Here is the Powerpoint and my notes for the talk I gave at the Conference of the The Powys Society – Street/ Glastonbury, August 2022:
John Cowper Powys and William Blake
Structure of Talk
- Personal Intro.
- JCP on Blake
- Creative Vision
- Nature/ Gnostic Myth
- JCP/ Blake: Universe/Material World/ Spirit
- ‘Sex’ and Union
- Self: Images/Mind/ Soul/ Ego Memory
- Psychology of Creativity?
- JCP/ Blake – Differences/ Similarities
JCP on Blake: 1923
- Anticipates Nietzsche: Since artists ‘brood’ on Blake
- He quotes Nietzsche on the child who will come at last to inaugurate the beginning of the ‘Great Noon’
- Against ‘cult of children’ which suppresses them – protestant/ puritanical.
- For ‘renaissance of Catholic faith and Pagan Freedom’
- Blake’s child is to be found in every man and woman: innocence.
- Christ as ‘possessed of a power drawn from the depths of the universe’: ‘a man-child’ who is to redeem the race – with a temper the very opposite of the ascetic one’.
- Christ as Pagan Eros – opposition to restraint.
- ‘disentangle the phenomena of sexual love from any notion or idea of shame’.
- ‘children of passion and pleasure sport and play’. : ‘emancipated flesh’ and ‘free spirit’. ‘THE TRIUMPLANT NUPTIALS OF SOUL AND BODY’
- ‘Happiness – not optimistic – eating/ drinking/ philandering’ but: ‘He who binds to himself a joy, Does the winged life destroy, He who kisses it as it flies, Lives in Eternity’s sunrise’. ‘Energy without disturbance’.
- Tears – Anger
- Intellectual and Moral Freedom.
- Innocence/ Experience – like ‘little children’
- ‘one is never oppressed by the weight of natural beauty – a single tree, a single petal transport us to ‘fields’ of light ‘ – the mystic dance of creation’
- ‘For this is the prerogative of imagination – that it can reconcile us to life where life is simplest and least adorned.’
Blake: The Creative Humanist Vision
‘My Eyes did Expand
Into regions of air
Away from all care
Into regions of fire
Remote from Desire
I each particle gazed
For each was a Man
Human formed. Swift I ran
For they beckoned to me
Remote by the sea
Saying, Each grain of Sand
Every Stone on the Land
Each rock & each hill
Each fountain and rill
Each herb and each tree
Mountain hill Earth & Sea
Cloud Meteor & Star
Are men seen from afar’
JCP: Wolf Solent
‘He recalled the figure of a man he had seen on the steps outside Waterloo station. The inner despair upon the face that the figure had turned towards him. The face was repeated many times among those great curving masses of emerald green foliage…It was just the face of a man, of a mortal man, against whom Providence had grown as malignant as a mad dog…He would have said that his magnetic impulses resembled the expanding of the great vegetable leaves over a still pool…the great struggle going on in Nature between Good and Evil forces…Outward things, such as the terrible face on the Waterloo steps were to him like faintly-limned images in a mirror, the true reality of which lay in his mind…beneath the dark waters of his consciousness… I’ve learnt sir to get my happiness out of sensation’.
(Wolf Solent, Chapter 1)
Image and Nature
Blake and Nature
‘First, ere the morning breaks, joy opens in the flowery bosoms,
Joy, even to tears, which the sun rising dries; first the wild thyme
And meadow-sweet, downy & soft waving among the reeds,
Light springing on the air, lead the sweet dance. They wake
The Honeysuckle sleeping on the oak (the flaunting beauty
Revels along upon the wind); the white-thorn, lovely may,
Opens her many lovely eyes. Listening the rose still sleeps-
None dare to wake her; soon she bursts her crimson-curtained bed
And comes forth in the majesty of beauty. Every flower-
The pink, the jasmine, the wall-flower, the carnation,
The jonquil, the mild lily – opens her heavens. Every tree
And flower & herb soon fill the air with innumerable dance,
Yet in order sweet and lovely’.
(Milton Plate 32)
“The eloquent descriptions of Nature in Wordsworth’s poems were conclusive proof of Atheism, for whoever believes in nature said Blake: disbelieves in God – for Nature is the work of the devil. On my obtaining from him the declaration that the Bible was the work of God, I referred to the commencement of Genesis – In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth – But I gained nothing by this for I was triumphantly told that this God was not Jehovah, but the Elohim, and the doctrine of the Gnostics repeated with sufficient consistency to silence one so unlearned as myself.”
‘Natural Objects always did and do now weaken, deaden and obliterate Imagination in Me.
Wordsworth must know that what he Writes as valuable is Not to be Found in Nature’. (Annotations to Wordsworth Poems)
Image, Nature, the Mind
- Cymric: ‘All in Nature and all in Individual Consciousness’. ‘everything in our solitary mind’.
