Skip to Main Content
Fearful Symmetry

Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake

NORTHROP FRYE
Copyright Date: 1947
Pages: 472
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jc88p
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Fearful Symmetry
    Book Description:

    This brilliant outline of Blake's thought and commentary on his poetry comes on the crest of the current interest in Blake, and carries us further towards an understanding of his work than any previous study. Here is a dear and complete solution to the riddles of the longer poems, the so-called "Prophecies," and a demonstration of Blake's insight that will amaze the modern reader. The first section of the book shows how Blake arrived at a theory of knowledge that was also, for him, a theory of religion, of human life and of art, and how this rigorously defined system of ideas found expression in the complicated but consistent symbolism of his poetry. The second and third parts, after indicating the relation of Blake to English literature and the intellectual atmosphere of his own time, explain the meaning of Blake's poems and the significance of their characters.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4747-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  3. PART ONE THE ARGUMENT

    • 1 THE CASE AGAINST LOCKE
      (pp. 3-29)

      This book offers an explanation of Blake’s thought and a commentary on his poetry. No effort has been made to deal at all adequately with Blake’s biography or with his work as painter and engraver: a study of his relation to English literature is primarily what has been attempted. The attempt is not unique, though the amount of critical writing on Blake’s poetry is perhaps not as large as it is often vaguely stated to be. After deducting the obsolete, the eccentric and the merely trivial, what remains is surely no greater in volume than a poet of such importance...

    • 2 THE RISING GOD
      (pp. 30-54)

      Samuel Johnson attempted to refute Berkeley by kicking a stone: in doing so he merely transferred his perception of the stone to another sense, but his feeling that the stone existed independently of his foot would possibly have survived even a mention of that fact. Berkeley’s argument was that there is a reality about things apart from our perception of them, and, as all reality is mental, this reality must be an idea in the mind of God. Now God and man are different things to Berkeley, and this sudden switch from one to the other leaves a gap in...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 3 BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
      (pp. 55-84)

      We now come to Blake’s ethical and political ideas, which, like his religion, are founded on his theory of knowledge. It is impossible for a human being to live completely in the world of sense. Somehow or other the floating linear series of impressions must be ordered and united by the mind. One must adopt either the way of imagination or the way of memory; no compromise or neutrality is possible. He who is not for the imagination is against it. Religion insists that however mixed good and bad may be in this world, there are eternally only heaven and...

    • 4 A LITERALIST OF THE IMAGINATION
      (pp. 85-107)

      Blake’s conception of art is not only central in his thinking but distinctive of him as a thinker, and though he reminds us frequently of Berkeley or Swedenborg, he was what neither Berkeley nor Swedenborg was, a practising artist. The other two stressed, certainly, the role of the imagination in their philosophy and theology; but they themselves were dealing with the latter two subjects and fully intended to preserve their independence. Blake, however, had no interest in doing this at all, and, aided by his practical knowledge of how the creative imagination works, pushed boldly on where they stopped short....

    • 5 THE WORD WITHIN THE WORD
      (pp. 108-144)

      When we perceive, or rather reflect on, the general, we perceive as an ego: when we perceive as a mental form, or rather create, we perceive as part of a universal Creator or Perceiver, who is ultimately Jesus. Jesus is the Logos or Word of God, the totality of creative power, the universal visionary in whose mind we perceive the particular. But the phrase “Word of God” is obviously appropriate also to all works of art which reveal the same perspective, these latter being recreations of the divine vision which is Jesus. The archetypal Word of God, so to speak,...

  4. PART TWO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SYMBOLISM

    • 6 TRADITION AND EXPERIMENT
      (pp. 147-186)

      It is clear that Blake was not a man with some unusual religious and moral ideas who felt that they would sound more oracular if put into the form, if one can call it that, of vaguely metrical rhapsodies. He was a poet whose poems were quite consistent with a theory of poetry. Our next task is to relate Blake’s theory of poetry to the tradition of poetry, and to try to see him in the perspective of English literature. This attempt will take the writer away from Blake, where he is fairly sure of his ground, into many fields...

    • 7 THE THIEF OF FIRE
      (pp. 187-226)

      Once we begin to look at Blake’s engraved works as a canon, we can discern certain structural principles within it.The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,the form of which is fundamentally that of a prose satire, rises out of the midst of the “minor prophecies” in a class by itself. But there are three poems which are evidently intended to form a single group:America, EuropeandThe Song of Los,the last of these being divided into two parts called respectively “Africa” and “Asia.”Americais clearly a revolutionary poem; so is “Asia,” and so is another poem...

    • 8 THE REFINER IN FIRE
      (pp. 227-268)

      There are still some aspects of the Orc cycle to be understood. In the first place, while within the individual form of life Orc always insensibly merges into Urizen, yet as states of existence Orc and Urizen, youth and age, are eternally different things. They represent, roughly speaking, the “two contrary states of the soul” which Blake calls innocence and experience. This aspect of their relationship brings our commentary to another group of minor prophecies. This group includes the two engraved sets of lyrics,Songs of InnocenceandSongs of Experience,the subtitle to which is quoted above; alsoThe...

    • 9 THE NIGHTMARE WITH HER NINEFOLD
      (pp. 269-310)

      By 1796 Blake had completed nearly all the “minor prophecies” which belonged in his canon, and his next task was to work out what we have called a cyclic vision of life from the Fall to the Last Judgment in one long poem. This would constitute in a single form the totality of what Blake came into the world to say, and would be his poetic testament or Word of God in him. It would be, in short, his “epic” (which etymologically means “word,” as does “myth”). It is evident, then, that Blake was not planning a series of epics,...

  5. PART THREE THE FINAL SYNTHESIS

    • 10 COMUS AGONISTES
      (pp. 313-355)

      In 1800, after Blake had been working for some time onThe Four Zoas‚he was offered a retreat at the village of Felpham in Sussex, by his patron and friend Hayley, himself a poet of sorts, who had also patronized Cowper. Blake was, like most major English writers, a born Cockney who quickly became miserable long outside London, but he naturally did not know that then, and went off very happily to live under Hayley’s protection. It was almost the first “event” in a busy but very quiet life, and Blake planned that his stay in Felpham would be...

    • 11 THE CITY OF GOD
      (pp. 356-403)

      The “more consolidated & extended Work” ofJerusalembears the date 1804 on its title page, and we are perhaps to take that as the year in which the conception of the poem took its final shape, though the text we have can hardly be so early. Its main arguments were no doubt fairly clear in Blake’s mind long before his visit to Felpham was over, requiring only the experience of the Schofield trial to achieve their final form. In a letter dated January 30, 1803, Blake speaks of learning the Hebrew alphabet,¹ and he must obviously have got much...

    • 12 THE BURDEN OF THE VALLEY OF VISION
      (pp. 404-428)

      WhenJerusalemwas complete the canon of Blake’s poetry was complete too, or nearly so. However its final table of contents would have read, he had little organically to add to it. As it contains history, prophecy, creation myths, apocalyptic and wisdom literature, it perhaps would have contained, to round off the Biblical parallel,The Everlasting Gospel,which is later thanJerusalem.But in its essentials Blake’s poetic testament or “Bible of Hell” was ready for the world, apart from engraving, by about the end of 1808, and Blake lived until 1827.

      This idea of an individual canon, apart altogether...

  6. GENERAL NOTE: BLAKE’S MYSTICISM
    (pp. 431-432)
  7. NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. 433-434)
  8. NOTES TO THE TEXT
    (pp. 435-450)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 451-462)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 463-465)