Блейк-Словарь (Деймон)/Видения дщерей Альбиона

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VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION. The Eye sees more than the Heart knows. Printed by Willm Blake: 1793. As Blake had removed to Lambeth early in 1791, this book was obviously etched and printed there. Seventeen copies have been traced. It belongs in the period of Experience. It is a continuation, though in thought only, of The Book of Thel. That represented the soul in the state of Innocence; this, the soul in the state of Experience. It was probably completed before The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It is primarily a protest against the sexual customs of the times.

The plot is simple: the innocent Oothoon in solitude plucks from its dewy bed the fatal flower of Leutha’s Vale; but while winging her way towards her beloved Theotormon, she is raped by Bromion. Having impregnated her, he casts her off; nevertheless, the two are “Bound back to back” (2:5), he with heavy fetters on his ankles, while she has the lightest of bonds. Meanwhile the jealous Theotormon will not marry the polluted girl, but sits weeping on the threshold of Bromion’s cave. The remainder of the poem consists of their lamentations.

Oothoon denounces the loveless marriage, in which “she who burns with youth . . . is bound in spells of law to one she loathes,” dragging “the chain of life in weary lust” and all the night turning “the wheel of false desire” (5:21–27); also the selfish and envious husband, “a creeping skeleton with lamplike eyes watching around the frozen marriage bed,” while his jealousy spins “a web of age around him . . . till his eyes sicken at the fruit that hangs before his sight” (7:18–22). She pities the illtrained children of such a marriage (5:30), and exposes the miserable practices of the solitary girl and lad (7:3–11). The Visions is the frankest literary work on this subject before our own times. The same time-spirit which enslaves women also enslaves the Negroes. Blake had helped illustrate J. G. Stedman’s Narrative with dreadful plates of their tortures. Bromion, who is under Urizen, is a slaveowner. “Stampt with my signet [i.e., branded] are the swarthy children of the sun; they are obedient, they resist not, they obey the scourge; their daughters worship terrors and obey the violent” (1:21); and Theotormon hears “the voice of slaves beneath the sun, and children bought with money, that shiver in religious caves beneath the burning fires of lust” (2:8). Although Oothoon is white and is never offered for sale, it has been argued that Bromion has impregnated her to increase her selling price.

Oothoon challenges the time-spirit. “They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up” (2:31). She argues against Locke’s materialistic philosophy by showing that all animals have the same five senses and yet act differently according to their various instincts (3:2–13). She is the first to name Urizen, the god of the Age of Reason (5:3), whom she denounces and curses (7:12).

Neither Theotormon nor Bromion is any help to her. The emotional and self-centered Theotormon is lost in the mystery of his own sufferings: “Tell me, what is the night or day to one o’erflow’d with woe?” (3:22). For him, Oothoon and Bromion, though unmarried, are morally adulterers (2:4). Closing his eyes and ears to her pleas, he sits on the threshold of Bromion’s cave, paralyzed like Spenser’s Malbecco (FQ III. x.60). He does hear “beneath him” the laments of the slaves (2:7), but they mean nothing to him. Meanwhile the logical Bromion wonders vaguely if there may not be worlds of joy outside his universe, but he remains convinced that there is one Law and a Hell (4:22– 24).

Oothoon, however, in denouncing Urizen, has reached the stage of spiritual rebellion. Against his authority she asserts her own essential purity, whatever may have happened (3:16, 20). She proclaims the sanctity of the individual and his various joys (5:6), and the freedom of true love (7:16); then she bids man take his bliss (6:2): “Arise and drink your bliss, for every thing that lives is holy” (8:10). But she has not yet reached the stage of out-and-out Revolution. The situation of the soul torn between Desire and Convention seems hopeless. “Enslav’d, the Daughters of Albion” (1:1) “hear her woes & eccho back her sighs” (8:13).

Blake was obviously inspired by his friend Mary Wollstonecraft’s famous Vindication of the Rights of Women, which had been published the year before in 1792. A possible source for his plot was Oithona, one of Macpherson’s Ossianic poems. Oithona, in love with Gaul, is carried off by the evil Dunrommath. Gaul avenges the rape by killing Dunrommath in battle; but the shamed Oithona, garbed as a youth, seeks death in the conflict and dies in her lover’s arms. The only parallel is the rape; Blake did not follow the heroic vengeance and suicide.