Laws of peace, of love, of unity;
Of pity, compassion, forgiveness . . .
One command, one joy, one desire,
One curse, one weight, one measure
One King, one God, one Law.
Some of Blake’s mythological characters have appeared in his previous works, but I count this as the first of his mythological works, because I really tie his mythology to the events in which these characters find themselves and, of necessity, the exploration of their relations to each other. In this book, Urizen represents the intellect, the higher mind. In the time before Creation, he takes control of existence and creates our universe. But because he is a figure of pure intellect, he cannot govern except by laws, commands and absolute control; he creates the Net of Religion (one of Blake’s most powerful images) to bind mankind down with. But Los, representing passion and inspiration, breaks free and binds Urizen in an effort to free mankind, but then finds his own rule beset by problems. One of the great things about Blake’s mythology is the way in which Blake paints the characters; none of them are villains exactly, just flawed individuals bound by their natures to fail in certain ways. Urizen is not a being of evil; he is simply, by his nature, unable to rule humanity without crushing them with the Law. This is not because reason and the intellect are dangerous or evil in themselves, but only because they cannot be allowed to become ascendant over the other elements of the soul. The majority of Blake’s mythology will be taken up with this idea: the elements of humanity’s soul are only tenable when they all operate in balance with one another. Throughout countless pages of his writing, we’ll see various sides of mankind’s personality ascend to a place of primacy over the others and see everything fall apart because of this. This one is a simple poem by comparison with his other mythological works, but this one, in my opinion, really lays the foundation for all the others. 4 stars.
tl;dr – first of Blake’s proper mythological works, this conflict between reason and emotion lays the groundwork for the more complex works to come; compelling and brilliant. 4 stars.