eternal Delight

So energy, whether energy of the spirit, energy of the body, energy of our dreams, or energy of our machines — energy surely is delight. And of course it can turn to evil. Of course it must be circumscribed by Reason. Don't you and I dream of being served by unlimited energy at the same time we live in cool green Elysian fields? Don't we want the Delight without the trouble of Reason?

Blake spoke of that dream two decades later, and his words are more familiar. He began his book-length poem, Milton, with lines that were made into an English hymn. And that hymn melody appears in the movie Chariots of Fire. Part of the text goes like this:

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

[Made into an English hymn]

Blake wrote that between 1804 and 1810. And we see how, as the steam-powered mills began revealing their smoky, oppressive dark side, Blake again called us to circumscribe energy with reason. "I will not cease from mental fight," he tells us.

Preface of Milton
The "New Jerusalem" text as it appears in Blake's Milton

So we celebrate the delight of energy this year. Sure, we'll try to keep an eye on its evil twin of excess as we do — we won't forget the face of energy that needs to be circumscribed by reason. But Blake says that "Energy is the only life." And that provides a perfect place to begin this year's contemplation of energy:

Coalbrookdale by Night oil paiting
Coalbrookdale by Night, Philip James de Loutherbourg. These furnaces ("Dark Satanic Mills?") operated in the late 18th century.

Sources

William Blake's full The Marriage of Heaven and Hell may be read on-line in its original highly illustrated form at http://www.gailgastfield.com/mhh/mhh.html.

William Blake's full Milton, A Poem may be read on-line in its original highly illustrated form at http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/copy.xq?copyid=milton.a&java=no. The opening poem, most of which I quoted above, appears on the following page of that copy: http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/copy.xq?copyid=milton.a&java=no