Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction & Repulsion,
Reason & Energy, Love & Hate are necessary to Human existence.
The Marriage of Heaven & Hell isn’t really a poetic work, but it’s so central to Blake’s philosophy and his art that I read it anyway as I’m going through his poetry. This book is a response to Emmanuel Swedenborg’s book Heaven & Hell, which I haven’t read. Apparently, it’s a very Manichean book in terms of presenting existence as split into two totally separate spheres. Blake believes in the absolute contrast of “Heaven” & “Hell,” but for him, opposites were made to co-exist; opposites only exist in relation to each other and the same is true with contrast – one thing alone is not an “opposite”, nor is there an evident “contrast.” Blake uses the idea of Heaven & Hell here to represent various different ideas in contrast. Heaven equals reason, certainty, order, authority; Hell represents passion, doubt, chaos, rebellion. It has seemed to some that Blake puts himself more clearly on the side of hell here, but to the degree reason is demonized in much of Blake’s work, it is only demonized when it becomes ascendant above all. Being on the side of rebellion is a catch-22; one can’t love rebellion without also loving authority because rebellion without authority simply becomes authority. These things for Blake don’t exist in the realm of value judgments in terms of him being on one “side” or the other; his entire point is that there is only one thing, a whole thing made up of two things. As he continues to unspool this in his writing, the opposites will continue to multiply: male & female, light & dark, stillness & movement. In his most well-known work, of course, Innocence & Experience. It’s a great philosophy, really beautifully, if often obtusely, stated here. It’s not a poem, but it’s essential to read with Blake’s poetry, I’d say. 3 stars.
tl;dr – thoughtful, often beautiful exploration of the necessity of opposites & contrasts in both art & life is compelling and an integral part of Blake’s bibliography. 3 stars.