The Marriage Of Heaven and Hell
Unlike that of Milton or Dante, Blake’s conception of Hell begins not as a place of punishment, but as a source of unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy, opposed to the authoritarian and regulated perception of Heaven. Blake’s purpose is to create what he called a “memorable fancy” in order to reveal the repressive nature of conventional morality and institutional religion. The marriage of heaven and hell is all about the deconstruction of society and religion, and this is to be done by a period of revolution which Blake eagerly anticipates.
Blake was writing in the age of enlightenment which was also known as the age of the Age of Reason. “Counter-Enlightenment” is a term used to refer to a movement that arose in the late-18th and early-19th centuries in opposition to the 18th century Enlightenment.
The “Enlightenment” was not a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science. Thus, there was still a considerable degree of similarity between competing philosophies.
The title is an ironic reference to Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological work Heaven and Hell. Though Blake was influenced by his grand and mystical cosmic conception, Swedenborg’s conventional moral structures and his Manichean view of good and evil led Blake to express a deliberately depolarized and unified vision of the cosmos in which the material world and physical desire are equally part of the divine order, hence, a marriage of heaven and hell.
Blake’s purpose seems to be the resolution of arbitrary classifications made by institutions
such as church and state. For him, contraries are too important for human life to arbitrarily
categorize or classify them by giving them moral values. For Blake heaven & hell are to be married but without becoming one flesh or one family. By the marriage Blake means that we are to cease valuing one contrary over the other. That what is important is the actual existence of contraries.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell opens with an “Argument”, which describes how the “just man” has been driven from his original state in Eden to become an outcast wandering in the wilderness. The “just man” represents the meek peasant coming out from under the feudal shadow into the “wilderness”, the first stage of the Revolution. In the first lines of the reader is told that “Rintrah roars and shakes his fires in the burdened air’. Rintrah may be understood to be a voice of the poet chastising society and welcoming the era of revolutionary change occurring in Europe.
Blake’s apparent enemy in “The Argument” is any confining state upon society and the individual. Blake recognizes that the tensions involved in the formulation of morality. For Blake without contraries there can be no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate are necessary to human existence. Blake feels that the revolution is a manifestation of the liberation of human creativity that has been repressed by society’s rigid morality.
Song Of Revolution:
A “Song of Liberty” is meant to be a reminder of the significance of the French Revolution as a representation of the growth of creativity. Blake tells readers that nature itself was shaken by the revolution: “the Eternal Female groaned” and that political change was to be seen as possible: The “Song of Liberty” at the end of the work celebrates the casting out of the French monarchy.
Blake uses traditional symbols of angels and devils, animal imagery, and especially images of fire and flame to: set up a dual world, a confrontation of opposites or “contraries” which illustrate how the rules of Reason and Religion repress and pervert the basic creative energy of humanity,
One of the main themes of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is the confrontation of the grand oppositions of orthodox Christian doctrine: Heaven and Hell, good and evil, angels and devils. The above excerpt succinctly states that “contraries,” or paradoxes if you will, are essentials of human nature, but religion has polarized Man’s dual qualities, using one side of his nature to repress the other; Christian “good” represses “evil” energy. Blake expresses this idea through language in many ways. The Devils are witty, lively, and have wise things to say, whereas the Angels are dull and in error (and get angry when crossed!). Thus, Hell is quite a nice place and Heaven is rather awful, as is especially illustrated in the fourth “Memorable Fancy.” Blake turns the conventional Christian image of fire as punishment and suffering on its head, thereby taking it back as an image of energy rather than fear.
In Blake’s world, Man must admit both sides of his nature, the force and power of desire and the ordering principles of reason, just as the predator and prey have achieved a symbiosis in the natural world; the predator never completely wipes out his prey because it would mean his own demise. To go into the realm of imagination to the extreme where reason can no longer operate, or vice versa, would be to deny one’s full humanity.
The significance of the title becomes apparent here because the relationship between imagination and reason should be like a marriage in which the partners work together, while each maintains the integrity of his/her own unique sphere of perception and action; the relationship is interactive but not dialectic. Man moves back and forth between the poles: “Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps” and “One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression”, for “Opposition is true Friendship”