Stems of generation : the figure of the victim in the poetry of William Blake [article]

Lawrence MacKay Mathews
1976
In the major prophecies, Blake has much to say about human sacrifice ("Druidism") and about the figure of Jesus as Lamb of God. My purpose is to investigate Blake's use of the motif of victimhood in order to determine how its presence affects the meanings of individual poems, and how it evolved during the course of his poetic career. In the poems of the earlier period, from Poetical Sketches to the later minor prophecies, Blake explores the moral and psychological dimensions of the experience
more » ... of the experience of victimhood -- though not in the content of ritual sacrifice -- and constantly questions its value. His presentation of the figure of the victim is characterized by an irony which illuminates two basic dramatic situations, which foreshadow his later preoccupation with Druidism and with Jesus. In one group of poems (some of the Songs of Innocence and earlier minor prophecies), the victim's suffering is associated in some significant way with a vision of an unfallen world, but this vision never becomes realized. In a second group (some of the Songs of Experience and later minor prophecies), Blake focuses on the relation of the victim to the person or force responsible for causing him harm. In some of these poems, the victim is able to escape from his bondage, but finds that he can do this only by making some other character his victim. The central theme of the major prophecies is the bringing into existence of a world in which the role of victim need not exist. Some of the lyrics of the Pickering Manuscript provide evidence that Blake's attitude towards victimhood undergoes a fundamental change after the period of the earlier poems: for the first time we find cryptic assertions about the efficacy of sacrificial suffering. In The Four Zoas, Jesus, in Night VIII, is revealed as the efficacious sacrificial victim par excellence. But Blake does not make any facile repudiation of his earlier presentation of the figure of the victim. Luvah undergoes a number of ironic experiences of victimhood which establish him as a parody of a [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0093902 fatcat:moyh3gw6pnc3lfruew7vpwroqy