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Cathryn Kachura 9 November 2011

British Literature William Blake Dr. Art Williams

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: A Brief Summary and Analysis

William Blakes The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a satirical work which expresses many of

the ideas of Romanticism in both an insightful way as well as ironic. It was written as a parody in

response to Swedish scientist and religious philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborgs Heaven and Hell and

is often considered by many critics to exist in a genre of its own; that is to say, nothing with a remotely

similar structure had ever been written prior to, nor has been written since, its publication (1312).

Throughout the work, Blake presents a series of contraries Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil, Angel and

Devil, Reason and Energy but then appears to reverse the traditionally accepted values associated with

each term; most importantly noted, Reason carries a negative connotation while Energy carries a

positive one (1312).

Romanticism can be very loosely defined as a sense of possibility and hopefulness in both

individuals and societies; Romantics believe that the perfectibility of human life is possible. In

understanding Romanticism, an important term to keep in mind is unity. The Romantics sought to take

everything the Enlightenment authors separated out and put it all back together and mix it up. In this

sense, Blake sought to marry Reason with Imagination and to have them co-exist simultaneously

without compromise.

Blakes foundation in Romanticism is based upon his belief in Albion, that is, the Universal

Man. He believes that reality began with Man, God, and Nature existing as a single being, with

emphasis on the perspective of Reason and Imagination being one entity in the mind. Essentially, unity

is a positive thing, separation or fragmentation is a negative thing; he believes that the one thing

capable of rectifying this fragmentation is Los or poetic imagination. Another important aspect of

Blakes writing is his religious perspective. Generally speaking, William Blakes religious beliefs fall in line

with those of Christianity and the text of the Bible; however, he has a personal view of Jesus whom he
Cathryn Elizebeth Kachura 9 November 2011

believes to be the epitome of mankind having risen to the height of his potential. Another example of

his deviation from uniform Christianity is his belief in free expression and his strong position against any

form of oppression, which he views as tyranny. This belief is materialized in many of his later poems as

he speaks out against the repression of sexual desire in London, the repression of anger in A Poison

Tree, and the repression of joys and desires in The Garden of Love.

The overall work is structured in a very unconventional and unique way. The Marriage of

Heaven and Hell opens with a poem entitled The Argument followed by a general summary. A section

entitled The Voice of the Devil follows. The first section entitled A Memorable Fancy precedes the

Proverbs of Hell and four more consecutive sections bearing the same name as the former. The final

component of the work is A Song of Liberty followed by the Chorus, which were appended to the

work after Blake had published the original set (1323). The bold choice in structuring his message this

way further intensifies his underlying themes. Los, poetic imagination, is the only way to re-unify Albion,

the only way to harmoniously acknowledge Reason and Imagination. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

brings two seemingly clashing elements of literature, poetry and prose, together in one deliberately

outrageous . . . onslaught against the timidly conventional and self-righteous members of society as well

as against many of the stock opinions of orthodox Christian piety and morality (1312).

The relevance of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell to Blakes beliefs and Romantic ideals

begins with the title of the work itself and continues into the opening summary and the third of the

sections entitled A Memorable Fancy. Heaven and Hell in this context are associated with Reason and

Energy, ironic Good and Evil, respectively. The metaphorical marriage of two opposite ideas is found in

the comparison between Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil, Reason and Imagination, here so-called

Energy; this marriage is an obvious element of the Romantic idea of unity. Blake makes this

fundamental statement in the opening summary as follows: Without Contraries is no progression.

Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence (1314).
Cathryn Elizebeth Kachura 9 November 2011

He goes on in A Memorable Fancy to say that . . . they should be enemies; whoever tries to reconcile

them seeks to destroy existence. Religion is an endeavour to reconcile the two (1320). According to

Blake, these two opposing forces should exist in constant tension; a victory by either force results in the

annulment of validity of both forces.

The religious relevance of William Blakes The Marriage of Heaven and Hell begins in the

structure of the opening poem and lasts throughout the work. Stanzas 2-5 of The Argument plausibly

present a summarization of the course of biblical history: once in line 3 referring to history after the

fall of man, then in line 9 referring to the turning point at the birth of Christ, till in line 14 signifying

perhaps the institutionalization of Christianity, and now in line 17 referring to the time of the French

Revolution which was thought to be the prophesied universal violence as a stage immediately preceding

the millennium (1313).

In The Voice of the Devil Blake speaks out against traditional religious standards and promotes

the idea of Romantic unity. He states that mans soul is not separate from his body, but rather his

body is a portion of the soul discernd by the five Senses (1314). He calls error in the biblical teaching

that God will torment man for eternity for following evil, here called Energies; he later states that

Energy is Eternal Delight (1314). He ironically embodies the voice of the devil when metaphorically

stating that evil is eternal delight for sake of emphasis on the illogical religious separation of body and

soul, good and evil, for both exist in each person independently, yet simultaneously.

The idea that God is a manifestation of the human mind is present throughout the work, as well.

The conclusion of the Proverbs of Hell reads that . . . All deities reside in the human breast and in

the third section of A Memorable Fancy reads that God only Acts & Is, in existing beings or Men

(1318-19).

An ever-present theme that exists throughout William Blakes The Marriage of Heaven and

Hell, as well as many of his other publications, particularly poetry, is that the marriage itself is
Cathryn Elizebeth Kachura 9 November 2011

perhaps the manifestation of natural human components. Mankind was created with a dual-

conscience; that is to say that if God is the manifestation of the Good in the nature of mankind, then

Satan is the manifestation of the Evil in the nature of mankind one can no sooner exist without the

other than a man can split his conscience; Blake ironically reverses these roles in this work. Mankind, in

essence, is the manifestation of the marriage of God and Satan. Likewise, Reason cannot exist without

Imagination; that is to say, if one should subject himself to life under the influence of Reason without

Imagination, Evil without Good, or vice versa, then one is offering up his conscience and the height of his

potential to a life of imprisonment to self-tyranny.


Cathryn Elizebeth Kachura 9 November 2011

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H. Ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,

1996. 1312-24.