begin page 10 | back to top

2. The Meaning of Los

The traditional reading of ‘Los’ as an anagram for ‘sol’ has been long established, though other sources have been suggested. Frye, for instance, cites ‘los or loos’ from Chaucer’s House of Fame as a possible analogue.1 1 “Notes for a Commentary on Milton,” The Divine Vision (London, 1957). pp. 100-101; of Fearful Symmetry (Princeton, 1947), p.445 n.2 and p. 417. Though I do not discount the possibility that Blake may have had several sources in mind at once, as with the names of many of his major figures, like Orc and Vala, I think ‘los’ means literally and metaphorically something more than ‘sol.’ I do not intend or even suggest that ‘sol’ be abandoned because Los is too often associated with the sun in both the verse and the illustrations for ‘sol’ to be ignored. Los is, of course, the ‘more bright Sun of Imagination’ in the L’Allegro designs and not the fiery guinea-disk of economics and nature. What I think ‘los’ means is ‘look’ or ‘behold’ in the traditionally shortened form of the interjection, ‘lo,’ only in the third person singular of the verb — perhaps, with all the same implications as Ferlinghetti’s very Blakean ‘fourth[e] person singular.’2 2 The phrase appears repeatedly in Her. Los is, of course, the fourth Zoa — he says so in J 42: 11, 23-24. Los is aware, he watches, looks, sees, and beholds. His is vision. He los all the time and all Time. Los is the word within the word, a visionary verbal wheel within a wheeling verbal universe, a moving vision or visionary (a seer) within the vision. Los is a perennial proclamation in the present tense, the ever-present tense, a seeing word in an iconographical drama. He is his own ejaculation, an infinite ‘lo.’ The s in Los should be pronounced as a voiced sibilant in contrast with the voiceless sound uttered by the serpent. ‘The Song’ or ‘The Book’ of Los, like all of Blake’s work, is a song or a book of los. We see through Los, not with him. Before this suggested interpretation of the meaning of Los is dismissed as fanciful, I only ask that several of Blake’s works be re-read with the ear attuned to the metaphorical sound of Los pronounced as lo with a voiced sibilant. Such phrases as the ‘Gate of Los’ or ‘head of Los’ which appear repeatedly and other phrases, such as ‘Scribe of Los’, or building of Los, or power of Los, or ‘they gave their power to Los, Naming him the Spirit of Prophecy,’ take on a new and important dimension, which once entertained, is not easily ignored. No serious critic of Blake or of the Bible can afford to ignore the aural metaphors or what Buber calls ‘A bold visual metaphor for an acoustical event’ when he discusses the ‘voice of thin silence’ from I Kings 19:21, which he says ‘is a silence, but not a thick and solid one, rather one that is of such veil-like thinness that the Word shines through it.’3 3 “On the Suspension of the Ethical,” in Eclipse of God (New York, 1957), p. 119. ‘Lo is the recurrent ejaculation of God and his begin page 11 | back to top prophets throughout man’s history. It is the sound of the visual herald when he reveals truth and an interjection which appears repeatedly in Blake’s work. ‘Lo’ is a word which proclaims that men see with their minds, travel mentally, and wage ‘Mental War.’

Print Edition

  • Publisher
  • Department of English, University of California
  • Berkeley, CA, USA
    • Editor
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Contributors
    • S. Foster Damon
    • Alvin H. Rosenfeld
    • Laurence Goldstein

    Digital Edition

    • Editors:
    • Morris Eaves, University of Rochester
    • Robert Essick, University of California, Riverside
    • Joseph Viscomi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Managing Editor
    • Joe Fletcher
    • Assistant Editor Editor
    • Michael Fox
    • Previous Project Manager and Technical Editor
    • William Shaw
    • Adam McCune
    • Managing Editor Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly
    • Sarah Jones
    • Project Director and Assistant Project Manager
    • Grant Glass
    • Project Coordinator, University of Rochester:
    • Eric Loy
    • Scanning:
    • UNC Digital Production Center
    • XML Encoding:
    • Apex CoVantage
    • Additional Transcription:
    • Adam McCune
    • Jennifer Park
    • Emendations:
    • Rachael Isom
    • Mary Learner
    • Adam McCune
    • Ashley Reed
    • Jennifer Park
    • Scott Robinson
    • XSLT Development:
    • Adam McCune
    • Joseph Ryan
    • William Shaw
    • PHP and Solr Development:
    • Michael Fox
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Assistants:
    • Lauren Cameron,
    • Rachael Isom,
    • Mary Learner,
    • Jennifer Park,
    • Ashley Reed,
    • Adair Rispoli,
    • Scott Robinson
    • Sponsors
    • Funders
    • Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly
    • William Blake Archive
    • Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Use Restrictions
    • Copyright © 2019 Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, all rights reserved. Items in this digital edition may be shared in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Redistribution or republication on other terms, in any medium, requires express written consent from the editors and advance notification of the publisher. Permission to reproduce the graphic images in this digital edition rests with the owning institutions.