- Autobiography: ‘Imagination – tapping vast reservoir of planetary experience’.
- Porius: ‘the true horror of nature’
- But images of the dead, mortified, cruelty, torture, sacrifice, ‘imprisoned matter’ – cloaked in images
- Looking back at him
- <= Pre-socratic
- C2 Heretical Christianity (Gnostic Gospels)
- C12 Cathars – SW France
- C15 Renaissance: Corpus Hermeticum (100-300CE)
- C20 Esotericism
In the beginning is a god of gods, a ‘first cause’, an unknowable Monad if you like, who/which exists as a unitary being or oneness. It is the fount of existence, the fullness of being often referred to as the ‘pleroma’ in gnostic scripts. This unity exists as a perfect marriage of contraries and opposites. Here, it is necessary to notice the gender bias of the language used. Even in this primeval oneness, the unity is expressed in terms of the fusing of sexual opposites. Nevertheless, the feminine aspect of the unity has a name – Sophia – originating from the Greek word for wisdom. She is a goddess in her own right, but she and her male consort ‘act as one’. At some point in cosmic history, Sophia wishes to act alone and creates the demiurge or chief architect of the material word. This Jehovah-like character creates Adam and Eve, Nature, and all forms within it. Sometimes, these creations are splendid, but at base they are all forms of the fallen world; they all obey strict laws of boundary and definition. Sophia, recognising her error enters into the world, into mortality, in order to give mankind a spark of eternity. She becomes Eve, the archetypal heavenly woman, who now contains the eternal goddess Sophia. Adam and Eve fall from the Garden of Eden and pass into the material world; if they did not no one would know of the demiurge’s flawed creation. However, by passing into the material world, and hence relying on a messenger of truth (the Gnostic redeemer who brings the Gnosis, or secret revelation), Adam and Eve, and all their mortal descendants, have the possibility of escaping the division and darkness of materiality and regaining their eternal positions as gods. This story is summed up in one Gnostic script:
‘In the beginning the father intended to bring forth the angels and the archangels.
His thought leaped ahead from him.
This thought, who knew her father’s intention.
Thus she descended to the lower realms
She bore angels and powers, who then created the world
But after she bore them she was held capture by them
She suffered every indignity from them
And she could not return to the father
In a human body she came to be confined
And thus from age to age she passed from body to body’.
‘And they enclosed my infinite brain into a narrow circle
And sunk my heart into the Abyss, a red round globe burning
Till all from life I was obliterated and erased’
(Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Plate 3)
‘Lost! Lost! Lost! are my emanations…
We are become a Victim to the Living We hide in secret
I have hidden Jerusalem in Silent Contrition O Pity Me’
(Vala, Plate 4)
- Imperfect nature of Old Testament God
- Material World
- Feminine Spark
- Inner Personal Quest
Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and say, ‘My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.’ Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate…If you carefully investigate these matters, you will find him in yourself.
JCP: A Living Universe
- ‘We see to interpret the universe in terms of human life…an immense plurality of separate personal universes find…a single universe of immortal gods’ (Complex Vision, p. 164)
- Reason synthesis with imagination (instinct, imagination, intuition, experience Nature/ Humanity) (p. 251)
- ‘Our souls touch’ (p. 120)
- Unity = the emotion of love
The Mundane Shell: The Four Zoas
- The Senses
- Zoas/ Archetypes
- Material / Spirit
- Male/ Female
- Their Relationships
- Urizen – Reason
- Tharmas – Sensation
- Luvah – Passion
- Urthona – Imagination
- Ahania – Pleasure
- Enion – Sex
- Vala – Body/ Nature
- Eniharmon – Care
Nature and Matter
- Hermetic Tradition: Pythagoras, Boehme, Plotinus, Hermes Trismegistus
- Release of spirit imprisoned in matter.
- JCP : Harshness of nature
- Brazen Head: Roger Bacon (Black–Evil-Magician) Peter Peregrinus (White-Magician) – impregnates matter with female (Ghosta) and male energy (the wand of Merlin).
- Blake: nature
‘Although our human power can sustain the severe contentions of friendship, our sexual cannot but flies into the Ulro (Chaos)’
- Sexual Distress
- Children: Innocence and Experience
- Fusing of the sexes
- Beulah – (‘Married’ Life – subconscious – source of imagination
- Fear of Women
- Rodmoor: Adrian Sorios – vision of son Baptiste Andogenous figure.’Angel of Nothingness’ he craves
- Ducdame: Rook Ashover – vision of your man with his own face.
- Glastonbury: Sam’s love with Nell and Mad Beth but chooses ascetic life – source of vision
- Ducdame – Witch Betsy – ‘Cimmery Land’ – ’Folks live like Unborn babes’
The Bridal Chamber
The Holy of Holies is the bridal chamber. Baptism includes the resurrection (and the) redemption; the redemption (takes place) in the bridal chamber…Christ came to repair the separation which was from the beginning and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated.
