“VEGETATE is one of Taylor’s favorite expressions to describe the living death of the earthly existence” (Harper 163). Actually “vegetative” is a medical term applied to those physiological functions or systems which are automatic and beyond the control of the will, such as growth in general, or digestion and sleep.
But “We who dwell on Earth can do nothing of ourselves; every thing is conducted by Spirits, no less than Digestion or Sleep” (J 3). All causation is psychological, not material: “every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not a Natural; for a Natural Cause only seems: it is a Delusion of Ulro & a ratio of the perishing Vegetable Memory” (Mil 26:44). “There is no Such Thing as . . . a Natural Cause for any Thing in any Way” (On Bacon, K 403).
Therefore Blake called all material things “vegetative” or “vegetable,” the mortal body as well as the astronomical universe. To “vegetate” is to materialize. In the last illustration to Il Penseroso, “the Spirits of the Herbs & Flowers” are the lovers, the mother, and the baby.
The spirits who “controll our Vegetative powers” in every bosom are the Daughters of Albion ( J 5:39). However, it is the Daughters of Beulah who meet the Spectre “ & give to it a form of vegetation” (FZ i:105). And Enion has a “shining loom of Vegetation” in which she draws the Spectre forth from Tharmas (FZ i:122). “Shakspeare’s Fairies . . . are the rulers of the vegetable world, and so are Chaucer’s; let them be so considered, and then the poet will be understood, and not else” (DesC III, K 570).
But whatever is created shall be destroyed. This is accomplished by the mysterious “Two Beings each with three heads; they Represent Vegetative Existence . . . it represents the Eternal Consummation of Vegetable Life & Death with its Lusts. The wreathed Torches in their hands represents Eternal Fire which is the fire of Generation or Vegetation; it is an Eternal Consummation.” At the Last Judgment, it is they who strip Mystery naked and burn her with fire, “as it is written in Revelations” (LJ, K 609; see Illustrations, “LJ” Nos. 49, 48); but according to John the Divine this is done by the ten horns of the beast (Rev xvii:16).