The Vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my Visions Greatest Enemy
Thine has a great hook nose like thine
Mine has a snub nose like mine
Thine is the Friend of All Mankind
Mine speaks in parables to the Blind
Thine loves the same world that mine hates
Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates
Socrates taught what Melitus
Loathd as a Nations bitterest Curse
And Caiaphas was in his own Mind
A benefactor of Mankind
Both read the Bible day & night
But thou readst black where I read white
William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel, page 33, lines 1-14 (the end of the work).
This is a short take by Blake in opposing the false God (whom he also calls ‘Urizen’ = ‘your reason’, the demiurge) of established Christianity to the true God of Blake: one who holds his instruction close, and hates from afar the world he didn’t create. Still, Blake seems to consider himself something of a prophet, or at the very least, an apostle or missionary, of this unfamiliar and distant God. Within the body of Blake’s work, we are given glimpses of this ‘God between the cracks’, but no elaborately defined and exclusive theology such as was invented for the other. And isn’t that more like a real person, in fact, not to define all aspects about oneself? In any case, there’s more to learn from Blake (and from his equally remarkable contemporary, Swedenborg) throughout his writings.
I highly recommend the beautiful, if somewhat expensive, new volume The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, edited by David V. Erdman, and with a Foreword and Commentary by Harold Bloom, published by University of California Press, 2008. Actually only Bloom’s Foreword is new (though neither interesting nor enlightening), the rest being identical to the 1982 Revised Edition. Still, it’s a nice hefty volume, the last page of the index numbered 990. Unfortunately, there are no color plates, and very few illustrations at all. But there is much to enjoy in the text, of course. It’s Blake! The Illuminated Blake: William Blake’s Complete Illuminated Works with a Plate-by-Plate Commentary is published by Dover, and quite inexpensive. I don’t have that edition (yet), but have several of the smaller Dover editions, and they’re quite nice, though a bit difficult to read in the size factor they’re printed in. It’s good to read the illuminated works in the form that Blake intended. I highly recommend the online Blake Archive for comparing copies of the existing illuminations, as well as for general information. I find Blake to be something of the Odd Uncle: eccentric, visionary, (perhaps more than) half nuts, but also gifted with those peculiar lightning strikes of brilliance, that elicit a “Whoa!” as in those last two lines of The Everlasting Gospel above.
I picked up my copy of The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake at a lovely little local bookstore, A Great Good Place for Books, in Montclair Village, a few nights ago when a friend was doing a reading from his book. If you’re local, it’s a great place to go for readings. It’s a cozy little bookstore with a regular series of readings, as you can see on their site.