(The Gospel of Philip)
The Father is Within Them
‘They themselves are the truth; and the Father is within them and they are in the Father, being perfect, being undivided in the truly good one, being in no way deficient in anything’.
The Gospel of Truth
I Not I : Self
- ‘I know of no human being less a mystic than me…I was not born to be a pantheist’ (Confessions, p. 31)
- ‘My dominant life illusion was to be a magician…who converts god’s reality into his own reality’.
- Cloak with an image
- Sensuality – Alone
- Childlike view
- ‘New emotional psychology’ (Sensuality, p.172)
Truth did not enter this world unclad, but it came in types and images. The world will not receive truth in any other manner. There is rebirth and there is an image of rebirth. It is truly necessary that the human being should be born again through the image. If one does not acquire the images for oneself the name will also be taken away from one. But if one receives them in the anointing of the Pleroma (of the might of the cross), which the apostles call the right and the left, then such a person is no longer a Christian but a Christ.
(Gospel of Philip)
When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws out an image of the experience before her and enters into her own image.
Sensation/ Imagination – First Cause
- Satan (Hell)
- God (Heaven)
Epistemology of Creativity/ Alchemy
- Externalisation (Schizoid fragments)
- Objectification (unconscious scan)
- Reintegration (re-introjection)
- Theme of the Dying God
- Multiplication, Projection
- Lower liberates the higher
- Fall and Ascension
- Subversion of subject
Images: Source/ Effect
- JCP: Really ‘living god’ or a projection?’ (Complex Vision, p. 132)
- ‘Immune to all invasion’ (Solitude, p. 63)
- JCP Soul Stuff
- ‘Love’ and ‘Malice’ (Complex, ix)
- Process of ‘being”
– Set Boundary
– Establish Autonomy
– I am I (Central Zone of Inviolability)
- Blake: The Crystal Cabinet
The Crystal Cabinet
He is seduced by the material world; he is first intoxicated. The heightened sense of reality at first gives him a ‘new’ view of England – London and Thames – and he is thrilled by what he sees, that burns like a flame. However, he forces the matter and projects beyond, and by overstretching the external view, collapses the whole vision. External Projected states lead men astray.
JCP: Complex Vision/ Apex Thought
- Eternal vision
- ‘Ourselves and not ourselves’ Self and liberation from self’ (p. 134)
- ‘Get ourselves out of the way’
- Apex Thought
- Mass of Flames: Horizontal pyramid: Arrow cleaving the darkness: Invisible: Cosmic Consciousness
- Non Ego
To Annihilate the Falsehood of Deceit and False Forgiveness
I come in self-annihilation & grandeur of inspiration,
To cast off rational demonstration by faith in the Saviour;
To cast off the rotten rags of memory by inspiration;
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albion’s covering;
To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with imagination;
To cast aside from poetry all that is not inspiration
These are the destroyers of Jerusalem, these are the murders
Of Jesus, who deny the faith & mock eternal life;
Who pretend to poetry, that they may destroy imagination
By imitation of nature’s images drawn from remembrance,
These are the sexual garments, the abomination of desolation
Hiding the human lineaments as with an ark & curtains
Which Jesus rent & now shall wholly purge away with fire,
Till generation is swallowed up in regeneration
(Milton Plate 41)
Bring Forth what is within you
If you bring forth what is in you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
(Gospel of Philip)
- Memory ‘purges reality’; stirs essences; indescribable transport (Solitude, p. 108)
- ‘I am a reactionary – so is the Devil – God stirs things and the past gets lost in the future’ (Autobiography, p. 274)
- ‘When you carry the past back…it becomes the chaos…. (ibid.)
Blake: ‘Tear down the Gates of Memory
Overtone of Awareness/ Levels of Consciousness
‘You saw the spirit, you became the spirit. You saw the Father, you shall become the father. You see yourself and what you see you shall become’.
(Gospel of Philip)
‘They became what they beheld’
(Jerusalem, plate 32)
Heaven or Hell
‘Shall I agree with Blake that Heaven and Hell are close….is it true that the prismatic bubbles of truth which rise most beautifully, and float on the air the lightest, come from the consummation of the marriage of these antipodes? I am not sure’.
(Autobiography, p. 453)
Subject/ Object Relation
‘Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions. Now, search as one may one will never find any other motivating force in the activities of the
Surrealists than the hope of finding and fixing this point. ‘ (Breton: Second Manifesto, p. 123)
- JCP looks for the product of Imagination: Blake looks to Imagination itself (Consciousness)
- Blake: Jesus is the Imagination
- JCP: ‘my imagination coverts every mental process into a ritualistic symbol…god’s world into my own’ (Autobiography, p. 104)